Friday, May 31, 2013

Dying and Behold We Live: Guest Meditation from Fr Thomas Hopko

Dear Parish Faithful,


I received a letter from Fr. Thomas Hopko earlier in the week and it contains quite a remarkable piece of writing as an attachment.  The source of the work is explained below, by Fr. Tom.  This is an incredibly powerful “meditation” that I would like to share with all.  Here, in a few remarkable paragraphs, is the very essence of the Christian Faith.  Hard to imagine it being said any better than this.  Please read this carefully and allow yourself some time to reflect upon what you read.

Fr. Steven

* * *

Dying and Behold We Live
Archimandrite Vasileios of Mount Athos

[In 1974 Archimandrite Vasileios (Gondikakis), then the Abbot of Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos, and now the retired Abbot of Iviron Monastery, spoke about the monastic life to Orthodox students in Dijon, France.  In 1984 St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press published his talk in English as a supplement to the translation of his book Hymn of Entry.  In introducing the Abbot’s talk on monasticism Bishop (now Metropolitan) Kallistos of Diokleia noted that although Father Vasileios is writing about monks, what he has to say in many ways applies to all Orthodox Christians.  “Thus, at many points in his address,” Bishop Kallistos writes, “where he speaks of the ‘monk’, readers will find it illuminating to substitute in their minds the word ‘Christian’.”  In my paraphrase here of sections of this address (whose title comes from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (See 2 Cor 6:1-10), I will simply use the word “Christian”.  I update the language a bit for greater ease in reading.]

The Lord did not come into the world merely to make an improvement in our present conditions of life.  Neither did He come to put forward an economic or political system, nor to teach a method of arriving at a psychosomatic equilibrium. He came to conquer death and to bring eternal life:  “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life”  (John 3:16).

This eternal life is not a promise of happiness beyond space and time.  It is not a mere survival after death or a prolongation of our present life.  Eternal life is the grace of God which here and now illumines and gives sense to things present and things to come, to both body and soul, to the human person in his or her entirety.

The appearances of the risen Christ to His disciples had as their purpose to fill them with the certainty that death had been vanquished.  The Lord is risen.  Death has no more dominion over Him (Romans 6:9).  He is perfect God who goes in and out, the doors being shut  (John 20:19, 26).  He is perfect Man who can be touched, who eats and drinks like any one of His disciples.

What makes persons to be truly human and gives them their specific value, are not their physical or intellectual capacities, but the grace of having a share in the resurrection of Christ, of being able, from now on, to live and to die eternal life.

"He who loves his life will lose it, but he who hates his life in this world will keep it unto life eternal" (John 12:25).

True Christians, with the total gift of themselves to God, treasure this one unique truth.  They live this one unique joy.  He who loses his life in this world, will save it.  The life of a Christian, therefore, is a losing and a finding.

Orthodox Christians are persons raised up, sharing in the resurrection of Christ.  Their mission is not to affect something by their thoughts or to organize something by their own capacities, but by their lives to bear witness to the conquest of death.  And they do this only by burying themselves like a grain of wheat in the earth.

"Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:24).

The true Christian is one who has been raised from the dead, an image of the risen Christ.  He or she shows that the immaterial is not necessarily spiritual, and that the body is not necessarily fleshly.  By “spiritual” is meant everything that has been sanctified by the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, whether material or immaterial; that is, everything which has been transfigured by God’s uncreated divine energies through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The true Christian reveals the spiritual mission of what is created and bodily.  At the same time she or he reveals the tangible, concrete existence of what is uncreated and immaterial.  The true Christian is a person who is totally wedded to this mystery.  He or she has the sacred task of celebrating, in the midst of the Orthodox Church, the salvation of all created things.

The true Christians’ purpose in life is not to achieve their individual progress or integration.  Their purpose is to serve the whole mystery of salvation, by living not for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again for us, and thereby living for all of their brothers and sisters, and the whole of humanity.

This becomes possible because the true Christian does not live according to his or her own will, but according to the universal, catholic will and tradition of Christ’s holy Church.

