Even Death is a Freedom

Bright Friday: Even Death is a Freedom

Christ’s resurrection as a “wonder” would have pointed to a new religion; resurrection as a sign points to a new mode of existence. It is this mode that the ecclesial social event wishes to realize. Death is the most burdensome and unbearably irrational existential limitation of human nature. And in his historical existence Christ assumes this irrationality, he dies, in order to signify that even death may be experienced as freedom of relationship with the Father, that is, as life without limitation.

He assumes human nature “unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), one of the most horrific forms of execution. And he does it so that this most horrific death should become a savific sign.

(Christos Yannaras, Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event, pp. 32-33)

Christ is Risen! Keeping It All in Perspective

Bright Monday: Christ is Risen!

One of the surprises of the Orthodox faith is that on Pascha night when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, on the night in which we proclaim dozens of times: “Christ is risen!”, on the night in which all our hymns focus on the resurrection of Christ, the Gospel we proclaim at the Divine Liturgy is not one of the accounts of the Resurrection.  What we proclaim is John 1:1-17, which is not about finding the empty tomb or about Christ’s descent into Hades.    The Gospel we proclaim is often referred to as “The Prologue” – it is just the introduction to the book written by the Evangelist John.

And one reason that we read this Gospel at the Paschal Divine Liturgy is that it is about the big picture.  We are not just celebrating that one man, a good man at that, came back from the dead, though that would be a big enough event in its own right.   The Gospel for the Paschal Liturgy helps us see Christ’s resurrection in the big picture of the entirety of creation (the entire universe) and the entire history of the cosmos.   The Gospel takes us back to the beginning of Creation – In the beginning was the word (John 1:1).   We are taken back to the beginning of the Bible itself, back to chapter one of the book of Genesis, back to the big bang, the beginning of everything.    And we remember that in the midst of the total silence of nothingness, in the soundless vacuum, God spoke His Word and creation – time and space – came into being.  God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (Genesis 1:3).   It is God’s Word which causes creation to exist – causes us to exist.   And as we hear in John’s Gospel at the Paschal Liturgy, Jesus Christ is the Word of God.  It is He who caused all things to come into existence as we just heard – All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made (John 1:3).

Out of the vacuum of nothingness and silence, creation was brought into existence by the Word of God.  Or, maybe into that empty void God caused creation to come into being.   Either way, there came to be something, rather than nothing by the Word of God.  By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth (Psalms 33:6).

And then, what we just thought about all during Holy Week – the impossible happened.  Creation – we creatures – endeavored to silence the Word of God.  We nailed him to the cross and He died.   No breath was found in Him.  He was sealed in a silent tomb, left voiceless and to rot back into nothingness.  Descending into the depths of Hades never to be heard from again.

Except, that on Pascha, the Word spoke again – out of the dead silence of Hades, God’s Word again called Light into existence.   From the muteness of Hades – from which no voice was ever heard on earth, God speaks to us.   Pascha night is a night of renewal for all creation for God again is giving light and life to the world, to all of creation, to us and to the entire universe.  From the tomb shines forth the Light of Life, and we hear the Word of God giving life even to the dead.

And God tells us even in death we don’t return to nothingness.  Even in death we do not cease to exist.  Death does not, can not, annihilate us because God the giver of life is more powerful than death, and the life God gives us is stronger than death.  Death does not end our life.

So we proclaim this Gospel of John 1:1-17 on Pascha night – a universal message, not just for Christians but the entire created universe.  The power of the resurrection is not limited to Christ or to Christians, but is offered to the entire human race.  Listen to the Gospel:

All things came into being through Jesus Christ (John 1:3)

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it (1:5).

John came to bear witness to the Light – that ALL might believe through him (1:7).

Christ the true light enlightens EVERYONE who ever existed, who now exists or who will ever exist (1:9).

ALL who receive Him are given the ability to be God’s children (1:12).

