Pascha: The Resurrection (2017)

“Hell rules the race of mortal humans, but not eternally; for when You were placed in the grave, O powerful One, You tore asunder the bars of death by Your life-creating hand and proclaimed true deliverance to those sleeping there from the ages, since You, O Savior, have become the first-born of the dead.”  (Pascha Nocturnes)

God warned Adam that should he choose to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he would die (Genesis 2).  God never said death was a permanent or an eternal punishment.  While Death claimed all humans, its power came to an end when Christ died and descended to the place of the dead.  Christ raises all the dead, bringing a permanent end to death’s reign over humanity.  This is the Good News Christianity proclaims to the entire world’s population.

None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:7-9)

Despite the Good News and tragically many still choose death.  Some think war is the answer to human evils – that we can defeat evil, Satan, death by killing those who we believe are evil.  Some think death is the only way to escape the world and they choose it for themselves and sometimes for others.  Some are trapped in their own thinking and believe their own death or the death of some around them are the only way out of the box that imprisons them.  Orthodoxy sees death as an evil – separation from God.  Christ tramples down death by His own death and shows us the way to remain united to the Source of Life even through suffering and death.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.”

“Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)

Orthodox bless the graves of their deceased loved ones after Pascha because we do believe they are alive in Christ – they are blessed.  Christ made it clear that those who we consider dead and buried are alive in God when He said:

“And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Luke 20:37-38)

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob died long before Moses came along, yet God speaks about them not in the past tense – I was their God – but as being their God now because they are still alive in Him.

“This is the day of resurrection.  Let us be illumined by the feast.  Let us embrace each other.  Let us call “brothers” even those who hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry:  Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” (Pascha Matins)

There is no more joyous day for humanity than Pascha.  We are baptized into Christ’s death and raised from the dead with Him to eternal life.  Consequently, we can embrace everyone for death has no more power over any of us.  Death cannot separate us from our God or from those we love.  Death remains the sign that something is wrong with this world.  In Christ we find our way to triumph over death and to remain united to the Giver of Life.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)

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Holy Saturday (2017)

“The logic of the primitive Paschal Vigil is that a new age dawned with the appearance, death and resurrection of Christ. In preparation for the annual commemoration of that cosmic event, the liturgy revisited the pre-incarnational age through a rereading of key Old Testament passages that prefigure events of Christ’s incarnation.” (Paul Magdalino, The Old Testament in Byzantium, p. 71)

Holy Saturday is a day on which we contemplate the whole plan of God for our salvation from the beginning of creation.  The Old Testament is read as prophecy of the New with each narrative not only foreshadowing and prefiguring the events in Christ’s own life but also being a typology of our own spiritual sojourn in Christ and into His Kingdom.  There are 15 Old Testament lessons read during the Vespers-Liturgy which was originally part of the Paschal celebration.  The words, events and prophecies of the Old Testament find both their fulfillment and full meaning in Christ’s own life, death and resurrection.

“The Old Testament gave us an eschatological interpretation of the Exodus, showing it to us as a type of the Messianic age. The New Testament proclaims that this typology has been fulfilled in Christ, who achieved the New Exodus foretold by the Prophets, by freeing men from the power of the Devil. The Fathers of the Church, while they uphold these two interpretations, are chiefly concerned to show that the Exodus is the type of those major factors in the life of the Church day by day, that is, the Sacraments through which the power of God continues to achieve man’s redemption, typified by the Exodus, and accomplished by Jesus Christ. The Fathers first of all show that the passage of the Red Sea and the eating of the manna are the type of Baptism and the Eucharist received on the anniversary day of the departure from Egypt, and then go on to show how this interpretation widens to include all the events of the Exodus.

It is one of the most important themes of early typology that the crossing of the Red Sea is a type of Baptism, and this will be more easily understood when it is remembered that Baptism was administered during the night of Holy Saturday, in the framework, that is, of the Jewish feast which recalled the departure from Egypt. The parallel between the historical event of the departure from Egypt and the mystical rejection of sin by the passing through the baptismal font forces itself upon us. The Liturgical connection between the water of Baptism and the water of the Red Sea is not just fortuitous: we can only insist once more on what was said of the Flood; the significance of the baptismal water lies not in it being a rite of purification, but a rite of initiation. In any rite of initiation there is always a certain ritual imitation of the historical event. Such was the case with Jewish baptism, which in the Christian era took the place of circumcision as the initiatory rite of proselytes to the Jewish faith. G. Foot-Moore writes: “this baptism was neither a real nor merely a symbolic purification: it was essentially a rite of initiation.” And the purpose of this initiation was to bring the proselyte through the same stages that the people of Israel had passed through at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Even Jewish baptism them was an imitation of the crossing of the Red Sea and the baptism of the desert (Ex. 14:30).

We have seen that the New Testament certainly sees in the departure from Egypt a type of Baptism. St. Paul tells the Jews that their fathers “were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized in the cloud and the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2-11), and the Gospel of St. John shows us how the great events of the Exodus were types of the Christian sacraments.”   (Jean Danielou, S.J., From Shadows to Reality, pp. 175-176).

As in every liturgical celebration in the Church – both sacraments and Feast days – we enter into Christ’s life and experience the world in Christ. We understand the Old Testament in Christ. We live our spiritual lives whether fasting or feasting in Christ. We are saved by His faith, for He is God’s faithful servant, chosen to give life to the world.