Greeting the Resurrection through the Ages

Easter Morning Reading, Northern Syria (?), circa 1216 AD

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Today we come to the conclusion of our Easter Octave series, Greeting the Resurrection through the Ages. Over the last two days we’ve looked at examples of Easter liturgy in Latin and Greek Christian communities. Today we continue traveling East, to the home of Syriac Christianity. While the Greek churches have the privilege of worshiping in the primary language of the New Testament writings, Syriac Christians have the privilege of worshiping in the language of the New Testament people—namely, our Lord and the earliest disciples.

Syriac is probably even less familiar to many of us than Greek or Latin, and so we begin with a brief introduction to the language itself. Syriac is a later form of Aramaic, a Semitic language like Hebrew and Arabic. Two important features set Semitic languages apart from European languages. First, Semitic languages are written right-to-left. Second, semitic languages are written in consonantal script. This means that the written words consist primarily of consonants; the vowels are either inferred, included as additional markings, or signified by the letters for w, y or ‘a.

If this seems difficult, don’t worry. Fortunately, our Syriac brothers and sisters have had centuries (or millennia, counting the full heritage of Aramaic) of practice and have used that time to transmit and compose great works of Christian and secular literature.

Today’s image is taken from a Syriac lectionary—including readings for use in the Eucharistic liturgy (known as Qurbono in Syriac) and in the liturgy of the hours. The manuscript is thought to have originated in northern Syria sometime between 1216-1240 AD (incidentally, it may be noted that this is the period when the Order of Preachers was finding its footing in Europe).

British Library Add MS 7170, Public Domain.

The intricately drawn illustration shows the women finding the angel at the tomb, who points out the empty burial cloths. One of the women (presumably Mary Magdalene, as in John 20:14-18) turns around to see the Risen Christ. The image combines elements from the various Gospel accounts read throughout the Easter day.

The darker text to the right beneath the image is the header. It informs us that this reading is for the morning liturgy of Easter (d-spra d-qymtha), and that the reading comes from Saint John (b-yhnn).

The lighter, slightly reddish text which follows in two columns exhibits John 20:1 through the first half of verse 2:

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, [and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.]

The details of the heading and the text of the reading, taken together, match the practice of some Syriac-speaking churches today, when John 20:1-18 is read at the morning service prior to the Eucharistic liturgy, at which Matthew 28:1-20 or Mark 16:1-8 are read.

This practice of reading the multiple Resurrection accounts, starting the night prior and going through the several liturgies of Easter day, suffuses this time with the spirit of joyful solemnity. With the compilation of various details into one beautifully illustrated image, this array of readings helps convey the overwhelming wonder of that first Easter morning.

Thank you for joining us for our Easter Octave series, Greeting the Resurrection through the Ages. We hope that this survey of Eastertide worship has nurtured your prayer by the beauty and variety of expression among the People of God; may we all—every age, nation, and language—celebrate the Risen Christ with Paschal greetings to one another: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!