Christ is risen!   Our eternal joy!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

To 'Glisten with Splendor'

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


Today finds us at the exact midpoint of the sacred fifty-day period between the Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost.  So, this twenty-fifth day is called, simply, Midfeast or Mid-Pentecost.  Pentecost (from the Gk. pentecosti) is, of course, the name of the great Feast on the fiftieth day after Pascha, but the term is also used to cover the entire fifty-day period linking the two feasts, thus expressing their profound inner unity.  A wonderful hymn from the Vespers of the Midfeast reveals this 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.

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” (it was, after all, only twenty-five days ago) a forgotten experience of the past; and if the upcoming feasts of Ascension and Pentcost 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.”  Those 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” (COL. 3:2).  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 rest of your day and 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)

Friday, May 24, 2013

An Earthquake is Needed

Dear Parish Faithful,

No doubt a rather chilly Friday morning for this time of the year. Though I must say when anticipating the summer heat yet to come, that I find this type of weather a welcome relief.  Yet, regardless of the weather, as we approach another weekend of the Paschal season – including the Fourth Sunday of Pascha – perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the place of the Resurrection of Christ in our lives, as that truly “cosmic” event can disappear into the routine of daily life with its endless round of cares and concerns.  When this happens, then even the Sunday Liturgy is reduced to the routine of church attendance, and we then re-bury the Risen Lord!  Our goal is to experience what we claim:  that Our God is a living God, permeating every moment of our existence.  As a progressive rock band once sang:  “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.” 

Returning to the Gospel narrative of the Resurrection, it is St. Matthew who explicitly tells us how the stone had been rolled away from the tomb of Christ:

And behold, there was a great earthquake:  for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone … (MATT. 28:2).

In his book The Year of the Grace of the Lord, Fr. Lev Gillett offers a “spiritual” or “mystical” (some would say allegorical) reading of this text, so that we can actualize  or apply the text to our own lives today.  In his own words, Fr. Lev writes:

This verse is rich with meaning. When the angel of the Lord comes to take away the stone from the sepulcher, he does not roll it gently away.  It is not an operation which can be accomplished without effort, without a deep and violent upheaval.  An earthquake is necessary.  In the same way, the removal of whatever obstacle separated us from Jesus cannot be thought of as a partial adjustment.  It is not a matter of taking off or rearranging some loose stones, or modifying some details and leaving the whole as unchanged as possible.  In this case too, an earthquake is needed.  It is to say that the change must be total, reaching into every aspect of our being.  Conversion is a spiritual “earthquake.”  (p. 185)

We cannot smoothly calculate the timing of that “spiritual earthquake.”  It might also depend upon our own initiative, though ultimately it is the work of God.  The context of St. Matthew’s Gospel, of course, was the coming of the myrrhbearing women to the tomb.  How did they anticipate the removal of the stone?  As Fr. Lev further writes:

   The women’s undertaking – humanly speaking – seems to have no hope of success.  And yet, they set out.  Without knowing how they will be able to get into the sepulcher, they walk towards him.  In the same way, without knowing how the obstacles which may prevent us reaching the Savior can be removed, let us trust.  We can make a first move:  we can get up, we can set out.  Let us walk towards Jesus who is separated from us by the heavy stone, and allow faith and hope to guide us.

   The women are not going empty-handed to the sepulcher.  They ‘had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.’  We, too, can bring something to the sepulcher.  Even if we are stained with very serious sins, we can bring a beginning of good will, the little we have of love, some generosity towards another, our feeble prayer.  Doubtless our poor gifts will not bring about the removal of the stone, for our access to the risen Jesus and to the power of his Resurrection remains the magnificent and entirely free gift of divine mercy, but the fact that we do not journey towards the sepulcher with hands that are quite empty will show that our hearts are not quite empty too.  Where are the ‘spices’ with which we wish to ‘anoint’ Jesus? (p. 185)

The Resurrection of Christ was the “impossible made possible.”  Extraordinary as it is, it is also an “objective” event – or as one of Flannery O’Connor’s characters said: “Jesus is a fact” – that through faith, we appropriate and make our own.  When this happens within our minds and hearts, we can rise to newness of life.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'Lent after Lent' and 'Life after Pascha'

