Friday, March 30, 2018

'Let us hasten, O believers...'

Dear Parish Faithful,

GREAT LENT - The Fortieth Day

"O Almighty Master ... grant unto us to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the fast ..."

We offered that prayer to God for the last six weeks at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. And now we have come to the end of the fast - or at least by the time we serve Vespers this evening, the "sacred forty days" of Great Lent will be over. Hopefully, during these forty days we fought "the good fight" as Orthodox Christians.

With Vespers this evening, we enter into the weekend of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday - two splendid feasts in which we proclaim Christ "the Vanquisher of Death." and as "He Who comes in the Name of the Lord" as the triumphant Son of God receiving his acclamation as "King of Israel." When Christ raises Lazarus from the dead, He anticipates His own resurrection only a week later; and he anticipates the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. This is succinctly stated by Archbishop Kallistos Ware:

"The resurrection of Lazarus is a prophecy in the form of an action. It foreshadows Christ's own Resurrection eight days later, and at the same time it anticipates the resurrection of all the righteous on the Last Day: Lazarus is the 'saving first-fruits of the regeneration of the world' ... Disclosing the fulness of His divine power, Christ raises Lazarus from the dead, even though his corpse had already begun to decompose and stink." Lenten Triodion

As the following passage from St. Nikolai Velimirovich makes clear, Lazarus represents all of humanity awaiting the life-giving voice of the Lord:

"When the Lord cried: 'Lazarus!', the man awoke and lived. The Lord knows the name of each of us. If Adam knew the name of each one of God's creatures, how would God not know each of us by name? Oh, sweet and life-giving voice of the only Lover of mankind! That voice can make sons of God out of stones. How can it not wake us from the sleep of sin?" Prologue.

Fulfilling certain biblical prophecies (GEN. 49:1-12; ZEPH. 3:14-19; ZECH. 9:9-15) - such as we will read at the Palm Sunday vigil - Jesus will enter the Holy City acclaimed as the Messiah. Sadly, however, this acclamation is short-lived. We know that the entry into Jerusalem will inaugurate Holy Week and the suffering and death of Christ on the Cross. This "passion" is voluntary indeed, but the Cross was hard even for Christ to take up and then ascend so that we may be saved. The transition from the festal weekend to the somber character of Holy Week is nicely captured by a hymn from the Vespers service on Palm Sunday evening:

Let us hasten, O believers, moving from one divine festival to another; from palms and branches to the fulfillment of the august and saving suffering of Christ. Let us watch Him, bearing His sufferings voluntarily for our sake; and let us sing unto Him with worthy praise. crying, O Fountain of  mercy, O Haven of salvation, O Lord, glory to Thee. 

Every Orthodox Christian needs to make the necessary effort to accompany the Lord toward the Cross so as to fully appreciate the triumph of His Resurrection.

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