The midnight Pascha service ends, and the joyful but tired parishioners break out platters and crockpots for a parish feast featuring meats, cheeses, wines, homemade beers, and perhaps a bit of traditional dancing to bouzouki music in Greek parishes. We arrive home, exhausted, at 3 a.m. and collapse into bed.
Christ is risen! Christos anesti! Christos voskrese! al-Masih qam!
The first answer is, we continue feasting! Bright Week begins the day after Pascha, and during this fast-free time last week, most of us enjoyed all kinds of meat dishes while the vegetarians among us went on a cheesy binge. (How do vegans break the fast? A question for the ages.)
In the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, everything old is made new again. This is why we feast. The Church celebrates the ongoing reality of the Resurrection by keeping the altar doors open during Bright Week. The laity refrain from kneeling during the liturgy until Pentecost, and we sing the hymn “Christ is risen” at the beginning and end of every service. With these small but significant changes, the Church reminds us that “Christ is present and in our midst, in a special way, and awaits our response to His Call” (Fr. Aristotle W. Damaskos, Keeping the Light Burning).
But then we return to home, work, and school, our lives filled with deadlines and carpools. Saint John Chrysostom taught us how to fast in all areas of our lives. (Click here and scroll to the end of the blog post for his beautiful words on the meaning of a true fast.) But how do we feast beyond indulging in bacon cheeseburgers?
If we were paying attention at all during the Great Fast and Holy Week, we probably learned some new things about ourselves and about God. Great Lent may be over, but there are three ways we can incorporate the lessons we’ve learned into our daily lives.
1. We remind each other of the reality of the Resurrection in our greetings.
In addition to the Paschal changes during worship, we acknowledge the Resurrection in our interactions with others. From now until the Feast of the Ascension (Acts 1:9-11), forty days after Pascha, the Orthodox faithful dispense with “hello” and great one another with the triumphal announcement, “Christ is risen!” We respond to this greeting with, “Truly (or “Indeed”) He is risen!” This simple declaration reminds us that the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior is a daily part of our lives, not a nice allegory confined to a church service. Father Ari writes, “The reality of the Resurrection is that our Lord will walk with us wherever, and whenever, we go.”
In our secular society, a hearty “Christ is risen!” might not be appreciated on the job or at school. Even our non-Orthodox Christian friends may respond with a blank stare (translation: “Um, Easter was last month”) or a “Yeah, that’s right!”
Since most of us do not live, work, and study among other Orthodox people, we can silently honor the Resurrection when we greet our neighbors and coworkers by offering up a prayer for them (a good idea year-round). And we can always exchange the paschal greeting with our spouses and children in the morning.
2. We incorporate our newly formed habits into our daily lives.
For years the experts said, “It takes three weeks to establish a habit.” I never believed it. (Have you ever tried dieting? I rest my case.) Instead, research on making and breaking habits has shown that while a simple health change might require only about 20 days of repetition to become automatic, more difficult practices may take more than 80 days, or even a year, to stick. (For more information on the subject, click here.)
It’s interesting to look at our Lenten journeys in the light of habit formation. Lent itself lasts 40 days, followed by Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday (sort of an “in-between” weekend), then Holy Week. That’s 49 fasting days, and if you want to include Meatfare Week right before Great Lent, which supposedly eases us into the fast by allowing dairy but no meat (Am I the only one who doesn’t find this “easy”?), we’re looking at 56 days of fasting in one form or another. Fifty-six days to form new habits.
During this season some people gave up their thrice-weekly Starbucks run, brewing their coffee at home in order to give an extra $12 per week to a food pantry. Some of us finally established a modest but achievable prayer rule—morning prayers and time spent reading the day’s gospel and epistle, or maybe a chapter of spiritual reading in the evenings from The Way of the Pilgrim or the life of a saint. Others stayed away from social media.
Why would we end these practices and go back to “normal”? Even when we struggled and fell, our efforts bore fruit. Our reading materials improved our attitudes, and our new prayer habits helped tame our anxious thoughts. In avoiding social media, we found a measure of contentment and fewer unnecessary sources of aggravation. By cutting expenses, we offered money to the poor and discovered that Corporate Coffee Man managed to stay in business without our four-dollar splurges.
Many of these ascetic practices can become a part of our everyday lives, now that we’ve gotten a good, 56-day start in habit formation. (As always, it’s important to discuss these changes with a spiritual father who will help us discern ways to continue applying our Lenten experiences.)
3. We Cultivate a Mindset of Watchfulness.
Watchfulness involves being attentive to our inner selves and is translated from the Greek word nepsis, from nepho—to guard, inspect, examine, watch over, and keep under surveillance. (Personally, I prefer this term to “mindfulness,” which tends to be a popular but vague spiritual term that ignores God.) Saint Peter warns us to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). Frankly, watchfulness is often the last thing we want to practice, especially after a long period of struggle.
The temptation after Pascha is to lose all self-control. Joyful feasting easily becomes a return to mindless snacking and indulgence. Without the pull of daily services to attend, our newfound free time offers endless opportunities to binge-watch Netflix, and our new prayer habits founder.
But by the grace of God, we can choose differently. Father Ari writes, “During this season of the Resurrection, let us continue in vigilance to build upon the good habits and virtues that were planted and begun to spring up during Lent, and allow them to be harvested by serving Christ and humanity in new ways.”
Rather than saying with relief, “Whew! I’m so glad that’s over!” let’s continue encouraging one another in vigilance, growing day by day into clearer icons of Christ, because He is risen! Truly He is risen!
Yesterday I was crucified with Christ; Today I am glorified with Him. Yesterday I died with Him; Today I am made alive with Him. Yesterday I was buried with Him; Today I am raised with Him.
— St. Gregory Nazianzos, Paschal homily