Monday, June 30, 2008

A Personal God, Part 2

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Recently, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published its findings about religious life in America - primarily concerning attitudes and perceptions about God and faith. I shared some of this data with you last week emphasizing, of course, what was revealed to us about Orthodox Christians in North America. At least we made it into this poll! Due to our "minority status," that does not always happen. The results were at best ambiguous, and at times less than encouraging. The one result of the poll that proved to be the most distressing, and which drew a good deal of comment from some of you in the parish, was the finding that only 49% of Orthodox Christians believe in a "personal God," though 95% of Orthodox Christians claim to believe in God (God's very existence, I would assume this means). If someone can possibly account for the remaining 5% in a plausible manner, please let me know. Is there a hidden subculture of Orthodox Christian agnostics/atheists just waiting to "come out" and explain the incoherence of their position? Orthodox Christians also made a lackluster, middle-of-the-pack showing with 56% answering affirmatively to the statement that "religion is very important in their lives." And an anemic 34% claimed to attend a religious service at least once a week. That alone should prompt more care about the careless use of the well-worn phrases of "true Church" and "true Faith."

As many of you responded, these polls are notoriously random in their polling techniques, and the questions themselves may not be fully understood - if not totally misunderstood. Randomly chosen "cradle Orthodox" who have either fallen away from the Church, or who are nominal in their commitment to a "religious life" in the Church are going to push those statistics downwards. As I wrote earlier, there can exist a huge gulf between an "ethnic Orthodox" and an Orthodox Christian. To identify oneself as "Orthodox" does not mean that a person is consciously Christian. That may be quite unfortunate and contradictory, but I am certain that that is true in many instances. In other words, I am equally certain that those polling statistics would not hold up in a viable, thriving Orthodox Christian parish. For this reason, it is understandable that many persons are rather dismissive of, or unimpressed by such polling results. (I also believe that polls have the unavoidable tendency to make even religious questions seem trite and superficial).

Nevertheless, it would be willful blindness to claim that religious polls do not reveal something of importance about religious beliefs in general, or about specific religious groups in particular. Random or not, why is it that so many self-designated Orthodox Christians will not commit to believing in a "personal God?" Or, why is it that so many Orthodox Christians are apparently quite susceptible to the bland temptations of secularism, or the blandishments of popular atheism? Why, indeed, are so many Orthodox Christians "fallen away" from the Church? Do we need to face up to a catechetical crisis in the Orthodox Church, meaning a lack of coherent and convincing teaching from our clergy, theologians and appointed teachers who are failing to respond to the ever-expanding marketplace of competing ideas? Perhaps, ultimately, we are simply living in an age when human beings are no longer attracted or troubled - or even "tormented" as Dostoevsky was - by the "God question" as long as their material needs are adequately met. As one of Flannery O'Connor's characters, Hazel Motes, said: "A man who has a new car ain't in need of redemption."

Trying to address those questions here and now is beyond the scope of this "meditation." Although, I believe that the questions above are worthy of some careful reflection in the future. Actually, my initial impulse for writing further on this theme was prompted by both a response by one of our parishoners and a question from another that I received yesterday. Someone raised the very real possibility that the actual phrase "personal God," would not be understood by many Orthodox Christians. In the minds of many, according to this response, this phrase could mean that "God and Truth is whatever I as an individual determine it to be (implying that the Church is not the authority) which is a Protestant concept." He further stated that "I suspect that many older ethnic Orthodox (my grandparents for example) would not understand what that means." The legitimacy of such a response was demonstrated when someone approached me yesterday and expressed confusion over this term "personal God," interpreting it in a manner very close to the one I just shared with everyone. Therefore, with the modest goal of trying to add some clarity to the topic at hand, I would like to briefly address the meaning of the phrase "a personal God."

If I am not mistaken, the phrase "a personal God," fairly current in contemporary religious discourse, is meant to say something first about the nature of God, rather than our subjective or "personal" understanding of God. To paraphrase the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, we believe in "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," and not the "god of the philosophers." The former is "personal" but the latter is "impersonal." This personal God is the God of the Scriptures Who is love and not the Unmoved Mover of the Greek philosophers. The God who reveals/shows/manifests Himself to persons so that a conscious and living relationship, ultimately based on faith, hope and love can be created, sustained, and ever deepened. A "personal God" means that God is concerned about, and engaged with the world and human persons. God cares about our lives and our destinies. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will. But even the hairs of your head are numbered." (MATT. 10:29-30) As the Russian elder, Macarius of Optina put it: "To hold the faith does not only mean that we believe God to be our Creator. It also means that we recognize His unceasing and detailed attention to our good .." This does not necessarily mean that God solves all of our problems, or makes all of our misery disappear. But it does mean that God is always with us, strengthening our faith through His love so that we can patiently endure whatever comes our way. This, in turn, becomes our "personal witness" to a "personal God," much more persuasive than an array of theoretical arguments in favor of God's existence.

A "personal God" is not the God who remains aloof from the world, as if God is a cosmic clockmaker, who wound up the universe and now allows it to "run" on its own inherent laws free of providential care and engagement. (That would be the "God" of deism, the belief of many of the Founding Fathers of our country). "For God so loved the world ..." could only be said of a personal God concerned about the direction and destiny of the world - a world that exists because God "loved" it into existence. God desires that we will all be saved "and come to the knowledge of the truth." (I TIM. 2:4) This is the God that we worship in the Liturgy and that we pray to in our homes "in secret." We then extend our belief in "a personal God" to our "subjective" and "personal" relationship with God, based on the faith that we can "know" God in His self-revelation. That means through the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. Every human being has the potential to have a "personal relationship" with the "personal" God of Christian revelation. One can believe that an impersonal deity exists, but one cannot relate to such a "God." We thus return to my initial point that the term "a personal God" is meant primarily to tell us something about the nature of God, and then by extension about our relationship with God. It does not mean a God that we "create' through our personal ideas or musings. At least that is how I understand the term as commonly used in contemporary religious discourse.

Perhaps some Orthodox Christians were fooled by the wording of the question. Perhaps a clearer understanding of the phrase " a personal God" would have yielded more promising results. Perhaps Orthodox Christians need to take their faith more seriously and to ask themselves more probing questions about God and life. Perhaps, a bit more "personally," each one of us who makes up the 34% of Orthodox Christians who claim to attend church "at least once a week" needs to pose the question: "Do I really believe in a personal God?"

Fr. Steven

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Personal God, Part 1

Dear Parish Faithful,

If you click on the link below you will read some fascinating but, at times, distressing data. I received this from another Orthodox priest and I will keep his commentary which is a bit biting - but perhaps deservedly so. The rather anemic 49% of Orthodox who believe in a "personal God" is the most troubling finding of this poll. The other 51% must hardly ever go to church, or if and when they do, they do not listen. And a whopping 34% of Orthodox claim to believe in an "impersonal force." Are they still watching "Star Wars?!" Of course, polls are notoriously difficult to interpret because a good deal has to do with the framing/wording of the question. But this particular question appears to be framed straightforwardly enough. If I believed that only 49% of our parish "believed in a personal God," I would immediately retire to a cave and spend the rest of my life in prayer and fasting!

In my opinion, Americans may be "religious," but often superficial in their understanding of their own faith - including Christians who should know better. The lack of understanding the role of dogma/doctrine is appalling. Dogma does not "squeeze God into a box," but reveals Truth and articulates that Truth so that it has some clarity and coherence.

Fr. Steven


Fr. Steven

Well, the Orthodox always feel they don't get proper recognition. Take a look at the new Pew Forum poll on religious beliefs in America:

Scroll down and you will see that we actually are included in this poll:

Only 49% of those who identified themselves as Orthodox say they believe in a personal God.

For a Church which is so totally theologically dominated in its thinking, this would suggest we are not communicating well with our members. We may have the most true theology in the world, but it is not being conveyed to our members. All the beautiful liturgies and exquisite theology but our members are embracing little of it.

