Melitio of Sardis: Homily on the Pascha

For, himself led as a lamb

and slain as a sheep,

he ransomed us from the world’s service

as from the land of Egypt,

and freed us from the devil’s slavery

as from the hand of Pharaoh;

and he marked our souls with his own Spirit

and the members of our body with his own blood.

It is he that clouded death with shame

and stood the devil in grief

as Moses did Pharoah.

It is he that struck down crime

and made injustice childless

as Moses did Egypt.

It is he that delivered us from slavery to liberty,

from darkness to light,

from death to life,

from tyranny to eternal royalty…

It is he that was enfleshed in a virgin,

that was hanged on a tree,

that was buried in the earth,

that was raised from the dead,

that taken up to the heights of the heavens.

He is the lamb being slain;

he is the lamb speechless;

he is the one born from Mary the lovely ewe-lamb;

he is the one “taken from the flock” (cf. Ex. 12:5; 1 Sam. 17: 34),

and dragged “to slaughter” (cf. Isa. 53:7),

and sacrificed “at evening” (cf. Ex. 12:6),

and buried “at night” (cf. Ex. 12:8, 10),

who on the tree was “not broken” (cf. Ex. 12:10),

in the earth was not dissolved,

arose from the dead,

and raised up man from the grave below.

(Melito of Sardis, Homily on the Pascha, from Paul M. Blowers’s The Bible in Greek Christian Antiquity, pp. 98-99)

Bright Friday (2019)

Bright Friday

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:3-11)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem comments on being baptized into Christ:

O strange and incredible thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised; our imitation was in an image, but our salvation was real. Christ was truly crucified, and buried and raised up, and all these things he graciously gave to us, so that by imitation of his passion we might gain participation in salvation in reality. O surpassing love of humanity! Christ received the nails in his pure hands and suffered, and to me grants salvation without my suffering and pain, through sharing [his suffering]. (Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, p. 101)

Baptisms in the early church were done on Lazarus Saturday or Holy Saturday, having used Lent as a time of preparation for baptism – studying God’s Word and through fasting and prayer opening the heart of the candidates to God’s saving action in the world. Baptism was called illumination, and all the candidates were given candles to hold as symbols of their new life in Christ.  St Macarius the Great writes:

“As many torches and burning lamps are lit from a fire, though the lamps and torches are lit and shine from one nature, so too is it that Christians are enkindled and shine from one nature; the divine fire, the Son of God, and they have their lamps burning in their hearts, and they shine before him while they live on earth, just as he did. This is what it means when it says: ‘So God has anointed you with the oil of gladness’” (Ps 45.7). (Illumined in the Spirit, p. 86)

Christ is risen!  Truly, He is risen!

Bright Thursday (2019)

Bright Thursday

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.

(Baptismal Instructions, pp. 175-176, 114)

Bright Wednesday (2019)

Bright Wednesday

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

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.”  (2 Peter 3:3-4)

While the resurrection of Christ brings us great joy when we celebrate Pascha, we still face the fact that sin, sickness, suffering and even death are part of our daily experience.   The glory of the resurrection can seem like “pie in the sky” for the resurrection of Christ did not remove us from the reality of the fallen world.  One can wonder, how is the world any different today than it was 2000 years ago before Christ came into the world, exactly as St. Peter reports some scoffers questioned in his own lifetime.  The resurrection is a triumph of God, yet we are still left with questions for which our answers are not satisfactory to many.

In the 4th Century St Macrina, who was teacher to both St Basil and St Gregory of Nyssa, admitted that there are some things which are hidden from us, including what life after death is like or  what the future world will be like.  She felt faith and hope require us not to speculate about things which the Scriptures are pretty silent about.  No matter how convinced some are that they know what happens to the soul after death, she warned against putting much stock in such discussions.  The future will eventually be revealed, and then we will know what things are like – so speculating now is worthless.

  The truth about this is stored up in the hidden treasury of wisdom and will be disclosed at the time when we are taught the mystery of the resurrection in deed, when we will no longer need words to reveal what we hope for. If at night wakeful people discuss at length what the light of the sun is like, the grace of the rays by its mere appearance makes vain the verbal description; in the same way every reasoning which conjectures about the future restoration will be proved worthless when what we expect comes to us in experience. (St. Macrina, from St Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Soul and the Resurrection, p. 24)

The resurrection of Christ has not revealed everything to us, but it has revealed some things, things which we don’t need to speculate about but for which we can give thanks to the Lord.

“But the resurrection has revealed that the modus operandi of God in the salvation of both Israel and the world is to love rather than destroy enemies, to absorb rather than inflict violence.

God loved us while we were enemies, responding to our own violence and other sins, not with the infliction of violence but with the absorption of violence on the cross. A life of nonviolence and reconciliation is therefore an integral part of Paul’s vision of justification and of participatory holiness – theosis.”  (Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, p. 143, 165)

In the Nicene Creed, we are offered little doctrine about life after death, but are given the foundation of our faith:  I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Bright Tuesday (2019)

Christ is risen from the dead,

trampling down death by death

and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Bright Tuesday   Luke 24:12-35

St Gregory the Great writes:

You have heard, dearly beloved, that the Lord appeared to two disciples while they were walking on the road. They were talking about him, even though they did not believe. He did not show them an appearance which they could recognize, but the Lord behaved before the eyes of their bodies in accord with what was going on inwardly before the eyes of their hearts. Within themselves they were both loving and doubting; and the Lord was present to them out. outwardly, but did not show them who he was. He manifested his presence to them as they talked about him, but hid the appearance by which they would recognize him on account of their doubts. He did indeed talk with them, reproving the hardness of their understanding and opening to them the mysteries of holy scripture concerning himself: and yet, because as an object of faith he was still a stranger to their hearts, he made a pretense of going on farther. One can make a pretence as one can make a pot. On this occasion the perfect Truth did nothing deceitful; he was only manifesting himself to them materially as they were thinking of him. It had to be shown whether those who did not as yet love him as God were at least able to love him as a stranger. Since those with whom Truth was walking couldn’t be alien to charity, they invited him, a stranger, to be their guest.

But why do I say they invited him, when it is written that they compelled him? We must surely infer from this example that strangers are not only to be invited to be guests but even forcibly persuaded. They set the table, brought food, and recognized in the breaking of the bread the God they did not know as he explained the sacred scriptures. They were not enlightened by hearing God’s commandments, but by their own actions, for it is written, It is not hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but doers of the law will be made righteous. Let anyone who wishes to understand what he has heard be quick to fulfil in action what he has already been able to understand. The Lord was not recognized when he was speaking, but he deigned to be recognized as he was being fed.”

(Forty Homilies, pp. 176-177)

Bright Monday (2019)

Bright Monday

Christ is risen!  Truly He is risen!

In order to lead us up to this presence, the Son of God had first to come down to us, to take on himself “flesh and blood”, so as in it to annihilate the power of enmity which kept us from approaching God.

Since the children (of a family) share the same flesh and blood, he too shared ours, so that through death he might destroy him who held the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver all those who through fear of death, were subject to servitude all their lives long [Hebrews 2:14-15].

This beautiful text, as has been noted, is the New Testament passage most frequently quoted by the Fathers of the Church in explaining why Christ had to die. Better than any other, it sums up the victorious struggle against the powers of evil in which, as St. Paul (especially in his last Epistles), the Synoptics (especially St. Mark) and St. John all agree, is to be found the meaning of the Cross.

Yet the author of the Epistle does not go on to devote himself to this aspect. Not that it seems unimportant to him; on the contrary, it is absolutely essential to his vision, with the emphasis that he places on the blood that must be shed to cleanse from sin. But it is the other aspect of the reality that concerns him. To him, freedom from sin, from the devil and from death is not an end in itself. It is the indispensable prerequisite for mankind’s access to the divine presence. This access itself is what he has most at heart. And, we might say, if there is anything purely Paulinian in this Epistle, it is certainly this very idea. A leitmotif phrase from the Epistle to the Ephesians might serve to summarize the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Through him (Christ) we have access to the Father” [Eph 2:18]  

(Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, pp. 144-145)

Holy Pascha (2019)

Pascha Sunday

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

… to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.  (Acts 1:2-3)

While singing “Christ is risen!” can fill us with joy, the full implications of the resurrection may escape us.  Archimandrite Amilianos brings to our attention an important detail from the Acts of the Apostles:  Jesus’ resurrection means not only that he is alive, but that He is living – He has life in Himself that can never be taken away.

But it was precisely then, after the passion, that He presented Himself alive. (Acts 1:3)

If you look at this verse closely, you’ll see that Luke does not simply say that Christ presented himself “alive,” as if to say that He was merely “seen to have been alive,” or “appeared to be alive,” like everyone else. The sense is rather that He presented Himself “living.” Of course Christ is alive, and “there was never a time when he was not alive.” But here Christ’s assumption of life, His taking up of life, is an absolutely voluntary act, for no one takes My life from Me, He says, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again; this charge I received from My Father (Jn. 10.18).

