I have gathered all of the 2017 posts from my blog related to the Sundays after Pascha into one document which is now available for viewing. You can find that document at 2017 Post-Paschal Sundays (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, Post-Paschal Sundays and many other topics at Fr. Ted’s PDFs.
A great many things happen over the course of a year; our lives are touched by so many things, and often changed by them. The impermanence of everything becomes obvious to us – even we change, age, mature, as time passes.
In the Church, however, we also experience some things that never change. The Gospel – year after year, no matter how history changes or alters us – remains the same. Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death. That truth is unaltered by time. Each Pascha we experience the eternal element which has entered into human existence. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever(Hebrews 13:8).
The Scriptures present in various ways that the godly life is a sojourn, but a special sojourn in which the destination is not always known, but sometimes is a mystery. So Abram is called by God to journey to the country to which God would show him. The Jews leave Egypt on a journey (40 year journey!) to the promised land. In both cases they were guided by God but did not know their journey’s end. They weren’t returning to a familiar place, but to some new and mysterious land. The Book of Hebrews tells us that all of these chosen people did not attain their hope because they were waiting for us to join them! (Hebrews 11:39-40)
So too we Christians are on just such a sojourn. God calls us and leads us to His Kingdom. It is a place of mystery to us, we haven’t been there yet, and the journey seems long and arduous. Great Lent each year helps us to focus on that sojourn – it reminds us about the great adventure on which we have embarked. Pascha reminds us of the glories that await us. Feel the call to God’s Kingdom! Strive to enter into that eternal rest. Much happens in our lives that can be puzzling, distracting, discouraging and distressing. We are to keep our eyes on Christ. Pascha give us this proper focus on Christ and thus helps us survive and thrive each day of our life on earth. May Christ be that beacon shining in your heart, beckoning you to continue toward the Kingdom of God. May the joy and the hope and the glory of the Resurrection of Christ guide you every day of your life!
May the blessings of the Risen Christ be with you this Pascha.
“The true message of Easter is most eloquently expressed in the icon of the Descent of Christ into Hell, or Sheol, the abode of the departed. In Western traditions, the Resurrection of our Lord is depicted as a victorious rising from the tomb. In Orthodoxy, the Resurrection is proclaimed by the image of the glorified Christ descending into the abyss. ‘In the tomb with the body, in hell with the soul as God….’ Without surrendering His divine nature, the eternal Son of God assumes all the conditions of human existence. In an act of total self-abnegation, in perfect obedience to the will of the Father, He accepts the ‘kenotic’, or self-emptying, movement that leads from the Virgin’s womb to the humiliating agony of the Cross.
Yet even on the cross His descent is not complete. The tormented cry, ‘My God, my God, why…?’ is not the final word, nor is the surrender of His spirit the final act of self-emptying. He must still descend into the far reaches of the Abyss, the realm of death, in order there to break the bonds of death. He, the Second Adam and perfect Man, must reach out to touch, renew, and raise into His glory the First Adam, humankind fallen from life, who dwells in the land of shadows.” (John Breck, God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith, p 176)
So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:26)
Thus ends the book of Genesis. What started with such divine hope and great promise – the creation of the world, the very good existence of human beings in the Garden of Eden, ends far removed from the glory of the beginning – in a coffin in Egypt. The last chapter of the Torah contains similar content – the friend of God, Moses the God-seer, dies and is buried in a foreign land in an unmarked grave which no one on earth even knows where that grave is.
Death plays a significant role throughout the Scriptures. Death is the last enemy for God to destroy (1 Corinthians 15:26). And so on Holy Saturday, we come once again face to face with death. Christ Jesus, our Lord, God and Savior, lies silently in the tomb embraced by death. But as Egypt was not the final resting place of either Israel or Joseph, and death is not the final word on Moses life and legacy, so too death is not triumphant over Christ Jesus.
“Moreover, Death fell down to the feet of Christ, and Christ carried him away, and the Devil who had been a rebel became a captive. Christ made Amente to quake and the power of the Devil he turned backwards [Note: Amente is the place of the dead in Egyptian mythology]. Death heard the voice of the Lord as he cried unto all souls: ‘Come forth, O ye who are bound in fetters, O ye who sit in the darkness and shadow of death, on you hath the light risen. I preach unto you life, for I am Christ, the Son of God.’ Then he set free the souls of the saints, and he raised them up with Him.” (Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell , p 55)
The road to the Kingdom of God travels right through the place of the dead, through Hades itself. Christ accepts the cross in order to join the dead in Hades, not to remain there but to free all of those held captive by Death. So we will sing on Pascha night that we pass from death to life and from earth to heaven, led by Christ our God.