And while 1/3 of the Orthodox say they attend church at least once/week, the Mormon and JW's: 75-80% say they go once a week.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Worshiping the Undivided Trinity

Dear Parish Faithful,

We have seen the true Light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true Faith! Worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us. (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

This past Sunday was Pentecost, but it is also referred to as the Day of the Holy Trinity, and the Monday that follows is known as the Day of the Holy Spirit. That is because on Pentecost Sunday, the full revelation of God's nature is manifest to the world. And that revelation is of the Three Persons of the Trinity - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, into whose name we are baptized, according to the commandment of Christ. (MATT. 28:19) The coming of the Holy Spirit has completed this revelation to the world once and for all. The One, living God that we know as Orthodox Christians is the Father, together with His co-eternal Son and lifegiving Spirit. This worship of the "undivided Trinity" is the "true Faith" concerning God. And we know this because we have "received the heavenly Spirit" whose descent into the world we continue to celebrate this week, the importance of which is marked by it being a "fast-free week."

From all eternity the Son of God is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The three Persons share the identical divine nature and exist in an eternal communion of love. But this was revealed over and through time to us and to the world. This has been termed a "progressive revelation" that God in His wisdom has prepared for His creatures, so that we could slowly assimilate and "absorb" this ultimate truth. St. Gregory the Theologian (this title was given to him because of his brilliant treatises on the Trinity) explained it in a very influential passage:

The Old Testament preached the Father clearly, but the Son only in an obscure manner. The New Testament revealed the Son, but did no more than hint at the godhead of the Holy Spirit. Today the Spirit dwells among us, manifesting himself to us more and more clearly. For it was not safe, when the divinity of the Father had not yet been acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor, when that of the Son had not yet been accepted, to burden us further - if I may use a somewhat bold expression - with the Holy Spirit.

So, by gradual additions and ascents, advancing from glory to glory, the splendour of the Holy Trinity shines upon the more enlightened. You see illuminations breaking upon us gradually; while the order of theology, which it is better for us to observe, prevents us both from proclaiming everything at once and from keeping it all hidden to the end. (Oration 31, 26-7.)

As Orthodox Christians, we must know the God that we worship, for we do not worship an "unknown God" (ACTS 17:22-34). We are not "deists" or "unitarians." Neither are we monotheists in the same manner as Jews and Muslims. We are trinitarian monotheists. "We have seen the true Light!" It does not help to simply say, "We all believe in the same God." For if we do all believe in the "same God," then we need to explore the nature of God to the extent that we are able. If we have been taught, and then teach our own children, to make the sign of the Cross "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," then we need to understand what we are proclaiming by this simple but profound gesture. As we pray, we need also to study. No Orthodox Christian should be "intimidated" by the dogma of the Holy Trinity, protesting ignorance or a false humility as a cover-up for intellectual or spiritual laziness. There is clarity to be found in Truth. A profound mystery is not an obscure riddle. If your neighbor were to ask you what you meant by the Holy Trinity, then you must be prepared to say something simple and to the point - but accurate. The saints have suffered and died for their belief in the Holy Trinity. We honor them by our own commitment to receive this "true Faith" in a spirit of worship, prayer, humility, and the burning desire to illuminate our minds and hearts with the triune presence of God.

At home and at church we and our children continuously praise the Holy Trinity through the simple prayer we know as the "Trisagion" (from the Gk. meaning "thrice-holy"): "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!" This is not a prayer to God "in general," but one that is meant to raise our minds and hearts to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit on a daily basis, both communal and personal. At the Vespers of Pentecost served this last Sunday, one of the hymns - especially the latter half - offered a beautiful and profound explanation of the Trisagion, a hymn that both praises and teaches simultaneously, as the best of our hymnography does. Here is a short piece of theology that everyone can "meditate" upon with care, seeking to understand the deep trinitarian teaching embedded in the hymn; thus illuminating our experience of prayer so that familiarity does not breed indifference, but an ever-growing relationship with the God that we worship as the source and salvation of our lives - the holy, consubstantial, life-creating and undivided Trinity:

Come, let us worship the Tri-Personal
The Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit,
The Father timelessly begets the co-
reigning and coeternal Son.
The Holy Spirit was in the Father,
glorified equally with the Son,
One Power, One Substance, One Godhead!

In worshiping Him, let us all say:
Holy God: who made all things through
the Son,
With the cooperation of the Spirit.
Holy Mighty: through whom we know
the Father,
Through Whom the Holy Spirit came
into the world!
Holy Immortal: the comforting Spirit,
Proceeding from the Father and resting
in the Son.

