Continuing 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 around to writing them – perhaps next year, perhaps never… But it seemed appropriate to reflect on Ode 9 as we prepare to give up the feast for the year.
While the first eight biblical odes are taken from the Old Testament, the ninth is from the new. It consists of two different hymns in honor of the Saving Ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ: that of Zacharias (Luke 1:68-79) and that of the Theotokos (Luke 1:46-55).
The song of Zacharias speaks of the coming of the Messiah as the fulfillment of the promise given to the prophets and fathers,"that being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, we might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life." It speaks also of John the Baptist's role as the Lord's prophet and forerunner:
…to give knowledge of salvation to His people, by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; by which the day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.
The song of the Theotokos speaks of God's strength and the great grace which He gives to those who humbly trust in Him — and in particular to she who surpasses all others in her humility and devotion:
My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things, and holy [is] his name…
This is the only one of the biblical odes that we continue to sing in (almost) every matins service, with the addition of the hymn "More honorable then the Cherubim…" thus fulfilling her prophecy: "for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."
For this reason, the ninth ode of nearly every canon has some reference to the Theotokos, particularly in the Irmos. The Paschal canon is no exception:
Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee! Dance, now, and be glad, O Zion; and do thou exult, O pure Theotokos, in the arising of Him whom thou didst bear!
The Lord has risen and has thus enlightened all of us, shining forth His glory upon all of us, especially on those who have been united to His Body, the Holy Church which He established, the new Jerusalem. And that glory shines forth most clearly in those who through humility and trust in Him have prepared themselves to receive it: the righteous of all ages, and at their head the Most Holy Theotokos who gave Him birth.
O how divine, how loving, how sweet is Thy voice. For Thou hast truly promised to be with us unto the end of the age, O Christ! Having this foundation of hope, we faithful rejoice!
"Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world!" (Matt 28:20) If the risen Lord is with us, "who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31) What fear need we have if we place all of our hope in Him who has conquered sin, evil and death?
O Great and Most Sacred Pascha, Christ!
As we reflected in the beginning of Ode I, Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover (or Pascha in Greek). If in the Old Testament Passover the Hebrew people were delivered from bondage to the Egyptian tyrant, through Christ we are delivered from the tyranny of the devil! Truly this is a great and sacred Passover!
O Wisdom, Word and Power of God!
St. John the Evangelist calls our Lord Jesus Christ "the Word" of God. He is also God's Wisdom and God's Power, according to the testimony of the fathers of the Church. He is as it were the "right hand" of the Father and nobody can know the Father except through Him. What greater deliverer could there be?
Grant us to more perfectly partake of Thee in the unwaning day of Thy kingdom!
And not only has He delivered us, but He has also granted us to "partake of" Himself. This is a reference to Communion, both physical and spiritual. His victory over sin and death has been accomplished but its effects will not be fully revealed until the last day. Likewise, our Communion with Him is limited now but will be complete in His Kingdom. May He grant us to partake in this great grace!
And lest we forget:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
In the immortal words of St. Seraphim of Sarov,
My joy, Christ is Risen!
Dn. Nicholas Park