5512468149_4d55f93eec

After the passion, He presented Himself living. The life of Christ is the life given to Him by the Father after the passion. After the resurrection, therefore, the life in Christ that the apostles experienced was not simply the same life they had come to know during the days of His earthly ministry. Neither was the resurrected body of Christ simply the same body they had known, and which His enemies had slain and buried. It was a resurrected body, raised in glory, raised in power (cf. 1 Cor 15.42-45). The body that Christ assumed in His love for mankind had formerly been subject to the laws of corruption, to the laws of nature. But now those laws are of no consequence for Him. That was how He was able to enter into the upper room while the doors were closed (Jn 20.19, 26). That was a sovereign activity by which Christ, after the passion, presents Himself as living, as true and eternal life itself (cf. Jn 11.25).

10181936956_138488363e

Whoever is able to accept suffering, whoever is able to die the death granted to Him by the Father, is able to participate in the true, eternal life of Christ. If he cannot, or will not do this, then his life is a living death, for whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will preserve it (Lk 17.33).

After the passion, He presented himself living.

(The Way of the Spirit, pp. 162-163)

Jesus is able to present Himself as living precisely because He is Life (John 11:25, 14:6).

Pascha: Journey from Earth to Heaven

For from death to life and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us as we sing the song of victory: Christ is risen from the dead! (Hymn of Pascha)

5513064364_de7d7b82a5

Great Lent is a spiritual journey.  At the beginning of Lent, we began reading the Book of Genesis.  We were expelled with Eve and Adam from Paradise and sent into this world in which we live.  We migrated into Egypt with Joseph, and then God called us out of that great civilization into the desolate desert.  Now at Pascha we travel from earth to heaven. Our sojourn has thus taken us from Paradise to this world, to the desert, to Hades and 47449541621_ef2bff53d1_qthen back to the world and now to heaven itself.   A journey from the earth to the moon is nothing compared to what we undertake every Lent! And that journey to the moon costs millions of dollars to get two people to the moon, while our spiritual journey was free and there is no limit to the number of people who can make the journey.

The Gospel reading for the Pascha midnight service, perhaps surprisingly, is not one of the Resurrection accounts, but rather from Chapter 1 of John which takes us back to the beginning of time, to the beginning of creation, to the Big Bang.   This Gospel reading helps us understand the resurrection of Christ as a universal event – not something that happened at a moment 2000 years ago, but one which brings us to eternity.

8062392074_5e6935bb48_nIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

We thus travel every Great Lent the breadth and depth of time and space!  Nothing is left untouched by Christ, not even death’s kingdom. Christ, the one in whom life dwells, brings life not only to Hades, but in baptism, He comes to dwell in each of us.  As St Paul says:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:20)

We have the Word not only dwelling in our midst but also within each of us.  As we prayed each time we celebrated the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts during Lent:   

may we be united to Your Christ Himself, our true God, Who has said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him,” that by Your Word, O Lord, dwelling within us and sojourning among us, we may become a temple of Your all-holy and adorable Spirit …

3755544232_f0fb5e69c8

Throughout our long Lenten sojourn which has taken us from the beginning of time to its end (and just in 6 weeks!), Christ has sojourned with us – at every moment and in every place Christ is with us always and in all ways.

Our Lenten sojourn has accomplished what God intended from the beginning:

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

Christ is risen!

Wishing you a joyous celebration of the resurrection of Christ.  

The Resurrection in Our Life

“How the facts of Christ’s life perplex us! Never are they exactly what we are expecting. And yet they go even further and are more positive than we were expecting. Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus, but Jesus is He whom no sepulchre can contain or restrain.

The women bring aromatic spices to the tomb; now it is a God already risen whom they plan to anoint. A woman breaks a jar of perfume on the Lord’s living body, in order to give Him glory; now Jesus says that it is with a view to His burial that she performed this act. The cross seems to destroy hope, but the resurrection destroys despair.

The divine acts, which ruin our plans, go beyond either hope or despair. Thus it is with each of Jesus’ interventions in our personal life. Every one of them makes something explode, but also makes flight possible. Jesus won’t fit into any of our plans. His presence, His word, break every bound.

(A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus, a Dialogue with the Savior, pp. 19-20)