O Holy Trinity: glory to Thee!

Fr. Steven

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Fulfillment of God's Plan, and Our Lives

Dear Parish Faithful,

The Holy Spirit was, is, and ever shall be . . . (Vespers of Pentecost)

Generally speaking, to date the Feast of Pentecost has not entered into the consciousness of contemporary Orthodox Christians in North America. The fact that Pentecost falls on a Sunday saves it from being a "non-event" - the fate of Ascension - but there seems to be no real awareness of its approach or, as we like to say, not much "interest level" in that approach. The eve of the Feast on a parish level, the Saturday evening Great Vespers, is treated as any other Saturday evening - and we know what that means. I wonder how many of the faithful who come to the Liturgy on the morning of Pentecost are surprised to hear that it is already fifty days since Pascha. Or who remain relatively unmoved by the announcement that it is indeed the "last and great day" of Pentecost. Perhaps the clergy and other appointed teachers have failed in their responsibilities to adequately catechize the faithful as to the true greatness of Pentecost, and thus have failed to inspire the same faithful to anticipate the Feast? Perhaps its liturgical expression, far more restrained and "normal" in comparsion to Pascha, has contributed to the eclipse of Pentecost? Perhaps the Feast is yet another victim to the over-all malaise that besets the Church in the post-paschal season? Perhaps, ultimately, we need to seek the cause in a combination of these various factors. However that may be, we remain with the uneasy conclusion that Pentecost comes and goes relatively unanticipated and unnoticed. (Though the Kneeling Prayers following the Liturgy on Pentecost probably get our attention).

What, then, has failed to enter our consciousness concerning Pentecost? We can begin by turning to the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

In the Church's annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is "the last and great day." It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end - the achievement and fulfillment - of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the "birthday" of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.

With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ's disciples, the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed, the fulness revealed, all gifts bestowed; it belongs to us now to "appropriate" these gifts, to be that which we have become in Christ: participants and citizens of His Kingdom.

The notion of "fulfillment" is central to an understanding of the greatness of Pentecost. Our salvation depends upon the Resurrection of Christ. And our deification depends upon the descent of the Holy Spirit. Glorious as the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ are, these events would lack a sense of completion - or, again, fulfillment - without the outpouring of the Holy Spirit "upon all flesh," thus actualizing the saving power of those events in our lives. As Veselin Kesich wrote: "With Christ's ascension, "our nature ascended" to heaven, and on Pentecost the Holy Spirit "descended on to our nature"." We would not be able to "know" the risen and glorified Christ without the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. In His extraordinary "farewell discourse" found in the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus prepares His disciples for the coming of the Spirit in the following words:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be with you. (JN. 14:15-17)

These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (JN. 14:25-26)

But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses. (JN. 15:26)

When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (JN. 16:13)

The "Counselor" spoken of here (Gk. Parakletos, also translated as "Comforter") is clearly the Holy Spirit. We will always be dependent upon the Holy Spirit to properly understand what Christ taught us, and that will be a revelation of "truth." The Holy Spirit keeps eveything in the "present," in the now and today of our lives. We do not live off the past events of our salvation, but make those past events a present reality by the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the words of Met. Kallistos Ware:

We do not say merely, 'Christ rose,' but 'Christ is risen' - he lives now, for me and in me. This immediacy and personal directness in our relationship with Jesus is precisely the work of the Spirit. (The Orthodox Way, p. 125)

Our salvation, redemption, and eventual deification depend upon the "two hands of God" - the Son and the Holy Spirit. One is never present without the Other, as the Son and Holy Spirit "work" together with the Father in all things, bringing to completion and fruition the eternal design for our life in the Kingdom of God.

Any transformation of human life is testimony to the resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. God constantly creates new things and glorifies himself in his saints, in order to make it known that the Word of God became flesh, experienced death on the Cross, and was raised up that we might receive the Holy Spirit. (The First Day of the New Creation, p. 173)

The Holy Spirit may seem more elusive than the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, but no less indespensible to our life with and in God. It may take some work on our part, but we must struggle if necessary to open up our consciousness, and then our hearts, to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit - the "Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth."