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


On Monday morning I posed a question:  is there life after Pascha?  Another question has formed in my mind this morning:  Is there Lent after Lent?  Before proceeding any further, I need to offer two brief points of clarification:  1) I apologize if I have just happened to unsettle anyone with the frightening prospect of another immediate lenten period; and 2)  I am not a “lent freak!”  My purpose in the question “Is there Lent after Lent?” is meant to pose a challenge.  Is there anything spiritually fruitful that we began to do – or anything spiritually unfruitful that we ceased to do – during Great Lent that we can carry over with us into the paschal season and beyond?  Are we able to establish some genuine consistency in our ecclesial lives?  Surely this is one of the most important elements in nurturing a holistic approach to our Faith.  If I am not mistaken, a real temptation that exists once Great Lent is over, is to go back to “life as usual,” as if Great Lent is at most a pious interlude during which we act more “religiously;” and at worst, a period of specific rules that are meant to be more-or-less mechanically observed out of a sense of obligation.  This undermines the whole reality of repentance at its core, and drives us back into the dubious practice of the religious compartmentalization of our lives.  Great Lent is over – now what?

   I am not even sure just how healthy it is to assess and analyze our Lenten efforts.  Great Lent is a “school of repentance,” but this does not mean that we are to grade ourselves upon its completion.  However, we can ask ourselves:

· Did I practice prayer, charity and fasting in a more  responsible, regular, and consistent manner?
· Did I make a point of reading the Scriptures with the same care and consistency?
· Did I participate in the liturgical services with greater regularity?
· Did I watch over my language and gestures, or my words and actions on an over-all basis with greater vigilance?
· Did I make a breakthrough on overcoming any specific “passions” or other manifestations of sinful living?
· Did I work on establishing any broken relationships?
· Did I simply give more of myself to Christ?
· Did I come to love Christ even more as I prostrated myself in faith before His life-giving Cross and tomb?

Then why not continue?  Not to continue is to somehow fail to actualize in our lives the renewal and restoration of our human nature that definitively occurred through the Cross and Resurrection.  Appropriating the fruits of Christ’s redemptive Death and life-giving Resurrection is essential for our self-designation as Christians.

   In other words, can we carry the “spirit” of Lent (and some of its practices) with us outside of Lent?  In this way, we are no longer “keeping Lent” but simply practicing our Faith with the vigilance it requires.  We still must fast (on the appropriate days), pray and give alms.  We still need to nourish ourselves with the Holy Scriptures.  We must continue to wage “warfare against the passions” that are always threatening to engulf us.  We need to deepen our love for Christ so that is surpasses any other commitment based on love in our lives.  Or, have we doomed ourselves to being intense in the practice of our Faith for a short, predetermined length of time, and then pay “lip service” to, or offer token observance of, the Christian life until next year?  In a rather unfortunate twist, Great Lent can work against us when we reduce it to such a limited purpose.  Great Lent is the designated time of year meant to get us “back on track” so as to live more consciously Christian lives because certain circumstances and our weaknesses often work against us.  It is the “example” rather than the “exception” if properly understood.  In other areas of life, do we simply abandon good practices – in matters of health, let us say – because a designated period of testing or observing these good practices has come to an end?

   I have already rehearsed all of the reasons for our annual post-paschal swoon in an earlier meditation this week.  Actually, today may be a good day to pull out of any such swoon and reawaken to the glorious gift of life offered to us in the Church.  This Wednesday is the first designated fast day since Pascha.  We have enjoyed the treat of a “fast-free” period during Bright Week and up to today.  But now, we are returning to our usual pattern of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, as the initial glow of Pascha slowly recedes.  I would suggest that today may be one of the most difficult days of fasting in the entire year.  It is very hard to re-establish a discipline temporarily suspended with the paschal celebration.  Yet, in many ways we are returning to “life as usual,” even in the Church, but that is a “way of life” that is directed by the wisdom of the Church toward our salvation and as a witness to the world.  Let us take the best of Lent, and continue with it throughout the days of our lives.

