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From the Chapel — April 12: Christ is risen!

Our Sunday Visitor chapel. Scott Richert photo

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“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

I rarely disagreed with the Catholic historian John Lukacs, my mentor and friend for a quarter of a century until his death during the Easter season a year ago. One thing we never saw eye to eye on, though, was the celebration of Easter in the Eastern Church. John preferred the reverence and beauty of the Easter liturgies of the West, which I love as well. But at Easter celebrations in Byzantine churches, I have also quite happily been swept away in what John called the orgiastic shouts of “Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!”

We have spent many Easter vigils at St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Flushing, Michigan, just up the road from where Amy’s parents lived. But the most remarkable Easter vigil I ever attended was at the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Belgrade, Serbia, on the night of April 30, 2005.

In 2005, Easter Sunday was March 27 on the Gregorian calendar. On the Julian calendar used by most of the Eastern Orthodox, the date of Easter corresponded to the Gregorian date of May 1, 2005. I had just arrived in Belgrade on the afternoon of April 30, and my internal clock was messed up. As midnight approached, I couldn’t sleep. When I heard the bells of the cathedral (just a block or so away from my hotel) begin to ring, I decided to celebrate Easter a second time that year.

The liturgy began with a procession through the graveyard that surrounded the cathedral, and I was swept up with the crowd into the cathedral itself. Like most Eastern Orthodox churches, the cathedral has no pews, and the faithful stood shoulder to shoulder in every direction, packed so tightly we could barely make the Sign of the Cross. After an hour of readings and chanting and cries of “Christ is risen!” jet lag caught up with me, and I fell asleep standing up. No one noticed, though, because I could not fall over. When the next loud cry of “Christ is risen!” shook me awake, it took 10 minutes or so for me to make my way through the crowd to exit the cathedral.

In these days of social distancing and livestreamed Masses, such an experience seems almost unthinkable. But the body of believers, all joining their voices together to declare the central truth of our faith — “Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!” — is what Easter is all about.

This year, we expressed that faith at a distance. We celebrated Christ’s resurrection without the Eucharist. But we are no less united — and, in certain ways, more so. As our actual public squares lie vacant, our Faith is more visible than ever in the virtual public square — not just through livestreamed Masses and prayer services but through cultural experiences, like the incredibly moving half-hour concert that Andrea Bocelli offered on Easter Sunday afternoon in the vacant Duomo of Milan. For his final song, Bocelli exited the cathedral and sang “Amazing Grace” on the front steps of the Duomo, looking out over a plaza that may last have been empty nearly 400 years ago, during the plague of 1630, portrayed so movingly in the final chapters of Alessandro Manzoni’s masterpiece, ‌I Promessi Sposi (“The Betrothed”).

That novel, with its message of hope in the life of the world to come, is Pope Francis’s favorite, and one that he has referred to more than once in the midst of this pandemic. Like all great works of art, it draws the reader, through beauty, into truth. And all truth, of course, flows from the one Truth, which is not an abstraction but the God-made-Man, whose resurrection we celebrate today.

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.

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