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.

Thomas Sunday: Thinking Outside the Box

Sermon Notes for St. Thomas Sunday 2017:  Thinking outside the box

  • Humans often think themselves into a corner, or into a box, from which they can see no way out. Sometimes we do that to ourselves, sometimes others force us into that box.
  • 31504865200_37abb7b554_n
  • At the incarnation, God put Himself into such a box. He willfully limited His omnipotence in becoming fully human.   God accepted all the limitations having a body and living in creation puts on any of us, including death.  God ended up not only as a human on earth, but as a corpse buried in a tomb.  That tomb was sealed by a heavy stone.  God thought Himself into such a “box” even finding His way to Hades, the place of the dead from which no one ever escaped.
  • Except God was not limited by any of these boxes – not the earth, not His body, not the tomb, not Hades.
  • 16481116539_a5b0081344_nToday’s Epistle concludes with the Apostles also in a box – The Sadducees have them arrested and put in a prison. This is the case of others putting us in a box of their choosing.  And yet that box, the prison, was not able to contain the Apostles – God helped them think outside the box!

 

Epistle: Acts 5:12-20

In those days, through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

7109776161_4361151cac_n

  • Before the Apostles were put in that prison, they had put themselves in another box, but this was their own choice. The Apostles were terrified after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Terrified that they too might be killed, so they went into hiding.  They closed themselves in a room and locked the doors.  They thought themselves into this box and could see no way out.

 

Gospel: John 20:19-31

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.

  • We Christians can think ourselves into such boxes. We think the society is against us and we can choose to hide in our churches or in our homes or in our hearts.  Each – church, home, heart – can become a box.  We might go into that box, like the Apostles into the upper room – for safety because we fear the society around us.
  • But there is another reality which the Scriptures teach us. ANY box which we find ourselves in – whether it is one we chose to go into for safety, one we thought our way into and can’t see a way out of, one that is imposed on us by those who against us – still is part of this creation and so still is within God’s realm.   “God is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27-28).  Whatever “box” we find ourselves in – God is still not far from us, and we are still in God.  All “boxes” humans experience – all limitations whether self-imposed or imposed on us by others – are still within God’s grace and power.   They cannot separate us from God.
  • And as the Apostles discovered – even if in a box – Christ can still find His way into that box and be with us. So not only are our “boxes” always still in God with God close by, but Christ is able to enter into our boxes and be with us.
  • 32797394455_e14a68fe9f_nThe Apostles discovered that Christ does not prevent them from boxing themselves in, nor does He promise them that there is nothing to fear out in the world, but He enters their box and tells them to go into the world anyway even if that world is terrifying.
  • We humans find ourselves in boxes of many kinds and we often think there is no way out of the box, or maybe even there is nothing outside the box! God is there.  We might think our way into a box out of fear, depression, loneliness, overwhelmed by problems, or because others are imposing that box on us for their own (even nefarious) reasons.  People these days think their way into political boxes as well, and this is often a self-imposed box.  We allow ourselves only to read or think about ideas we agree with and we become afraid of everything and everyone outside our boxes and hate them as threats to our thinking.  Political boxes also exist within God’s world and don’t contain it.  And just as Christ came to His Apostles in their locked room, he challenged them to live the Gospel.  He challenges us to do the same and not retreat into the imagined safety of our boxes.
  • We can remember Thomas and the Apostles and how Christ came into their presence – Christ entered into that upper room where they were hiding and was them with them in their box, in their fear, in their depression as they hid for their own safety and He helped them out of that box.   He didn’t bless them to stay hidden or afraid.   Neither did He  tell them “there is nothing to fear” because He after all was crucified by this world.
  • The truth remains: no box humans create is ever outside of God.  Every box and every prison is a human construct.  When we are in them, we still are within God’s creation and are still living and moving and having  our being in God.   Even those who are in a tomb or in Hades are not outside of God, and Christ comes to them in their boxes and saves them.

8270093351_bb637d3243

St. Thomas: A Jewish Confession of Christ’s Divinity

St. Thomas Sunday:  John 20:19-31

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.

One modern church historian comments on the confession which the Apostle Thomas utters upon seeing the Risen Jesus:  My Lord and my God!”

