Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Bible Study and Christian Martyria

Dear Parish Faithful,


On Saturday evening, His Grace, Bishop Paul, spoke to us about Christian "martyria" as an essential response to the secularism of our contemporary world.  Martyria or martyrdom means, of course, witness.  The ultimate witness is to die for one's faith, and those are the martyrs that we so venerate to this day.  However, as Bp. Paul pointed out, we are not persecuted in that manner in North America.

We may be ridiculed as Christians; and we have to accept laws that we do not find morally acceptable; but we are not persecuted as Christians of the Middle East are.  Our witness is made with the "little crosses" that we are willing to take up to reveal Christ as the ultimate Source, Value and Goal of our lives. We witness by placing our life in the Church above other concerns - secular events, from sports to social gatherings, to entertainment, etc.  - in our daily lives, even if that may not be so convenient.

Those were Bp. Paul's words of wisdom and it is difficult to disagree with him - especially for committed Orthodox Christians.

To apply his teaching to a concrete example, I would like to make the link between this type of more modest martyria and the upcoming parish Spring/Summer Bible Study that will begin this Wednesday evening.

Our choice of committing our time to the group study of the Holy Scriptures over and above any and all forms of secular events or entertainment is precisely the type of martyria that His Grace is commending. This is not a spectacular martyria, but it is meaningful nevertheless.

As stewards of time - and not only money - how will we "redeem the time" in St. Paul's phrase?  If we do not have some sort of inescapable commitment on Wednesday evenings, how can we not gladly come together and study the Bible as brothers and sisters in Christ?  What is "out there" that is so much more important, compelling or attractive?

Again, choosing the parish Bible Study is precisely that modest form of martyria that His Grace spoke about quite eloquently. His Grace also pointed out that it is in the parish where all of this begins. We need more opportunities than Sunday mornings Liturgy to build up our fellowship and togetherness as parishioners.  This is all integral to our Christian martyria in a secular world.

I am not a biblical scholar, but I have been trained by excellent biblical scholars and theologians in the Orthodox interpretation of the Holy Scriptures - from my days at St. Vladimir's Seminary and beyond.  And over the years, I have maintained a rigorous devotion to the continued study of the Bible to be a more effective teacher of biblical revelation to the flock entrusted to my pastoral care.  Not to be immodest, but I believe that I am a decent enough teacher of the Holy Scriptures in the context of parish life. I am convinced that you will learn something.  I am also convinced that once you come, you will be glad that you did so.

We will study at least a part of the Gospel According to St. John this summer.  Especially the "signs" found in JN. 1-12.  This is fascinating, powerful and life-transforming material.  It is the Good News and nothing less. His Grace would admit that he only "scratched the surface" at Sunday's Liturgy with his penetrating homily on the Samaritan woman.  We will keep "digging deeper" as we gather together and study St. John's extraordinary Gospel. And we will begin with the thrice-extraordinary Prologue (Jn. 1:1-18), the Gospel reading at the midnight Paschal Liturgy.

If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to choose the Bible Study as a form of Christian martyria over a secular concern that can be satisfied at some other time.  You may not be here all through the summer, but faithfully fulfill your witness and come when you are able.  Married couples with young children can perhaps "take turns" from week-to-week and thus an alternating husband and wife can represent the family.  If you have the ministry of a teacher to our children, come to this as a course in "ongoing education." There is no one who does not fit in.

We will begin with Vespers at 7:00 p.m. followed by the Bible Study at 7:45 p.m.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Rivers of Living Water

Dear Parish Faithful,


“So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city….” [John 4:28].

A Samaritan woman came to Jacob’s Well in Sychar, a Samaritan city, at the same time that Jesus sat down by the well, being wearied by His journey [John 4:5].  The evangelist John provides us with a time reference: “It was about the sixth hour” [John 4:6] - i.e. noon.  The Samaritan woman had come to draw water from the well, a trip and activity that must have been an unquestioned daily routine that was part of life for her and her fellow city-dwellers.