“Lent after Lent” means that there is “Life after Pascha.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

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

Pascha Procession, singing 'Christ is Risen'

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


I began this Monday 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 one week 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, are not well-attended.
  • 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:

  • The Christian Passover/passage from death to life in and through the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
  • The commemoration and actualization of these saving events, realized through the Church’s liturgical services, and succinctly expressed as “Christ is Risen!”
  • The transformation of suffering into joy, revealing the true meaning of the Cross as salvific.
  • The supreme gift of the renewal of life and the restoration of communion with God.
  • The “death of death.”
  • The foretaste of our own resurrection from the dead into the eternal light of God’s Kingdom.
  • The event that established the Church in the world until the end of time.
  • The “Feast of Feasts” and focal point of our community’s shared life together.

The exuberance of our paschal celebration during the “night brighter than the day” is the festal expression of the Church’s deepest truth.  The light, color, music and movement are all manifestations of the paschal joy that sweeps through the church as we proclaim that Christ is Risen!  Hopefully, it is also the expression of our own faith in the Risen Lord.

However, for some “Pascha” may be reduced to something other than what it truly is. Or it takes on a life of its own, detached and independent from what was outlined above.  This is probably true for once-a-year visitors to the church – Easter Orthodox Christians – but this can also tempt us.  Such reductions may include:

  • Approaching Pascha primarily in ethnic, cultural or social terms.
  • Over-emphasis on the externals:  dress, pascha basket, roasted lamb, family traditions, etc.
  • Nostalgic or sentimental evocation of one’s past, a temptation that “cradle Orthodox” may especially be prone to.
  • A “fun experience” (I have actually heard this one before), thus using a term better suited to a trip to the amusement park than for the “Feast of Feasts.”

Perhaps we could say that the above is more a description of “Easter” popularly understood, rather than Pascha as revealed in the Church.  Again, when these approaches are detached from the deeper meaning of Pascha, then the inevitable occurs quite naturally:  Pascha is reduced to a once-a-year special event that is over and done with the moment one’s exhausted head hits the pillow some time early in the morning.  It is forgotten before all of the Easter eggs – real and chocolate – are consumed.  And then the search for the next potentially exciting event begins.

The Risen Christ appeared to His disciples for forty days following His Resurrection.  He did not depart from them into Heaven immediately.  I believe that we can assume that the disciples remained “excited” (to use an inadequate word) for that entire period – and beyond.  We have a forty-day Paschal Season in the Church for this reason.  As the disciples rejoiced in the Lord’s presence, the same possibility is before us as we too rejoice in the Lord’s presence, since it is the Lord who promised to be with us “until the end of the world.”  The Risen Lord is as present among us today as He was when He appeared to the eleven disciples behind “closed doors” for the first time and then again eight days later as recounted by St. John in his Gospel (JN. 20:19-29).  Everyone, beginning with the clergy, probably suffers from the “post-paschal blues” to some extent.  We must rely on our faith and trust that our Lord Jesus Christ has been bodily raised from the dead, the “first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I COR. 15:20), in order to revive us to the joy of this unique season in which the Church resounds with the paschal exclamation that “Christ is Risen!”

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Holy Week: The Last Discourse of Christ

Dear Parish Faithful,


Casting one further glance back over Holy Week, I would like to refer back to the Matins of Holy Friday (served “in anticipation” on Thursday evening), popularly known as the Service of the Twelve Passion Gospels.  This is another lengthy and extremely popular service in the Holy Week cycle.  At the heart of this Matins is, of course, the reading of twelve Gospel passages taken from all four of the canonical Gospels.  These readings actualize the Mystical/Last Supper setting, the arrest, trial, sentencing; and then the crucifixion, death and burial of Christ.  It is difficult to find a more intense and emotionally-draining service.  It is following the Fifth Gospel reading that records the actual death of Christ on the Cross that we chant the famous fifteenth antiphon with its powerful expression of the Church’s “paradoxical Christology” that again introduces us to the great mystery of the Son of God dying on our behalf within the human nature that He assumed in the Incarnation.  This hymn is chanted as the Cross is being brought into the center of the nave in a solemn procession.

