Tag: Easter

Icon, Part 10: The Harrowing of Hades


What is the full meaning of Christ’s crucifixion on the cross, and His resurrection? Was it an atonement for our sins? A payment for our sins? Or was it something else far deeper? What was it that Jesus actually did, and why does it matter? For Orthodox Christians, the focus of Great and Holy Pascha (their word for Easter), the Feast of Feasts, is about far more than the empty tomb or some sense of payment, but about Life itself. “Christ is Risen!” we will greet each other, “Truly He is Risen” we reply. Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti! And again and again we sing the Troparion:

Christ is Risen from the grave,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

“Trampling down death by death.” We hear that phrase again and again, and it is an old one. The emperor Justinian used it in his hymn, which we sing every Sunday.

Are “Easter Worshipers” the New “Deli Customers?”


It was remarkably unremarkable that Democrats all sang off the same sheet, effacing the Christian identity of the latest Islamist terror attack. Naturally, the propaganda arm of the left furiously buried the truth of both the carefully targeted victims and their victimizers. The red-green coalition carefully obscured Who Attacked Whom in Sri Lanka? This followed naturally after a President of the United States got away with effacing the identity of victims, openly gunned down in France, when those carrying out the Vernichtung of Jews could not be cast as right wing. To aid the red-green coalition’s advancement, both Jews and Christians are to be cast as “white,” “colonialist,” “imperialist,” and “privileged.”

Think back only a few years. An Islamist attack on a satirical newspaper in France was followed by smaller attacks that terminated in a Jewish deli. Journalists and security services, therefore the President of the United States, knew the terrorist’s motive for picking his target.

Coulibaly reportedly told a French journalist at the height of the siege that he had deliberately chosen to target Jews.

Quote of the Day: Death and Delivery


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Sharing the Sacred


I’m flying out very early tomorrow morning (my husband calls it the middle of the night!) to fly to the @iwe family for Passover. I want to wish all my Jewish friends a very special celebration for this time commemorating freedom, connection, and holiness. I also want to wish my Christian friends a very blessed Easter celebration.

Although our holidays are different, we all share a love of G-d, a spiritual connection and the joy of living in a country that allows us to worship as we choose. May we all appreciate that which we share together, as well as those things we honor that are uniquely part of our traditions. Blessings all!

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    It was surreal to get a text from a friend that Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire as we were driving to the funeral home. I saw the headline and shut off my phone. My mother-in-law passed in the early morning hours of Monday, April 15th, our last remaining parent. It’s been months […]

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As Easter approaches, my Facebook news feed’s advertisements have started to fill with advertisements for area churches, beckoning me to come to their various Easter services.  I do not begrudge this at all as it does make sense to for churches to advertise their existence to locals who might not know what is around.  For […]

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Quote of the Day: Easter


George Herbert (1593-1633) was a Welsh-born poet, orator, and priest of the Church of England. He wrote poetry in English, Latin, and Greek. He is recognized as a great British devotional lyricist, and is associated with metaphysical poets. Herbert used puns and wordplay to “convey the relationships between the world of daily reality and the world of transcendent reality that gives it meaning.” A Puritan minister remarked that Herbert “speaks to God like one that really believeth in God, and whose business in the world is most with God.”

Herbert was a skilled lutenist who set his sacred poems to music. The second paragraph in “Easter” relates the lute to the crucifixion. The third paragraph states that “music is but 3 parts vied and multiplied,” probably describing the 3 notes of a chord competing with each other while multiplying the overall sound. Herbert even played the lute during his final illness, dying of consumption at age 39.

The Day After the World Died


On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but of the dawn. – G.K. Chesterton

It must have been about 20 years ago. A rather dour perspective had infused my outlook on life in general, resulting in a sharp demeanor and a rather acidic tongue. I was routinely working 70 hours each week, dividing my time between my military duties and another job I had taken performing watch repair. Exhaustion was my closest companion, necessitated by the requirements of child support, which I did not begrudge in the least. I just needed a little rest, and none was forthcoming.