The ancients had a much more active sense of equating water with life than we do today with the accessibility of water from the kitchen tap, the shower, or the local store.  On the basic level of biological survival, Jacob’s Well must have been something like a “fountain of life” for the inhabitants of Sychar.

Therefore, it is rather incredible that she returned home without her water jar, a “detail” that the evangelist realized was so rich in symbolic meaning that he included it in the narrative recorded in his Gospel [John 4:5-42].  And this narrative, together with the incredible dialogue embedded in it, is so profound that every year we appoint this passage to be proclaimed in the Church on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, the Fifth Sunday after Pascha.  Why, then, would the Samaritan woman fail to take her water jar home with her?

Her “failure” was based on a discovery that she made when she encountered and spoke with Jesus by Jacob’s Well.  For even though the disciples “marveled” that Jesus was speaking with a woman [v. 27], Jesus Himself began the dialogue with the woman perfectly free of any such social, cultural or even religious restraints.

As this unlikely dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman unfolded by the well, it was revealed to the woman that Jesus was offering her a “living water” that was qualitatively distinct from the well-water that she habitually drank [v. 11].  This “living water” had an absolutely unique quality to it that the Lord further revealed to the woman:

Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” [v. 13-14].

A perceptive and sensitive woman who was open to the words of Jesus, she responded with the clear indication that she had entered upon a process of discovery that would lead her to realize that she was speaking with someone who was a prophet—and more than a prophet: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” [v. 15].

Her thirst is now apparent on more than one level, as her mind and heart are now opening up to a spiritual thirst that was hidden but now stimulated by the presence and words of Jesus.  Knowing this, Jesus will now disclose to her one of the great revelations of the entire New Testament, a revelation that will bring together Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles:

“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” [v. 23-24].

A careful reading of Saint John’s Gospel indicates that under the image of water, Jesus was speaking of His teaching that has come from God, or more specifically, to the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For at the Feast of Tabernacles, as recorded in John 7, Jesus says this openly to the crowds that had come to celebrate the feast:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink.  He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water."  Now this He said about the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified [John 7:37-39].

Overwhelmed and excited, inspired and filled with the stirrings of a life-changing encounter, the Samaritan woman “left her water jar, and went away into the city and said to the people, ‘Come and see a man Who told me all that I ever did.  Can this be the Christ?” [v. 28-29].

It is not that the contents of her water jar was now unimportant or meaningless.  That would be a false dichotomy between the material and the spiritual that is foreign to the Gospel.  The Samaritan woman will eventually retrieve her forgotten water jar and fill it with simple water in fulfillment of her basic human needs.  For the moment, however, she must go to her fellow city-dwellers and witness to Christ!  They, in turn, will eventually believe that Jesus is “indeed the Savior of the world” [v. 42]. Thus, the Samaritan woman became something of a proto-evangelist.  Subsequent tradition tells us that she is the Martyr Photini.

There are indeed innumerable “wells” that we can go to in order to drink some “water” that promises to quench our thirst.  These “wells” can represent every conceivable ideology, theory, philosophy of life, or worldview—in addition to all of the superficial distractions, pleasures, and mind-numbing attractions that offer some relief from the challenges and oppressive demands of life.

For a Christian, to be tempted to drink the water from such wells would amount to nothing less than a betrayal of both the baptismal waters that were both a tomb and womb for us; and a betrayal of the living water that we receive from the teaching of Christ and that leads to eternal life.  It is best to leave our “water jars” behind at such wells, and drink only that “living water” that is nothing less than the “gift of God” [John 4:10].

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mid-Pentecost: 'Glistening with splendor!'

Dear Parish Faithful,


Although we did not observe this important Feast liturgically (victim of the "post-paschal blues?"), I think we should be aware of its significance within the divine economy of our salvation.

Mid-Pentecost: 'Glistening with splendor!'

