Open for Service: an Opinion

If you are interested in one of these stickers for your business, go to openforservice.org

If you are interested in one of these stickers for your business, go to openforservice.org

I have tried writing many blog posts about this, but they have become too convoluted with legalese and political nuances. So I am going to start fresh.

It is my opinion that a refusal to serve someone on Christian principle is an oxymoron, and that it is not the most fruitful way to bear witness to the Faith. While Jesus certainly has standards that He expects people who choose to follow Him to observe, His service and love for others (from breaking bread to feed them, to healing their sons and daughters, to giving His life for them on the Cross) was never conditional on their belief.

In fact, it is likely that many of the people He fed, served, and healed were later in the crowds of onlookers screaming “Crucify Him!” Remember the 10 lepers? He healed all of them, even though He knew only one would return to thank Him. He did not withhold service or love, and did not expect His followers to do so, either.

The wedding cake scenario is being used as an example where the business owners believe that to provide a good or service is to participate or in some way sanction a marriage that is different from their own belief in what marriage is. While that decision is between them and their spiritual guide, my opinion is once again different. I would consider it a business transaction and nothing more. If sharing my understanding of marriage was a prerequisite for allowing people to buy and eat my cake, I might as well stick to putting up flyers in the fellowship hall, because the only people who share my understanding of marriage are other Orthodox Christians. But if I decided to serve the public, it would be just that, a decision to serve, without condition.

Many of the friends, family and loved ones who attended our wedding were not Christians. Some attended with their partners of the same sex.  And while I always rejoice when a friend shows interest in Orthodoxy, I fully recognize, respect and understand that their attendance of my wedding, giving of gifts, and participation in my wedding party were not statements of agreement with my theology or my understanding of marriage. They were there because of their respect, love, and friendship toward me. I am deeply grateful for this, and it carries a lot of weight in my discussions about these topics and issues.

I don’t own a business, of course. I know that decisions have a context, and actions have motives, and it’s exactly zero% my perogative to judge or condemn anyone. And I recognize that business owners are going to continue to make decisions without my input, as they have always done.

My view is admittedly simplistic, but it is essentially that businesses are civil entities. They are a part of a community, and access of all members of a community to the goods and services of a business is a civil right that should not be dependent on religious belief, sexual orientation, disability, racial/ethnic identity, and so on. (I have similar views on the right of everyone to obtain a legal, civl marriage.) For a business to claim they serve the public, but to exclude some parts of the public is discriminatory by nature. And while businesses can choose their customers, and discrimination may not be their intention, I believe that the refusal-to-serve approach will end up giving the businesses a negative reputation and doing more harm than good to their bottom line.

I think that any law that allows businesses to refuse service should also have provisions that guard against discrimination, and that  allow patrons who feel they have been discriminated against to take appropriate legal action (many RFRAs have this language, and some who do not- such as Indiana and Arkansas- are in the process of getting theirs changed).

What a business does is their business (just as the decision whether or not to support a business based on their practices is a choice I can and do make). But this debate has a lot of important questions driving it, including: what makes a business a Christian one? I would venture (perhaps with some repercussions) to suggest it is their service, and whether or not that service is provided with grace, kindness, and respect.

Every business and every owner will approach these situations differently. But in my own life? I believe I do not have the right to refuse service to anyone, but an obligation to serve, love, pray for and respect everyone.  The rest is up to God, and my neighbor. And in this I have peace.

Opinions are People, Too.

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I haven’t blogged in a long time, because I have been afraid. Yes, afraid to do something I should be eager to do as a writer living in a free-speech loving country: I am afraid to share my opinions, and tell you the stories that form them. I have kept quiet for a long time about many things. But that doesn’t jive with me, turkey.  Because whatever else I have to be to pay the bills, I am a writer. Writing is what I do. I do it to make you think, make you feel, and [hopefully] make you smile. I have to do it. It feels wrong not to, especially when I am learning, struggling, and wanting to grow, since writing is the vehicle I use to do that. I have to speak up. I have to be myself. I have to tell people who that is, because I like her, and I am proud of who God has made her. There is a good case for keeping our mouths shut a lot of the time. But after much thought, prayer and consideration, it is time to break the silence.

