An excerpt from the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom. Fascinating to see how Christians were celebrating Christ’s resurrection merely 300 years after the event.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no-one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no-one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no-one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no-one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into Hades and took Hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh!
It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and came upon God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
After shaking paws with his dog,
(Whose bark would tell the world that he is always kind,)
The hangman sets off briskly over the heath;
He does not know yet who will be provided
To do the high works of Justice with:
Gently closing the door of his wife’s bedroom,
(Today she has one of her headaches)
With a sigh the judge descends his marble stair;
He does not know by what sentence
He will apply on earth the Law that rules the stars:
And the poet, taking a breather
Round his garden before starting his eclogue,
Does not know whose Truth he will tell.
Sprites of hearth and store-room, godlings
Of professional mysteries, the Big Ones
Who can annihilate a city,
Cannot be bothered with this moment: we are left,
Each to his secret cult, now each of us
Prays to an image of his image of himself:
'Let me get through this coming day
Without a dressing down from a superior,
Being worsted in a repartee,
Or behaving like an ass in front of the girls;
Let something exciting happen,
Let me find a lucky coin on a sidewalk.
Let me hear a new funny story.’
At this hour we all might be anyone:
It is only our victim who is without a wish
Who knows already (that is what
We can never forgive. If he knows the answers,
Then why are we here, why is there even dust?)
Knows already that, in fact, our prayers are heard,
That not one of us will slip up,
That the machinery of our world will function
Without a hitch, that today, for once,
There will be no squabbling on Mount Olympus,
No Chthonian mutters of unrest,
But no other miracle, knows that by sundown
We shall have had a good Friday.
There: the Eucharist, a gold sun,
hung in the air — an instant of splendour.
Here nothing should be heard but the Greek syllables —
the whole world held in the hands like a plain apple.
The solemn height of the holy office; the light
of July in the rotunda under the cupola;
so that we may sigh from full hearts, outside time,
for that little meadow where time does not flow.
And the Eucharist spreads like an eternal noon;
all partake of it, everyone plays and sings,
and in each one’s eyes the sacred vessel
brims over with inexhaustible joy.
Osip Mandelstam. Untitled poem from Tristia (1922), translated from the Russian by Clarence Brown and W S Merwin, in Selected Poems (1973).