Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN!
INDEED HE IS RISEN!
Behold the desirable and saving feast has come to us – the day of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the foundation of peace, the occasion for reconciliation, the cessation of battles, the end of death, the victory over the Devil. — St. John Chrysostom
I greet you in the Name of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ on this Monday of Bright Week!
Pascha is certainly the most glorious and extended of the Church’s Feasts. It is the “Feast of Feasts” and “Holy Day of Holy Days,” because it celebrates and actualizes the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In one of the beautiful moments of the paschal Matins we solemnly sing three times:
Jesus is risen from the tomb as He foretold, granting us eternal life and great mercy!
Just think of that text and what it means and implies for more than a moment! However, in our hyper-secularized and hectically-paced society, there is a real threat that Pascha, as an observed Feast, is subject to that almost dismissive aphorism: “One and done!” This is clearly the fate of the Easter celebration as it comes and goes within today’s world. There is Easter Sunday and then there is … nothing - or at least nothing much. A one-day affair that embraces everything from sunrise services to Easter bunnies, followed by a rapid disappearance of any real signs of Easter. Yet, before we as Orthodox succumb to a certain triumphalism about our extended paschal celebration, we can take a sober look at how quickly Pascha is eclipsed within our own concrete local situation within a period of time of less than twenty-four hours: Think of how many worshippers are in the church for the midnight paschal procession; then how many remain until the end of the Liturgy; and how many return to church for the Vespers of Pascha – this diminution all occurs on “Easter Sunday” right before our eyes! Again, all in less than twenty-four hours.
As we begin to return to the rhythms of life and the inevitable and insistent demands of life – and deal with sheer exhaustion – we can leave Pascha far behind us in spirit. As Orthodox, we are no longer immune from the “one and done” syndrome of contemporary life. Yet, we can accept this as a good healthy challenge. Every victory is preceded by a battle. And, as all challenges to our ecclesial life, the Church – as a nourishing Mother - is our great “support system.” For the Church does not “forget” that it is Pascha and that it will remain so for the forty days until Ascension. Wherever you may be – or not be – in terms of the paschal spirit, when you come to church you will hear the paschal troparion of “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” The Liturgy will resound with the uplifting “The Angel Cried!” as the designated Hymn to the Theotokos. And the paschal greeting and exchange at the Cross and among parishioners will continue to reverberate: “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!” The Church will continue to awaken us from our post-paschal slumber, and revive us from the paschal blues that are summarized in that dreadful phrase of “one and done!”
Another real threat is to “become indolent” because Great Lent is over. As we all know and experience, feasting can quickly get out of hand. And any good sense of lenten discipline and healthy restraint can disappear virtually overnight. In one of his many and glorious paschal homilies, St. John Chrysostom in the fourth c. was well aware of this threat. He offers encouragement and a realistic assessment of human nature in pastorally addressing this issue:
Neither, because the fast has passed, should we become indolent. To the contrary, now more than ever let us show more care for our soul so that it will not become weak because our body is growing fat – something which is comparable to looking after the slave but neglecting the mistress. Tell me! How do we benefit by going beyond the measure or by surpassing what is necessary? That injures the body and betrays the nobility of the soul. Let us be satisfied with whatever is necessary for the soul and the body, so that we do not throw to the wind whatever was gathered during the fast. Let no one think that I am against the enjoyment of food and relaxation. I am not hindering you. I am simply advising that it be done in measure. Limit the food and do not excel these limitations, otherwise you destroy the health of our soul. He who goes beyond the limits will not feel any satisfaction. This is known to all who have experience in these matters. They suffered a variety of illnesses and a great amount of discomfort. I am certain that you will be convinced by my advice, for I know how obedient you are. (St. John Chrysostom, On Holy Pascha, from The True Vine, No. 16, 1993)
Sound and sober advise from the great saint. My own experience and pastoral observations now tell me that it is far more difficult to “keep and observe Pascha” than it is to “keep and observe Lent.” But I again stress that this is a wonderful challenge because Pascha is the very content of our faith and who we are as Christians. It is the most joyous season of the liturgical year for those who believe in the Resurrection of Christ. For as St. John continued in his paschal homily:
We all rejoice, exult, and leap with joy. Even though it is our Master Christ who conquered and set up the trophy, we all share in common the joy and happiness.
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!