Monday, May 5, 2008

Through Eyes of Faith...

Dear Parish Faithful,


I returned from the Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God yesterday evening following our weekend Retreat there. It was a wonderful event with about forty participants and the monastic setting was "perfect" for a retreat. The Bright Saturday Liturgy and the Liturgy yesterday for Thomas Sunday were liturgical "highlights." Following the Liturgy yesterday, we made a procession to the monastery's cemetary where we had a service of blessing all of the graves there while singing "Christ is Risen" in many languages." There was a real sense that those buried there in the cemetary were indeed "fallen asleep" in the Lord. The retreat was sponsored by the Midwest Antiochian Women's Society, part of a nationwide Women's Society of the Antiochian Archdiocese. I was quite impressed with the over-all spirit and organizational aspects of this group. While the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has the nationwide Philoptokos Society for Women organized on a diocesan level, similar to the Antiochian, it is curious that as the autocephalous Church in North America, the OCA has nothing comparable.

I gave two talks on Saturday afternoon on the chosen theme: "Living in the Light of the Resurrection." Very lively discussion, based on some good, hard questions, followed each talk. I thought that this was an excellent theme, because we somehow lose the paschal character of this season much too quickly. (Is it still with us as we begin this second week of Pascha?) For the early Christians, Pascha was the beginning of everything, while for us today it is the end of the long process of Great Lent and Holy Week. Thus, Bright Week is basically "Recovery Week" when the "post-paschal blues" - like a swarm of demons - attack us with a vengeance. This is simply an observation, not a criticism. There is no real "solution" to this dilemma because, as I wrote on Bright Monday, we must return to the world, now rather exhausted following the intensity of Holy Week and the explosion of Pascha Sunday.

However, it struck me as I was preparing my talks, that the disciples had a Bright Week! After the unimaginable intensity, drama, emotional exhaustion, and sense of emptiness that they were left with following that initial Holy Week, culminating in the Crucifixion of their Lord, and narrated to us in the Gospels, they experienced an equally incomparable transformation once they beheld the Risen Lord! As we heard at the Liturgy yesterday: "Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord." (JN. 20:20) Joy and gladness overwhelmed the disciples when they actually beheld Christ risen from the dead. In fact, the disciples were so overwhelmed, that according to St. Luke: "they disbelieved for joy!" (LK. 24:41) Their exhaustion, which must have been deeply felt in every fiber of their being, was overcome by the joy of being bathed in the radiant light of Christ's presence among them. And they took this joy with them into the world to which they had to return for their future apostolic labors that would cost them their earthly lives. "And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God." (LK. 24:50) This is how St. Luke ends his Gospel account of the Resurrection (and Ascension) of Christ and its overwhelming effect on the disciples.

Of course, we do not "see" the Risen Lord in the same manner that the disciples were privileged with as recorded in the Gospels. But Christ anticipated this when He told them: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed." (JN. 20:29) We "behold" the Risen Lord through the eyes of faith, and "believing" we "have life in his name." (JN. 20:31) Perhaps these word from the Lord Himself will inspire us in this paschal season not to wilt even faster than the paschal flowers that adorn our churches do. We, too, are invited to be continually in the temple blessing God - and with a spirit of joy. As I spoke to the women of the Retreat, I am convinced that it is more difficult to "live the Resurrection" than it is to "keep" Great Lent. There is a concreteness, a "doing" of things that characterizes Great Lent in a way that is not carried over into the paschal season, and this poses a real challenge. We are certainly glad to not be fasting in the same manner; but do we face the danger of losing whatever was gained during Great Lent in terms of our relationship with God and our church-centeredness? In the light of the Resurrection, what does returning to our "normal routines" actually mean? As we wrestle with these questions, we do need to acknowledge that when Pascha mysteriously disappears with a disquieting rapidity, seemingly with the extinguishing of our paschal candles, then we remain disconnected from the experience of the disciples.

St. Seraphim of Sarov once said: "You must not sorrow, for Christ has conquered all; Adam is resurrected, Eve set free, death slain." This same saint would greet pilgrims to his monastery with the paschal greeting, "Christ is Risen, my joy!" regardless of the time of the year. "Living in the Light of the Resurrection" is more than a Retreat theme. It is a call, a challenge, and even a "vocation" for Christians who believe that Christ is truly risen from the dead.

Fr. Steven

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