Orthodox Thought for the Day


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Xristos Anesti!  Christ is Risen!
Alithos Anesti!  Truly He is Risen!

On this blessed Paschal morn, sharing with you a beautiful meditation from www.monachos.net:

'Yea, the Time has Come': Holy Pascha and the Mystery of the Liturgical Present

Thou, O Lord, shall rise up and have pity upon Sion, for it is time to have compassion on her. Yea, the time has come.   (Alleluia verse, Paschal Liturgy)

It is a long and laborious journey that leads to Pascha. Ten weeks, if the pre-Lenten period is taken into account, of fasting, of alms, of lengthened services and expanded vigils. The Psalter has been gone through fifteen times. Genesis and Proverbs have been read aloud in their fullness. The Gospels have been chanted over the grave of Christ and the Acts read in anticipation of His waking therefrom—for that waking shall be the foundation upon which the apostolic preaching will be grounded.

It has been in many ways an arduous journey. The blackness of sin and death have become ever more evident along the way, and in the latter days of Passion Week we have clad temple and priest alike in black garments symbolic of this vision. Sin and death are not avoided in the Lenten walk: they are met head-on, face to face in the overwhelming mystery of their dark reality. 'O my Saviour, why art Thou sleeping?' we asked as Christ was laid in the tomb. Our hope, our expectation, has been born out of the true substance of our world, torn apart by our sins, our lack of love, which cast love Himself into the grave. Where I have sinned, there has He walked.

But now, now at the end of this long anticipation, the time has come for the fulfilment of our hope. On Easter night, after all the lights of the church have been extinguished and true darkness overwhelmed our senses, the faithful leave the church into the cold of midnight. In procession behind the Gospel book they chant, 'Deem us on earth worthy to glorify Thee with a pure heart', circling the church or monastery in slow reverence. The procession at last ends before the doors of the church, firmly closed.

It has all come to this.

The Fast is now complete, the Triodion has been closed. We stand before the doors of the temple with nothing left to offer in preparation. We have fasted—many of us poorly, but such as we were able. We have kept waking vigil. We have even, at this final moment, cast ourselves out of the house of God—a liturgical excommunication of all humankind. There is nothing left for us to do. Only the Lord can transform Lent into Pascha. It is, in the most real way, 'time for the Lord to act'.1

Thou, O Lord, shall rise up and have pity upon Sion, for it is time to have compassion on her. Yea, the time has come.

The time has come. Since first we sinned in Eden, not only we but the whole cosmos has groaned for salvation to arise. As we were cast from paradise, so have we longed ever after for return. It is the event for which the whole world longs. And on this night, from the midst of our own fallen lives, we proclaim a mystery beyond comprehension: 'The time has come'.

Can this be so? Can I, who in the past weeks have seen so manifestly the terrible extent of my sin, be the one to proclaim in my own day that now is the time of redemption? Abraham in all his glory did not see this day; how, then, shall I! Yet the Church calls even such as us to attention:

Cast thine eyes about thee, O Sion, and behold! For lo, like divinely radiant luminaries thy children have assembled unto thee from the west, the north, the south and the east, blessing Christ unto the ages. (Troparion of the Eighth Ode, Paschal Matins Canon)

If we do thus cast our eyes around us to behold, we see a sight of immense wonder. The unfathomable mystery of this day is that it is this day that salvation is come upon the world. Today is the 'auspicious day of the Resurrection',2 today the 'dawning of the life of all'.3 Here, in our midst, is the glory of redemption. 'Christ is risen, and life doth reign!'.4

The transcendence of sacred, liturgical time is a hard reality to grasp, and it is difficult precisely because the truths it proclaims are so fearful to accept. 'Today I see Thee crucified, O Christ; today I see Thee buried'. If such words are more than mere liturgical poetry, if they relate to us something fundamentally real about our worshipping, liturgical life, then they are terrifying indeed. It is here, in my presence, that the great offering of life is made by the eternal Son. It is before my face that His love is revealed. Now is the time in which these great events of God's economy are wrought, for in the mystery of sacred time we are always in the present. Christ is in our midst, ever and always, and His life is that which is present among us. This may be the source of great awe and wonder in the terrible 'today...' proclamations of the passion and crucifixion, but more terrifying still is the proclamation that 'Today is the day of Resurrection',5 that 'the Lord's Pascha, that all-venerable Pascha, has dawned for us'.6 It must be with a spirit of inexpressable awe that we say, in the words of the megalynarion, 'Today the whole creation is glad and rejoices, for Christ is risen and hell has been despoiled'.7

There can be no greater blessing in the life of any member of Adam's race, than to be able to say in truth that today 'the time has come'. Our salvation appears before us. That procession by which we earlier departed the church does not end there before the closed doors. The time has come, but those locked doors and that darkness are not the end of the Lenten story. In the culminating moment of all our preparation and anticipation, the doors of the church are re-opened and we return therein to find the house filled with light. What was, moments ago, a dark grave is now the shimmering image of paradise. Or even more, as we say in the Paschal Hours:

How life-giving, how much more beautiful than paradise and truly more resplendent than any royal palace proved Thy grave, the source of our resurrection, O Christ.
(Sticheron at the Hours)

Even beyond the glories of Edenic paradise is the reality of God's Kingdom which on this day has triumphed over death—the final, great foe. The time for God's compassion is at hand, is now, and in our midst and lives the hope of Adam and all our race is accomplished. Nothing greater could ever be longed for or received. So do we all cry out with St John in his homily:

Christ is risen, and thou, O death, art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto the ages of ages.

(Text by M.C. Steenberg, 2004)
1. The deacon's exhortation to the priest (or bishop) at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. [back]
2. Troparion of the Eighth Ode, Paschal matins canon. [back]
3. Irmos of the Fifth Ode. [back]
4. From the Paschal homily of St John Chrysostom. [back]
5. From the stichera at the Praises, Paschal Matins. [back]
6. ibid. [back]
7. Megalynarion of the Ninth Ode. [back]

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