When Eastern Orthodox faithful attend Sunday Matins, whether it is held immediately after Vespers Saturday evening (a “vigil”) or on Sunday morning immediately before the Eucharist, they are attending a Resurrection Service. Each Sunday, except for rare exceptions (e.g. Palm Sunday), is a “little Easter.” Actually, I rather disagree with that moniker “little.” How can a Feast of the Resurrection be “little”? But the point is that Sunday is first a commemoration, an “entering into,” the Resurrection. That’s a quote from one of the many hymns for Sunday: “Enter, you faithful, into the Resurrection.”
The service of Matins, which is the primary morning prayer, is where this reality unfolds expressly. Each Sunday, a Gospel lesson is read proclaiming some part of the Resurrection account or a subsequent appearance of the Savior. There are 11 of these readings, called eothina (sing. eothinon). This term, says Fr. Seraphim Nassar (RIP) in his wonderful book Divine Prayers and Services, means “pertaining to the dawn.” (There seems to be some evidence that these 11 Gospels at one time matched 11 Gospels of the Passion, to which a burial account was added making the 12 Passion Gospels of Great Friday Matins.) And each of these is paraphrased by two hymns: an exapostilarion and a doxastikon.
Perhaps another time we’ll deal with what those hymns are and where those hymns come. I’m not going to now. (That information is widely available online. Start with OrthodoxWiki.) Suffice it to say that if you weren’t present in church for the reading of the Resurrection Gospel (tsk-tsk), then it will be paraphrased in two different places later – one about 20 minutes before the end and the other about 10, depending on how long Matins is at your parish or monastery.
Now, by way of substantive illustration, I’m going to deal with the sixth of these, which tells the story from the Gospel of St. Luke of an appearance of the Lord to His disciples and the encounter of Christ by Luke and Cleopas on their way to Emmaeus (24:36-End). I suggest that you read it if you’re not familiar with it. (It happens to be one of my favorite Gospel readings, which is completely immaterial.) The exapostilarion for this lesson paraphrases the first part of the story. Here is Fr. Nassar’s translation which I’ve edited into contemporary style:
When You rose from the grave, O savior, You revealed Yourself a Man by nature, as You stood in the midst of Your Disciples and ate with them and taught them the baptism of repentance. Then at once You ascended to your heavenly Father and promised to send the Comforter. Therefore, O most divine and incarnate God, glory to Your Resurrection.
Notice the verbs: the Lord rose, revealed, stood, ate, taught, ascended and sent. And we give glory. I frequently teach my church singers that this is where the emphasis and understanding need to be placed. It’s in what the Lord does that we derive our faith, and in what we do that we manifest that faith. These verbs drive the narrative.
A flurry of OT images and stories come to mind, because so many of those stories have so many actions, too: the angels appearing to Abraham, Jacob & so many others, Moses teaching the people and climbing up the mountain, Elijah ascending to heaven and commissioning Elisha, and so on. So much activity! So much human activity pressed into divine service! The actions of Jesus are common enough in the OT, but then not common.
For none of the prophets and judges and kings and holy women did these things after having risen from the dead. And none preached with this Divine Authority.