The Gift of Pascha

It is impossible to describe the joy of Pascha, particularly as I experience it as a priest. This year, I was deeply aware that I stand in a place that was both created for me, and for which I am unworthy. The joy of such a combination is the realization of the Gift. When you are trying to find a gift for someone, the most difficult part, it seems to me, is to think of something that communicates the unique place, the unique value, and the particular affection that you hold. Gifts can be so generic, but no human being is generic. My sense of the Gift is that it is utterly particular and unique. What God gives is never “one size fits all.” Salvation is the healing and fulfillment of a person and cannot be the same from one to another. Although all are formed and shaped “according to the image and likeness of God,” that image and likeness has an infinite variety in its personal expression.

It is in this sense, that Pascha, Christ’s death and resurrection, is the creation and birth of every human being. This is not simply the creation and birth of humanity, but of each truly unique person. Pascha is therefore my story (and yours).

This unique reality that constitutes our true self, is, in its most foundational aspect, a gift. We never “create ourselves” (pace Justice Kennedy). We are not the makers of our own reality. There is such a wonderful liberation in this when we begin to truly understand it. We do not bring ourselves into existence, nor do we form and create our world. Our present reality is not the result of some chain of decisions and consequences. Such naive reductionism (often posited by many religious people) simply fails to adequately describe even the smallest portion of our reality and that which is rightly termed, “the self.”

The modern narrative of the self views human beings as absurdly responsible for their lives. That small fraction of our lives that is affected by our decisions is credited with the creation of the whole. It is a distortion that is useful only in coercing our agreement with and cooperation in the injustice of the present world order.

The truth of our being is that we are an intersection of many things, an almost infinite concatenation. It is far more accurate to describe the “self” as a witness, the subject that bears witness to the confluence of events that is uniquely gifted to us.

To say that “I am unworthy” is to be an accurate witness. Nothing of what I am in this moment, even in this life, is finally of my own making. It cannot be described in terms of worthiness. At its core, the experience of unworthiness is the acknowledgment of the gift, and thus the offering of thanks.

To stand rightly at Pascha, is, finally, to stand at the end of all things, the beginning of all things, and thus at the beginning and end of our lives. It is beholding Christ’s Pascha that allows us to see the gift and to understand that this – this Pascha – is the revelation of our own lives. It is also true that when we see things rightly, the unique witness that is our life, this unique gathering of events, is itself Christ’s Pascha.

St. John Chrysostom says in his great Paschal homily: “Christ is risen and not one dead is left in the grave.” Every life is revealed not only as a life but as a Pascha. “Christ is risen” is the song of our true humanity. To stand at this very moment and confess before God, “I was created precisely for this,” is to stand at Christ’s Pascha.

Glory to God for the Gift.

 

 

22 comments:

  1. Fr Stephen, would you say that we are witnesses of life’s joy and of its tragedy, and that is our own gifted Pascha?

  2. Christ is risen! Father and to all on the blog.
    What strange circumstances we are all in. Yet Christ is in our midst
    Our faith is being tested.
    On unworthiness I always find
    Luke 17:10 helpful.
    Christ says to His disciples: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘we are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’ “.

  3. Byron,
    Witnesses of all things. We have to remember that Pascha is not just the resurrection – it is the whole of the three-days – including the crucifixion. So, even the tragedies we witness are best and finally understood within the context of the Lord’s Pascha.

  4. The deeper into my faith and Orthodoxy I go the the more I see how beautifully stubborn it is in the face of the modern project. And it’s unapologetic ontology that deserves serious chewing over else one runs the risk of remaining lukewarm. This Lent I read works by both Fr Seraphim Rose and St Ignatius Brianchaninov. I was really blown away by both men as thinkers, their faith, and how tenaciously they hold the line against modernity.

    There is really nothing than can peaceably occupy the same shelf space between Christianity and modernity. Not really. I think it’s coming into that realization that many turn away. It’s a terrible and awesome proposition Christ places before us. One that requires a lifetime to wrestle with and many defeats along the way.