Fr. Steven

Friday, June 13, 2008

St Vladimir's Seminary Conference - A Brief Recap

Dear Parish Faithful,

Paul and I returned from our trip to St. Vladimir's Seminary and the Monastery of the Transfiguration. The Conference (Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius Fellowship) went quite well, and it was a real treat to spend three days in the company of Met. Kallistos Ware. His great learning, engaging speaking style, constant flow of insights, and English wit were constant sources of amazement and admiration. A real "highlight" for me was con-celebrating the Liturgy on the Feast of the Ascension with Met. Kallistos serving as the presiding hierarch. That was the first time that I was ever able to serve with him. He delivered what was perhaps the greatest homily that I ever heard while actually present. It was like one of the great Church Fathers "rightly defining the word of truth." I also was able to serve with a brilliant young Russian Orthodox bishop - Ilarion Alfeyev, author of the book The Mystery of Faith, that I periodically refer to - who resides over a community of Orthodox Christians centered in Vienna, Austria. The Conference, following the lead of the seminary, placed worship at the heart of our daily activity, and the three hierarchical Liturgies we were present at (Thursday, Friday and Sunday) were very lively, prayerful, and filled with a deep sense of worship and reverence. The seminary choir has maintained its standard of excellence over the years and was wonderful throughout the Conference - almost as good as ours!

All in all, a good trip and one that Paul was able to meet some other Orthodox Christians at from around the country and some even from England.

Fr. Steven

Related Links:

St Vladimir Seminary -

Conference Talks Available Online Through Ancient Faith Radio:

  • Bishop Ilarion's (Hilarion) talk is listed under Friday, June 6
  • Metropolitan Kallistos' talk is listed under Saturday, June 7

Update and Appeal from the Hogar Rafael Ayau

Dear Parish Faithful,

Here is an update from Madre Ines concerning the present state of the Hogar and some of their needs. As you will read below, the Hogar has taken on 19 new infants and toddlers! Obviously, when Madre Ivonne visits us in September, we will make a collection on behalf of the Hogar that we will send back with her. You may want to wait and contribute then. However, you may want to respond to this request now, and if so you will find the mailing addresses below.

Fr. Steven


Cristo ha resucitado ! Verdaderamente ha resucitado ! Blessed feast of Pentecost !

To you, friends of the children at the Hogar Rafael Ayau, greetings from Guatemala.

Thank God we had a blessed, Holy Week and Pascha. Some of the pictures are already on the website, .. We had the grace of having Father Peter Chamberas celebrating all the services. It was a Liturgical banquet that renewed us all. BIG IS GOD ! During this Paschal time we had several priests with the mission teams who came to serve the children, the New Jersey team with Fr. Stacy Richter and the Ohio team with Fr. Paul Alberts and Fr. Jorge Faraj from Honduras who came for confessions. It has been a rich season of joy.

As you all know, a new Adoption Law supported by UNICEF and several foreign countries including the USA, was signed in Guatemala effective the 31 December 2007. The law forbids us to make adoptions. We are finishing the pending adoption cases with many difficulties and hardships. The new adoption authorities are still disorganized and are at a loss. Pray for us.
The first consequence is that we have many babies and toddlers again. We had baptism of 19 children the second week of Pascha. What is sad is that they will no longer be able to have a home they can call their own and will have to live in an institution. How will they learn to build a family if they did not have one of their own? Therefore all the support we can give them and God’s grace will help them build their orthodox Christian families. The children under our care will therefore stay with us until they reach their age of maturity. We have become a stable family of 100 children. These children need daily care, daily education, daily individual love, daily learning to live as a family as you care for your own children at home.

We nuns with our staff are here for them on daily basis. All of you who come as missionaries are their extended family. All of you who pray for them and for us, those who can send your financial help according to your means, you all are their family. The Church is their mother. They are the Guatemalan children of the Orthodox Church, such a big and wonderful family.
We produce very little income compared to the needs, so again and again we come to ask for your help. We need your financial help to pay the bills of milk, electricity, gas, education, etc, etc. You know best.

This letter then is a reminder to your hearts to help us raise the children: a renewed invitation to come as missionaries and to keep sending your generous financial support, to be part of their lives. On their behalf, we thank you in advance.