Yet, it is the first Gospel reading that I want to focus on a bit here.  The First Gospel covers the entire “Last Discourse” of Christ found in St. John’s Gospel (13:31-18:1).  That covers over four chapters of the Gospel and thus is the most challenging reading of the liturgical year for the presiding celebrant of the service. (It also poses a challenge to the parish acolytes who must stand straight and steady with large candle in hand for the twenty minutes or so of the reading).  This Last Discourse is unique to St. John’s Gospel and it contains some of the most profound teaching of Christ encountered anywhere in the Four Gospels.

The Two Icons of the Resurrection, and the Destruction of Death

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


The souls bound in the chains of hades, O Christ, seeing Thy compassion without measure, pressed onward to the light with joyful steps, praising the eternal pascha.
(Matins, Paschal Canon of St. John of Damascus)

   The awesome mystery of the Lord’s bodily resurrection from the dead was providentially kept hidden from human eyes.  Although there were many eyewitnesses to the Resurrected One, there were none of the actual “moment” of the resurrection.  There was no access to the tomb until the stone had been rolled away and its emptiness was revealed to the myrrhbearing women.  The emptiness of the tomb was a “sign” of the resurrection of Christ; while the angelic voice – “He has risen, he is not here” – was the first announcement of the Gospel of the Risen Lord, thus interpreting the sign.  The Lord then appeared to both the myrrhbearing women and the disciples, fully affirming the meaning of the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation.  Yet, to repeat, the “moment” of the resurrection remains inaccessible to human perception.

   For this reason, artistic depictions of Christ emerging from the tomb, banner in hand, rising in a blinding light over the hapless and sprawling bodies of the guard, are “later” and inauthentic images of the resurrection, though they contain the truth that the “Lord has risen indeed!”  In the Western artistic tradition, the most famous of such depictions is probably that of Matthias Grunewald.  Such images have also become popular in Orthodox iconography over the centuries, as seen on processional banners, portable icons and walls.  Once such images enter the Church, they stubbornly refuse to leave!

   There do exist two authentic icons of the Resurrection, one being of a more historical nature and the other theological.  The historical icon of the Resurrection is that of the myrrhbearing women gazing in wonder at the empty grave cloths of Christ lying in the tomb while an angel (or two) is further depicted sitting inside the tomb as recorded in the Gospels.  This icon captures the startling moment when the myrrhbearers are overcome with “fear and trembling” together with wonder and concern at not seeing the body of the Lord in the tomb.

The theological icon simply entitled the “Anastasis” or “Resurrection,” is also referred to as the “Descent Into Hades.”  Here the victorious Christ, resplendent in white garments, Cross in hand, is depicted shattering the gates of the biblical realm of the dead (sheol in Hebrew; hades in Greek; often, though imprecisely, translated as “Hell”) decisively and forcefully grabbing Adam and Eve – representative of humanity and the righteous awaiting deliverance (cf. HEB. 11:39-40) – by the hand and pulling them out of this darkened realm restored to fellowship with God.  As iconography and hymnography complement one another, a paschal hymn from the Vespers of Holy Saturday illuminates the meaning of this powerful icon:
Today Hell cries our groaning:
My power has been trampled upon.
The Shepherd is crucified and Adam is raised.
I have been deprived of those whom I ruled.
Those whom I swallowed in my strength I have given up.
He who was crucified has emptied the tombs.
The power of death has been vanquished.
Glory to Thy Cross and Resurrection, O Lord.

The Fathers found a clear allusion of this descent into hades in a passage from I Peter:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formally did not obey … For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.  (I PETER 3:18-4:6)

   Surprisingly, however, the main source for this icon appears to be the 2nd c. apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. Here we find a dramatic and rather humanly touching description of this profound theological truth:

And behold, suddenly Hades trembled, and the gates of death and the bolts were shattered, and the iron bars were broken and fell to the ground, and everything was laid open … Then the Lord Jesus, the Savior of all, affectionate and most mild saluting Adam kindly, said to him:  “Peace be to you, Adam, with your children, through immeasurable ages to ages!”  Amen.  Then father Adam, falling forward at the feet of the Lord, and being raised erect, kissed his hands, and shed many tears, saying, testifying to all:  “Behold, the hands which fashioned me!”  And he said to the Lord:  “You have come, O King of glory, delivering men, and bringing them into Your everlasting Kingdom.”  Then also our mother Eve in like manner fell forward at the feet of the Lord, and was raised erect, and kissed His hands, and poured forth tears in abundance, and said, testifying to all:  “Behold the hands which made me!”

