Word Magazine May 1994 Page 8-9
THE LIGHT OF HIS FACE AND
THE FLAME OF PASCHA
By Father Demetrios S. Kavadas
I was ready to begin this article and suddenly I noticed that I have eight different depictions of Christ on the walls of my office. Each one of them has a message for me. All of them have a strange illumination. Joy and sadness blend mysteriously. Majesty and humility are simultaneously expressed. Austerity and friendliness are combined miraculously, as if He wants to tell me constantly: “I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:20). Other times, when He sees me depressed, He lifts me up with His look: “The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33). So often, when I fight various “wars,” His face assures me of what I need frequently on the battlefield against evil with a divine gift: “Peace be with you” (John 20:21).
Our eyes see His face so frequently during the traditional services of the Orthodox Holy Week. First we see His tears when His “dear friend” (John 11:3) died; but out of His tears, the Son of God offers life to Lazarus and He foretells to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25).
Look at His face closely when you kiss the Icon of Palm Sunday. Orthodox Iconographers have captured His Royal reaction as He enters triumphantly in Jerusalem. Yet His face is sad. He wants us to know how hypocritical we are. We offer Him glory and later … we crucify Him.
For three nights (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday) our Mother Church places Him in the middle of our worship as the “Bridegroom.” His head is covered with the crown of thorns. Blood covers part of His bitter facial appearance. His hands are tied and He looks upon us with a “heart full of trouble” (John 12:27). The interior of the Church is dark and His voice repeats what He said “to the crowd standing there” (John 12:29): “Continue on your way while you have THE LIGHT, so that darkness will not come upon you. Believe in THE LIGHT while you have it, so that you will be the people of the light” (John 12:35-36).
The LIGHT shines from His face, even when He hangs from the cross. We see it Holy Thursday night and even stronger on Good Friday night. The lights in Church are brilliant during the “Epitaphios” Service. We also hold candles. Their flames prove to us that the Light of His Face cannot be destroyed; for He has conquered death with His Death.
“Each flower blends with a candle flame
that cover now thy Catafalque’s nude frame,
and mixing wisdom with beauty’s price
becomes His Glory, His immortal prize.”
The Light of His Face can be seen even by blind men at the stroke of Midnight — the dawn of Easter Day. One single light out of His Sacred Altar illumines our spiritual lives. The unwaning light is the Risen Christ. The priest proclaims this truth through the words of the ancient Byzantine hymn: “Come and receive from the unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, who arose from the dead.”
The Orthodox Church stays alive through the eternal, non-destructible and life-giving FLAME OF PASCHA. This flame has the power and the potentiality to burn and change into ashes anything that nature produces; but we do not allow this to take place. We use its energy in order to prove that its sacredness destroys darkness around our Church’s Altar Sanctuary, remaining there “sleepless” during the entire year. This flame provides constantly the vision of His sacred Body and Blood, reveals to the Priestly orders how God is enthroned in the Holy Tabernacle and is shared and transplanted throughout the entire Church, from the Narthex to the Icons in front of the Iconostasis.
Each one of us lights a candle we purchase the night of the Resurrection, perpetuating the power of life over death from the Royal Doors to the doors of our home. Our parents’ pious tradition does prescribe that we keep this flame “alive” in front of our house “altar” and pray everyday. Even today, we see “an army” of these faithful, diligently keeping the flickering of this flame in our homes as a symbol of the presence of the Resurrected Lord.
Some Fathers of the Eastern Church introduce some very interesting liturgical practices of His
flame, suggesting that whether you like it or not, these flames are like tongues that “move in prayer,” representing the presence of the faithful Christian soul who lit them in front of an icon
The same Paschal flame is used to perpetuate the grace of God during the sacraments, especially seen during the baptism and the wedding, expressing the joy of illumination and guiding the path of life under the perfect protection and security of the Holy Trinity. Even during the most comfortable of prayers (not a sacrament) the funeral services, the Church offers the person who has fallen asleep to the Light of Eternity. Therefore, a candle is placed at the head and at the foot of the casket, as if the trip of the soul will go through the beam of light into the new world of timeless and spaceless existence — not in darkness but with the guided light of hopeful salvation.
Finally, meditating upon creation, we discover that light was created before man, that the problem was and continues to be the fact that humanity so often prefers to remain in darkness, afraid of the light (because the light does not hide or “cover-up” any ugliness). But light has always proved that its embracing presence reveals the truth, indicates new dimensions, becomes the energy through which we see colors. We recognize evil; we discover the paths of righteousness and most of all … WE STAY ALIVE!! Can you imagine what would happen to the world if one morning the sun decided not to come up from the east? Can you speculate the enormous suffering of all of us if one day Christ, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, decided to stay away from us? Glory to Him! For He conquered death with His Resurrection and left us the small flame of Pascha to conquer darkness forever … CHRIST IS RISEN!
Father Demetrios S. Kavadas is the pastor of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
WHY DO WE LIGHT VIGIL LAMPS BEFORE ICONS?
First — because our faith is light. Christ said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12). The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.
Second — in order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icons we light the vigil lamp, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8)
Third — in order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Savior: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:16).
Fourth — so that the vigil lamp would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself completely as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and salvation and everything that only boundless heavenly love can bestow.
Fifth — so that terror would strike the evil powers who sometimes assail us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts from the Creator. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and to those who please Him.
Sixth — so that this light would rouse us to selflessness. Just as the oil and wick (or candle) burn in the vigil lamp, submissive to our will, so let our souls burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God’s will.
Seventh — in order to teach us that just as the vigil lamp cannot be lit without the holy fire of God’s grace, even if it were to be filled with all the virtues. All these virtues of ours are, after all, like combustible material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God.
Eighth — in order to remind us that before anything else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order. And it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ’s truth would shine within us. May the Light of Christ illumine you as well!
From Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich