read by Cathy Cox

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and in many Episcopal churches as well, only one homily is ever used at the Great Vigil of Easter: the Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom – reputed to be the greatest sermon of the greatest preacher of all time, John “the Golden Mouthed”, Bishop of Constantinople in the late fourth century. The homily is very short (a fact which may not be unrelated to its popularity). It’s customary to stand, but you may remain seated for the first part, the great invitation. I’ll motion you to stand at the words, “The Savoir’s death has set us free,” which begins the second part, the victory celebration.

This is a congregational participation sermon; over the centuries certain gestures and responses have become a traditional part of it. At the mention of the annihilation of death, we’ll stamp our feet at the words, “annihilated it”; we’re trampling death under our feet. [Demonstrate; try it]

The sermon invites us to gloat over hell’s defeat, and the repeated word “embittered” is echoed by the congregation: [Demonstrate]

Finally, the homily ends with a crescendo of three Easter acclamations, building in intensity each time:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! Each time, we raise our candles as we exult in Christ’s being raised, and we ourselves, raised from the death of sin into eternal joy.

Remember, this is a victory celebration; it’s the triumph of good over evil and life over death.

The Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom

If any be devout and lovers of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If any are wise servants, let the rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord.

If any have wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive their recompense.

If any have labored from the first hour, let them today receive their just reward. If any have come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. If any have arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of their delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; the Lord gives rest to those that come at the eleventh hour, just as to those who have labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

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 diligent and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you who 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 none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb! Let none fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free! [*stand*]

He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!

He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.”

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 face to face met 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 Hell, 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 the tomb!

For Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages! Amen!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!



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