Carrying our candles to the grave


We are standing---my wife, some friends, and I---in a thick line that stretches around the Orthodox Christian cathedral where sometimes we come to worship God. It is the evening service that I only know to call the lamentations of Mary. It is a Friday night; Holy Week for the Orthodox is coming to a close. Inside we have been singing, in mournful tones:

Ah, my precious springtime! / Ah my Son beloved. / Ah, whither fades thy beauty?

Wailing song to mourn thee / Poured from thy pure Mother / When thou, O Word, wast slaughtered.

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Now we are in this queue, a funeral procession, each of us clutching a slender candle and cupping its flame against treacherous wind. It occurs to me, as I watch my puny flame tremble and sputter, that this represents all Christians, carrying our faith lit by a fire that comes not from us. We are stumbling over the earth trying to keep our small candles alight.

Behind me, my good friend's light goes out. Just like the miracle of faith, my flame grows stronger as I touch my candle to hers. Before me, one of my closest friends has his flame stolen by a sudden gust. His daughter is there to restore him. Now my light has gone. My wife cups my hand with her own, and soon my candle is renewed.

We are huddled together and trudging toward the tomb, which is what the cathedral is this night. As we come to the doors we blow out our candles, and we step under the funeral bier of Christ, signifying that we have been buried with Him. We will return the next night to celebrate His resurrection. Then we will celebrate our deliverance from the bondage of death. But tonight we leave the cathedral remembering He died so that we all might have life. It is a mournful time, but not without hope, for even amidst the lamentations we sing:

Mourn not for me, Mother, as thou beholdest me in the grave; for I thy Son, whom thou didst conceive in thy womb without seed, shall rise and shall be glorified.

We are all of us walking or sprinting or crawling with these small flames of faith. If we are blessed we walk with friends, with those we can call beloved, and who call us the same. Attend to one another's flames, brothers and sisters, for all of us go to the grave, and to what lies beyond.


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