Category Archives: Pascha

The entire faith and love and hope.

My whole church is bereaved, because one of our strong young men, the only son of his parents, grown up for 35 years in the parish, suddenly sickened and died. It happened so fast, it seems unreal to us. This morning I attended a prayer service in advance of the funeral proper.

One of the lines that is repeated in song is, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord; teach me Thy statutes,” and I mused on what God might be teaching me right now. Certainly, we should all “number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” But I don’t want to forget something else that our rector reminded us of, at the end of the service, that even in our grief we have joy, knowing that Christ has overcome death — that’s why we could pray that our brother will be granted rest “with the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

Every time there is another death or funeral, my own soul’s griefs are awakened, acknowledged and comforted. And our pastor also kindly included in our church bulletin today an encouraging passage (an excerpt from this article) from Father Alexander Schmemann. He starts out explaining why death must be understood as an evil enemy. But keep reading:

God created man with a body and soul, i.e. at once both spiritual and material, and it is precisely this union of spirit, soul and body that is called man in the Bible and in the Gospel. Man, as created by God, is an animate body and an incarnate spirit, and for that reason any separation of them, and not only the final separation, in death, but even before death, any violation of that union is evil. It is a spiritual catastrophe. From this we receive our belief in the salvation of the world through the incarnate God, i.e. again, above all, our belief in His acceptance of flesh and body, not “body-like,” but a body in the fullest sense of the word: a body that needs food, that tires and that suffers. Thus that which in the Scriptures is called life, that life, which above all consists of the human body animated by the spirit and of the spirit made flesh, comes to an end — at death — in the separation of soul and body. No, man does not disappear in death, for creation may not destroy that which God has called from nothingness into being. But man is plunged into death, into the darkness of lifelessness and debility. He, as the Apostle Paul says, is given over to destruction and ruin.

Here, I would once more like to repeat and emphasize that God did not create the world for this separation, dying, ruin and corruption. And for this reason the Christian Gospel proclaims that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The Resurrection is the recreation of the world in its original beauty and totality. It is the complete spiritualization of matter and the complete incarnation of the spirit in God’s creation. The world has been given to man as his life, and for this reason, according to our Christian Orthodox teaching, God will not annihilate it but will transfigure it into “a new heaven and a new earth,” into man’s spiritual body, into the temple of God’s presence and God’s glory in creation.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death…” And that destruction, that extermination of death began when the Son of God Himself in His immortal love for us voluntarily descended into death and its darkness, filling its despair and horror with His light and love. And this is why we sing on Pascha not only “Christ is risen from the dead,” but also “trampling down death by death…”

He alone arose from the dead, but He has destroyed our death, destroying its dominion, its despair, its finality. Christ does not promise us Nirvana or some sort of misty life beyond the grave, but the resurrection of life, a new heaven and a new earth, the joy of the universal resurrection. “The dead shall arise, and those in the tombs will sing for joy…” Christ is risen, and life abides, life lives… That is the meaning; that is the unending joy of this truly central and fundamental confirmation of the Symbol of Faith: “And the third day, He rose again according to the Scriptures.” According to the Scriptures, i.e. in accordance with that knowledge of life, with that design for the world and humanity, for the soul and body, for the spirit and matter, for life and death, which has been revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. This is the entire faith, the entire love, and the entire hope of Christianity. And this is why the Apostle Paul says, “If Christ is not risen, then your faith is in vain.”

–Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, 1980,
Translated from Russian by Robert A. Parent

harrowing of hell wide

Death was strangled…

…and other images of atonement are the subject of Fr. Stephen Freeman’s post Knocking Down the Gates of Hell, in which he shares the findings of a research paper he once wrote on Martin Luther’s hymns. Luther’s own atonement theology highly favored the imagery that also dominates that of the early church fathers, in which Christ smashes the gates of Hell and frees all those in chains.

Fr. Stephen shares several verses from various exuberant Orthodox Paschal hymns we are singing this month, such as these I excerpted from his post:

Hell, who had filled all men with fear,
Trembled at the sight of Thee,
And in haste he yielded up his prisoners,
O Immortal Sun of Glory.

Thou hast destroyed the palaces of hell by Thy Burial, O Christ.
Thou hast trampled death down by Thy death, O Lord,
And redeemed earth’s children from corruption.

Though Thou art buried in a grave, O Christ,
Though Thou goest down to hell, O Savior,
Thou hast stripped hell naked, emptying its graves.

Death seized Thee, O Jesus,
And was strangled in Thy trap.
Hell’s gates were smashed, the fallen were set free,
And carried from beneath the earth on high.

Thou didst will, O Savior,
To go beneath the earth.
Thou didst free death’s fallen captives from their chains,
Leading them from earth to heaven.

In the earth’s dark bosom
The Grain of Wheat is laid.
By its death, it shall bring forth abundant fruit:
Adam’s sons, freed from the chains of death.

Wishing to save Adam,
Thou didst come down to earth.
Not finding him on earth, O Master,
Thou didst descend to Hades seeking him.

The Paschal icon shows the resurrected Christ pulling Adam and others out of Hades.

db271-resurrectionstvladorthchurch

It’s Bright Monday as I write. This morning’s Divine Liturgy was splendid and full of love and light. We are all giddy with joy and fatigue, and can’t stop greeting one another with kisses and proclamations of “Christ is risen!” In the Paschal Canon where we sing, “Let us embrace each other joyously!” I always hope I will be standing next to someone I can hug at that moment. Today two women I didn’t know were the closest, and I made so bold as to hug them both at once, which they didn’t seem to mind. gl - EB

I realized just in time for the midnight service of Pascha Saturday/Sunday, something I have had to call to mind again and again over the last months, that wherever my late husband is, he lives in the present. The part of me that grieves for his presence the way it used to be, as my earthly lover and companion, can never be satisfied; it is a longing for the past, and God is giving me instead Himself and all His gifts in this present moment. My dear Mr. Glad does not live “back there” in the past, either!

