Paschal Joy

In the Eastern Churches, we spend the forty days between the Feast of the Resurrection and that of the Ascension greeting each other with “Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!” It is my favorite of all of our liturgical greetings because it is the most joy-filled. No matter how you say it (Christos Voskros! Christos Anesti! al-Masīḥ qām!) it is a message of enormous joy. Christ is Risen. He has become the first fruits of the dead. The grave has been despoiled. Hades is in chains. Christ is Risen!

I think that after the first few days of the Easter season, it’s easy to forget that we are still in the midst of the season. It is easy to get on with our lives and forget to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. To me, this is a mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make and one that I easily find myself falling into. But it’s still a mistake. We need to embrace the joy of the Resurrection.

Yes we have to go on with our lives. Yes, we have to go to work and school. We have to do the dishes and clean the bathroom. But Christ is Risen. We live in the world, and we must face the mundane realities of that. But we cannot allow cleaning a cat’s litter box or changing diapers to distract us from the fact that the Eternal Word of God is Risen from the dead. Death has been annihilated. Hades is in chains. Yes, we will still fall asleep in the flesh. But oh what joy awaits us after that!

And now, during these last days of the Easter season, embrace the joy of the Resurrection. For Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages.
Amen!

-St. John Chrysostom

Simeon and Thomas

As we approach the first Sunday after Pascha, what we in the East call Thomas Sunday, I’ve been thinking about the famed Doubting Thomas of the Gospel in contrast with another man who met Jesus much earlier in His earthly life.

On one hand, you have a man who had followed the Lord for three years, had heard promises of the Resurrection, and refused to believe it until “I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 25) On the other hand, you have the man to whom it had been revealed “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2: 26)

It is, to me, a stark contrast. Thomas refuses to believe that the Lord is risen from death until he has physically seen and touched the Lord himself. Simeon does not require this; for him, merely holding the Christ child in his arms is enough. In contrast to Thomas’s demand to put his finger in the nail holes, Simeon tells the Lord that he can be dismissed in peace. Seeing the Christ child was all of the Lord’s salvation that Simeon needs. He can depart in peace because he has seen this Child who is “destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword shall pierce through your [Mary’s] own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Simeon is an old man near the end of his life. He has lived as long as he has with the promise of the sight of the Christ. He has seen what he was promised. He can depart in peace. He does not need to see the miracles that will come or the Lord’s glorious Passion. He has seen the Lord’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. He has seen the infant Light of the World, and it is enough. His soul is satisfied.

Thomas is not so easily appeased. Three years with the Master was not enough. The witness of his brother apostles (and the myrrh-bearing women) was not enough. The future evangelist to India is not satisfied by merely hearing the Lord has been raised from the dead. No, he wants to see and to touch for himself. He wants hard, tangible proof. And the Lord gives it to him. The Lord greets him with the offer to “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27) Thomas is one of the privileged few Christians who had the opportunity to touch the Risen Lord’s hands and know that this Man truly is the Son of God come down to earth, crucified, died, buried, and risen. In the approximately two thousand year history of the Church, few Christians have had that opportunity.

And Thomas, to his credit, is chastened by this moment. The Lord greets his lack of faith with mercy, with a moment of proof, and Thomas is humbled by this moment. He acknowledges Jesus to be “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) His doubt is no more; he believes and accepts that this truly is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world to save sinners. This is the man who will go out after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to preach the Gospel, going ultimately to India. He has seen the Lord’s salvation. He has seen the Lord’s mercy. He has touched the proof. He believes.

But the Lord’s response to him has always touched my heart. Christ replies to Thomas’s profession of faith that “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” (John 20:29) I’ve heard it said, and I believe this, that this is Christ’s reference to all Christians who will come after the Ascension. This is a reference to the men and women whom Thomas and his brother apostles will evangelize and all those who will follow after those first Christians. It is a reference to people like St. Helena, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Sts. Vladimir and Olga, St. Nicholas, St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata, and so many more. It is a reference to you and to me. We have believed in the Resurrection of Christ without having seen His physical body or touched His wounds. We have not put our fingers into the nail holes, but still we believe. And I dearly love that on that night eight days after the Resurrection, Christ thinks of us, makes mention of all of us who will come after those first apostles.

Both Thomas and Simeon are given to us to encourage us. Simeon believed in the hope of a promise he had received from the Holy Spirit. He saw the Christ child, and he was satisfied. He had seen but a taste of the goodness of God’s promise; it was enough. Thomas doubted the Resurrection (after all, who had ever seen a man come back from the dead of his own power before?) until he had seen it for himself. But when he saw the truth of the Lord’s promises and the Lord’s mercy to his doubt, he embraced both the truth of who Christ was and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. I think that St. Thomas is intended to encourage and support us in our moments of doubt. May we also embrace both the truth of who Christ is and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. And may we cry out with him, “My Lord and my God!”

It’s Okay to Mourn

Every year, I have certain expectations of Easter. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I do expect it to be A Certain Way. Usually, my Easter lives up to my expectations-at least in the spiritual sense.

But this year, real life intervened. Not only was Easter imperfect, it didn’t live up to my expectations. People were late for things. People were sick. Things weren’t where they ought to have been. There were miscommunications.

And Easter wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Now, is Christ still risen from the dead? Yes! Absolutely, He is. Is Resurrection Matins still the Most Beautiful Thing in the Whole Entire World? Uh, duh. (I had a rough day; I didn’t become a different person.)

But I’m human, and in my humanity, I experienced disappointment. I had been looking forward to certain things, and I didn’t get to experience those things. I was sad.

But I felt bad about being sad because well…it’s still Easter and it’s still Resurrection Matins and even if it wasn’t perfect it still was the basic thing that I love.

(Also, I got to hold a cute baby for a few minutes of Liturgy; that was awesome. I love holding babies.)

Last night, I was sitting there beating myself up for being unhappy because things weren’t exactly as I’d wanted them to be. Resurrection Matins was lovely. Pascha is still the most beautiful feast of the year. Christ is still risen from the dead. Sure, I didn’t get to have the experience that I’d wanted, but that doesn’t change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

And that’s true. No matter how beautiful or ugly your Paschal celebration/experience is, that does not change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

But that does not mean that you’re not allowed to be unhappy or sad if your expectations aren’t met. That doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to set expectations for what I hope Pascha 2018 is. We are human beings who were created with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. God wants us to have hopes and dreams. But He does not want us to get so caught up in our hopes and expectations that we miss out on what is happening in front of us. It’s okay that I was sad about some of my experience yesterday. But I can’t allow that to keep me from experiencing and embracing the joy of the Resurrection.

That’s not just Easter. That’s life. My life may not look like what I might have hoped it would look like by the time I was almost 29. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) I’m allowed to be sad about that. But I should not allow my sadness to keep me from experiencing and embracing the place in which God has put me. I’m allowed to have plans and hopes for my future. But I should not allow them to keep me from seeking God’s will and living the life to which He has called me.

It’s the second day of the Paschal season, and I think that at this point, the Lord is showing me that sadness is not a bad thing, but I cannot allow it to consume me. I need to share my sorrow with Him and ask Him to show me what He wants to do with my life. I need to continue to be patient and open in my walk with Him.

Psalm 103

It’s been almost a year since I wrote my post about why you should visit an Eastern Church. As I’ve been preparing for Holy Week, I initially felt inspired to write a Holy Week-centric post. I intended to use the video below in that post, but the music and the psalm kept digging themselves deeper into my psyche, and….well, I just felt better equipped to write a blog post about Psalm 103. And maybe, it will inspire someone reading it to come experience some part of Holy Week in one of the Eastern traditions.

The above video is of the beginning of Entombment Vespers on the evening of Great and Holy Friday. It’s from St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church where the psalm is chanted in Ukrainian. I know the text of the psalm that they’re praying as we sing it at my parish in English. I love the idea of beginning Entombment Vespers with this psalm. As we celebrate Christ’s glorious passion, we begin with our eyes fixed on the greatness of God. We will later pray through the sufferings He endured for our sake. But we begin by looking at His Majesty.

I found myself reading through this psalm and thinking about it in the context of Great and Holy Friday. “Bless the Lord, o my soul,” the psalmist begins. “Oh Lord my God, how great you are!”

That is the God we hail as great. Beaten. Battered. Bruised. Crowned with thorns. Crucified between two thieves.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

You stretch out the heavens like a tent. Above the rains you build your dwelling. You make the clouds your chariot, you walk on the wings of the wind; you make your angels spirits and your ministers a flaming fire. You founded the earth on its base, to stand firm from age to age.

