01 May 2011

The Eleven Matins Gospels: Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

The major Resurrection appearances of Jesus in the Canonical gospels (and to a lesser extent other books of the New Testament) are reported to have occurred after his death and burial but prior to his Ascension. Among these primary sources, most scholars believe First Corinthians was written first, authored by Paul of Tarsus along with Sosthenes circa AD 55. Finally, the Gospel of the Hebrews‎ recounts the Resurrection appearance to James the brother of Jesus.

Paul lists several resurrection appearances of Jesus to various "men". In Matthew, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and another Mary at his empty tomb. Later, the eleven disciples go to a mountain in Galilee to meet Jesus, who appears to them and commissions them to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to make disciples of all people (the Great Commission).

In Luke, Jesus appears to the disciples and eats with them, demonstrating that he is flesh and bones, not a ghost. He tells them to wait in Jerusalem for the start of their mission to the world, and then he ascends into the heavens. In Acts, written by the same author as Luke, Jesus appears to his disciples after his death and stays with them for 40 days before ascending to heaven. Acts also describes Jesus' appearance to Paul, in which a voice speaks to Paul and a light blinds him while he's on the road to Damascus. In John, Mary alone finds Jesus at the empty tomb, and he tells her not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to the Father. Later, he appears to the disciples. He moves through a closed door and has "doubting Thomas" touch his wounds to demonstrate that he is flesh and bones. In a later appearance, Jesus assigns Peter the role of tending to Jesus' sheep, that is, leading Jesus' followers. The traditional ending of Mark summarizes resurrection appearances from Matthew and Luke.

Appearances reported in the gospels

(Matthew 28)
  • As Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" were running from the empty tomb to inform the disciples that he is alive, Jesus tells the women to instruct the disciples to go to Galilee ahead of him to greet him.
  • To the eleven apostles on a mountain in Galilee where Jesus had directed them .
(Luke 24)
  • In the Road to Emmaus appearance to Cleopas and one other disciple as they walked to Emmaus. At first "their eyes were holden" so that they could not recognize him. Later while having supper at Emmaus "their eyes were opened" and they recognized him.
  • To "Simon." This appearance is not described directly by Luke but it is reported by the other apostles. It is not clear whether this happened before or after the appearance at Emmaus.
  • To the eleven, together with some others (including Cleopas and his companion), in Jerusalem.
  • In Luke 24:13-32 Cleopas and his companion relate how Jesus was made known to them "in the breaking of bread". B. P. Robinson argues that this means the recognition occurred in the course of the meal, but Raymond Blacketer notes that "Many, perhaps even most, commentators, ancient and modern and in-between, have seen the revelation of Jesus' identity in the breaking of bread as having some kind of eucharistic referent or implication."
(John 20 & 21)
  • To Mary of Magdala. At first she did not recognize him and thought that he was a gardener. When he said her name, she recognized him.
  • To the disciples (not including Thomas) on that same day. They were indoors "for fear of the Jews." Jesus entered and stood in their midst while the doors were shut.
  • To the disciples including Thomas, called Didymus. This was a week later, again indoors, and resulted in the famous doubting Thomas conversation.
  • To "Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons and two other of his disciples", by Lake Tiberias, which led to the miraculous catch of 153 fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved was present in this group.
(Mark 16)
  • To Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome.
  • To two of Jesus's followers as they were walking in the countryside (Jesus appeared to them in "another form").
  • To the eleven while they were dining.
Appearances reported elsewhere in the New Testament

(Acts of the Apostles)
  • To the Church in Jerusalem — forty days after the resurrection after which he ascended into heaven, with a prophecy to return ( 1:1-11).
  • To Saul (Paul), on the Road to Damascus, though according to the text, it was a voice, not a vision, as Paul was blinded by a light ( 9:3-9, 22:6-11, 26:12-18) and also when Paul was in a trance he saw the Lord speaking ( 22:17-21).
  • Stephen saw the Lord just before his death ( 7:55).
  • Peter also heard a voice while in a trance ( 10:9-16, 11:4-10).
(1st Corinthians 15)
  • "seen of Cephas, then of the twelve" 15:5
  • "seen of above five hundred brethren at once" 15:6
  • "seen of James; then of all the apostles" 15:7
  • "last of all he was seen of me" (Paul) 15:8–9, also claimed in 9:1
  • Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 seems to represent a pre-Pauline credal statement derived from the first Christian community.
  • Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. —Paul of Tarsus[Gal 1:18-20]
  • John of Patmos experienced a vision of the resurrected Christ described in 1:12-20. According to 1:11, the Son of Man whom John sees is the one writing the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. In 2:8, meanwhile, he calls himself "the First and the Last, who died and came to life again."
With the possible exceptions of the appearances to Paul and Ananias in Acts 9, Acts 22, Acts 26 and to Peter in Acts 10, Acts 11 and to John of Patmos in Revelation 1, the Bible only records pre-Ascension appearances of Christ. Yet a number of post-Ascension visions of Jesus and Mary have been reported long after the Book of Revelation was written, some as recently as this century.

