I think I mentioned last Christmas that I had recently found a treasure trove of entries I wrote years ago, as I was contemplating becoming Orthodox. I meant to post the below musings, written in April 2010, after Pascha, but I forgot. I decided to post them in the wake of Dormition, instead, since the central idea applies to the end of any fast, really the whole “life after Easter” way of life for Christians in general…
Standing in church tonight at a mid-week vespers service, it is hard to believe that Pascha was only a week and a half ago. The pews that were crammed to overflowing then are now empty except for three other people. The choir which had been rich and harmonious then now consists basically of Fr. Steven juggling three different liturgy books. The flowers are still amassed in front of the iconostasis, but they are beginning to wilt.
I grasp for how to relate to that picture–drooping flowers against a waning sun’s rays shining through stained glass and evening incense. The life that was full at Easter has now wilted. But I have to be careful in my symbolism. It’s not Christ’s life I speak of, the light of His resurrection is always full and never diminishing. So what is it that has faded?
I suppose it is something inside of me, and maybe inside of others if we are alike. Since the end of Lent I have have had less energy to do things like go running, pray, refrain from checking my email, and I’ve had more energy to do things like watch chick flicks and stay up late eating chicken and drinking wine with my best girlfriends. And for late-night trips to the grocery store for ice-cream–because Dairy. These things are fun and relatively harmless when not excessive, but as much as we gain by entering this season of Resurrection and celebrating it, I think we also lose something.
Lent is so teleological and structured. Of course, the fasting is difficult. The repentance—if it is sincere—is difficult. The items God seems to cast across our little pilgrim paths during a fasting season—memories of someone we have wronged that year, awareness of a particular sin to strive against—are difficult. Of course these things are difficult, usually stubbornly so—like a sore tooth before it is ripped out.
But never as difficult or tedious in hindsight as they seemed in the moment. Now I look back and think “six weeks?” That’s all it was? And all at once, I am nostalgic for the simple days of Lent, the days when knowing what to cook for dinner was easy (beans). When I was so exhausted at the end of the day there was no energy to stay up late wondering what to retort to the colleague who gave me a weird look today and is generally annoying. When not just my soul but also my body somehow physiologically hungered for the Resurrection and was convinced of it. When the name of the game was so clear: Bright Sadness. To be sure, there were things just two or three weeks ago that felt daunting, exhausting, or just plain boring… I’m just trying to remember what exactly they were.
None of this helps me as I’m standing in the pew today, staring down the icon of Christ. I am trying to recall what I know of Him, what I’ve read and experienced of His resurrection, groping for the light of His countenance that strengthens me. As long as the Fast may have seemed at the time, it is not as long as the rest of the year. And it is certainly not as long as a whole life of little moments and daily choices scattered around the Cross.
I’ve often believed that there is more glory to die for the truth than to live for it, but I’m not so sure anymore. During Lent, there is a lot of dying. We learn, as in a school, to die to ourselves, to Christ, to passions and distractions and bitterness–and ice cream. It is not that this dying is easy or that we should avoid dying to ourselves any other time of the year. But from my vantage point today, in this life after Easter, I think maybe it is harder to live for Christ. Because the living is longer than the dying. It means going outside myself–not because for the sake of a fast that is being enforced, but for Christ and for the Life and Victory we are granted in Him—in the thousands of unstructured, unliturgized moments so easily forgotten.