“How could a faithful Jew who had recited the Sh’ma since childhood, whose prayers were addressed to God the king of the universe, address Christ as God or Son of God, as the earliest Christians did? Hilary’s answer is that the Resurrection of Christ transfigured everything. When Jesus came and stood among the disciples and put his finger in his side, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” When confronted by the risen Christ one does not say, “How interesting,” but “My Lord and my God!”

The terms used by Thomas, Lord and God, are significant, and they allow Hilary [d. 367AD] to Drive home his point. “Lord” and “God” are the terms that occur in the Sh’ma, yet here they are used not of God the creator of the world and the king of the universe, but of Christ. Because of the Resurrection Thomas recognized that the one he knew, who had lived among them, was not just an extraordinary human being but the living God. “No one except God is able to rise from death to life by its own power,” writes Hilary. But his argument runs deeper. He wishes to say not only that the Resurrection revealed something about Christ to His disciples, namely, that he is God; his more penetrating observation is that Resurrection caused them to think about God differently. Once Jesus was raised, writes Hilary, Thomas “understood the whole mystery of the faith,” for “now,” that is, in light of the Resurrection, Thomas was able to confess Christ as God “without abandoning his devotion to the one God.” After the Resurrection he could continue to recite the Sh’ma because he had begun to conceive of the oneness of God differently. Thomas’s confession “my Lord and my God” was not the “acknowledgement of a second God, nor a betrayal of the unity of the divine nature”: it was a recognition that God was not a “solitary God” or a “lonely God.” God is one, says Hilary, but not alone.”. (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, pp. 91-92)

Bright Saturday (2017)

“Before the dawn Mary and the women came and found the stone rolled away from the tomb.  They heard the angelic voice: ‘Why do you seek among the dead as a man the one who is everlasting light?  Behold the clothes in the grave!  Go and proclaim to the world: The Lord is risen!  He has slain death, as He is the Son of God, saving the race of men.”  (Hours of Pascha)

The myrrhbearing women do not find Christ or Christ’s body in the tomb – the tomb is empty.  By itself it proves nothing – the women assume grave robbers have stolen the corpse of Jesus.

The women are not told to return to the tomb and make it a shrine – there are no relics there.  They are to tell the disciples to find Jesus, but not at the tomb, but rather in Gallilee.  The Apostles are told to go into all the world with the message of the resurrection – they aren’t told that meditating at the tomb of Jesus will make them holy.  They weren’t to turn the resurrection into religion, rather they were to show the world how they were transformed by the news of Christ’s resurrection.  Christ is eternal light not a resuscitated corpse that we can parade about in religious ceremony.  Our goal as Christians is not to make a pilgrimage to the holy sepulcher – we are given no such commandment.  Nor is the goal set annually to Pascha night.  Our goal is to live the resurrection so that everyone will come to embrace Christ our Savior. The myrrhbearing women may have had to go to the tomb to learn of the resurrection, but they are told they’ve come to the wrong place if they are looking for Christ.  He is not at the holy sepulcher, He is Lord of the Sabbath and of the universe.  He is known in the proclamation of the Scriptures and in the eating of the Eucharist.  He is Lord of the Sabbath and the universe.

Bright Friday (2017)

“Through death You transformed what is mortal, and through burial You transformed what is corruptible; for in a manner befitting God You made incorrupt and immortal the nature which You had assumed, since Your flesh did not see corruption and in a wondrous manner Your soul was not abandoned in hell.” (Pascha Nocturnes)

In the incarnation, God the Son, took on sinful, fallen human flesh.  He transfigures that flesh – transforming what was mortal and corruptible, making even the flesh incorruptible and immortal.

According to Genesis 2 when God created humans, God formed the dust of the earth into a body and then breathed life into that dust.  In the resurrection, God is no longer outside of creation, but has become creation, and from within renews human nature.  God in Christ takes on our fallen human nature, suffers death, and then transforms and transfigures the human nature and the human body which He has taken on in the incarnation.  No longer from the outside does God shape us and give us life, but now from within God transforms His creation.  Not from heaven, but from Hades does God transform us and give us eternal life depriving Hades of holding on to us, and restoring mortal human nature to life – ending humanity’s separation from God.