Today finds us at the exact midpoint of the sacred 50-day period between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost.  So, this 25th day is called, simply, Midfeast or Mid-Pentecost.  Pentecost (from the Greek pentecosti, meaning "fifty") is, of course, the name of the great Feast on the 50th day after Pascha, but the term is also used to cover the entire 50-day period linking the two feasts, thus expressing their profound inner unity.  

Our emphasis on the greatness of Pascha—the “Feast of Feasts”— may at times come at the expense of Pentecost, but in an essential manner Pascha is dependent upon Pentecost for its ultimate fulfillment.  As Prof. Veselin Kesich wrote, 

Because of Pentecost the resurrection of Christ is a present reality, not just an event that belongs to the past.  “We do not say merely, ‘Christ rose'," writes Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, "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." 
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, experiences death on the cross, and was raised up that we might receive the Spirit.  (The First Day of the New Creation, p. 173)

Be that as it may, there is a wonderful hymn from the Vespers of the Midfeast that reveals this profound inner connection:  

The middle of the fifty days has come, beginning with the Savior’s resurrection, and sealed by the Holy Pentecost.
The first and the last glisten with splendor.  We rejoice in the union of both feasts, as we draw near to the Lord’s ascension—the sign of our coming glorification.
(Vespers of the Midfeast)

Pascha and Pentecost “glisten with splendor” – what a wonderful expression!  Yet, this very expression which is indicative of the festal life of the Church may also sound embarrassingly archaic to our ears today.  This is not exactly an everyday expression that comes readily to mind, even when we encounter something above the ordinary!  

However, that could also be saying something about ourselves and not simply serve as a reproach to the Church’s less-than-contemporary vocabulary.  Perhaps the drab conformity of our environment; the de-sacralized nature of the world around us, together with its prosaic concerns and uninspiring goals; and even the reduction of religion to morality and vague “values,” make us more than a little skeptical/cynical about anything whatsoever “glistening with splendor!”  How can Pascha and Pentecost “glisten with splendor” if Pascha is “already” (though, only 25 days ago!) a forgotten experience of the past, and if the upcoming feasts of Ascension and Pentecost fail to fill us with the least bit of expectation or anticipation?

The Lord is risen, and we await the coming of the Comforter, the “Spirit of Truth.”  These are two awesome claims!  The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).  This exhortation from the Apostle is a great challenge, for experience teaches us that “the things that are on earth” can be very compelling, immediate and deeply attractive, while “the things that are above” can seem abstract and rather distant; or that they are reserved for the end of our life as we know it “on earth.”  

The Apostle Paul is exhorting us to a radical reorientation of our approach to life—what we may call our “vision of life”—and again, this is difficult, even for believing Christians!  Yet, I would like to believe that with our minds lifted up on high and our hearts turned inward where God is – deep within our hearts – not only will the feasts themselves “glisten with splendor,” but so will our souls.  Then, what the world believes to be unattainable, will be precisely the experience that makes us “not of the world.”  

May the days to come somehow, by the grace of God, “glisten with splendor!”  As it is written, 

The abundant outpouring of divine gifts is drawing near.  The chosen day of the Spirit is halfway come.
The faithful promise to the disciples after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ heralds the coming of the Comforter!
(Vespers of the Midfeast)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

'Do you want to be healed?'

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Saint John we find the account of the healing of the paralytic by the Pool of Bethesda near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem and the profound discourse that follows.  

Archeologists have fairly recently discovered this pool, demonstrating the accuracy of Saint John’s description.  

The paralytic had taken his place among a human throng of chronic misery, described by the evangelist as “a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed” [verse 3].  Being there for 38 years and not being able to experience what were believed to be the healing capacities of the waters of the pool, the paralytic seemed resigned to his destiny.  

Then Jesus appeared.  He saw the paralytic and He knew of his plight.  

