Meditations on the Paschal Canon, Ode I

The Paschal Canon by St. John Damascene is an amazing mediation on the Resurrection of our Lord, and is (together with the Paschal Stichera) the heart of the services for Pascha and Bright Week. It also plays an important role in the Vigil Services for each of the Sundays after Pascha.

Ode I

The canon as a textual form is closely linked to the Eight biblical odes — songs of prominent Old Testament figures which are recorded in the Bible and which played a role in the daily worship of the early Church. Over time, hymns in honor of New Testament events and people were composed to be sung with these Odes, and today these hymns (called canons) have nearly completely replaced the odes themselves. But the links to the Old Testament themes is still very evident, especially in the first hymn of each Ode, which is called the Irmos ("link").

Ode I is the song of Moses, sung after the people of Israel escaped from Egypt by crossing the Red Sea. As such, it is essentially a hymn of thanksgiving for the Old Testament Passover. Christ, the new Passover lamb who was slain to deliver us from the slavery to sin, is the fulfillment of this Old Testament celebration, as we see in the Irmos of this ode.

It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, O people! Pascha! The Lord's Pascha! For from death to life, and from earth to heaven hath Christ God has brought us, as we sing the song of victory!

Here we are called to radiantly rejoice in song because we have been brought over from death to life, just as the Hebrew people were brought over the Red Sea from slavery to freedom. Just as Moses sang a song of victory after the defeat of Pharaoh's forces, so we now sing a song in praise of our Lord's victory over sin and death.

Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with unapproachable light of the Resurrection, and shall clearly hear Him say, "Rejoice!" As we sing the song of victory!

"Blessed are the pure in heart," says our Lord, "for they shall see God." It is only through the Resurrection that we can attain this purity, and it is only through this purity that we can approach in some measure the unapproachable light of the Resurrection. Our salvation, justification, and glorification is a beautiful synergy between our Lord's action and our cooperation. And so as we rejoice in our Lord's victory, let us also not cease to purify our souls from sinful thoughts, deeds and words.

We can also see in this troparion a reminder of our Baptism. As St. Paul teaches us, as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death. We died to sin and death and were reborn to freedom and life. The waters of baptism were prefigured by the passage over the Red Sea1, and these waters are at the same time our grave (to sin) and the womb of our mother (to everlasting life). And so through baptism we assimilate for ourselves that victory which Christ accomplished for the world in His death and resurrection.

Let the heavens be glad as is meet, and let the earth rejoice, and let the whole world, both visible and invisible, keep festival. For Christ is risen! O gladness eternal!

The Resurrection brings joy to the entire world, for Christ's Resurrection conquers the power of death. When mankind fell through Adam's voluntary sin, God subjected the whole creation to death and corruption for mankind's sake, that we might be able to repent and be restored to God. Christ's Death and Resurrection destroyed the power of death when His Body rose incorrupt from the grave. This victory is not yet consummated — the whole creation still "groaneth and travaileth" — because God in His mercy is still giving us time to repent and avail ourselves of the proffered salvation, but in the last day death will be no more, and Christ will be all in all!2

The first Ode — and all of the Odes — ends with the threefold singing of the Paschal Troparion:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

This really says it all, doesn't it?

Dn. Nicholas Park

[] 1 Cor 10:2.

[] Romans 8:19-23: "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body."

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2 Responses to “Meditations on the Paschal Canon, Ode I”

  1. I appreciated the information on the odes, and the clear emphasis on the morality that is part of the fiber of the canon.

  2. […] the mediation on the Paschal Canon which I began in this post. The attentive reader might wonder when Odes 4-8 were posted. I'm wondering when I'll get […]

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