“O Death, Where Is Your Sting?”
By Aristea Zekios
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Cor 15:55) These words from Saint Paul to the Corinthians were probably written around 55 AD. That would mean they are 1,960 years old! Yet every year they are proclaimed in the Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom (+407 AD) before the Paschal Liturgy. And every year I wait with anticipation to hear them again. Admittedly as a youngster, these words did not register with me in the slightest degree.
Holy Saturday was a day of preparation. The aroma of lamb roasting in the oven permeated the entire house. The delicious Greek pastries and homemade bread with a red egg in the middle were laid out ready for the feast. I would pester my mom all day asking her for a taste of lamb or a just one koulouri (Greek cookie). But she would tell me we had to fast and we couldn’t indulge until after midnight. Of course, I couldn’t understand why we should be tormented with all these tasty temptations. A brand new dress hot off my mother’s sewing machine was ready to be worn. The dress would match my three sisters’ dresses. We would be outfitted from head to toe with new straw bonnets and shiny white patent leather shoes. Thus we would make our fashion statement at the Paschal services.
Finally we were ready for the midnight service. For me, that meant it was time to wear my new outfit. And better yet, it was getting closer to cutting into the leg of lamb and eating the forbidden goodies. I loved standing next to my dad in church as we sang “Christos Anesti” while holding our lit candles. But one Pascha in particular I happened to look up at dad as he was singing. I noted a huge smile on his face while tears ran down his cheeks. In my confusion I asked, “Daddy, why are you crying?”
Fast forward 20 years later to April. I am in church standing next to my husband with my two children at my side. I am singing “Christos Anesti” and tears are running down my cheeks. You see, dad had been laid to rest the week before Pascha. That evening the light dawned on me. I knew dad now lived in heaven! The passage I had memorized in Sunday School hit me like a ton of bricks. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, yet he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25,26)
But that wasn’t the end of the story. About 30 years later in April my three sisters and I were with my mother as she took her last earthly breath. At her funeral “Christ Is Risen” was sung over and over again. It was a feeling of joy that my mother had left her failing body to live with Christ in His kingdom. Sadly 5 years later in April, one of my beloved sisters left her cancer-ridden body to join mom and dad. Her funeral service, too, rang out with “Christ Is Risen.”
Thus every April at Pascha these words now register with me. “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished.” I cry tears of joy not only for mom, dad, and my sister, but now for my husband of 48 years who also made his final journey to our Creator 4 years ago. These words are the message of hope for all mankind. The Resurrection of Christ is the final blow to the enemy of death. Because Christ died and rose again, we can anticipate that glorious reunion with our loved ones in heaven never to be separated again. In his sermon, Saint John Chrysostom invites us to the divine feast, “The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet.” Our Savior invites all of us to dine with Him in His kingdom where we will behold His everlasting glory. In gratitude we humbly say, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:57)