In the Orthodox Church, the Resurrection appearances of Jesus which are found in the four Gospels are read at Matins in an eleven-week cycle of Gospel readings, known as The Eleven Matins Gospels.

The Matins Gospel is the solemn chanting of a lection from one of the Four Gospels during Matins in the Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic churches which follow the Byzantine Rite.

The reading of the Gospel is the highpoint of the service, and takes place near the end of the festive portion of the service known as the Polyeleos. During the Divine Liturgy the Gospel is usually read by the deacon, but the Matins Gospel is read by the priest. However, if the bishop is present, he will usually be the one who reads the Matins Gospel.

Every Sunday is a commemoration of the Resurrection of Jesus, and so it is always observed as a feast (in the Slavic churches it is customary to serve an All-Night Vigil every Saturday night).

The Sunday Matins Gospels (known as the "Matins Resurrection Gospels") are an eleven-week cycle of readings taken from the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus.

The Sunday Matins Gospels are:
  1. Matthew 28:16-20
  2. Mark 16:1-8
  3. Mark 16:9-20
  4. Luke 24:1-12
  5. Luke 24:12-35
  6. Luke 24:36-53
  7. John 20:1-10
  8. John 20:11-18
  9. John 20:19-31
  10. John 21:1-14
  11. John 21:15-25
The cycle begins on the Sunday after Pentecost, and continues up to, but not including, Palm Sunday of the succeeding year. The eleven lessons are read in order and without interruption, except on Great Feasts of the Lord—which have their own Matins Gospels—until Pascha (Easter) of the following year. During the Pentecostarion (the period from Pascha until Pentecost), the same Gospels are read at Sunday Matins, but not in the same order.

The Gospel reading is preceded by a prokeimenon, a selection from the Psalms relevant to the theme of the resurrection. These prokeimena are chanted according to an eight-week cycle known as the Octoechos, and are chanted in a different liturgical mode each week of the cycle. The deacon then leads the choir in chanting, "Let every breath praise the Lord", which is chanted in the same mode as the prokeimenon.

On Sundays, the Matins Gospel is read at the Holy Table (altar), which symbolizes the Tomb of Christ. The priest does not hold the Gospel Book during the reading, but reads it as it lies open on the Holy Table. Immediately after the reading, the priest kisses the Gospel Book and hands it to the deacon who brings it out through the Holy Doors and stands on the ambon, holding the Gospel aloft for all to see, while the choir chants the following Hymn of the Resurrection:
Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. We venerate Thy cross, O Christ, and Thy holy Resurrection we praise and glorify. For Thou art our God, and we know none other than Thee. We call on Thy name. O come, all ye faithful, let us venerate Christ's holy Resurrection. For behold, through the cross joy hath come into all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, we praise his Resurrection: for by enduring the cross, he hath slain death by death.
During the Paschal season this hymn is chanted three times.

The Gospel Book is then brought into center of nave and placed on an analogion to be venerated by the faithful. The reason for this is that the Orthodox consider the Gospel Book to be an icon of Christ. The deacon holding the Gospel, and the priest following him, symbolize the angels announcing the resurrection to the Myrrhbearers; the bringing forth of the Gospel Book into the center of the temple symbolizes Jesus' appearances to the disciples after his resurrection; and in venerating the Gospel Book the faithful are greeting the resurrected Christ, as the Apostles did (Matthew 28:9, John 20:19-20).

Later in the Matins service, there are two sets of hymns which are chanted in accordance with the Matins Resurrection Gospel that was read that week. One is the Exapostilarion, which is chanted at the end of the canon, and the other is a sticheron called the Eothinon (εωθινόν) which is chanted at the end of Lauds. The Eothinion is chanted to its own special melody, known as an idiomelon. Both of these sets of hymns are traditionally attributed to the Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus.

If a Great Feast of the Lord ( Transfiguration, Theophany, etc.) falls on a Sunday, the normal Sunday Resurrection service, including its Matins Gospel, is replaced entirely by the service for the feast. If a Great Feast of the Theotokos (Mother of God) falls on a Sunday, it is combined with the normal Sunday service, but the Matins Gospel read is the one for the Theotokos. If the feast day of a saint falls on Sunday, it is combined with the normal Sunday service, but the Matins Gospel read is for the Sunday.

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