In his Revelation, St. John describes Christ as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (13:8). It is one of many interesting statements within that book of images and wonders. However, his description of Christ has much to say about the mystery of Pascha (Christ’s resurrection).
First, it is clear that Pascha is more than a historical event. It is certainly includes the historical death, burial and resurrection of Christ. But statements such as St. John’s point to the fact that Pascha is also an event in which that which is outside of time intersects time. For this reason the celebration of Pascha is never simply a celebration of something that happened long ago. The event that happened long ago is also the event that happened before there was a creation and the event that will be the culmination of everything in the End.
This is the very heart of Orthodox Christian understanding of the life of the Church. Christ’s Pascha is our very life. It is present to us at every moment and is the source of our life and the truth of our existence. We believe that especially when the Church gathers together for worship, we stand in Christ’s Pascha. Heaven and earth meet and we are united with God in the feast of His Body and Blood. Heaven and earth meet; present, past and future meet with that which is beyond time. The created meets the Uncreated.
Within the Pascha of Christ is the meaning and fulfillment of all things. Much of modern Christianity has married itself to the secular world’s linear view of history. In such a context, Pascha begins to fade into a memorial of the past, or, worse still, an annual culture event. It is impossible for such a festival not to have a cultural context – human beings produce cultures. However, we should understand that it is not the culture that gives meaning to Pascha – but Pascha which gives meaning to a culture.
At the End of all things, there is Pascha. Everything and everyone will find its meaning there – which is fitting since Pascha was before all things.
Beautiful, mysterious, amazing, joyous – and true!
We deserve none of this, and yet He loves us with a love that is before time, revealed to us in time. So we join the unending chorus and with the angels we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord”
Having experienced my first Pascha and seen my first illumination, I find that post very enlightening. Someone pointed out that the alter, Beautiful Gate and veil are between the Incarnation (Theotokos icon) and the Second Coming (Christ Glorified). This, they said, represents that the celebration of the Liturgy is a continual participation in Pascha, as we partake of the Bloodless Sacrifice.
Maybe you could also shed some light on something I was reflecting on recently. When I think about liturgy being a continual participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, because it is “Kirios” (I don’t know if I spelled that right), does this correlate to the statement in the Epistle to the Hebrews that Jesus presented His own Blood at the alter in Heaven? I understand that in context, the writer of Hebrews is using an OT image of the sacrifices at the alters of the Tabernacle and Temple. Could this be partly what John is trying to convey by stating Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (actually I think Peter states that, but John says “having just been slain”)?
Peter says that Christ is the lamb…”foreordained before the foundation of the world…” It is John who speaks of Him as slain (in Revelation). I would say there is certainly a correlation, for the altar in the Church is none other than the altar of heaven, the throne of God. Admittedly, the whole of this understanding fits nowhere within the linear understanding of many modern Christians – but this mystery of the altar, of Pascha, of our present participation, is assumed by all of the New Testament writers and runs throughout the NT. The same assumption guides their (and the father’s) approach to the OT.
If I were using my own imagery, I would say that it’s a key difference between Christianity in a one-storey universe and Christianity in a two-storey universe. In fact, I do not think the NT can be understood (or the majority of it) without understanding the nature of the “mystery” Christ has made known to us. The whole historical/forensic approach has stripped the faith of much of its mystery and created what may, in fact, be an ersatz version of Christianity. I would not say that such a process is as yet complete, but it draws closer every day.
Thank you for clarifying that. I would also like to say I heard your podcast on Wonder (along with many others, as I started from the beginning, working to the present) and found it helpful to piece together what I have seen as Orthodoxy having the “Child-like” faith Jesus tells us we should have. I haven’t been able to put all my thoughts into words. Your reflections have been helping me to put my thoughts together. My thoughts are kind of like how my 5 year old daughter describes the world around her. She doesn’t quite know how to explain things, but just wants to communicate what she sees or thinks. Sometimes she’s worried about what she doesn’t understand. Your reflections are like when I interpret her words, in an attempt to clarify things for her, or explain to her why she doesn’t need to be scared of something she doesn’t know about. I find myself, like my little girl, saying, “Oh! Okay, I get it.”
I enjoyed your thoughts., especially
as I was Baptized yesterday.
Many years! Christ is risen!
Thank you for this glorious post, Father Stephen! I so completely agree with you about the failings of the “historical/forensic approach” – I wonder if in fact this may have much to do with people’s turning away from the faith? Why would you want to give your heart and your life to something rooted merely in text and culture? Unless you “get” the mystery of Christ you cannot make sense of the fact that he is the living Word, and that the true life of the church lives beyond time and space, though it is from within time and space that we mortals have to celebrate that Life!
Christ is Risen!
Father, speaking of “Christianity in a one-storey universe and Christianity in a two-storey universe” . . . how is the book coming along?
“The whole historical/forensic approach has stripped the faith of much of its mystery and created what may, in fact, be an ersatz version of Christianity. I would not say that such a process is as yet complete, but it draws closer every day.”
There were two ways that I interpreted these concluding sentences. The first was envisioning something like a river of mud descending through a valley, and gathering into its destructive mass many things including human lives. The first interpretation was catastrophic of course. It left a deep sense of defeat in its wake.
A second interpretation built upon an image of Pascha that depicts the truth of Pascha as was antecedent to all that came to be. From that perspective of faith and truth, a torrential river of mud descends in the same valley. While awesome in majesty and grand in the power that the river of mud unleashes, indeed much is swept away. However, in the second interpretation, God’s love shines more resplendent.
Death, where is your victory?
…”But statements such as St. John’s point to the fact that Pascha is also an event in which that which is outside of time intersects time. For this reason the celebration of Pascha is never simply a celebration of something that happened long ago. The event that happened long ago is also the event that happened before there was a creation and the event that will be the culmination of everything in the End….”
That is why we say “Christ is risen”, in it’s present, and not “was” or “has”.
The manuscript is finished and is sitting with my editor at Conciliar Press. I pray God’s blessings on the editor.
I’m reading a book by Peter Bouteneff (St. Vlad’s), Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. I am particularly enjoying his exposition of the handling of Scripture by a number of the early fathers and the clear demonstration of their use and understanding of “mystical” character of the faith (Christocentric, eschatological, etc.). The “linear” stuff is just not there in most of them. Bouteneff’s work shows the influence of Fr. John Behr and a number of other contemporary Orthodox scholars that are bringing a fresh, patristic approach to Scripture and a number of things. Most enjoyable.
Pete, it seems that you are on the road – may God bless you and bring you into His holy Church!
Indeed. Christ is Risen!
That’s great news! Really looking forward to reading, and sharing with others.
So glad you’re enjoying my book. I often enjoy your blog and learn much from it.
Christ is Risen!
I’m glad you’re a reader – very kind. I am indeed enjoying the book. When I finish – I might try my hand at a posting on it. I think many would benefit from reading it. I have written repeatedly on the question of hermeneutics – pointing to the general approaches of many of the fathers – especially as an alternative to either of the historical approaches (literal/critical). Both have their place – but for a lot of people – it’s all they have – and neither is sufficient for a proper “rule of faith.” Thank you for giving us another good book that points the way.
The resurrection and the life! He is risen indeed!
I don’t know why but the “icon” of the empty tomb seems like such an oddity — it must be the fullest place in the universe.
Christ is Risen!