  5. There’s a second Byron now on the blog! I shall change my name to “Byron the First”. Okay, that sounds a bit too imperial…. Maybe just add my last initial instead.

    Please pray for me, all. I came down with a slight fever (99-100) on Bright Monday. It broke Wednesday night (so nice to wake up in a pool of sweat) but came back again this morning. So I’m in full quarantine for a while. Prayers are much appreciated. God is good!

  6. Dear Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply. Yes, the Lord’s Pascha must be where we should turn, and that includes His crucifixion. It isn’t easy to discern a gift in everything that is given, but I do feel that it’s the way forward.

    Where is the gift in a global pandemic? Perhaps it is giving us the opportunity to feel the love of Christ reaching over to us from the cross in compassion, while we are also sharing in His suffering.

    Byron H., pleased to meet you, I’m Byron G.! Our names are close, even in surname! My prayers are with you brother, that you will be safe from infection. Lord, have mercy.

  7. Byron H. God grant you speedy recovery!

    I had a rare (for me) flu-like illness at the end of January that decked me for a couple days with fever, fatigue and fierce body aches & runny nose. I went rapidly downhill Friday, and spent Friday night to Saturday night in bed. Fluids, high-dose Vit. C (I regularly take C & D3), dry fasting (I had lost my appetite) and bedrest had me substantially recovered on the third day of symptoms (Sunday! Ha!). I was pretty much back to normal energy levels fever and pain free by day four, but assuming I’d had the flu, I didn’t go back to work until day 6 or 7 to avoid spreading my germs. I’m hoping an antibody test for the Corona virus comes back positive when I am able to get it, so I can go out freely serving my family, boss (if she’s still in business—I’m laid off) and my friends without fear of infecting another. Time will tell….

    Lord, grant us strength for repentance and whatever is in Your will for us. Bring the machinations of our enemies to naught and establish Your Church in peace!

    Please pray for me. I suffer from anxiety and ADHD at the best of times, and this crisis, not surprisingly, has greatly magnified those challenges (as it has for many I know as well).

  8. Byron – ( G!) Who’d have thought there’d be another Byron 🙂

    Hello Byron H. I pray for your speedy recovery. Thank you for your request. May God give you grace during this time of separation and healing.

    Byron – just some thoughts on your ponderings. Thank you for them.
    I’m with you in that it is hard to see “a gift in everything that is given”, including this pandemic. Same thing with trauma, suffering. Apart from Christ, there is no goodness in abject suffering, nor death.
    So for example, I do not thank God that my animals should fall sick…and if they should die.

    I was attracted to this blog because of the way Fr Stephen presses past that which we experience in everyday life. In the post “Pascha and Creation”, in the ‘related articles’ listed above, Father talks about this existential crisis. As with his answer to you, it includes the whole of Pascha.
    Using my own words, I will say that he describes the cosmic meaning of Christ’s Pascha. If one were to look only at the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection, without understanding it as occurring ‘in time’ as well as ‘out of time’, it would be easy to miss the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.
    We do know that all things were made through Him and for Him. All things, down to their very molecules, have in their existence His imprint.
    It is of cosmic proportion…as Father mentions, that when God created and said “Let there be LIght”- that this in itself is a Paschal event. It is the eternal Son, the First Born – The Beginning – Who was “with God” (Jn 1), Who creates the universe in the midst of chaos (darkness, alienation, a void – which we experience as pain, suffering, death). So He says of Himself that He is the End. Chaos does not have the final word in the presence of the Light. And this was so from the beginning. The Paschal Lamb has been and still is the center of every moment, past present and future, and of every created thing, every molecule. He *Is*. Always, and ever shall be.
    Within this ‘cosmic proportion’ is the intersection of time as we know it. Time is at once, the past, then as quick as the blink of an eye the present, to the future, which is again fulfilled in the blink of an eye, becoming the past… and so on. We speak of a linear aspect of time, but it seems that it is actually circular. And Who is center of this circular image? Again, He *Is*. The same yesterday, today and forever.

