Paschal Matins

Introduction - Paschal Matins - Divine Liturgy - Paschal Hours - Paschal Vespers

Pascha Matins, also called Resurrection Matins, is the night-time vigil which begins the celebration of Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. Simpler than any other celebration of Matins in the course of the year, it is a service of great jubilation. It is the first service in the Pentecostarion, the liturgical book of the Byzantine Rite which contains the liturgical offices of Pascha and the fifty days which follow it

Paschal Matins is appointed to begin in the middle of the night from Holy Saturday to the Sunday of Pascha. For pastoral reasons, however, it is often sung either earlier on Saturday evening, or early on Easter morning. But regardless of the time of celebration, the service itself is a vigil - a communal gathering of expectation and rejoicing in the Resurrection. (In fact, an ancient legend held that the Lord's second coming would occur during this same night.) It looks back to all the Old Testament foreshadowings of salvation, and looks ahead to the fifty days to come. In this sense, it is not an ending, but a beginning.

See the MCI Paschal Matins book for the complete text and music of this service. The article Singing the service of Paschal Matins provides guidance to the cantor in leading the singing at this service.

The Midnight Office

According to the liturgical books, Paschal Matins is preceded by a special form of the Midnight Office, celebrated at around 11:30 PM. Since Great and Holy Friday, the plaschanitza or symbolic burial shroud, representing the body of the Lord, has rested in a representation of his tomb, where it formed the focus for the funeral dirges of the Lord on the morning of Holy Saturday.

At the Midnight Office, the canon of Holy Saturday is sung once more, in a darkened church, and the shroud is removed from the tomb and placed in the sanctuary, on the altar, where it will remain for the next forty days. During this transfer of the shroud, the faithful sing the troparion of the resurrection in Tone 2: "When you descended to death, O Immortal Life....". Then the doors of the iconostasis are closed, and the church remains in darkness.

(We mention this service here because the Midnight Office is often omitted in parish churches, and the troparion is sung as the beginning of Paschal Matins. Why it is important that there be a clear separation between the Midnight Office, and Paschal Matins, will become clear in a moment. The Midnight Office for Pascha is actually from the Triodion, and is described in the article on Great and Holy Saturday.)

The Procession

At the beginning of Paschal Matins, the clergy and servers don bright vestments, and all the doors of the icon screen are opened. (Since the sanctuary represents the heavenly realm, the opening of the doors symbolizes our renewed access to heaven. They will remain open throughout Bright Week.)

The faithful stand, and the clergy, servers, and representatives of the community, carrying the cross, censer and Gospel book, make their way out of the church, and from there to the front doors of the church porch, while the following hymn is sung:

Your Resurrection, O Christ our Savior,
the angels in heaven praise with hymns.
Make us, on earth, also worthy, with a pure heart,
to extol and give glory to You.

Thus, the very first words heard on the feast are "Your Resurrection"; in Slavonic, "Voskresenije" or "Resurrection" is the first word of the hymn. (This is why we pointed out earlier that the troparion "When you descended..." is, strictly speaking, still part of Holy Saturday.) We pray that we may be worthy to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection.

When the procession comes to the church doors, standing outside, the priest chants the opening blessing of Matins:

Glory to the holy, consubstantial, life-creating and undivided Trinity,
always, now and ever and forever.

The faithful respond, "Amen", and the priest sings the troparion of Pascha:

Christ is risen from the dead!
By death he trampled death
and to those in the tombs he granted life!

which the people repeat twice, while the church bells are rung. Then the priest sings a series of psalm verses extolling God's victory over death, and the faithful repeat the Paschal troparion after each verse. Finally, the doors of the church are opened, and the clergy and people enter the church, which is now fully and brilliantly lit, while the troparion of Pascha is sung over and over.

The people find their places in church, which the priest incenses; then he intones the Litany of Peace, then begins the Paschal Canon.

The Paschal Canon

The Canon is a liturgical poem proper to the Byzantine Rite, and used at every celebration of Matins. It consists of sections called odes, and on most days only the first and last stanzas of each ode are sung; the rest are chanted very simply. But the entirety of the Paschal Canon is sung, to a festive melody, to emphasize and redouble our joy.

The Canon of Pascha is a composition of the great saint, preacher, and theologian of the Church, John Damascene (John of Damascus), who lived from 676 to 749. It is an extended praise of the Risen Lord, recalling all the Old Testament symbols and types which were fulfilled in his death, burial and Resurrection, and at the same time tells the story of the myrrh-bearing women coming to the tomb, on the first day of the week, to discover that the Lord had been raised. Between the verses, the faithful sing the unchanging refrain, "Christ is risen from the dead!"