Warning: these stories contain opinions that may not be agreeable to all readers:

  • Several months ago, I implied on social media that I think anyone should be able to get a wedding cake from anywhere that sells wedding cakes, regardless of whether I shared the same definition of marriage as that couple did. [My reason being, of course, that if a business owner could decide to deny someone else a good, service, or civil right based on a differing characteristic or belief, I could also concievably be denied civil rights, goods, or services by the same exact line of reasoning.] And there was a firefight. I mean, you would have thought I said I was a cannibal, and that you were next, buddy. The comments made me cry. I lost sleep. It was not an easy time.
  • A few weeks ago, there was a barrage of posts on my newsfeed about how [yes] all women have been victimized, objectified or abused.  Perusing some of the posts reminded me of my own experiences: growing up with a man who made ours a tumultuous house, being flirted with [in the classroom] by male teachers who were twice my age, being asked by random men for a “ride” because of my wheelchair. Remembering made me feel small and sad, and my heart went out to women.  But at the very same time, I was made aware through circumstance and conversation of the countless good men in my life, who have never treated me with anything but love, dignity and respect. Some of the most poignant, loving and heartfelt help I have had working through these things has come from the men in my life- one in particular. And my heart went out to them, too. Good men–no, great men–who were only seeing negative messages from the world at large. I wept for my friends, male and female, as I watched them victimized and villainized. I could not perpetuate that.
  • I have read things bemoaning government assistance, wondering why individuals who receive it have nice phones and televisions. I receive government assistance. I have a nice phone and a television. I also[gratefully] work 2 jobs. But I know people who can’t work for many valid reasons, and I think of them, how grateful they are for what they have, how freely they have shared with me of the possessions and resources such assistance has allowed them to have. I couldn’t agree with prejudice directed at people like those I knew. And iCouldn’t let someone who had no interest in learning about any other aspect of my life make me feel guilty for having a talking phone [I have to admit, it’s pretty neat].
  • I have seen posts about how a photo of me in my two-piece swimsuit might cause trouble in a marriage. “My husband shouldn’t have to see your boobs” it read. I agree, I thought. And he won’t, I can assure you. But he may have to see my opaque, normal-for-this-century swimsuit [gasp!]. And I have full confidence in his ability to continue to be lovingly and faithfully married to you after he does.
  • Just yesterday, I was accused of believing in “magic” because I have a deep and abiding faith in the sacraments and the healing power of the Church. I was singled out and belittled by a stranger without a second thought.
  • The same day, I saw the latest title from a popular Christian blogger: “If you want birth control, go buy it. Nobody is stopping you” he said. And I felt ashamed because I would not be able to afford birth control without the insurance [from the government] that helps me pay for it.

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Every single time I found myself in possession of a strong opinion after reading [or receiving the brunt end of] these social shenanigans, I simultaneously wanted to shut up about it and shout it from the rooftops. And I have kept quiet, for a long time.  Truth be told, I was a wimpy-wimpface who used my insecurities as an excuse to be so. But I had to cut loose [footloose, kick off your Sunday shoes!] Because my opinions are not just tenets or ideologies.  They are indicators of my feelings and passions, my shortcomings and wants. They remind me where I am on my journey of empathy, compassion, understanding and faith.  They are my stories. And coming to this realization has shown me something important.

Just as my opinions- when you read or hear them- point directly to myself and my circumstances, opposing viewpoints from people whose opinions differ from mine, are still glimpses of who they are. If I am angry at an opinion and I state that anger plainly and without tact, it will hurt the people attached to those differing opinions. It will make it a battle of correct and incorrect, instead of an effort to do the right thing.

To counter the knee-jerk reaction to talk about how right and awesome I am, I have tried a new strategy of late. I have intentionally read opposing or differing viewpoints, to get a sense of the stories people are trying to tell me.

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As a result, I enjoy reading about and discussing men’s issues, LGBT issues, minority issues, stories about the military, blogs by rabbis and Muslims, you name it. [And surprisingly, I have not turned into an LGBT Jewish Muslim man yet!] The whole thing has challenged me, taught me new things, and made me more aware of “the other side” of a lot of popular debates in the news and media.  I especially like to read opposing views from people I know. I can flex my empathy muscles and make them big and strong. Which is important because:

  • Everyone has opinions on everything.
  • Those opinions are strong, often because they are tied to a real-life experience the person has had, or a deeply-held belief or tradition.
  • There is much more to a person than their opinion on one issue.
  • People’s opinions change over time, and can even change as a result of an exchange of opinions with someone different from them.

And most importantly, the opinion I don’t agree with belongs to a person with a need, a hurt, or a story. A person I am obligated by my humanity and my theology to love, from right where they are.  Because that’s just the right thing to do, in my opinion anyway.