    We exist in time. We experience pain, suffering, and now, forced ‘social distancing’ due to unchecked pestilence…knowing that Christ, in a way beyond description, takes these sufferings upon Himself…and we, ‘in Christ’, bear these sufferings with Him.
    He gives us the ability to endure, rather than the ability to change things. Such a thing is not in our power. We follow Him.
    Said another way, He enables His beloved to grasp Isaiah’s prophesy of Himself, the Suffering Servant, which is also our call to take up our sufferings (our cross) with Him.
    Suffering, for those in Christ, is no longer meaningless. It can not make void the authority, the power, of Christ. In John 10, He says “… I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” No one takes life from Christ. Death (chaos) answered, and still answers to the King of Glory. Chaos had been defeated from the very beginning. It is still being defeated by this King of Glory. This is the gift of Pascha.
    This is what we thank Him for.
    Even in this current pandemic.
    Because He is Risen.

    At least that’s how I see it.
    When one of my animals die, I thank Him for His presence. I thank Him for His precious creature He gave life to. I thank Him for bringing me these precious creatures. He still takes upon Himself all the pain and suffering, even of ‘the least of these’. That animal lived because of His Breath of Life. A soul, created in and through Him. Somehow, and I don’t know how…but somehow, that animal is not forgotten by Christ…because Death has no hold on creation anymore. Life and death are incompatible.
    This, to me, is Love. Love is life, the gift of God, freely given to all of creation. Pascha in all It’s glory.

    I fully trust Him, in all things. Even in grief. Even when I grieve Him, and ask for forgiveness. He is Risen. So for us to rise with Him, and affirm Life, we forgive. We do not leave that grave sealed. To me, that is what love is.

    Christ is Risen!

  9. Karen…I just now read your comment. Most definitely you are in my prayers.
    Wish we could be together and bounce some of this anxiety off each other – and to ease it up some!
    I have a friend who suffers from anxiety, as you describe. The situation with this virus is having an impact on her. I thought of the story of when Elisha sent his servant to ask the woman with her deceased son if all was well….and her answer was yes “All is well”. It is one of those ‘great prophet’ stories, pointing as they all do to Christ. (2Kings 4: 18-27)
    It gave my friend some relief at the time. So I thought I’d pass it on to you.

    Be well, Karen. It may sound ludicrous to say “all is well”, except when Christ is in the picture!
    God’s grace to you Karen.

  10. Paula, thank you! I will look that story up. All is well indeed when it is Christ that we see! If only I would force myself to keep my gaze fixed on Him instead of getting distracted by the surrounding threatening storm clouds….🙄 It would be lovely to be able to share our burdens and hope over a backyard fence or a cup of tea instead of just in cyberspace! 🙂

  11. May I offer one more suggestion, Karen – to know that His gaze is upon you, even during the distractions of the storm clouds. He sees you, not with criticism and blame, but with love and compassion. He really does pity our frame (one of the psalms says that). He knows what we are made of. Perhaps with battle scars, you will get through this. He knows about the scars….

    Oh it would be nice to share a cup of tea together! We’d have a lot to catch up on 🙂
    Well, since the Spirit Who holds us together is boundless, in that sense may we know our hearts are together!

  12. Pascha 2020 will live long in my memory because in an atmosphere of fear, cruelty and lack of mercy joy and the ultimate mercy still dawned even in my own heart. 1 For 15:55 has gained more substance for me. “O death where is thy victory….”
    Indeed the Paschal Homily as well: “Enter all of you in the joy of your Lord”

    No matter what the world, the flesh and the evil one throw at us, our Lord is victorious.
    Now, I just have to remember that when stupidity, cupidity and rigidity all around and in my heart seem so real.

    Christ is Risen!

  13. Thank you all, for your prayers!

    I have actually found much to be thankful for in this sickness. The fevers, when they come, cover my brain and body, leading to a lack of temptation within my thoughts and body. This is actually a great rest for me, in a spiritual sense. It is odd to know, with certainty, that the passions with which I struggle have no sway over me! To get to live that reality, even within the illness, is a huge blessing.