Additional hymns are added after the third and sixth odes, such as the kontakion of Pascha:

Although you descended into the grave, O Immortal One,
you destroyed Hades' power.
You arose as a victor, O Christ God.
You exclaimed to the myrrh-bearing women: Rejoice!
You gave peace to your apostles,
and resurrection to the fallen.

and the hymn, Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ.

The last ode of the Paschal Canon (which always refers to the Mother of God) begins with the Magnification of Pascha, referring to the pious tradition that our Lord's resurrection was announced to the Virgin Mary by an angel:

The angel exclaimed to her, full of grace:
Rejoice, O pure Virgin!
Again, I say: Rejoice!
Your Son is risen from the grave
on the third day
and has raised the dead.
Rejoice, all you nations!

This hymn, and the irmos which follows it ("Shine in splendor, O new Jerusalem"), form a high point of Paschal Matins.

The Paschal canon is followed by the Hymn of Light for Pascha:

You, O King and Lord, have fallen asleep
in the flesh, as a mortal man;
but on the third day, you arose.
You have raised Adam from his corruption,
and made Death powerless.
You are the Pasch of incorruption.
You are the salvation of the world.

This hymn is sung three times, often in both English and Slavonic, to a slow and solemn melody, bringing the Paschal Canon to a close.

The Praises

The last three psalms of the Psalter (Psalms 148-150) bring this book of the Bible to a closing crescendo of praise, and these psalms are chanted at Matins in many different liturgical traditions of the Church. In the Byzantine Rite, on feast days, the opening verses of Psalm 148 are sung to one of the eight tones, and the final verses of the Psalm 150 are each followed by hymns called stichera.

Here we find something interesting. For the past seven days, from Palm Sunday to the morning of Holy Saturday, we have ignored the cycle of eight tones which ordinarily runs throughout the liturgical year. On these solemn days, all the hymns came from the Triodion rather than from the Octoechos, or Book of Eight Tones, which we use during the rest of the year. This gives a special sense that the services of Great and Holy Week are, in a way, outside of the normal time.

But at Vespers on the evening of Holy Saturday, we opened the Octoechos to sing the Sunday vespers hymns of Resurrection, beginning in Tone 1. This marks the start of a new cycle of tones, which in Bright Week will symbolically gather the year together. But for now, it is enough to know that, at Paschal Matins, we sing the stichera "at the Praises" (that is, at Psalms 148-150) in Tone 1.

The first hymns we sing are the same Sunday matins hymns of Resurrection we sing throughout the year for weeks in Tone 1. But when we reach the end of Psalm 150, the priest intones the same psalm verses he chanted at the beginning of the service, outside the church doors; and this time, instead of singing "Christ is risen from the dead", the cantors and people sing the Paschal stichera, which begin:

Today, the sacred Pasch is revealed to us....

During the singing of these hymns, the faithful come forward to kiss the hand cross held by the priest, who greets each one: "Christ is risen!"; and each of the faithful replies, "Indeed he is risen!"

The last of the Paschal stichera ends with the singing of the Paschal troparion, and deserves to be quoted in full:

This is the Resurrection Day!
Let us be enlightened by this Feast
and let us embrace one another!
Let us call "Brethren" even those who hate us,
and in the Resurrection, forgive everything and let us sing:
Christ is risen from the dead!
By death he trampled death
and to those in the tombs he granted life!

By this time, the church is resounding once again with the singing of the faithful, and Paschal Matins has reached a second climax.

The Paschal Homily

At this point in the service, is it customary for the justly famous Paschal Homily of Saint John Chrysostom to be read. In this sermon, the saint reminds us of what we have or have not done to prepare for the feast, and yet encourages all - the diligent, the lazy, the first-called and the late-comers - to rejoice together. He explains the reasons for our joy on this day.

The Conclusion of the Service

After the Praises and the Paschal Homily, we "return to earth" as it were, by praying for our needs and for those of the whole world in two litanies of supplication.

At the dismissal, in place of "Glory to the Father....", we sing the troparion of Pascha once more, and then the priest gives the dismissal of Pascha:

May Christ our true God, risen from the dead, by death trampling down death, and to those in the graves granting life, have mercy on us and save us through the prayers of his most pure Mother, of the holy, glorious and praiseworthy apostles, and of all the saints: for Christ is gracious and loves us all.

Then three times, he raises the hand-cross and exclaims

Christ is risen!

and each time the people respond

Indeed he is risen!

Then the priest sings the Paschal troparion:

Christ is risen from the dead!
By death he trampled death
and to those in the tombs he granted life!

and the people repeat it twice. The third time and final time, a concluding phrase is added:

... and to us he granted life eternal.
Let us bow before his Resurrection on the third day!

With that, Paschal Matins comes to an end.

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