Christ as God enters into the place of the dead and saves not just souls, but the entirety of what it is to be human including our bodies.

 

Bright Thursday (2017)

“We celebrated the death of death and the overthrow of hell, the beginning of another life which is eternal, and in exultation we sing the praises of its source.  He alone is blessed and most glorious, the God of our fathers.”    (Pascha Matins)

Christ, the incarnate God, is the source of eternal life. By His death, He destroys death – Death cannot hold the Christ and is forced to surrender to God all those whom Death had held captive.  Christ is our liberator from death; salvation is liberation from bondage to Death.  The Gospel message which Christianity proclaimed to the world from the beginning: “Christ is risen from the dead!”  The implication is shocking: Christ defeats death, which is our enemy.  Christianity came to understand that all the suffering, sorrow, grief, impermanence, morbidity and mortality of this world results from our separation from God.  God in Christ is the Good Shepherd seeking us His lost sheep, separated from Him, battered by sin and hunted down by death.  Christ carries us to His safe haven, making a path to the resurrection through the grave and through Hades itself.  We will follow our Lord in faith and with love.

Bright Wednesday (2017)

33271821173_2f12bf9cb1

“You came forth from a painless birth, O my Maker, and Your side was pierced.  By this, You, the New Adam, accomplished the restoration of Eve.  You fell into a sleep both surpassing and renewing nature and as the omnipotent One, You raised up life from sleep and corruption.”  (Pascha Nocturnes)

23977533439_13c44bcb09

Eve, according to Genesis 2, was taken by God from the side of Adam.  In the poetic theology of Orthodoxy, from Christ’s side at His crucifixion flowed the blood and water of the renewed creation, which brought redemption for Eve.  Eve is recreated from the side of the New Adam.  As Adam of old was put to sleep before Eve was taken from his side, so Christ is put to sleep on the cross and from His side, renewed/ resurrected humanity comes forth. God rested on the original Sabbath Day, rejoicing in the goodness of His creation.  After Christ “fell asleep” on the cross, God again rested on the Sabbath Day, but this time as a human, the incarnate God.  Rest, had become sleep, had become death.  Then, Jesus Christ raised from the dead resurrected Adam and renewed creation.

Bright Tuesday (2017)

“This is the day of resurrection.  Let us be illumined, O people, Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord.  For from death to life and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us, as we sing the song of victory.”  (Pascha Matins)

In the book of Exodus, the Passover took the Jews out of  slavery in Egypt and put them on the road to the Promised Land.  Now, Christ who is the new Passover, leads us victoriously, not merely from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, but from earth to heaven and from death to life.  Our slavery to sin and death is brought to an end and we are brought to eternal life, where sickness, sighing and sorrow have fled away.  The Exodus of the Old Testament were a foreshadowing and a type of what was to come with Christ.

The Jews were commanded to commemorate the Passover each year, not to keep looking to the past, but as a prophecy, promise and reminder of what the Lord was going to do.  Those Christians who want to do a Seder to remember the Old Covenant Passover are looking in the wrong historical direction!  The Passover prepares God’s people for what God was going to do and is doing for all humanity in His Christ.  The Passover is not mostly about what God did for Jewish ancestors thousands of years ago.  Rather it is preparation for the future, for all that God is doing and is about to do for the salvation of all the world.    Even for us Christians, the resurrection – Pascha – is not looking backwards to what God did, but rather always looks forward to what God is doing now to move us to the eschaton, His heavenly Kingdom.

“… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14, emphasis not in the original text)

Christ is risen! Truly, He is risen!

Bright Monday (2017)

“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.”  (Pascha Matins)

Though the death of Christ stunned His disciples, causing them to flee into hiding because they feared for their own lives, His death turned out to be the source of the greatest joy for us humans.  Christ emerged from the tomb not as a zombie or the walking dead but as a glorious groom on His wedding day.  The resurrected Christ though having a physical body no longer seems to have been limited by His body but rather moved in and out of the physical world.  In the resurrected life, we are united to God, experiencing the divine life.  We now can proclaim the joyous good news to all the world: Christ is risen!

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)

7077588443_e589a89207

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)

6931512020_3b7bef2a3b

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!