ALL have recieved grace upon grace (1:16)

When we focus only on the resurrection of Jesus as a historical fact, we can easily lose sight of the universal and cosmic meaning of that message.   Everything in the world, and everyone in the world is found in the message of John’s Gospel.  We proclaim it this night because it includes all of us – as we heard in the catechetical homily of St. John Chrysostom, it includes all who diligently kept the fast and all who didn’t, all who labored from the 1st hour and those who came at the 11th hour, the sinners and the saints, the rich and the poor, everyone encompassed in the universal resurrection which our Lord has given to us all.

 

Pascha and Bright Week 2017 (PDF)

33953541641_cc8bfab63e_nI have gathered all of the 2017 posts from Pascha and Bright Week into one document for those who prefer to view them that way rather than having to navigate through the blog.  You can find all of those posts at Pascha and Bright Week 2017 (PDF).

You can find PDF links for all of the blogs I posted for each of the past 10 years for Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha and many other topics at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

Paschal Greetings: Christ is Risen!

Dearly Beloved,

On this day of Pascha, I offer to you the radiant words of  St. Paul, who we honor as the Apostle to the Nations:

“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

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Thirty-seven years ago, I submitted to being ordained an Orthodox priest in order to follow in St. Paul’s footsteps: to hand over to you what I received: our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. My hope was and is to remain focused on Christ, faithful to the Gospel, practicing Orthodox Christianity in such a way as to be a faithful witness to Christ. At Pascha, we celebrate the culmination of our spiritual lives and our Lenten efforts as we encounter the risen Lord and experience Christ who is the Good News. Lent and Pascha are not about eating or not eating meat and dairy products.  They are about our living relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord and our commitment to His Body, the Church, in which we find salvation. Pascha is God’s own acceptance of death in order to give us eternal life. The Christian Faith and the Paschal Feasts are summed up well by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who inspired me to choose Orthodoxy as the way to know God:

“Death is . . . man’s rejection of life in God. It is the rejection of God for the sake of man’s life in and for himself, the result of man’s alienation from God in whom alone is life and the life of man. Death, therefore, must be destroyed as the spiritual reality of man’s separation from God – hence, the gospel, the Good News. Christ has destroyed death by trampling it with his own death. . . . Under the guise of death, Divine Love itself enters Sheol, overcoming the separation and solitude. Dispelling the darkness of hades, Christ’s death is a divine and radiant act of love, and in his death, therefore, the spiritual reality of death is abolished.  Finally, the Christian gospel announces that with Christ’s resurrection a new life – a life which has no death in it – is given to all those who believe in him and are united with him.” (THE LITURGY OF DEATH, pp 45-46)

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In the Paschal Liturgy, we celebrate everything I believe and want to share with you. In the darkness, in the middle of the night, we are illumined by the resplendent Light which is Christ. Jesus sought out the gloom of Hades to find those hidden by the shadow of death. We came out in the pitch darkness of the night to see Christ and all those who are alive in Him. The glorious joy of the resurrection enlightens our hearts and shines light wherever there is darkness.

Christ is risen!  Indeed, He is risen!

Bright Saturday 2016

“Lord Jesus Christ, our God!  Flood our souls with the radiant light of Your wisdom, that we may serve You with renewed purity and integrity.  Sunrise marks the time for us to begin our labors, but we implore You, master, to prepare in our souls a place for the day that never ends.  Grant us a share in Your risen life, let nothing distract us from the delights You offer, and by our tireless zeal for You, mark us with the sign of that day of Yours that is not measured by the sun.”  (New Skete Monastery, Matins prayer for Pascha)

Bright Week, the week following Pascha, is liturgically treated as the day in the city of God which knows no night (Revelation 21:25).  The Light of the Risen Christ shines morning and evening, through dawn and dusk.  All week long the hymns of Pascha Sunday are repeated as if the day itself never ends but continues uninterrupted by sunrise or sunset for the glory of God is the eternal Light in the City of God, and the lamb of God is its lamp (Revelation 21:23).