 

DOMA: One Christian Speaks

With the DOMA decision hot off the presses this week, my Facebook news feed has been fascinating. I just sit and watch the screen refresh with anticipation; waiting for the gloves to come off.

One minute: OMGRAINBOWTEARSOFJOY.

The next: OMGWORLDCRASHINGDOWN.

And about every half hour: Something about Jesus, churches or the Bible, and how they feel about “The Gays” getting married.

As an Orthodox Christian, I view marriage [which my Church defines as being a physical and spiritual union between a man and a woman] as a Sacrament. Something spiritual and supernatural happens during a wedding for an Orthodox Christian: Christ is the Celebrant, He joins the couple together. And in a Mystery, they become one person. Because of this, sex is meant for marriage because it is a participation in that oneness. It is meant to be experienced within the context. So, taken together: having a wedding, being married, and having sex are beautiful, holy, and sacred.

Marriage is also known as the White Martyrdom within the Orthodox Church: you are giving your life for your spouse before God; this is represented by the “crowning” part of the marriage ceremony [Yep, those are Martyrs’ Crowns. Intense, right?!].

I cherish this view of marriage and sex as a healthy, full one. I look forward to experiencing it; I believe it is truth, and I believe this because I trust my Faith. It’s not an easy thing to believe, wait for, or live by, believe me. [White Martyrdom does not exactly come up as a topic of conversation at most parties these days.]  But I know it’s worth it.

However, I don’t expect every single person in the United States of America to have the same beliefs I do about marriage any more than I expect them all to show up at my Church on Sunday morning.

To follow the teachings of Jesus or the Church is now, and always has been, a choice, not a legislation or ruling. Jesus has never been shy; He has never been a shrinking violet, but He has never been a politician, either. He loves, He teaches and lives from Love; we choose how to respond.

Jesus never ran for President, and America is not now, nor has it ever been, an exclusively Christian nation. The Founding Fathers did not all go to the same Church together. They did not pen the Constitution at a Small Group at Bible Camp, and they never intended for a particular brand of religion to be legislated from Capitol Hill. In fact, the need for Freedom of Religion [any, not just mine] is what brought those rowdy ex-Brits here in the first place. That’s why it’s [still] in our constitution [right now, actually]. So, because the Constitution is what guides our law/political process, DOMA shouldn’t be discussed in terms of religion, because Church and State are separate here. And that’s where it gets tricksy, my little hobbitses.

See, within the American political sphere, marriage can’t be viewed as religious, because there is a legal component to it [and Church and State are separate]. So, the real question behind whether or not the Supreme Court should’ve upheld DOMA is not “Is it Christian for people who are in same-sex relationships to get married?” it’s “Should they have the Constitutional right to do so, based on what the rest of our law and Constitution says?” When marriage is being debated in politics, it’s a civil issue, not a theological one.

As much as I love my Church and my Faith [a lot, you guys, it’s changed my life in the most beautiful ways possible], I cannot find within it anything that says I should impose or enforce my own moral code on someone who is not choosing to be a part of my Faith. And  as an American citizen, I can’t find a place in the Constitution where it says I  have the legal right or civil obligation to do that, either.

So, yes, I am a straight, heterosexual Orthodox Christian. That means a someday I will marry a man in my Church: we’ll put on Martyrs’ Crowns and kiss dramatically in front of all our relatives [awkward!], and then we’ll dance the night away. And you’re all invited. Because it will be a beautiful, real experience, with a great party to follow.

My devotion to my Faith and its teachings about marriage does not mean I have the right to make anyone else’s faith or marriage illegal. And it doesn’t mean I should be unkind, rude, or unloving toward anyone, whether my theology agrees with their lifestyle choices or not.

I pray I have spoken the Truth in love, and that I can live it the same way. And I hope for your patience and respect as I spend my life figuring out the best way to do so.

Behold Your Mother: Getting to Know the Virgin Mary

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During my conversion to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, I had myriad experiences that sat in stark contrast to the nondenominational, Protestant faith I had carried since childhood. One of the most challenging things to grasp was the apparent prominence of the Virgin Mary in the Church. Other than what I could glean from some familiar Bible verses, I hadn’t known Mary at all. I had only even seen her during Christmas and Easter plays, where she stood in the backdrop, saying little or nothing. I had a fragmented idea of who she might have been, but no clear picture of who she was.