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The Christian story proceeds from the Jewish story, like a sequel that makes a series of what already seemed complete. Setting aside that mighty long and vital exposition, Christmas is the beginning of our own part of the tale. Yet here we are just a few months later — Easter — already at the climax […]

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“Hell Took a Body, and Discovered God”


Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

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In June, I posted on using music to “Retell[] a Poem – the Sacred in the Secular“. Then, I took you behind the scenes, into what the process of setting a poem to music looks like, in the middle of things, while the draft is still incomplete. Now that the draft is completed, in honor […]

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Retelling a Poem – the Sacred in the Secular


The long shadow Easter casts on our culture is light in darkness rather than darkness in light. The poem off to the right here is lit by that shadow. So much of the poem’s language reduces humanity to mere biology – our ghosts are merely the bioluminescence of the worms feeding off our corpses, rebirth is perhaps nothing more than dirty fertilization, whether of plants or of people – but all is framed to subvert that reduction. The poem shows a light beyond nature and nature’s endless cycling, light from a dawn that remains fixed for all time: the Easter dawn. Really, it’s impossible to put what the poem is saying into words any better than the words of the poem itself. Not all restatement is verbal, though.

Setting a poem for singers will literally restate the words, as they are sung. But the music written for the words is, even when the words are removed, its own retelling. Plenty of us are amateur poets, but not all of us write poems worth saying. Fortunately for amateur poets with some training in music, our own play-acting as poets can help us retell other, much better, poets’ poems in musical form. The following is one such half-finished retelling, which, being half-finished, with sketchiness and seams still evident, gives a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s done:

Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper


This very large fresco has been a secret for most of its history. It was painted in the 1440s for the cloistered nuns of Santa Apollonia in Florence, which is why it was very rarely seen by outsiders. Eventually, it was covered in plaster, which is why it’s so well preserved, unlike the scenes above it. We have it rediscovered only since the suppression of the nuns by the military in the 1860s, and can now marvel at the poetic effect it achieves and see in what its greatness consists. Indeed, authorship itself was unwittingly a secret, but that, too, has been resolved. The last secret, not likely of resolution, is the story of the author. Castagno is little known except by slander and by his works, and the slander is not honest either. The most famous chronicler of Renaissance Italy, Vasari, offers a great big lie of a story accusing him of murdering another painter out of jealousy–so far as anyone can tell, the lie is meant to explain the dramatic quality of Castagno’s painting–his characters have no softness about them. Art history could step in to help us in our time of need, explaining what painting looked like before him and afterward, but that’s too much of a distraction. We can only attend to the mysteries in the painting itself.

This last supper is one of a rare number of paintings that articulate the mystery of the stories in the Gospels in a quiet way, through the technique. It strikes me that some such paintings make far more of a claim for their makers’ craft than you might expect of wall-painters who merely painted stories everyone already knew–the development of technique seems to be tied up with a reflection on what we believe. So I will first point out the Gospel elements of the painting and then look to what the painter added. You can see the Gospel of John, chp.13 faithfully followed in John lying on Christ’s bosom as Christ blesses him; in Christ’s having just given Judas the piece of bread that identifies him as the betrayer; in the confusion of the Apostles; and in Peter’s inquisitive intimacy. Piety is aided by the names that identify the Apostles. The Christian abhorrence of Judas is such that he’s depicted across the table–he does not confront us–his posture means he cannot look at us. On the other hand, it means, he’s closest to us of the gathering…

Quote of the Day: Bonus Edition, April 16, 2017


My grandmother Molly could be a rather stern old lady. She was born when Queen Victoria was still on the throne, on April 16, 1898. She died in 1988, long-lived, like many in my family.

If I were to tell you just one thing about Granny, it would be this: She. Never. Gave. In. Every morning she was even remotely able, she got out of bed, put on her combinations (don’t ask), hauled and strapped herself into her corset and girdle, put on her old-fashioned womanly clothes, did her hair and her face, and went out to meet the day.

Most who knew her, I’m sure, thought of her as a redoubtable and unyielding old lady, one it was better not to cross, a pillar of rectitude, and a stalwart of her much-loved church.

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While Midge’s spiritual ear turns to transcendent beauty on Easter, mine yearns for bawdy and raucous songs of triumph. The fanciful tales of knights, adventurers, cowboys, and heroes I enjoyed as a child were never wholly separate from my Christian faith. “Soldiers of Christ” is a phrase as old as the Church, and one I […]

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