It’s because the various parts of me are not all united that my heart’s faith and love must keep instructing my mind — and other tangled and erratic parts? — that to be here right now with God is the way to stay close to my husband. In the reality of the Resurrection and our Blessed Hope, in the gathering of time and times that is kairos, he and I are more together than we have ever been, and in Love.

gl rose pascha 16

 

One sweet thing about Pascha coming so late this year is that roses are blooming all over. We have dozens of rosebushes at church that are loaded with flowers (not to mention the white roses that filled bouquets decorating inside the church.) This morning I took a picture of one favorite, to decorate this blog post. Happy Spring! Christ is risen! If you have read this far, I send you my Easter love!

 

Pascha blooms!

This week I counted 33 different species flowering here on my property! Most of those aren’t exactly cutting flowers, but there were enough blooms to snip and arrange into a celebratory bouquet to help my house reflect the joy we are all experiencing tonight as we cry, “Christ is risen!” Pascha bouquet 16I’m too busy celebrating (or sleeping) to say any more right now, except for,

“Indeed He is risen!”

Joyful with those who wait in Hope.

Fr D Healds cistus 4-15

The second Tuesday after Pascha it is common for Orthodox to visit cemeteries to share the joy of Easter with the departed, just as Christ must have done when he “descended into Hades” first thing after His Resurrection. In our area it is a strong tradition among parishes and monasteries, and I learned to love this trip to the cemeteries early in my life as an Orthodox Christian.

Until this year I had only visited one of the many cemeteries that are included on this day, but now that my own husband lies “newly reposed” in different one, I wanted to go and sing “Christ is risen!” by his grave as well. Priests from two Orthodox churches arrived unintentionally at the same time and led the service right next to the yet unmarked grave of Mr. Glad. You can see the long rectangle where turf was replaced, in the center of this picture.PH cem 4-21-15

The cemetery where his body was laid is of the modern “endowed” sort. All of the grounds are kept up by the owners, paid for by the burial fees. This is the same cemetery that I first visited in 2012 and afterward wrote about in A Sleeping Place Is Blessed. Not two years later Mr. Glad realized it would be prudent to buy plots for us there.

Fvl cemetery Radonitsa 15

Up the road a few miles at the next stop, we were met by Nina who was waiting by the graves of both of her husbands. I saw on the marker that her first husband died when I was still a child. Through the oaks down the hill we could see a third priest praying with two women at one gravesite.

This cemetery is of the old and non-endowed sort, where you are lucky if once a year some community organization chops down the larger weeds. And there is concrete, lots of it, in big broken squares and rectangles of curbs and cracked slabs over and around family groupings. I had forgotten about the hilliness, and about this difficulty of standing and walking on uneven concrete surfaces, anFvl 2 flowers 15d my ankles began to hurt. Note to self: No Danskos next time.

Besides the concrete, in the unpaved areas there are often foxtails and dust. But flowers grow in the cracks even in drought, and the rockrose that was planted long ago (photo at top) is vigorous. Last year it was really hot on Radonitsa (the Slavic word for this Day of Joy) but today it was cool and drizzly, so our shoes got wet on the lawns.

We didn’t have a big crowd at any of the cemeteries. A different group showed up at each place, with the most people at the third one, including several nuns from a nearby monastery; and women originally from Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia, presumably because they are used to doing a similar thing in their countries. Yevhenia, my new friend from Ukraine (that’s a phonetic spelling of how I try to pronounce her name, a form of Eugenia) said that in her country they bring tables and chairs to the cemetery so that they don’t have to rush off, and they picnic on festal foods while they think a while longer about death and God. They like to leave food on the graves, too, for poor people to pick up later on.

When I came home and read again about the Day of Rejoicing, I found that “The Slavs, like many ancient peoples, had a tradition of visiting family members’ graves during the springtime and feasting together with them.” It was an easy custom to continue after their conversion to Christianity, a faith that gave them a truly joyful message to bring along with the food, about Christ’s life-giving death.

Hlds cem 15This third cemetery has a smooth endowed section with flat grave markers, down the hill from what is in this picture, and we all trailed over there on the paths between the large square plots, to finish the service near those newer graves. Not far off a group of three people we didn’t know was gathered around a gravesite that was heaped with flowers, one woman obviously weeping.

They watched and listened to us as we faced their direction and sang the Paschal Canon enthusiastically, and when Father walked around censing, and blessing the graves with holy water as he sang, he went as far as their spot and sprinkled water on it, too, just very naturally, but did not interrupt the service. When we finished we went to talk to them; the woman’s mother had died. Maybe the two men were her husband and son. She kept telling us, “Thank you!” through her tears, and we exchanged hugs and repeated greetings of “Christ is risen!”

Some of us had colored eggshells left over from Pascha, to sprinkle on the graves. I didn’t have anything like that for Mr. Glad’s grave but a friend shared his with me. I hope to be ready next year, as I’ve conceived a plan, to make use of the blooms of our big snowball bush (viburnum) which are usually at their peak about this time. On the graves of those awaiting the Resurrection, they would be a lovely adornment.

snowballs crp 15