    That does not mean that I don’t pray for healing, but I pray for it to be complete. That it heal my mind, break my habits of thought and action that make me run towards the temptations of the Evil One. I don’t want to return to how I was before the fevers. This trial has been a movement towards God, even if very unfocused.

    My heart is at rest. Glory to God for all things.

  14. Dear Michael
    Like you and many others, I too found it particularly difficult this year.
    Especially since my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer a week before Holy Week.
    In particular I had a couple of really desparingly dark days.
    It is very difficult to persist in prayer in such dark moments, it felt utterly fruitless, but then you feel the joy of this darkness swept away suddenly by the grace of God. The difference between the darkness and the Light is so apparent and peace replaces the oppressive violence and fear that was.

    On the night of the Resurrection service we were watching the liturgy on TV from home. I deliberately did not light any candles till the moment of:”Come receive the Light….”. At that moment we turned off the house lights, and I lit my oil lamp and 2 candles (mine and my wife’s).
    It occured to me to record this moment on my phone video. To my delight every flame on each candle at home including the oil lamp was relecting a distinct sign of the Cross.
    We were filled with joy.
    The next night I tried to replicate the same effect with the lights off and the tv on, and with the same candles and oil lamp lit, and recorded it with the same phone, but there was NO Cross.
    The crosses of light only appeared on the night of the resurrection!
    So even though we are at home watching the services, Gods gifts are still there, the light was still blessed, and for my wife and I, gave us great joy, strength and courage before her surgery which was on Bright Wednesday.
    I am sure that even though we are living in what seem to be terrible times, that there is the 99.9% of God’s plan that we do not always see, but only discover in part many years later (sometimes sooner I guess).
    Truly Glory to God for all things!

  15. Mario, I was taking with my brother, an Orthodox priest, I was taking about the profound mixture of transcendent joy, with deep sorrow and grief. He said, “That is the name of my church: Joy of all who sorrow” It is dedicated to the Theotokos and their is an icon of the same name.
    That mixture of joy and sorrow is a fact of Christian Life and it seems to me to be the heart of the actual experience of Pascha. The Cross, the grave, the glorious third day Ressurection.
    It is amazing what our merciful Lord does with our sorrow and our grief. He and His mother have known it all.
    Ah, even now the mingled tears come for myself and for you and your wife. Know that whatever the outcome in this world, neither of you are alone.

  16. Dear Paula,
    Thank you for your further reflections on my ponderings, which have resonated with me.

    I love animals very much, and I’m so grateful for our cat and dog, who offer our family hours of comedy, also now during the isolation.

    I trust that our good and loving Lord knows exactly the destiny even of the smallest sparrow.

    This is the strange and glorious thing with our faith, isn’t it? That no matter how dark suffering and death, and even sin, may seem – hope is also still there, always.

    Mario, my wife went through breast cancer 15 years ago, and with God’s help has recently finished her preventive treatment, and is very well. My prayers are for your wife’s full recovery. Lord, have mercy.

    Byron (H) I hope you’re feeling better?

    In Christ
    Byron G.

  17. Karen…and thank you!
    Oh those verses are packed!
    But here…again…”Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” the implication being she wasn’t “seeing” Him while sitting at the spring.
    Very encouraging Karen. To know God is ever-mindful of us, even during times when the pressures are just too heavy of a burden, where they overwhelm.
    He is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble. (Ps 46).
    (Another one!)
    Be blessed…

  18. I seem to pop up when everyone else had moved on, but I wanted to thank you for these paragraphs below, which I think get at something essential and which I find helpful in my attempts to understand what we mean by the “self”:

    The truth of our being is that we are an intersection of many things, an almost infinite concatenation. It is far more accurate to describe the “self” as a witness, the subject that bears witness to the confluence of events that is uniquely gifted to us.

    To say that “I am unworthy” is to be an accurate witness. Nothing of what I am in this moment, even in this life, is finally of my own making. It cannot be described in terms of worthiness. At its core, the experience of unworthiness is the acknowledgment of the gift, and thus the offering of thanks.

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