Jesus then asked the paralytic a very pointed and even poignant question: “Do you want to be healed?” [verse 6].  Surprisingly, considering what must have been his own misery, the paralytic’s answer was less than direct and not exactly enthusiastic: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me” [verse 7].  

Nevertheless, and even though the paralytic does not commit himself to an act of faith in the healing power of Jesus, he receives the following directive from Jesus: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.”  And then, in that somewhat laconic style of describing the healing power of Christ that characterizes the Gospel accounts, we read simply, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked” [verse 9].  The “sign” is that Christ can restore wholeness to those in need.

I believe that we need to concentrate on the question Jesus posed to the paralytic, “Do you want to be healed?”  (The King James version of the question is:  “Wilt thou be made whole?”)  For, if the various characters that Jesus encountered in the Gospels are also representatives or “types” of a particular human condition, dilemma, or state of being; then the question of Jesus remains alive in each generation and is thus posed to each of us today.  

If sin is a sickness, then we are “paralyzed” by that sin to one degree or another of intensity.  But do we really want to be healed of the paralyzing effect of sin in our lives?  

The answer seems obvious, even a “no-brainer,” but is that truly the case?  Are we more-or-less content with continuing as we are, satisfied that perhaps this is “as good as it gets” in terms of our relationship with God and our neighbors?  Do we manage to politely deflect the probing question of Christ elsewhere, counter-posing a reasonable excuse as to what prevents us from exerting the necessary energy from our side?  

Or, finally, do we actually "enjoy" the particular sin/passion that has ensnared us, and thus - if only unconsciously - remain unwilling to part with that "enjoyment," spiritually crippling though it is? 

Our teaching claims that we must also contribute to the synergistic process of divine grace and human freedom that works together harmoniously for our healing.  Perhaps it is easier and more comfortable to stay as we are – after all, it’s really not that bad - a position reflected in the non-commital response of the paralytic.  For to be further healed of sin will mean that we will have to make some changes in our life, in our interior attitudes and in our relationships.  It certainly means that we will have to confess our faith in Christ with a greater intensity, urgency and commitment.  Are we up to that challenge?

Actually, we could more accurately say that we have already been healed.  That happened when we were baptized into Christ.  (There are baptismal allusions in the healing of the paralytic by the pool of water).  

Every human person is paralyzed by the consequences of sin, distorting the image of God in which we were initially created.  Baptism was meant to put to death the sin that is within us.  We were healed, in that baptism is the pledge to life everlasting, where death itself is swallowed up in the victory of Christ over death.  For we are baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Christ. 

So, with a slight variation, the question of Christ could also imply: 

Do you rejoice in the fact that you have been healed, and does your way of life reflect the faith and joy that that great healing from sin and death has imparted to you?
Are you willing to continue in the struggle that is necessary to keep that healing “alive” within you?  

Direct and simple questions can get complicated, often and precisely by the paralyzing effect of sin in our lives.  We can then get confused as to how to respond to such essential questions.  Every time we walk into the church we are being asked by Christ, “Do you want to be healed?”  Responding with a resounding “yes!” would be a “sign” of the faith, hope and love that are within us by the grace of God.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Proclaiming the Risen Lord in our Time

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (Mark 15:33)

“And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen.” (Mark 16:2)

Saint Mark the Evangelist is rather precise when he narrates that the Lord was crucified at the third hour (15:25); that darkness fell over the land at the sixth hour (15:33); and that Christ died at the ninth hour (15:34).  According to the Jewish reckoning of time, that would mean that the Lord hung upon the Cross from about 9:00 a.m. (the “third hour”) until 3:00 p.m. (the “ninth hour”) on that first “Holy Friday.” For the last three hours, then, “there was darkness over the whole land.” 

This is not a weather report from the Evangelist.  Rather, this unexpected darkness was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos (read as the Old Testament reading at the Sixth Hour on Holy and Great Friday) that was a “sign” of great significance for the early Church as it began to reflect upon the “scandal” of the Cross:

“‘And on that day,’ says the Lord God, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.  I will turn your feasts into mourning and all of your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day’” (Amos 8:9-10).