Orthodox Christians [and many from liturgical traditions] just plain love Mary. And we aren’t shy about it. In fact, you can’t miss her. Every time I go to Church, there she is, larger than life: in a giant icon right above the altar, with Jesus in her womb and her arms outstretched in welcome. The choir sings to her every Sunday. And the priest asks her for her help and prayers, calling out to her as if she is right there with him in the sanctuary, standing next to Jesus. It jarred me at first. Was that kind of thing in the Bible? Did the early Church really think of human beings like that? And why are we talking to her in the present tense? It all seemed quite weird. I was griping about the whole struggle with Father Stephen one day when he diffused the tension with his typical gentleness, “She is a person,” he said, with a smile, “Not a theological concept.”

Okay, I’d thought. Mary was a person. I can’t argue that. But it’s not like she’s with us now, right? Wrong. The Bible itself talks about being surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). The faithful men and women who have gone before us are, in a mystery, hemming us in with their prayers, which help us “throw off everything that hinders us, and the sin that so easily entangles us”(v. 2-3).  And who better to help me bring my requests before the throne of the Incarnate God than His mother, who carried Him in her womb, held Him in her arms, and kissed His face when He cried?

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Though I wasn’t used to or comfortable with relating to Mary at first, Christianity often brings us to many crossroads where we have to decide to step out of our comfort zone and love because that is the example set for us:

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27)

Why had I not seen this before? The Early Christians did love and honor Mary as their mother, because Jesus loved her and cared for her as His Mother, even to His last breath.

Seen in this light, loving Mary, honoring her, and asking her for help makes perfect sense. We have all loved and honored our mothers, or those like mothers to us, constantly leaning on them for support.

Beyond that, our mothers teach us, and Mary is no exception. As I’ve heard several priests put it: she is not the great exception; she is the great example. Her acceptance of the will of God [“I am the Lord’s servant, let it be done unto me according to your word”, Luke 1:38] should inspire us. A single act of faith and humility allowed for God to work the great miracle of the Incarnation in the womb of a young girl from Galilee. Because Mary offered her humanity for Christ to take on, our flesh can now be sanctified and saved.

As His Mother, Mary has a tender, deep relationship to God that we can learn from and emulate. Caring for and loving Jesus, mourning His death, and celebrating His life and resurrection; Mary’s simple, deep love for her Son is woven throughout the Gospels.  We get a glimpse of this intimacy in a beautiful excerpt from Luke: And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:18-19).

Just as she treasures the chance to be close to Jesus, it is evident for anyone who looks to her that Mary loves all of us as her children through Christ. Countless times throughout Church history, she has intervened for the faithful with the aid of her intercession, comfort and consolation, right up to here and now.

At Christmas, the image of Mary cradling and kissing Jesus is especially powerful. She reminds me of the humility of Jesus, as I realize He was willing to be cared for by His Creation. She reminds me of the power of prayer, as her intercessions bring me peace. And in his calling me to love His mother, the Lord welcomes me as His family, allowing me to abide in Him and with Him.

Wishing you all good news, great joy and His Peace this Christmas.

With His love.

it takes all kinds.

I have been debating whether to write this for weeks now. And once I decided to write it, I turned over and over in my head the question of whether or not to share it with anyone [and everyone, as the case may be].

At the risk of sounding a bit Doom and Gloom, I have to level with you guys and say this is the hardest, weirdest, most difficult Lenten season I have had yet. There has been lots of uncertainty, sadness, fear, brokenness, and anxiety. There has been a little reprieve here and there. But even that seems strained and out of place.

So, if we haven’t talked in a while, forgive me. I haven’t known where to start, and I haven’t wanted to trap you under a fast-flowing stream of molten Sad.

It’s the strangest feeling; it’s not just introspection. It’s something like isolation. Lately, I feel like I am a million miles away from how my life used to be. And not in the inspirational, empowering chick pop kind of way, either. And I feel a million miles away from figuring any of it out. In spite of the love I know surrounds me, it seems the comfort of even my closest friends is still somehow out of my reach. My whole life has that feeling you get when you realize you are light years away from the stars.

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Philo of Alexandria [or Plato, or your mom] once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Everyone. The guy that cut you off in traffic, the girl who is mean to you at work, the annoying close-talker seated next to you on the bus. Every single person you come into any kind of contact with has it rough in some way. Sounds kind of emo, right? But held up to the right light, it can be comforting to know we’re not alone, even though it is easy to feel that way when the going gets dodgy.

We’re all getting tested this time of year. Lent (and life, to an extent) seems to be the kind of thing where, if it’s not difficult, you’re probably not going about it the right way. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself lately.

