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.