I have found it impossible to convey the peculiar experience of Orthodox Pascha to the Gentiles. Music begins where words fail, and the composition below offers a hint of the celebration.
Moreover, among the Orthodox, I am strongly biased in favor of the Russian liturgical tradition. The New Testament may have been written in Greek by Jews, but doxological perfection awaited one thousand years. Greeks, Arabs, and all the others surely will disagree, but they are likely quite wrong.
While unable to convey the joy, meaning, and transcendance of Pascha, the Russian Easter Overture of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov does suggest, analogically, the mood felt on Pascha. If you are familar with the Russian Paschal celebration, you will enjoy the echoes of the Feast of Feasts in the work. If you are not so aware, then you should plan to spend Orthodox Pascha next year at the all night celebration.
You can listen below to the overture performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski.
Here is a video of a performance by the Mariinsky Theater Symphony Orchestra. It is somewhat more fulfilling to see an orchestra is action. It makes me proud to be human.
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death . . .
Along with “The Angel Cried,” I love the hymn “Let God Arise” of the Paschal Verses.
The Paschal Stichera:
Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered!
A sacred Pascha today hath been shown unto us:
a Pascha new and holy,
a Pascha mystical,
a Pascha all venerable,
a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer;
a Pascha immaculate, a great Pascha;
a Pascha of the faithful;
a Pascha that hath opened the gates of Paradise unto us;
a Pascha that doth sanctify all the faithful.
As smoke vanisheth so let them vanish!
Come from the vision, O ye women, bearers of good tidings, and say ye unto Sion: receive from us the good tidings of the Resurrection of Christ; adorn thyself, exult, and rejoice, O Jerusalem, for thou hast seen Christ the King come forth from the tomb like a bridegroom in procession.
So let sinners perish at the presence of God and let the righteous be glad!
The myrrh-bearing women in the deep dawn stood before the tomb of the Giver of life; they found an angel sitting upon the stone, and he, speaking to them, said thus: Why seek ye the living among the dead? Why mourn ye the incorruptible amid corruption? Go, proclaim unto His disciples.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad therein!
Pascha the beautiful, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, the Pascha all-venerable hath dawned upon us. Pascha, with joy let us embrace one another. O Pascha! Ransom from sorrow, for from the tomb today, as from a bridal chamber hath Christ shone forth, and hath filled the women with joy, saying: proclaim unto the apostles.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant for the feast, and let us embrace one another. Let us say: Brethren, even to them that hate us, let us forgive all things on the Resurrection, and thus let us cry out:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, And on those in the tombs bestowing life.
Here is an example of “Let God Arise” sung in English by Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Kansas City.
Here are the Paschal Stichera beautifully sung by the Sretensky Monastery Choir of Moscow.
I love this song! There are so many good parts, but I think that I appreciate the angel’s response best: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you mourn the incorrupt among corruption? Go proclaim the glad tidings to the apostles.”
As a side note, I believe that Alex Klobouk, appearing around 4:58, is the same girl from “Wrapped Up in Books” and from The Life Pursuit.
The soundtrack will be released in June, but you can currently get a free mp3 recording of “Come Monday Night” by signing up on the site’s mailing list. I have listened to the song dozens of times. Like almost all of Murdoch’s work, I instantly liked it. Moreover, I think that Catherine Ireton’s voice is incredibly sexy; I generally fall easily for Celtic songstresses. Ireton’s manner of singing has a delightful 1940’s quality to it—simultaneously simple, modest, and seductive.
With his new project and in his work with Belle & Sebastian, Murdoch has a peculiar appreciation of the female voice. From Isobel Campbell to the ladies in God Help the Girl, the female parts are markedly feminine. They are not operatic, and they do not perform vocal gymnastics. They appear recognizably ordinary—though transfigured into something elevated and beautiful.
As I wrote in a previous post, one of my favorite things about Belle & Sebastian is their ability to focus on the mundane without shame or irony and therein to see something of interest. More than anything else, it is this feature of Murdoch’s creativity that betrays his spiritual tendencies. For we are to see the divine in all things, from mud in Plato’s Parmenides to everyday pleasures in C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm.
Anyway, consider downloading “Come Monday Night” and enjoy.
One of my favorite paschal hymns, as well as one of my favorite hymns to the Theotokos, is the “The Angel Cried” near the end of the Paschal Canon.
The Angel cried to the Lady full of grace,
Rejoice! Rejoice! O pure Virgin!
Again, I say rejoice!
Thy son is risen from His three days in the tomb!
With Himself He has raised all the dead.
Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people!
Shine! Shine! Shine, O new Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shown on thee.
Exult now, exult and be glad, O Sion.
Be radiant, O pure Theotokos,
In the Resurrection, the Resurrection of thy Son.
Here it is sung in Slavonic by the Valaam Men’s Choir: