My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)
How long, O LORD? Wilt thou forget me for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him”; lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in thy steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalms 13:1-6)
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands … (Isaiah 49:13-16)
“When we consider the anguish of the person who desires and seeks God, who feels deeply God’s absence, the same holds true. My anguish and my searching are themselves the presence of God in my life. To search for God means that I have already found Him, for God is already present in my searching. That I experience this anguish demonstrates that what I seek for truly exists and indeed is already with me, actively working inside me. Why, then, should I see anything other than this?” (Psalms and the Life of Faith, pp. 337-338)
First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. . . . But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9)
So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him. Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:5-42)
Fr. Alexander Men referring to the end of the Gospel lesson when the Samaritans come out to see Jesus writes that today we are all like these Samaritans in how we come to faith in Christ:
Samaritans surrounded the Jewish traveller, not caring that He was from a hostile nation, and led Him to their village; we do not know what happened then, but the most important thing in this story is the result. After listening to Him, they said to the woman: “Now we see the truth; no longer because of what you said, but because we have seen for ourselves.”
So now all of us are in the same position: at first we believe in the words written in the Scriptures and in other books, then we believe in what other people tell us. But the happiest moment in our spiritual lives is when we come to know the mystery of God, the mystery of the Lord Jesus, as revealed in our hearts, no longer through the words of others but through our own instincts and our own profound experience. We, like the Samaritans, guess at what is true and ponder on it. But He is near us, He reveals His word to us. Only we must also be ready to hear Him – like that simple woman of Samaria, like everyone who has ears to hear and hears. Amen. (Awake to Life!, p. 78)
Fr Alexander Schmemann comments on the Gospel lesson and how it shows that Christ was declaring an end to religion not creating a new one for Christ is calling us to life itself:
Christianity, however, is in a profound sense the end of all religion. In the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made this clear. “‘Sir,’ the woman said to him, ‘I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…but the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him’” (Jn. 4:19-21, 23). She asked him a question about cult, and in reply Jesus changed the whole perspective of the matter. Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity present as a cult or as a religion. Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion. (For the Life of the World, pp. 19-20)
“Through His Resurrection, Christ put an end to death, changing it into a necessary passage to immortality. Seen in this perspective, death frees us from the demands and conditions of the fall. Death, the fruit of corruption and “corruptibility,” allows us to move beyond time, which in turn abolishes the corruptibility of death. There is one condition, however: that this movement be an entrance into the Kingdom already present in this world. This is what allows Death to open onto eternity.
This is why God cast [Adam] out of Paradise and sent him far from the tree of life; not because He kept this tree of life form him out of jealousy, as some have dared to maintain, but He acted out of compassion, so that man might not remain in sin forever, so that the sin which weighed him down might not be immortal, so that evil might not be without end and thus without remedy. He kept him from his transgression, therefore, by introducing death…giving him an end through the dissolution of the flesh which would take place in the earth so that man, having “died to sin” [Rom 6:2], might be “alive to God” (Adv. Haer., III, 23, 6).
Through His Incarnation, the Logos of creation penetrated matter, His own work. The Infinite became incarnate and subject to space; the Eternal entered time. By coming into the world Christ transformed time and space, effecting a revolution with profound consequences. As God-Man He did not merely assume the corporeal limitations of our condition, He surpassed them. Destined to die by virtue of His Incarnation, whereby He entered into time and space, the crucified Christ bears the suffering and death of every person throughout time and space. Through His Ascension and Resurrection, He leads us beyond the cycle of time, to the never-setting sun.”
“Origen reminds his readers that doubting Thomas is not the only model of faith in the Scriptures. Faith is more than believing what was not seen with the eyes. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Happy are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear‘ (Matt. 13:16). His saying suggests that those who have seen with the eyes are happy, not just those who believed without seeing. Was not Simeon happy, asks Origen, when he saw the Christ child and “held God’s salvation in his arms.” Did he not say, ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation’ (Luke 2:29-30). Origen concludes that ‘faith complemented by vision is far superior to faith through a mirror.’ The disciples who saw Jesus alive after his death knew him by faith even though they could see him with their eyes.” (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. 179)
“The physical evidence that Thomas is invited to inspect is only a beginning, but, in human terms, perhaps an essential beginning for many on the road to faith. St. John the Theologian begins his first epistle by restating this evidence and its ultimate purpose: ‘That which was from the beginning, which we heard, which we saw with our eyes, which we observed, and which our hands touched, concerning the Word of Life…what we saw and heard we announced to you so that you might have fellowship with us as we have fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ’ (I Jn. 1.1-3), author’s translation).
The faith of Thomas was not born from a purely objective examination of empirical evidence. It could only emerge from the interface between a conscious acknowledgement of the evidence and an interaction between persons made initially possible through the senses. For the faith spoken so eloquently in Thomas’s declaration to Christ is not the affirmation of an idea or a fact, but a commitment of absolute trust in a Person. It is the necessary element, the sine qua non, for the journey toward union with the unknowable God, who yet through a relationship with his incarnate Word can be known.” (Daniel B. Hinshaw, Touch and the Healing of the World, p. 111)
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.(John 20:19-31)
The celebration of the Resurrection is always a wonderful event, a foretaste of the Kingdom of God which is to come. But there is a reality that Pascha does not end all of life’s problems, nor resolve all of them, nor does it necessarily make them more tolerable. At midnight on Pascha we leave the safety of the church and go into the darkness of the night, into the world as it is without light. Yet we rejoice, though darkness is all around us we are carrying the Light of Christ within us. That Light of Christ shines and the darkness does not overcome it. The night becomes resplendent with the singing about Christ being risen from the dead. The Light which shone when God first spoke the universe into existence continues to shine in our hearts and lives. For that Light is Christ.
The full glory of God’s Kingdom is yet to be revealed, but now we thank God that we can experience here and now the great joy of the resurrection. Now we know of God’s victorious power and His great plan for our salvation.
The Kingdom of Heaven is breaking into our lives, but the world too continues to press in on our lives. On the day of the resurrection, the Apostle Thomas already doubted the truth of Christ. On Pascha Sunday, according to St Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples were filled with joy at meeting our Lord risen from the dead, “though some doubted” (Matthew 28:17) On the very day that Christ rose from the dead, already some of Christ’s most ardent faithful are already in doubt! The world continued intruding into their joy, hopes and dreams – and though they know the Good News, one week after the resurrection, they are still cowering in a room behind locked doors.
Despite the resurrection, the disciples are still afraid of dying. The world has not gone away and has not ended. The Kingdom of God has not come in all its power. They and we continue to have to cope with a fallen world and manage our lives in this fallen world.
The Apostles don’t conclude that the resurrection is not real or that they were mistaken in thinking they saw Jesus living, but the truth presents the fact that there is mystery in life. God’s ways are not our ways, and we have a hard time grasping His Truth. The world continually presses in on us. Christ has overcome the world, but He has not called us out of this world but rather to be a light to the world (John 17:15-16)
Here we are one week after celebrating the resurrection of Christ, and a few vestiges remain of our celebration – some flowers remain, but many have faded. So too some of those who joined us for Pascha have also faded away. One week after proclaiming the resurrection of Christ from the dead, we have already returned back to normal time. Life goes on.
And one week after Pascha, Thomas is still doubting the fact of the resurrection. Thomas’ doubt however is sometimes called blessed by some Church Fathers because it is reasonable, based on experience. It is doubt based in the fact that the dead do not come back to life. It is doubt based in fact and in fact is our doubt. We realize how hard it is to convince anyone else about why we believe in Christ and the resurrection.
The real world is relentless and rushes by pushing into the distant past the good news and placing new pressures on the disciples, problems, some old and some new, which must be faced. The 10 disciples who saw Christ risen from the dead on that first day of the week can’t even convince their fellow disciple, Thomas, that what they had seen is real and true.
The promise of the resurrection is not that our life will be easy, nor that our life will be free of problems, worries, troubles. The resurrection does not make it any easier to love one another, nor does it mean all believers will now be wonderfully loving to you. The Kingdom of God is breaking into the world and into our lives and yet it is still not fully realized.
The promise of the resurrection does not spare us trouble or sorrow, but offers us hope in the day of our trouble and sorrow. Bearing the cross of Christ, which we agreed to do as Christ’s disciples, is not the way to avoid difficulties in this world, nor is it the road to prosperity. Rather the Cross reminds us that our hope is still beyond this world and our hope is that this world is only a small part of the total reality of God’s Kingdom. There is a far bigger picture of which we are part, and reality itself, like the entire universe, is far bigger than we are able to comprehend or envision. Christ makes us part of that greater Kingdom. We can only live in the Light of the Resurrection by also facing the darkness of Good Friday and the Cross of Christ.
[Physicists speak of dark energy and dark matter which are invisible to us and yet make up most of what exists in the universe. Dark energy makes up 68% of what exists in the universe, and dark matter makes up 27% of the universe, which means the visible universe as vast as it is and which exists almost entirely beyond our grasp is still only 5% of all that exists. The Kingdom of God is much the same it constitutes far more time and space than all that has ever existed, and we only know an extremely small part of it. Planet earth, the only place in the universe we have lived, is a tiny part of the entire universe, and that universe is but a tiny part of the Kingdom of God.]
The world is awash with problems, but it is God who remains both a compass to us through the stormy sea of life and who is our destination, our safe harbor to whom we are sojourning. In God we find meaning and purpose to all that we experience and realize that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Christ is risen! This was a fact the Apostles could not deny, but now they are faced with figuring out how do they live in this world which basically is unchanged by the good news.
The disciples have been changed by the Gospel, but the world is the same old world. And after celebrating Pascha, the resurrection of Christ, we too are faced with the task of returning to the world to live the Gospel and to be a light to all those still in darkness. The resurrection of Christ should mean that we see the world differently in His Light, and we live differently because now we live not just for this world but for life in the world to come.
Great Lent was traditionally used as a time to prepare catechumens for baptism. At the end of Great Lent – for Lazarus Saturday or on Holy Saturday – the catechumens were illumined in baptism. This is reflected in the fact that we still sing “As many as have been baptized into Christ…” during these festal Liturgies in place of singing “Holy God...” In the week after Pascha, after the catechumens had been newly baptized, there was continued catechetical work in the early Church to help those newly initiated into Christ to understand what they had experienced. St. John Chrysostom, addresses words to the newly baptized Christians:
You shall be called “newly-illuminated,” because your light is always new, if you wish it that way, and it is never extinguished. Whether we shall have it so or not, night follows the light of this world; but the darkness knows not the shining of this new light. The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness grasped it not. Certainly, the world is not as bright when the sun rises as is the soul which is illumined and becomes brighter from the grace it has received from the Spirit.
Consider more closely the nature of these things. When night falls and it is dark, many a time a man sees a rope and thinks it is a snake; and when a friend approaches him, he flees from him as if he were a foe; when he hears a noise, he is frightened. Nothing like this would happen in the light of day; everything is seen then just as it really is.
This same thing happens in the case of our soul. Whenever grace comes and drives out the darkness from our mind, we learn the exact nature of things; what frightened us before, now becomes contemptible in our eyes. We no longer are afraid of death after we have learned carefully from this holy initiation that death is not death but a sleep and repose which lasts for but a time. Nor are we afraid of poverty or disease or any such misfortune, because we know that we are on our way to a better life, which is impervious to death and destruction and is free from all such inequality.
Let us, then, no longer stay gaping after the good things of this life, such as luxurious foods and expensive clothing. For you have the greatest of garments, you have a spiritual banquet, you have the glory which comes from on high; Christ has become all things for you: table, clothing, house, head, and root. For all you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. See how He has become your clothing.
Your shining robe now arouses admiration in the eyes of all who behold you, and the radiance of your garments proves that your souls are free from every blemish. For the future, all of you, both you who have just deserved the gift and all who have already reaped for yourselves the benefit of His munificence, must make the excellence of your conduct visible to all and, after the fashion of a torch, you must illumine those who look upon you. For if we should be willing to guard the brightness of this spiritual robe, as time goes on it will send forth a more brilliant luster and an abundance of gleaming light, a thing which cannot happen in the case of material garments.
For even if we multiply the care we take of our bodily clothes ten thousand times, the passing years leave them threadbare, and by the time they have gotten old they are worn away to nothing. If we keep them stored away, the moths get at them or they are ruined by the many other things which destroy material garments. If, however, we are eager to do our fair share, the garment of virtue will not become soiled nor feel the onslaught of age, but as time passes, so much the more does it reveal the fresh sheen of its beauty and its radiant light.