But we have the solace of Grace to comfort us, even when it seems very dark. And when it’s difficult to discern its coming from Above, we can do our best to share it amongst ourselves. In other words, hang in there. I love you. You’re doing just fine.

O, Lord and Master of my life

Grant me not a spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk.

But grant unto me, thy servant, a spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults, and not to condemn my brother,

For Thou art blessed unto Ages of Ages. Amen.- the Prayer of St Ephrem

Happy New Year

The last few weeks had been rough. I wanted to give up. I wanted to throw in the towel. There were several times when I stumbled and failed; others, when I just whined and complained.  Just a few more days, I told myself.  A few more days, and I can put it all out of my mind.

And then that great day finally arrived. I put on one of my best dresses, and my shiny shoes, and headed out for the big night. I gathered around with my family and close friends, waiting with gleeful impatience for the clock to tick over to the new day.

The excitement in the air was palpable. We were counting down the minutes. And then, there rang out three simple words:

Christ is Risen!

With those three words, time stood still. All was made new, all was washed clean. Everything began again.  And since the beauty, glory and holiness of Pascha [or Easter, if it’s all Greek to you] is so difficult to explain to those who have yet to experience it, I have taken to calling it Orthodox New Year.

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom helps clarify that sentiment with beauty and eloquence. No matter what has preceded this moment, no matter how I have struggled, fallen, or shown disregard in my spiritual obligations along the way, I need not worry. I am given a new day- and in a very real sense, a new life.

Being someone who hates to feel stuck, I crave-and relish-the feeling of renewal. And to know I have it, and to spend an entire day immersing myself in the knowing, is a beautiful thing indeed.

So, Happy New Year to you, too!

Truly He is Risen!

Life Reigns

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:5b-6a

In the Orthodox Church, Pascha (Easter) is kind of a big deal. Actually, it is a huge deal. It is the brightest and most beautiful day of the year. It is known as the Feast of Feasts and the end of the  fast (Lent + the week before Pascha), with the feasting period lasting a full forty days [and I am not kidding about the feasting part]. It all starts around 11:00 PM on Saturday night. Yes, you read that right. The church is completely dark, and after a few prayers, the priest lights his candle with the flame from the altar, and from that light, all of the faithful light their candles; all the while singing a hymn about the Light of Christ. Everywhere you look, people are grinning from ear to ear, the children are too excited to stand still. But we’re not there yet.

There is then a procession around the church singing hymns, everyone with candles lit. Then everyone gathers at the closed doors of the church, the Priest reads from the Gospel, and for the first time, sings the Paschal hymn:

“Christ is Risen from the dead
Trampling down Death by Death
And upon those in the tombs,
Bestowing Life!”

Then the congregation sings this hymn together, and we enter the sanctuary again. It is now brightly lit, with white adornments and lilies, to match the white robes worn by the clergy. There are various other hymns, all about the Ressurection and the victory it offers the world.

It is througbout this time the priests will walk quickly through the center of the aisle, swinging the censer (full of incense) and exclaiming”Christ is Risen” as loud as they can. The people shout out the response to the Paschal greeting: “He is Risen indeed!”. Often this is done in a variety of different languages. This is one of my favorite parts of the service, because it is the first time a true celebration breaks out: shouting, beaming smiles, and candles raised. We have arrived. Truly He is Risen.

After Communion, the central point of the service, it’s time to go to the fellowship hall for the feast.

All the families in the church have brought baskets full of food they’ve missed during Lent (think every imaginable thing you could make with meat or dairy involved and you begin to get some idea). By this time, it is around 2:00 AM. Even though we are all exhausted, the joy is palpable. We eat and drink our fill of everything-from fine wine to deviled eggs and Bacon Wrapped Anything- and we rejoice together. Later the same afternoon, we come back for prayers of thanksgiving, the reading of the Gospel, and another huge meal.

As a newbie, I often struggle with talking or writing about my new expressions of Faith. Because there are so many layers, and so many questions I still have, that I feel like I don’t do it justice. But I just wanted to share some of the unique and beautiful highlights of a day that is so very joyous and sacred to so many people. I hope all of you had an Easter full of blessings, peace and light.

I wanted to leave you all with the amazing Paschal homily, which we hear each year before Communion as part of the service right before the feast. I hope it encourages you. It’s springtime. It is a time of growth and starting over. It is a time when everything is made bright and new. For He is Risen indeed!

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
“O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.