The One who stretched out the heavens, who founded the earth on its base, who hung the earth upon the waters…he is slapped on the face by those whom He created. He is spat upon. He is mocked. He is hung upon a tree. He bears all patiently. He gives His back to those who beat him and His cheeks to those who pluck His beard. (Isaiah 50) For our sake, He bore it all.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

That is the beauty of Great and Holy Friday to me. We in the East do not ignore Christ’s brutal sufferings, but we look at them in the light of their broader context. Christ suffered and died for us because of His love for us. He became the sacrificial victim so that He might also be the Victor over sin and death. Christ’s Passion and Death are not only acts of love but also acts of victory. Christ took crucifixion, a brutal way of death, and turned it into an act of glorious victory. He trampled Death and despoiled Hades.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

Thoughts as Lent Ends…

Today, when the sun sets, my Church Tradition will consider Lent to have ended. Tomorrow, we will celebrate Lazarus Saturday and move into Great and Holy Week. Although we will continue to fast next week, the Great Fast that we began forty days ago will be at a close.

At the beginning of the Great Fast, forty days always feels like a long time to me. I’ve talked previous about how I disliked Lent as a child because I viewed it as some sort of horrible deprivation. I didn’t fully understand it. Now, I still don’t fully understand it, but I find more value in it. I have come to realize more and more each year how God can use those forty days (however long or short they may be) to help me to grow closer to him.

This Lent, I have primarily felt the Lord inviting me to trust Him more fully. In that invitation, I have been working through some anger and frustration that I have carried inside of myself for a long time. Last week, I was driving home from work and raging at the Lord. I was about to go staff a youth group retreat, and I was badly hurting from a hard week. I was struggling with some serious questions, and I just could not understand what I saw around me. As I raged, I felt the Lord answer me with the same answer He gave Job. “Hush, child. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

Hush. You were not there when I spoke the world into being. You were not there when I laid the foundations of the world. You don’t yet see the full picture. Yes, you’ve seen hard things this week, but you don’t know yet how all of these things will play out. Hush. You can’t possibly understand yet.

Now, I understand how that “hush” could sound harsh, but I felt an enormous amount of love in that. Hush, and trust me. You may not understand on this side of Paradise, but all will be well. Trust me. Trust my plans.

I went on the retreat. I was tired and still struggling with the baggage of the past week. But I heard the Lord through the talks and sharings. I experienced His love through people around me. Now, I was given no immediate answers to the questions, but I chose to focus on trusting those questions over to the Master of the Universe. I chose (and am still choosing because it is a daily process) to let go of those questions and trust them over to the Lord who knows the plans He has for me.

On Monday, I went to confession, and I told the priest that I was struggling with anger at God. He looked at me and asked me if I’d told God that. I said, in my usual delightful way, “Well, yeah, of course!” Now, God and I need to work through my anger. As I said in the above paragraph, I need to let go not only of those questions but also of my anger. Like Job, I need to say “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42: 2, 5-6) I need to surrender my pride and trust in God’s plan that is both better than mine and beyond my comprehension.

It isn’t an easy process. It won’t be done by the time Lent ends. It won’t be done by Pascha (Easter) morning. It is the process of a life. But it is worth doing. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it require sacrifice? Yes. Will it require grace? Yes. Will it be worth it?

I sometimes expect Lent to be more dramatic than it is. I’m not sure what I expected of it forty days ago, but this wasn’t it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an interesting thing. If I want heaven, if I want holiness, then it follows that I must be willing to make sacrifices. I must be wiling to change. I must be willing to surrender my pride and trust in the plans of Him who is enough for us.

For in His Will is our peace.

-Dante Aligheri

We Need Lent

In my spare time, I enjoy listening to the videos on the St. Elias Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s YouTube Channel. I find the music to beautiful and prayerful in a way that enriches my life. In particular, I enjoy listening to the videos from Holy Week and Pascha. I’ve been finding myself getting really excited as I realize that this coming Sunday is Cheesefare Sunday. Now, as a Lent-hating child, I hated Cheesefare Sunday. It (like the liturgical season it precedes) ruined all my fun.

As an adult with a better appreciation of Lent, I adore Cheesefare Sunday. My favorite thing about Cheesefare Sunday is Forgiveness Vespers. During Forgiveness Vespers, we as a parish forgive one another. “Forgive me, a sinner, and I forgive you,” we say to one another. It is, to me, utterly beautiful. During this Ritual of Forgiveness, we sing the Odes of the Resurrection, music that we will hear again during Resurrection Matins (my absolute favorite service of the year) on Pascha Sunday and throughout the Paschal season. Now, I love love LOVE these odes. I’m so excited to get to sing these beautiful odes, these beautiful truths on Sunday.