The fulfillment of this prophecy revealed the cosmic dimension and significance of the Lord’s death on the Cross:  all of creation mourned the death of the Son of God.  Truly this was an awesome mystery! 

Yet, while at the time of the Crucifixion this very darkness may have intensified the solemnity of the Lord’s death, it also intensified the starkness of Christ dying on the Cross seemingly abandoned by all, including His heavenly Father:

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘E’lo-i, E’lo-i, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (15:34).

Again, the impression is that there was no one with Jesus in his hours of darkness upon the Cross.  Yet, at the very moment of His death and seeming abandonment, Saint Mark narrates that a Gentile centurion was the first to realize that this was not the case:

“And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that He thus breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (15:39).

In addition, there was actually a silent presence of deeply sympathetic figures within some proximity of the Cross that Saint Mark accounts for:

“There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, who, when He was in Galilee, followed Him, and ministered to Him; and also many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem” (15:40-41).

Their role was of further great importance, for their vigilance allowed them to know where the tomb of the Lord was located: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where He was laid” (15:47).  The presence of these faithful female disciples of the Lord—the women we now know and venerate as the Myrrhbearers—prepares us for the awesome revelation that will occur “very early on the first day of the week” (16:2).  The account of the discovery of the empty tomb; the angelic proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus to the women by the angel in the tomb; and the astonishment of the women is narrated in a rather succinct manner by Saint Mark in only eight verses (Mark 16:1-8).

When the myrrhbearing women arrived at the tomb carrying their spices in the hopes of anointing the dead body of Jesus, the darkness that will soon be lifted from their hearts was already being dispelled by another sign from the world of nature, for the women arrived “when the sun had risen” (16:2).  The cosmos had mourned the death of the Son of God; but it will now rejoice by “announcing” the Resurrection of the Sun of Righteousness.  

The movement from darkness to light is a powerful motif throughout the Gospels.  The darkness may represent sin or the final horror of death.  Jesus is the very presence of light, and that light is so strong that neither sin nor death can resist its strength.  This is not simply a literary “symbol,” but a living reality.  

Saint Mark then narrates that the women “were amazed” when, upon “entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe” (16:5).  This “young man” was clearly an angel.  And it is this angelic being who will first announce the Resurrection of Christ with a definitive clarity that cannot be misunderstood:  

“Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He has risen, He is not here; see the place where they laid Him” (16:6).

The Jesus Who had been crucified is the Jesus Who was now raised from the dead.  The risen Jesus is neither a “ghost” nor a “spirit.”  The Crucified One is now the Risen Lord—Jesus the Christ and King of Israel. The Father had not abandoned His Son, but rather vindicated the One whose resurrection will now be announced to the disciples/apostles, and through them to the whole world.  As the biblical scholar, Francis Moloney has written:  

“The question asked of God by Jesus from the cross, ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ (15:34) has been answered.  Jesus has not been forsaken.  Unconditionally obedient to the will of God (see 14:36), Jesus has accepted the cup of suffering.  On the cross He is Messiah, King of Israel, and Son of God (see 15:32, 39).  God’s never-failing presence to His obedient Son leads to the definitive action of God:  He has been raised!  The apparent failure of Jesus has been reversed by the action of God, Who has raised Jesus from death” (The Death of the Messiah, p. 11).

Saint Mark and the other evangelists recorded the events of that first and glorious Easter morning. They are witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ. We accept their testimony and proclaim the same “Good News” to the world today through the Church.  And we invite others to share that life—including “harlots and tax-collectors.”  

Yet, like the myrrhbearing women, we need to experience the Resurrection on a deep and personal level. In and through faith, the “stone” that covers the entrance to our own hearts can be “rolled away” by the grace of God, and a new dawn can pierce the darkness of sin and death that leaves us as if living an entombed life hidden from the light.  This is the work of God.  