In other words, “Death’s dominion has been shattered.”  Can Christianity survive without this being the ultimate “Good News:”

That through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.  (HEB. 2:14-15)

   What of the non-resurrected Christ emerging from certain biblical scholars and other circles now demanding equal time in the popular press and visual media?  Is this even remotely consistent with the full content of the New Testament?  Does such a “Christ” truly inspire and offer hope to the hopeless?  I would answer my own questions with  decisive “NO!”  However, the apostle Paul reminds us that:  “all the promises of God find their Yes in him.”  (II COR. 1”20)  This Yes seems fully convincing when we acknowledge Christ as:

… the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings of the earth.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Holy Saturday: The Encounter with Death

Dear Parish Faithful,


I briefly mentioned in a short note yesterday, that I would like to cast a glance back onto our recent experience of Holy Week and in the process further illuminate the meaning of the services as this meaning is expressed in Scripture readings, a wealth of hymnography, iconography and the rites of the particular services as they unfold during the week. 

We  have experienced Holy Week; now we can mediate further upon the meaning of that experience. 

For the moment, I would like to share a particularly insightful passage from the writings of Fr. Alexander Schmemann from his over-all analysis of the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday (always served on Friday evening “in anticipation”). 

This is one of the longest services of Holy Week, attended by many, and highlighted by our common vigil around the tomb of the crucified and buried Lord, and culminating in a procession that takes us outside and around the church. This procession with the Epitaphion (burial shroud) – actualizing the passage of Christ through the darkness of death and Hades – proclaims that nevertheless, Christ is the Holy Immortal One that death and Hades cannot hold in their respective grips. 

There occurs here what Fr. Alexander calls “the encounter with death.”  And it is because of death that Fr. Alexander claims “the entire universe has become a cosmic cemetery … condemned to death and destruction.”  Thus, this encounter between the Son of God and death has a truly cosmic and timeless meaning imparted to it. The “hour” of the Son of God has now arrived, and this “hour” is that of His death, actualized, commemorated and and made present through the liturgical services of the Church.

It is here that Fr. Schmemann has a wonderful paragraph that beautifully explains what happens when death must encounter the voluntary death of Christ:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Journey Through Holy Week

Dear Parish Faithful,


As we pass through the paschal light of Bright Week, I want to look back to some extent on Holy Week and our recent Paschal celebration. In doing so, I asked one of our parishioners who was present for most of the Holy Week and Paschal  services to write up an account of her experience.  Jennifer Haynes knows the challenges of balancing family life with a commitment to the life of the Church, so I appreciate her “offering” below and hope that you also enjoy her reflection on her immediate experience.   For ultimately, Holy Week and Pascha are events to be experienced, rather than analyzed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Challenging Our Claims of Discipleship

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

On Holy and Great Wednesday we are presented with a stark and striking contrast about choices and destiny. The Church on this day has us contemplate the radically different fates of "the sinful woman" and the disciple Judas.

The former, though a great sinner, was forgiven through an act of repentance; the latter, though a close disciple, was lost through an act of betrayal. What an overwhelming difference between repentance and betrayal! This is a veritable "reversal of fortune" of the greatest intensity possible. The hymnography portrays this contrast with a heightened rhetoric worthy of the interior drama brought before our gaze:

As the sinful woman was bringing her offering of
the disciple was scheming with lawless men.
She rejoiced in pouring out her precious gift.
He hastened to sell the precious one.
She recognized the Master, but Judas parted from
She was set free, but Judas was enslaved to the
How terrible his slothfulness!
How great her repentance!
O Savior, who didst suffer for our sakes,
grant us repentance, and save us.
(Praises, at Matins)