Today, the first Sunday after Pascha, is often called “Thomas Sunday” because on this day we complete the reading of the Gospel of Thomas’ unbelief and recount our Lord’s second appearance to the disciples inviting Thomas to place his fingers in the print of the nails in His hands and his hand into the spear wound on His side to verify that indeed He has risen bodily from the grave. This selection of the Gospel, which was begun at the Paschal Vespers on Sunday and which was completed today reveals to us a very important truth – that the entire Bright Week is not simply a collection of seven days as it appears, but is in fact mystically a single day – the day of Resurrection, the day of Pascha. Today is the first day after this mystical week long day of Pascha.
Today also has another name in the tradition of the Church: today is called “Anti-Pascha”. This might sound funny to our Western English attuned ears, because the Greek prefix “anti-“ has taken on a rather refined and restricted meaning in modern English. To those of us who are accustomed to hearing English, the prefix “anti-“ means “opposed to” or “against”, however, in Greek the meaning is somewhat different. In Greek, this prefix “anti-“ means “another” or “in place of” and does not carry the emotional implication of an enemy or opponent.
Therefore we have the term “anti-doron” for the bread which is distributed at the end of the Liturgy. In this case it means the bread (“doron”) that is “in place of” Holy Communion and is given to those who for some reason are not able to receive the mysteries. Technically, antidoron only refers to the bread that remains from the loaf after the portion for the lamb is removed and this bread is to be taken and consumed only by Orthodox Christians who have kept the communion fast. In practice, this bread is usually reserved and used only in the Zapivka (Aftersupper) which is given to those who have just received or it is consumed by the celebrating clergy. In the Russian tradition of using 5 separate loaves for the preparation, that leaves the other 4 loaves which are then cut up and distributed at the kissing of the cross and which can be received by any pious person even though they have not fasted. Even so this bread is “blessed” and so should be eaten with reverence.
Another term which incorporates this prefix “anti-“ is the reference to the great enemy of the Church, the servant of the evil one who in the last times will be revealed as the enemy of Christ, that is, the Antichrist. Again, to restrict the meaning of this title to mean only the “enemy” or “opponent” of Christ and to assume that his evil will be therefore be apparent is to strip some of the meaning from the term. If we take the full meaning of this term “anti-“ then the “Antichrist” becomes “the one who is in place of Christ” or “another Christ”. We know that the evil one is “a liar and the father of lies” and so when he presents to us “another Christ” his intent is not to enter into open war with us but to deceive us into accepting a counterfeit “in place of” our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone (or for that matter, anything) that takes the place of Christ can therefore be called antichrist; but we must not forget that these small antichrists are only the foreshadowing of the final Antichrist who will deceive the whole world and, if possible, even the elect. For this reason, the Holy Apostle John in his pastoral epistles can speak of “many antichrists” which are even now in the world saying, “He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.” and, “whoever does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (1 John 2:18 & 22, 2 John 7) Whenever we place someone or something else in the place of Jesus Christ in our lives, we have turned our allegiance to an “antichrist”, that is, to “another Christ, in place of the true Christ”.
Now when we say that today is Anti-Pascha, we are saying that even though the mystical day that is Pascha has ended, today is “another Pascha”. And today is not just any “Anti-Pascha” but it is the Anti-Pascha – the first of all the anti-Paschas. What we are to learn from this that every Sunday is considered an Anti-Pascha – that is “another Pascha”. On every Sunday we celebrate again the Queen of Feasts, the Most Glorious Resurrection of Christ. We see this in many ways, for example, in our fasting rule, in our behavior and in our services.
As a rule any important feast when it coincides with a fast day, will result in a relaxation of the fast. Therefore, whenever Sunday falls on a fast day, even during Great Lent, then the fast is always relaxed, even a little bit, so that we might know that this is a great feast, the feast of the Resurrection – it is “another Pascha”. If it would otherwise be a strict fast (as during Great Lent) on Sundays we take a little wine and we cook with oil. If Sunday is already a “wine and oil” day, then fish is permitted (as we see in the Nativity fast). There is never a case where the day of the Resurrection does not result in some relaxation of the fast.
During the entire Paschal season we do not make prostrations in the Church. Every place that a prostration (poklon) is prescribed, we make instead a “deep bow” (a metania). This variation applies on Sundays throughout the year as well, because every Sunday is an Anti-Pascha. For example, there are a number of places during the Liturgy where a prostration is prescribed, particularly at the consecration of the Gifts, at the Our Father, and prior to approaching the Chalice (by the way, once we have received the Mysteries, we do not make prostrations for the remainder of the day as Christ is in us). There are also other times when prostrations are not required, but commonly done, such as at the Great Entrance. At weekday liturgies, even on great feastdays, prostrations are done in these places, but on Sundays, no prostrations are made and only metanias are done at these times.
There are certain Paschal hymns that are included only for Resurrectional services. At the Paschal matins and hours we always sing “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ…” and following the canon the Exapostilarion “Holy is the Lord…” At Vespers on Pascha we sing the “Great Prokeimenon” which has about 2 or 3 extra verses. All of these Paschal hymns are included in the Sunday Vigil as well, but are absent from the daily services. There are also special dismissals for every day of the week which reflect the saints remembered on those days. Monday it is for the Heavenly Host (the angels); Tuesday for the Forerunner and the Apostles; Wednesday and Friday for the Cross; Thursday the Apostles and St Nicholas; and Saturday for the Martyrs. On Sunday we always use the Resurrectional dismissal that is used throughout the Paschal season (May He Who rose from the dead, Christ our True God…) reminding us that Sunday is an anti-Pascha, the day of Resurrection.
So today is the “Anti-Pascha”, the first of many reminding us that the Resurrection never truly departs from us, but is with us always and is celebrated every Sunday. Every Sunday throughout the year is an “anti-Pascha” that is “another Pascha” and we never stop celebrating the Glorious Resurrection but it is always with us, erupting every Sunday – again and again – that we might never be without the joy and the grace that our Lord bestowed upon us when He defeated death and rose from the grave.