We send our prayers and condolence to Father John Abdalah and his children, Gregory, Joseph and Maria for the loss of Khourie Joanne. She has gone ahead and now prays for us, we feel her presence. Maria was once a child at the Hogar Rafael Ayau and now has her own family and is already excelling in College. We ask God to give them comfort.

Let’s receive with open hearts the Gift, the Consoler, the Spirit of Truth, the Giver of Life that our Risen Lord sends to our lives. He gives us the needed strength to keep on going. Big is God !

We send this in His love,

Mother Ines, the nuns and the children with me in Christ.

Section 011600 c/o Harriet Stratis
P.O. Box 02-5339 3150 N. Lake Shore Drive, #27A
Miami, FL 33102 U.S.A. Chicago, IL 60657 U.S.A.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Christ is Risen! Everyday and at all Times!

Dear Parish Faithful,

Christ is Risen! 
Indeed He is Risen!

In my experience as a parish priest, I would have to say that Pascha comes in roaring like a lion, and leaves squeaking like a mouse. Or, it arrives with a bang and departs with a whimper. Something like that. While on Pascha night, all of the hidden "Easter Orthodox Christians" come pouring forth from the woodwork, I would doubt that many parishes even celebrate the Leavetaking of the Feast, as this commemoration passes by virtually unnoticed - even though the Paschal Services of Vespers, Matins and the Liturgy are prescribed to be repeated one last time, including the singing of the Paschal Canon! This is simply an observation and nothing more. Perhaps this defies analysis, or perhaps the reasons are relatively clear and ascertainable. Whatever the case may be, I will pass on from any such considerations.

My point is that regardless of what happens - or fails to happen - on the liturgical level within the context of parish life, the bodily Resurrection of Christ from the dead is at the very heart, center, and core of our Orthodox Christian Faith. If we could possibly reduce to one phrase the entire content of that Faith, it could conceivably be done by proclaiming "Christ is Risen!" That says everything, because without that truth, there is nothing left fo be said. It would not really matter if Jesus of Nazareth was a wonderful teacher and a charismatic prophet. If death swallowed Him up, then He at best remains a memory rather than a living presence. Then we would agonize, in the words of Dostoevsky (though the vast majority of humankind would be left unmoved) over the fact the the "laws of nature" - like an implacable and insatiable beast - would indifferently swallow up such a marvelous being as Christ. For "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." (I COR. 15:14)

There is a frightening "either/or" dimension to these words of the Apostle Paul. "Either" Christ is Risen from the dead and death has been swallowed up by the One who proclaimed: "I am the resurrection and the the life" (JN. 11:25), thus bringing us the blessed gift of hope regardless of the horrors of "this world," and promising that God has prepared for us an eternal life in His presence that is incomprehensible in its beauty and glory (I COR. 2:9-10). "Or" life has been swallowed up by death, and we are left with vague and unsatisfying teachings on the possible "immortality of the soul," stoic resignation in the face of death, despair seeking relief in distraction, or the "vanity of vanities" approach that puts into effect the words of the Apostle Paul: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (I COR. 15:32) An altogether dreary and uninspiring list of alternatives.

To use the expression "either/or" does not imply that we are left guessing as to the truth of the New Testament witness to the Resurrection, sifting through the evidence, making a Pascalian "wager," or finally hoping against hope. It is simply one way of presenting the stark alternatives - the one strengthening hope and the other undermining that very hope. It is a matter of faith, but understood biblically. Faith is not a matter of "wishing" something to be true - with the implication that it is probably not. Our faith in Christ is based on apostolic testimony, and then on our own experience of being reconciled to God through Christ: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (HEB. 11:1) As one of Flannery O'Connor's characters said: "Jesus is a fact." Well before that, we had the apostolic testimony of St. Paul: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." (I COR. 15:20) This bodes marvellously well for all of us:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (I COR. 15:22-26)

We may run out of steam on a parish level when presented with an annual gift of a forty-day paschal celebration. We are at times, as the saying goes, "all too human." But regardless of the liturgical season, Christ is Risen: "For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again, death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God." (ROM. 6:9-10) "Christ is risen from the dead" contains an entire worldview that embraces all of reality - every day and at all times.

Fr. Steven