Tag Archives: Radonitsa

Joyful with those who wait in Hope.

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The second Tuesday after Pascha it is common for Orthodox to visit cemeteries to share the joy of Easter with the departed, just as Christ must have done when he “descended into Hades” first thing after His Resurrection. In our area it is a strong tradition among parishes and monasteries, and I learned to love this trip to the cemeteries early in my life as an Orthodox Christian.

Until this year I had only visited one of the many cemeteries that are included on this day, but now that my own husband lies “newly reposed” in different one, I wanted to go and sing “Christ is risen!” by his grave as well. Priests from two Orthodox churches arrived unintentionally at the same time and led the service right next to the yet unmarked grave of Mr. Glad. You can see the long rectangle where turf was replaced, in the center of this picture.PH cem 4-21-15

The cemetery where his body was laid is of the modern “endowed” sort. All of the grounds are kept up by the owners, paid for by the burial fees. This is the same cemetery that I first visited in 2012 and afterward wrote about in A Sleeping Place Is Blessed. Not two years later Mr. Glad realized it would be prudent to buy plots for us there.

Fvl cemetery Radonitsa 15

Up the road a few miles at the next stop, we were met by Nina who was waiting by the graves of both of her husbands. I saw on the marker that her first husband died when I was still a child. Through the oaks down the hill we could see a third priest praying with two women at one gravesite.

This cemetery is of the old and non-endowed sort, where you are lucky if once a year some community organization chops down the larger weeds. And there is concrete, lots of it, in big broken squares and rectangles of curbs and cracked slabs over and around family groupings. I had forgotten about the hilliness, and about this difficulty of standing and walking on uneven concrete surfaces, anFvl 2 flowers 15d my ankles began to hurt. Note to self: No Danskos next time.

Besides the concrete, in the unpaved areas there are often foxtails and dust. But flowers grow in the cracks even in drought, and the rockrose that was planted long ago (photo at top) is vigorous. Last year it was really hot on Radonitsa (the Slavic word for this Day of Joy) but today it was cool and drizzly, so our shoes got wet on the lawns.

We didn’t have a big crowd at any of the cemeteries. A different group showed up at each place, with the most people at the third one, including several nuns from a nearby monastery; and women originally from Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia, presumably because they are used to doing a similar thing in their countries. Yevhenia, my new friend from Ukraine (that’s a phonetic spelling of how I try to pronounce her name, a form of Eugenia) said that in her country they bring tables and chairs to the cemetery so that they don’t have to rush off, and they picnic on festal foods while they think a while longer about death and God. They like to leave food on the graves, too, for poor people to pick up later on.

When I came home and read again about the Day of Rejoicing, I found that “The Slavs, like many ancient peoples, had a tradition of visiting family members’ graves during the springtime and feasting together with them.” It was an easy custom to continue after their conversion to Christianity, a faith that gave them a truly joyful message to bring along with the food, about Christ’s life-giving death.

Hlds cem 15This third cemetery has a smooth endowed section with flat grave markers, down the hill from what is in this picture, and we all trailed over there on the paths between the large square plots, to finish the service near those newer graves. Not far off a group of three people we didn’t know was gathered around a gravesite that was heaped with flowers, one woman obviously weeping.

They watched and listened to us as we faced their direction and sang the Paschal Canon enthusiastically, and when Father walked around censing, and blessing the graves with holy water as he sang, he went as far as their spot and sprinkled water on it, too, just very naturally, but did not interrupt the service. When we finished we went to talk to them; the woman’s mother had died. Maybe the two men were her husband and son. She kept telling us, “Thank you!” through her tears, and we exchanged hugs and repeated greetings of “Christ is risen!”

Some of us had colored eggshells left over from Pascha, to sprinkle on the graves. I didn’t have anything like that for Mr. Glad’s grave but a friend shared his with me. I hope to be ready next year, as I’ve conceived a plan, to make use of the blooms of our big snowball bush (viburnum) which are usually at their peak about this time. On the graves of those awaiting the Resurrection, they would be a lovely adornment.

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Day of Rejoicing

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The Day of Rejoicing is a tradition in some Orthodox churches, on which we visit and bless graves on the second Tuesday after Easter. Last year I posted about this happy day, when we visit the cemetery and sing “Christ is risen!”

Our priest blesses graves at four cemeteries this day, but I was present at only one. I got a ride with my godmother and another friend, and we had in the car roses, eggs and eggshells that we would later place on the gravestones. It was a hot day, so we also carried umbrellas, and as we made our way to the service the smell of roses was ever present from within and without.

In the upper part of the cemetery is the grave of a very beloved priest who founded one of the local monasteries, so the nuns always come from there to sing at his grave. It’s the one with the exuberant rockrose, which this year was in all its glory. Father accepted a sunhat from the nuns, which he only removed during the reading of the Gospel.

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We walked down to the newer and flatter area that has lawns instead of weeds, and completed the service there. Lots of bouquets, mostly of pretty artificial flowers, had been placed on various markers, but I liked best the California poppies that were decorating the older section.

One of the last prayers includes a phrase that I love, referring to our “quickly flowing, brief and temporal life,” after which our bodies will also sleep in the grave. We blessed the cemetery that it might be “a place of sweet sleep” for the bodies of these souls who wait for the time when they will receive them back, when all the dead will be resurrected, some to condemnation, and some to a Resurrection of Life.

Even now, with God’s help, we can live in that Life that Christ has given us, as we wait for the fullness of our own redemption, when we also will put on incorruption and immortality. We have much to be glad about on this day of rejoicing.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

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We rejoice with the dead and scatter eggshells.

Grave with exuberant rockrose

Today is Radonitsa or The Day of Rejoicing, Tuesday of Thomas Week in the Russian tradition, though some Orthodox churches visit graves on Thomas Sunday. My parish doesn’t have a churchyard (yet) so we don’t have a gathering in the church with traditional foods, as is the Old-world custom. But several of us joined nuns from the nearby skete at a cemetery not far away and sang a service of remembrance, alternating with joyful Easter hymns. It was a warm day on a dry hill; the sun was toasting the weeds underfoot and making them smell like cookies in the oven.

The Resurrection icon at top shows several elements that signify the ramifications of Christ’s rising from the dead, and every version shows in the center Christ pulling Adam and Eve from their tombs, from Hades. David and Solomon and Abel and John the Baptist and others are featured – we all are raised with Christ, as the church books explain:

Having previously celebrated the radiant feast of Christ’s glorious Resurrection, the faithful commemorate the dead today with the pious intent to share the great joy of this Pascha feast with those who have departed this life in the hope of their own resurrection.

This is the same blessed joy with which the dead heard our Lord announce His victory over death when He descended into Hades, thus leading forth by the hand the righteous souls of the Old Covenant into Paradise. This is the same unhoped-for joy the Holy Myrrhbearing Women experienced when discovering the empty tomb and the undisturbed grave clothes. In addition, this is the same bright joy the Holy Apostles encountered in the Upper Room where Christ appeared though the doors were closed. In short, this feast is a kindred joy, to celebrate the luminous Resurrection with our Orthodox forefathers who have fallen asleep.

My own parish comes out of a Russian tradition (though we are presently mostly Americans without Russian ancestry, and part of The Orthodox Church in America.) So we keep this day, which even St. John Chrysostom mentions in the 4th century. After the short service we all walked around scattering eggshells on graves and calling those who have fallen asleep, “Christ is risen!”