This is a piece of prose inspired by the ‘Resurrection re-enactments’ of both the Coptic and Greek Orthodox Easter liturgies. You can see the Coptic resurrection play here, and the Greek one here. Both videos begin filming a church lit only by candles (or in the Coptic rite, a single candle held before the closed sanctuary) – and at the moment of the Resurrection, light is restored to the church (and the world).
The respective influences of both rites on the poem are fairly obvious should you make it to the end – there is a beautiful triumphalism to both. There is perhaps no moment which captures the theatricality of Orthodox worship better than Easter night.
Open your doors O kings
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” ~ St. Paul
This is the darkest of all nights,
And there are black whispers on the wind.
The dark wardens of this world
The gods of pain and misery
Destruction and death,
Have taken council.
For there have been rumours from the Great Below;
They say that hell has been harrowed,
That the chains of Sheol lie shattered
And the cells of Death’s prison have been plundered.
“But it cannot be,” the dark gods protest
“For the eternal doors are still shut!”
The door of every tomb is an everlasting door
Every gravestone a tower of their dark, eternal kingdom
And the eternal doors must never be lifted up
No tomb shall ever be opened;
Such was the law of the dark lords.
It was then that their council was interrupted
For a lone voice, floating across the wind from the East
Had invaded their assembly.
It chants, ever so softly, ever so gently
More a question than a proclamation:
“Christ is risen?”
Silence descends over the council of the dark gods
Christ the friend of slaves? The friend of sinners?
Christ who played with little children?
Who washed the feet of fishermen?
And now a deeper, stiller voice comes
Rumbling, like thunder from over the horizon,
So profound that it awakes an ancient terror in the bosom of the dark gods:
“Truly, He is risen.”
But the ancient fear was quickly forgotten,
As mocking laughter rang out among the dark powers.
For what challenge could a dead peasant pose
To the dark rulers of the world, who had levelled empires
And imprisoned every man that ever lived
In a cage of suffering, misery and death?
How could the tomb of this man, this king of fools
Ever be opened?
The first voice came again, chanting from the East
Suddenly bolder than it had been before:
“Open your doors O kings and be lifted up you everlasting doors!”
Laughter ceased in the council of the dark gods.
Like black lightning and obsidian fire they flew
Streaming through the night air on their pale chariots
Built from the bones of mankind
To a graveyard in Jerusalem,
Where lay tomb of Christ, the king of fools
To see whence came this seditious song.
The tomb was sealed. But a man stood outside, bearing a single candle.
The moon and the stars hid behind a veil of shadow,
And all was dark but for that candle.
“Of what madness do you sing!?” the dark lords demanded of the candle-bearer,
“Who dares disturb the resplendent dark?”
But the candle-bearer did not hear them; his eyes were fixed ahead
Where his candle shone weakly over the massive stone that lay against the door of the tomb.
He began to sing again:
“Open your doors O kings and be lifted up you everlasting doors!”
The dark lords were enraged.
“We will not open our doors!” they exclaimed,
Their black voices raging like dark thunder across the whole world,
“We are the lords of this world! The lords of the air! The lords of mankind!”
For so long as the tombs of all men are sealed,
So long as the everlasting doors remain shut,
Suffering, vice and death shall reign unchallenged over all;
Such was the law of the dark lords;
And they would defend it with every ounce of the malice that burned within them.
Lord Misery called down black clouds of ice-cold darkness to destroy the candle-bearer
Lord Terror kindled a fiery dark from the heavens to consume him
Lord Destruction bade the thunder and lighting to strike him down
And Great King Death drew his deathly sword,
Its blade burning bright black, the colour of blasphemy and the Great Below,
and moved to strike the chanter dead, and slay his subversive song …
But the chanter was unharmed, and still he stood
Candle pulsing defiantly out against the dark,
For he was protected.
He held his candle high and sang louder than before:
“Open your doors O kings and be lifted up you everlasting doors! And the King of Gloryshall come in!”
In a united explosion of malice, outrage and disbelief
The dark gods demanded all at once:
“Who is this King of Glory!?”
The chanter’s response rang out into the darkness of the graveyard
Louder than the thunderous protestations of the dark lords,
For now it was joined with that timeless voice from over the horizon,
That had first provoked the ancient terror among them. Together the two voices sang:
“The majestic Lord, strong and mighty! The victorious in battle! The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory!”
And all at once, the dark lords fell silent.
The Lord of Hosts … they knew that name
It was by the Lord of Hosts that all things were made
It was the Lord of Hosts from whom they had fled before the world began
Tortured and burned by the Light of His countenance
They had fled here, to this fallen world
To torture the sons of men
For the Lord of Hosts had forsaken them.
But it now began to dawn upon them,
What they had suspected but never dared believe;
For this Christ, this king of fools had not been like other men.
The dark lords had rejoiced when they slew Him upon that cross,
For they had perceived in Him, something new
New, but also ancient, and terrifying;
Something that had not been seen in this fallen realm since time out of mind:
The Light of the Lord of Hosts.
But how could something so great be hidden in such weakness?
This was a fool carpenter! One who played games with children,
And taught men that to serve was better than to rule.
This was no king! This was no emperor! No hero! No lord!
It could not be! It cannot be!
And then, the unthinkable happened.
A brilliant Light exploded from within the tomb
Flowing and pouring outwards from every crack and crevice.
Immediately a host of bright angels descended from heaven like a rain of white fire;
The dark lords screamed as they looked upon their brilliant faces,
So aflame with love and the Light that they seared their dark flesh.
The brightest of them flew straight to the stone that sealed the tomb
And rolled it away.
And there He stood. The Lord of Hosts. The King of Glory. The Lord of History.
Glowing brighter than a million suns.
For the first time since he fled the court of Lord of Hosts,
Great King Death was afraid.
Shielding his eyes, he shrieked:
“Who are you, Christ, king of fools to challenge our glorious reign?”
He drew his blasphemous blade and held it high:
“Go back to your tomb! The tomb of every man is an everlasting door!
Such is the law of the dark lords!”
“Today,” spoke Christ the King,
Gentler than an autumn breeze,
But louder than loudness itself,
“The law of the dark lords is broken.”
As soon as He spoke these words,
Death’s dark blade glowed a brilliant white and shattered in his hands,
For the Lord of Hosts had spoken from beyond the horizon,
And standing there, pulsing in glorious illimitable Light,
Stood His eternal Word;
His unchallengeable declaration that the law of the dark lords should be broken,
And the everlasting doors be lifted up.
And even as their eyes burned and dissolved within their skulls,
The dark lords could not pull their gaze away from Him,
For they saw in Him, all the beauty that they had lost.
They knew now, that the Lord of Hosts had never forsaken the sons of men;
He had become one of them.
And so the dark lords fled,
For even as it had emerged from the tomb
The Light of the Lord of Hosts had flown into the candle of the chanter
And he was now running back to Jerusalem to spread it.
Within hours, the Light burned all over Jerusalem
And within decades, the whole world was aflame with it.
And wherever it burned, there the dark lords could not bear to go
For the faces of the men who bore it burned bright like angels,
And everywhere they went, in every tongue, they greeted each other thusly:
“Christ is risen!”
“Truly, He is risen!”
“Come, receive the light from the unwaning light, and glorify Christ who rose from the dead.”
~ Greek Orthodox hymn