When the Resurrection of Christ is genuinely experienced in the very depths of our being, we may at first be silent because “trembling and astonishment” lay hold of us (Mark 16:8).  But when we recover our voice we may then joyfully share with others—through our faith and our lives—that CHRIST IS RISEN!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Christ the Conqueror of Hell: A Deep Discussion

Dear Parish Faithful,



We had quite an intense but all-too-short post-Liturgy discussion yesterday on a series of eschatological themes (from the Greek ta eschata or "the last things") - primarily judgment, heaven and hell and the whole issue of salvation (we call this soteriology, from the Gk. word for salvation, which is soteria).  

The discussion arose after I briefly spoke about a book that I am currently reading by Archbishop Ilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell - The Descent Into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective.  This is a fine study that reveals just how pervasive this theme is, beginning with the New Testament and permeating early Christian poetry, various apocryphal Gospels, the writings of the Church Fathers and our paschal liturgical texts.  It is a very fine study by an excellent contemporary scholar and theologian.

"Hades" is the Gk. word for the Hebrew "sheol" which refers to the realm of the dead, a shadowy, disincarnate and wholly bleak existence cut off from the grace of God.  This is the Old Testament abode of the dead. Christ entered that realm as its Conqueror - not as its Victim as found later in aberrant Protestant theology - releasing those who were bound there and incapable of saving themselves, raising them up with Himself, and thus "trampling down death by death."

As one of countless examples, from The Odes of Solomon, a 2nd c. collection of poetical theological texts, we read in the expressive Ode 42 of Christ preaching to the dead in Hades:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

'Post Pascha Swoon' or 'Revived by Joy'?

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


I began this morning with a question on my mind:   Is there life after Pascha?  This, in, turn, led to a series of further related questions:  Is there meaningful ecclesial/church life following the paschal celebration of only little more than a few days ago?  Is it possible to retain any of the vibrancy and joy of commemorating, participating, and experiencing the Resurrection of Christ?  Can we continue to maintain our ecclesial lives beyond the level of perfunctory attendance once we have passed through Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha?

Humanly speaking, these may be unrealistic expectations for the following reasons:

  • Most everyone is still overcoming a certain level of exhaustion, that is not merely physical.  I think at times that Bright Week may have to be downgraded to Recovery Week!   
  • Clearly everyone is back to normal time and routines – work, school, etc. – that may have been temporarily interrupted during Holy Week and Pascha. “Life goes on,” according to a limp cliché, and we may still be catching up with some unfinished business.
  • The Paschal/Pentecostal Season does not have the  unique services that characterize Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha.  The one exception, the services of Bright Week, have not well-attended and are therefore no longer scheduled.

Does our surrounding culture influence us by treating Easter as a “one and done” affair?  Meaning, that when we wake up on Bright Monday, are we already “moving on?”

However, that does not mean that our parish(es) have to empty out and become tomb-like immediately after Pascha outside of Sunday’s Liturgy.  The inevitable “summer slowdown” need not begin before we have even completed Bright Week. The Resurrection of Christ is meant  to be enlivening, not deadening!

The “swoon theory” is a hopelessly absurd idea meant to explain away the Resurrection of Christ.  Yet, how many of the faithful experience a “post-paschal swoon” from which they need to awaken before the entire Season comes to a close.  If such is the case, then what does this say of the over-all impact of the Paschal Season?

Perhaps we need to probe just what each and every one of us means by the term “Pascha.”  It is the Greek form of the Hebrew word for Passover.  Pascha, therefore, is:

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Resurrection of Christ and the Rise of Christianity

"The historical aspect of our Christian faith means that any historical evidence that can disprove the resurrection of Christ would immediately and definitively undermine that faith. But no such evidence exists. On the contrary, it points us toward the genuineness and authenticity of those very claims."