“When Jesus, the slayer of Death, came and put on a body … from the seed of Adam, and was crucified in the body and tasted death; and as soon as Death perceived that he descended to him, he quivered in his place and became agitated at the sight of Jesus. He shut up the doors and did not want to receive Him. However, he shattered the doors and entered to him [Death] and began to rob him of his possessions. As the dead saw light shining in darkness, they raised up their heads from the bondage of death and looked forth and saw the brightness of Christ, the King. Then the powers of darkness sat lamenting, for Death was destroyed and stripped of his authority. And Death has tasted deadly poison … and his hands slackened and he realized that the dead will revive and escape his tyranny.
As he [Christ] conquered Death by spoiling him of his possessions, Death cried out and wept bitterly and said: ‘Go out of my place and do not come back. Who is that who dared to enter my home alive?’ And then Death cried out, as he saw darkness starting to disperse and some among the righteous ones who were lying down there, rose up to ascend with him [Christ]. And he said [to Death] that he will return at the end of time, and will release all captives from his authority, and will draw them to himself, so that they could see the light. Thus, as Christ had completed his ministry … among the dead, Death let him escape out of his region, for he could not endure his presence there. For it was not sweet for him to swallow Christ up as [it was with] the rest of the dead. And Death did not prevail over the Holy One and he was not subjected to corruption.” (Aphrahat in Christ the Conqueror of Hell by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev pp 69-70)
Archimandrite Job Getcha offers the following history of the Paschal celebration we Orthodox now keep:
“The Christians of Rome waited for cockcrow to break the fast, while those in Alexandria did so from the evening of the previous day. Dionysius reviews the resurrection accounts in the gospels: ‘on the night of Saturday’ in Matthew, ‘in the early dawn while it was still dark’ in John, ‘at the first break of day’ in Luke, and ‘in the early morning, at the rising of the sun’ in Mark. Dionysius writes: ‘At what moment he was resurrected, none of them tells us clearly, but only that, late on Saturday night, at dawn of the first day of the week, those who came to the tomb did not find him there.’ Unable therefore to establish the precise time at which to break the fast, Dionysius concludes:
This being the case, we answer those who seek to determine the time, to within half an hour, or a quarter hour, when it is fitting to begin celebrating the resurrection from the dead of our Lord. Those who are in too much of a hurry, and who relax (the fast) even before the night has approached its midpoint, these we censure as faint-hearted and intemperate, for they end their race just a little before the goal, whereas as wise man has said: ‘it is not a small thing in life to miss the goal by a little.’ As for those who delay and wait for the longest possible time, persevering until the fourth watch, when the Lord, walking on the sea, appeared to those who were traveling by boat, we commend them as courageous and devotees of penitence. Those who, between these two extremes, ended the fast according to their internal disposition and their ability, let us not trouble beyond measure; for indeed, not even the six days of fasting that come before are kept equally or similarly- some let all six days go by without taking any food, while others allow only two days, others three, others four, others none. For those who have struggled greatly in spending days without food, and who are exhausted and almost faint, we excuse them for taking food a little earlier; while those who not only did not pass these days without food, but who did not fast at all or even feasted during the first four days, and abstained from food only on the last two days, that is, on Friday and Saturday, and think that they are doing something great and splendid if they keep the fast until dawn on Sunday, I think that such people did not struggle as hard as those who exercised themselves for many days.
After having spent the days of the saving passion in fasting, prayer, and compunction of heart, the faithful should break the fast only at midnight on Holy Saturday, because the evangelists Matthew and Luke, one through the words ‘late in the night that follows Saturday’ (Mt. 28:1), the other through the expression ‘at early dawn’ (Lk. 24:1), specify the late hour of the night.
[…] In Greek practice, the priest leaves the sanctuary and distributes the paschal fire while singing: ‘Come and receive light from the unfading light, and glorify Christ who rose from the dead.’ This chant, found in the contemporary Typikon of the Great Church, reflects a practice that became common in the nineteenth century, and which is rooted in the tradition of Jerusalem, no doubt in connection with the miraculous paschal fire attested since the twelfth century.[…] The modern Typikon of the Great Church calls for the reading of the pericope from Mark 16, a custom that appeared in the nineteenth century. The ancient Typika say nothing about a procession.” (The Typikon Decoded, pps. 230-231, 233)
One image we have of the Church is that of the people of Israel sojourning in the desert after their miraculous exodus from slavery in Egypt. Forty years they wandered in a wilderness before entering the Promised Land. And that entrance into the Promised Land was only the beginning of their struggles to conquer that territory. The Promised Land did not free them from struggles but became a testing ground of their faith, and they often failed God in their work.
Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, comes also at the end of the long Lenten sojourn. Pascha according to our hymns is our sojourn from death to life and from earth to heaven. Yet, even though we have reached Pascha, we know that our spiritual sojourn and struggle in the world continues.
In the Paschal celebration we joyously proclaim:
“Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered! Let those that hate Him flee from before His face.”
These words were first uttered by Moses each day that the Hebrew children were directed by God to continue their sojourn in the desert wilderness (Numbers 10:34). Whenever the Israelites were directed by God to break camp and move, Moses proclaimed those words. So too for us, each Pascha, we proclaim those same words as God continues to direct us on our sojourn through this world. Christ’s victory over death is as certain as God’s defeat of the Egyptian slave masters. We celebrate that victory, and then faithfully embrace the sojourn to that Kingdom of Heaven where all sickness, sorrow, sighing and suffering have fled away. The day of rest, in which we will no longer struggle to find our way, still lies ahead.
Our joy is in having experienced the victory of Christ over death and in knowing our sojourn on earth is not the obstacle preventing us from reaching the Kingdom, but the very path on which God wishes to take us. “Let God arise!” Let Him lead and guide us every day of our lives. Let us rejoice in the resurrection and with the fear of God and in faith and love let us move toward that blessed Kingdom, never being shaken by the threats or temptations of the world which will pass away.
Again this year, I recommend to all to view the beautiful Serbian Orthodox Paschal music video. You don’t have to understand Serbian to appreciate the total Christian joy and beauty of the video.
The Christian life is a sojourn. It continues the journey begun when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise. A journey taken up by Abraham who was called by God to seek out a new land. A sojourn which Moses undertook in moving the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land. Then the itinerant Jesus Christ our Lord traveled through the land of Israel, preaching about a Kingdom not of this world – but one which we are to seek and follow the way to it. The disciples following Christ went into all the world to continue this journey to the Kingdom of God.
Heaven, the dwelling place of God and the resting place of the saints, is our destination but it has no location on any map, it can be found by moving in whatever direction the Holy Spirit leads us.
Great Lent is metaphorically speaking that same sojourn toward the Kingdom, and it is also the vehicle to move us along our way. We realize the nature of this spiritual sojourn when we understand that at the end of Great Lent and Holy Week we are to be at a different destination than the place we began weeks ago. Prayer, fasting, charity, forgiveness, being forgiven, repentance – all are the ways in which we make this sojourn. And we realize that it is not the location which has changed, but we ourselves – our hearts, souls and minds – have been changed by the journey, the metanoia.
And where do we arrive after weeks of sojourning? According to the Word of God which we proclaim at Pascha – we arrive at the beginning! We arrive at Pascha and hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
We hear the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, and we realize the entire sojourn of Great Lent was to bring us to spiritual renewal, to the basics of Christianity, to the baptismal font where our life in Christ begins, to the first day of the new creation on which the empty tomb was discovered.
May God bless each and all of you with the newness of life and renewal in the Holy Spirit.
Christians experience the world as sojourners. We walk with Christ; we walk the straight and narrow path to the Kingdom. Great Lent and Holy Week are imaged as a spiritual journey. The Divine Liturgy moves us to God’s Kingdom. At Pascha we move “from death to life, and from earth to heaven.” Jesus is the way(John 14:6), and the early Church also called itself “the way” (Acts 19 & 24) St. Paul tells us to strain and strive for what lies ahead – the goal, the upward call of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:13-14).
We arrive at Pascha and joyfully realize this is only the beginning of the greatest sojourn ever. Salvation is not a static, one time event found in ancient past history, nor at some fixed point in our own personal past.
Christ IS risen! However interesting it might be to find the historical Jesus, far more significant is to know who Jesus IS. We live in the present where Christ IS risen! Who Christ IS remains central to our lives and to our proclamation. This is the same truth that has been kept alive in the Church and which always has been essential to the Church from its very beginning.
Our experience at Pascha and our faith is about who Christ IS: the risen Lord, eternally present with us now as we continue our sojourn toward His Kingdom which knows no end. Chris who IS risen from the dead promises to be with us always, throughout our life journey, even to the end of the end of the ages (Matthew 28:20). Amen!