Today, a sacred Pascha is revealed to us, A new and holy Pascha, A mystical Pascha, A Pascha worthy of veneration, A Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer, A blameless Pascha, A great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, A Pascha which has opened for us the gates of Paradise, A Pascha which sanctifies all the faithful.
Pascha of beauty, The Pascha of the Lord, A Pascha worthy of all honor has dawned for us. Pascha! Let us embrace each other joyously. O Pascha, ransom from affliction! For today as from a bridal chamber Christ has shown forth from the tomb and filled the women with joy saying: Proclaim the glad tidings to the apostles.
And one thing that becomes clear is that Pascha, though being applied to the event of the Resurrection of Christ, is also Christ Himself. As we sing: “A Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer“. We could substitute in those hymns the word “Christ” or “Messiah” or the Name “Jesus” in each instance where “Pascha” appears. That would enrich our understanding of the hymn, of the Feast, of salvation and of Christ Himself. Pascha, like salvation, like Light, like the Word, like Love is a Who not a what: Jesus Christ. Pascha is not just an event, a Feast, the 8th day – for it is the revelation of our God in Christ. God has made “it” into our union with Him.
The idea is completely Scriptural. In 1 Corinthians 5:7 St. Paul calls Jesus Christ our Passover. [Often in the English translations of this verse they translate the text as “Paschal lamb“, but the word lamb is not in the Greek text, but is added by translators to try to make sense of the text to people for whom Pascha doesn’t mean much. The Eastern Orthodox Bible (EOB) and David Bentley Hart in his “A Translation of the New Testament” both translate the text to say Christ is our passover.]
The idea that Christ is our Passover is defended by the 3rd Century’s most famous Christian biblical scholar, Origen. As translator and scholar Robert Daly notes:
“Origen‘s central insight is that the passover is not a figure or type of the passion of Christ but a figure of Christ Himself, of Christ’s passing over to the Father (of which the passion was only a historical part) and, by reason of our incorporation into Christ, of our own still ongoing passing over with Christ to the Father.” (ORIGEN: TREATISE ON THE PASSOVER, pp 6-7)
When we read the Passover narrative in Exodus we are reading about Christ, not merely about history or just a prefiguring of the passion events. As Jesus teaches in John 5:46 – “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” [So too we find the same idea in Luke 24:27 (And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.) and in John 1:45 – (Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”) Moses wrote about Jesus, not just about history, nor prophecy, but about Jesus Christ.]
For Origen the Passover is not merely an historical event which happened in the past. Origen writes, “the Passover still takes place today.” We enter into the Passover, into Christ, in our own baptisms. The Passover is living, and life-giving, not some event that occurred long ago in history which we can only read about – nor something we “remember” in ritual. We participate in Christ, in the Passover, in salvation. It is Christ who makes Pascha, the Passover personal – His person to whom we are united, but also for each of us in our union with the incarnate God.
“My faith, finally, is that if I am canceled by the power death has in our world, then God’s greater power can overcome it.” (John Garvey, Death and the Rest of Our Life, p. 78)
On my first visit to Armenia in 1990, I visited the home of Anahid and Kevork Oynoyan. They had lost their twelve-year-old son, Armen, in the catastrophic earthquake of December 1988, and Kevork was profoundly depressed as a result. . . . He got up and brought back a copy of the New Testament and a book that had been distributed by the Hare Krishna sect describing the transmigration and reincarnation of the soul. He asked if I would explain the difference between reincarnation and the Christian belief in the resurrection. He said that in his atheism classes years before he had been taught that Christianity is spiritualist. If that was so, weren’t reincarnation and resurrection essentially the same?
I suggested that we read 1 Corinthians 15, where St. Paul defends the belief in the resurrection of the body and the soul. In silence, visibly and deeply absorbed, Kevork read that chapter not once but several times. Then joyfully shouted, “So Christianity is materialist!” The darkness had lifted, because in St. Paul’s teaching Kevork had discovered what he had hoped would be there but had not found in the book on reincarnation: the assurance that he would see his son again, recognize him, and be able to love him in an embrace of the resurrected flesh. In the person of Jesus Christ, God’s love is manifested as life. Jesus’ resurrection proclaims the triumphant power of love and life over death.