The Myrrhbearing Women encounter the angel at the empty tomb: "Why do you seek the Living among the dead?" (MT 28:1-8, MK 16:1-8, LK 24:1-9, JN 20:1-2, 11-13).

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


Orthodox Christians believe that the New Testament Church and the Christian faith itself appeared at a particular point in history because the crucified Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. The cause behind the emergence of the Church and the Christian Faith was not a crucified, dead and buried Jesus. Rather, that very crucified, dead and buried Jesus was revealed to be both Lord and Christ following His Resurrection “on the third day.” 

God vindicated the messianic claims of Jesus when He raised Jesus from the dead “according to the Scriptures.” Contemporary Orthodox Christians readily agree with the Apostle Paul’s insistence on the absolute centrality of the bodily resurrection of Christ as the foundation of Christian faith in Jesus: "If Christ is not raised, then your faith is in vain and our preaching is in vain” (1 Cor. 15). Among all Christians this has been an overwhelming consensus since the initial witness of the apostles to the Risen Lord.

But since the emergence of critical biblical scholarship within the last two centuries or so, we find Christian scholars and those influenced by them questioning, reinterpreting or openly denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This process may be more accelerated today, or simply more prominent and public in its expression. A vivid – if not lurid - expression of this skeptical approach to the resurrection claims of the first Christians can be found in the work of the New Testament scholar Dom Dominic Crossan. In his reconstruction of events, the body of the crucified Jesus was discarded in a shallow grave, there to suffer the further humiliation of becoming the food of ravenous dogs. That is also the kind of counter-claim that will attract a good deal of publicity. 

This threatens to undermine a consistent and long-standing witness among all Christians that points to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ among the great “religious founders” within human history. That uniqueness was articulated by Prof. Veselin Kesich in the following manner in his book The First Day of the New Creation:

For the members of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, the resurrection of Christ was above all an event in the life of their Master, and then also in their own lives. After meeting Christ following his resurrection, they could have said with St. Paul that necessity was laid upon them to preach the gospel of resurrection (1 Cor. 9:16). Christianity spread throughout the Greco-Roman world with the proclamation that Jesus who died on the cross was raised to a new life by God. The message of Christianity is without parallel in religious history in its content and in its demand. (p. 15)

The Risen Christ spoke to His disciples about “belief” in His Resurrection even among those who did not “see” Him as those very first disciples did. This was in response to the Apostle Thomas’ movement from unbelief to belief when Jesus appeared to Thomas and offered him to probe the wounds in His hands and side: “You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed” (Jn. 20:29). 

Clearly, the presence of faith is essential in confessing that Jesus has been raised from the dead: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (ROM. 10:9). However, in perhaps challenging a misconceived understanding of faith, this does not mean that believing that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead is an irrational leap into the unbelievable and indefensible.

AUDIO PODCAST: Living in the Light of the Resurrection


In May 2008, Fr Steven gave a two-part talk on the Resurrection, at Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan, to a retreat of the Midwest Antiochian Women's Association.

This warm and inspiring, richly developed presentation on the Resurrection of Christ was digitally recorded in excellent quality, and made available as a special podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. We are happy to make it available again here during the Paschal season.

There's a special message right at the start, where Fr. Steven speaks of how easy it is to "miss Bright Week", due to our exhaustion following the rigors of Holy Week. Reflecting on the Resurrection of Christ and how to Live in the Light of that reality is the point of Fr. Steven's talk, so we may hopefully live more fully in the New Life the Lord has given us.

You can play these talks in your browser, or save to your computer, smartphone or tablet. Share the joyful message of the reality and meaning of Christ's Bodily Resurrection with your family and friends!


Part 1: Theological and Historical Aspects of the Resurrection
Direct Link - Play in Popup, or Download - Transcript

Part 2: Living in the Light of the Resurrection
Direct Link - Play in Popup, or Download - Transcript