The origin of that ancient hymn, “The day of Resurrection,” and the occasion of its singing are so interesting and suggestive that we conclude with the story of this hymn which is necessary to the completion of the songs of the sanctuary at Easter time. Dr. John Mason Neale, the translator, calls it a “glorious old hymn of history.” It is part of the canon for Easter of John of Damascus, who died 780 A.D.
John of Damascus
The circumstances of this old song are very interesting. The scene was at Athens. We are told that as midnight approached the archbishop and the priests, accompanied by the king and the queen, left the church and stationed themselves on the platform, which was raised considerably above the ground. This was in order that the concourse of people might have a good view.
A vast throng stood in breathless expectation. All held unlighted tapers, in readiness for when the glad moment should arrive. Meanwhile, the priests murmured a melancholy chant. Suddenly a cannon announced that midnight had passed and Easter Day had begun. The archbishop elevated the cross and exclaimed exultantly, “Christos Anesti,” which is, “Christ is risen.”
Everyone instantly took up the cry. The vast multitude broke through and dispelled the intense and mournful silence. “Christ is risen! Christ is risen!” echoed and re-echoed everywhere. The darkness was instantly superseded by a blaze of light. Thousands of tapers, like streams of fire, gleamed in all directions.
The roll of the drum and the peal of the cannon resounded throughout the town. Rockets from both hill and plain shot skyward. Meanwhile, the aged priests chanted joyfully, “Christ is risen from the dead, having trampled death beneath His feet, and henceforth they that are in the tombs have everlasting life.” Out of this has grown our Easter hymn, “The day of resurrection.”