|Patriarchal Choir of the Danilov Monastery in performance today at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations|
Here's what happened. I was fascinated by Jeremy Varon's account of Dan Berrigan's funeral mass, "The Death Stops Here: The Death and Resurrection of Daniel Berrigan," so I found the video coverage provided by the Jesuit periodical America.
[You can watch the funeral here: Part One, Part Two.]
I put the videos on my tablet and took them with me to Moscow today. On the bus to Moscow I watched most of the funeral; on the way home on the train, I watched the rest.
In between -- that is, while we were in Moscow -- we attended a benefit concert for Big Change, whose programs for orphanage-leavers we support enthusiastically. The concert took place in the auditorium of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations ("MGIMO") and featured the Patriarchal Choir of the Danilov Monastery, performing a mixed program of sacred and folk music centered around the Easter troparion. The central text of this short verse (which the choir sang in Greek, Russian, English, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, French, and Old Church Slavonic) consists of the most important assertion of our faith:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Of course I couldn't help making connections between this song and the funeral mass I was in the midst of watching on my tablet on bus and train. Christ has trampled down death, and is bestowing life. The works of death have no claim on us, his followers, because he has made a way for us. It seems to me that the church still has much more to do to proclaim and implement this astounding truth, this astonishing freedom.
The church we actually have, of course, is full of mixed messages. The beautiful choral songs we heard today, proclaiming Christ is risen from the dead, were followed by Cossack songs romanticizing killing and death on the battlefield. In one particularly famous and lovely song, a brave soldier dies "from the second bullet," the church deacon sings him off to eternal life, and I sat there taking it all in, including the reality that the dead soldier's comrades are surely about to cause the same scenes of grief among the so-called enemy.
Well, is there someone who should always mourn even the enemy's dead?
Who else but the church?
Back on the train, I rewound the funeral recording a bit and confirmed that, for those of us who believe in the resurrection, the Easter troparion and Dan Berrigan's funeral really meshed so beautifully. Christ is risen from the dead. He tramples down death by death. Or, as Stephen Kelly put it in the funeral homily, "Bomb-blessing has no place in Jesus' self-giving."
An extraordinary moment in the funeral mass: the people present their gifts. Children come to the altar with gifts for the table that all have a connection to Dan Berrigan. A young girl brings a hammer, which is added to the other gifts at the table; you catch glimpses of the tool lying there on the tablecloth throughout the remainder of the service. A hammer! Christ is trampling down death by death, and his people dare to attack nuclear warheads with a simple carpenter's hammer! (Specifically, Dan and his brother Phil and six others did this, at a General Electric armaments factory in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, September 8, 1980.)
We often hear the stern voices of Christian celebrities defending family values and warning us against liberal decay. I am so hungry to see the day when that sort of passion for truth wakes up and notices our heretical complicity with the death-worship that is commanded by the powers that be. The Christian church, reclaiming our resurrection freedom, can finally rise up in unity to defy those unclean powers, and as a united Body, set about trampling down death by death, beating swords into plowshares, and refusing to learn war any more.
We are free! What's stopping us?
About five years ago we heard this same Danilov Monastery choir when it visited Elektrostal. I wrote about that visit and its effect on our students here.
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