On the Poetics of Trampling Death

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from celebrating Pascha this year, it’s that Orthodox liturgies aren’t terribly suited to online streaming. It’s hard to beam nearly five hours of sensorial overload through a maze of choppy audio, frozen pixels, and mercurial Wi-Fi. Our liturgies — at least as I’ve experienced them in the Kyivan Byzantine Catholic tradition — are more akin to live theatre than big-budget TV shows. They’re built for bodies, not screens.

While I was reconciling myself to this new liturgical reality, this line of Greek text in the service booklet suddenly caught my eye. Reading the words was like an electric shock:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν!
Christos anestē ek nekrōn!1

Or: “Christ is risen from the dead!” The letters themselves looked alive. Then came the next line:

θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας
thanatō thanaton patēsas

AKA “trampling down Death by death.” That’s when it hit me — this was the Paschal troparion (i.e., the Orthodox Easter hymn) that I had been singing in English over the past several hours! Here it is in full:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Christos anestē ek nekrōn
Thanatō thanaton patēsas
Kai tois en tois mnēmasi
Zoēn charisamenos!

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down Death by death
And to those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

I’m seldom moved by words I can barely read. But the elegance of the second line, Thanatō thanaton patēsas (“Trampling down Death by death”), is difficult to miss. Compact and alliterative, it packs a satisfying punch — much like the long-awaited victory it describes.

  1. My own transliteration. And yes, I’m aware that ἀνέστη is usually rendered as anesti.↩︎

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