“The heavenly world is taking part in the liturgy. But more than that: the mysterious Host, the Crucified One and the Living One is entering the souls and the bodies of the faithful and hallows them, preparing them for Life Eternal. He comes to the individual soul that bows before Him in deepest self-condemnation and repentance, feeling herself unworthy that He should enter under the roof of her house: ‘for it is all empty and crumbling to pieces.’ But He enters and heals and sanctifies soul and body. And He comes also to the whole of the Church, and our common partaking of the One Bread makes us all one body. But the Eucharist points also to the sanctification and transfiguration of the whole created world. The wine from the grapes and the vineyards and the bread from the wheat of the field become His transfigured, His glorified Blood and Body. They are premises of the nature who all will be sanctified and glorified because the Word has become Flesh and has suffered and conquered Death.

So the Eucharist points also to the future plenitude, to His future coming in Glory. ‘You proclaim the death of the Lord, till He comes’ (1 Cor. 11:26). The Past – His historical death on Golgotha and His resurrection – is mysteriously united to His unutterable Presence – the Presence of the Glorified One, who is the One who presents Himself in sacrifice, and the Risen One simultaneously. And this mysterious flowing together of historical fact and mystical Presence is also a stretching forward to the fullness of the manifestation of His Glory.” (Nicholas Arseniev, Revelation of Life Eternal, pp 86-87)

Previous: Bright Friday

Bright Friday 2016

We Orthodox continue our week of rejoicing, celebrating daily the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout Bright Week.   The Church, the community of believers, was born in Christ – in His death and resurrection. One image the early Christians used is that in the same way that Eve was taken from the side of Adam (Genesis 2), so too the Church comes from the side of Christ – in the blood and water which poured forth from His pierced side.

We each participate in this death and resurrection through the sacraments of baptism and communion.  This is why in the early Church baptism of the catechumens was linked to the celebration of Pascha, the resurrection of Christ.  As St. Gregory the Theologian expressed it:  “Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him.”

The Roman Catholic scholar Jean Danielou says:

“The marriage of Christ and the Church, which took place on the Cross, is continued throughout the whole Church by Baptism and the Eucharist: ‘The Word of God came down to earth to unite Himself to His Bride, willingly die for her, to make her glorious and immaculate in the bath of purification. For otherwise the Church could not conceive those who believe and bring them forth anew by the bath of regeneration, if Christ did not die anew, did not unite Himself to His Church and give her the power from His side, so that all those may grow up who are born into the baptismal bath. Baptism perpetually regenerates Christians by plunging them into the death of Christ, and the Eucharist continually makes them grow by giving them the strength which comes from His side, that is, by communion in His risen Body.” (The Bible and the Liturgy, p 206)

Previous: Bright Thursday

Next: Bright Saturday

Pascha and Bright Week 2015 (PDF)

All the blogs posted for Pascha and Bright Week are now available in one document, a PDF which you can find at:  Pascha and Bright Week 2015 (PDF). 

You can find links to all the Lenten, Holy Week and Bright Week blogs I’ve posted for the past years as PDFs at Fr. Ted’s Blog Series.   Each year I collect all of the posted blogs from the Lenten and Paschal seasons  and put them together as  PDFs.

I will also be gathering all of the blogs related to the Post-Paschal Sundays into a PDF which will be published after Pentecost.

Bright Friday 2012

“To this end Christ died and rose to life that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living. But ‘God is not God of the dead, but of the living.’ That is why the dead, now under the dominion of One who has risen to life, are no longer dead but alive. Therefore life has dominion over them and, just as ‘Christ, having been raised from the dead, will never die again,’ so too they will live and never fear death again. When they have been thus raised from the dead and feed from decay, they shall never again see death, for they will share in Christ’s Resurrection just as He Himself shared in their death.” [St. Anastasius the Sinaite (7th C) in The Synaxarion of the Lenten  Triodion  and Pentecostarion, pg. 182]

Bright Tuesday 2012

“Today is salvation come unto the world, to that which is visible, and to that which is invisible. Christ is risen from the dead, rise ye with Him. Christ is returned again to himself, return ye. Christ is freed from the tomb, be ye freed from the bond of sin. The gates of hell are opened, and death is destroyed, and the old Adam is put aside, and the New is fulfilled; if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; be ye renewed…The Lord’s Passover, the Passover, and again I say the Passover to the honour of the Trinity. This is to us a Feast of feasts and a Solemnity of solemnities.” (St. Basil the Great in Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades, an Orthodox Perspective, pg. 56)