But not only do I love Pascha, I love Holy Thursday and Good Friday. I cannot explain to you how much I love Good Friday’s Reading of the Twelve Gospels and Entombment Vespers. They are so beautiful to me. I canNOT wait to sing “Having suffered the Passion for us, Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on us” throughout Lent. And then, we’ll get to sing of the Noble Joseph (of Arimathea) who took down the Spotless Body of the Master from the Cross and laid Him in a new tomb on Good Friday. Love. I love singing of the Noble Joseph because I love the Noble Joseph.

I love this celebration. It is utterly beautiful. Over the course of several days, we journey with Christ from Bethany where He raises His friend, Lazarus, from the dead to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem through Holy Week to Holy Thursday and the Institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood to the Agony in the Garden into Friday and the Carrying of the Cross and His Passion and Death and then comes Pascha-His Glorious Resurrection on the Third Day. Christ is victorious through it all. He is the Victor. I love it.

You, O King and Lord, have fallen asleep in the flesh as a mortal man but on the third day you arose. You have raised Adam from his corruption and made death powerless. You are the Pasch of incorruption. You are the salvation of the world.

I recently confessed my love of Holy Week to my roommate. I told her that I wanted it to be Holy Week now because I want that beauty. I want that glory in my life. But her response was perfect. She told me that I couldn’t have them yet because Holy Week wouldn’t be the same without Lent. If I don’t go through forty days of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, the majesty of Holy Week is NOT the same. Lent leads us to Holy Week. We need to work our way through Lent to the glory and majesty of the Sacred and Holy Pasch. We need to prepare our hearts and minds to rightly celebrate the Great Feast.

From the Monastery of Christ the Bridegroom

From the Monastery of Christ the Bridegroom

I love Holy Week. I love Pascha. But I need to spend some time preparing for those celebrations. I need to take time (forty days sounds good) to focus my mind on the message of Holy Week and Pascha so that I can properly celebrate the feasts. I need my heart and mind to be focused on the love and mercy of Christ’s Victorious Passion. Prayer can do that. Fasting can do that. Almsgiving can do that. I need to focus my heart and my mind. I need to work on my relationship with God. And then, I can celebrate the Feast well.

And if you’re wondering, I do need to do this every year. Every year, I can grow more. Every year, I can find areas for improvement in my relationship with God and in my understanding of His love and mercy. I will never be perfect on this side of paradise. But the beauty of God is that He is always there for me to draw closer to and to know more fully. We all need this. We all need the opportunity to meet God in the wilderness and to prepare ourselves for the Resurrection.

The Beauty of Geography

Recently, I was thinking about how I came to be Byzantine Catholic, and I realized that the easiest way to explain it is that it’s an accident of geography. My dad’s maternal grandparents came to America from a part of Europe that was Slovakia at the time and settled near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; they eventually ended up in the metro Detroit area where my Byzantine Catholic grandmother married my never-baptized but ostensibly Protestant grandfather and had four children. (Happy side note: My grandfather was baptized in a Byzantine Catholic Church about a year ago at the age of 92. I still get teary-eyed with joy thinking about it.) Then, my Byzantine Catholic father, the youngest of those four children, married my Roman Catholic mother who embraced the Byzantine Catholic Church, my brother and I were born, and they raised us to know and love that Church.

There’s a lot that feels a bit random in that narrative. My dad’s grandparents happened to be from a Byzantine Catholic region of Eastern Europe. Give or take a few miles, and they’d have been Orthodox or Roman Catholic. But by what some might call an accident of geography, they were Byzantine Catholic. I don’t know how strong the catechesis of my ancestors was. I don’t know how much they understood about their faith, but that doesn’t matter. They continued the motion of a chain of events that led to me being Byzantine Catholic.

The reality is that none of this is random. God doesn’t deal in coincidences or accidents. It was not actually due to an accident of geography that I was born into a Byzantine Catholic family. I was born into this family and this Church because it was where God wants me. There is a reason that I was born into this Church and not into the Roman Catholic Church or an Orthodox Church, and that reason is the will of God.

In my experience, the Eastern Catholic Churches sit in a complicated position. Not everyone loves our existence. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked when I’m going to get off the fence and become Orthodox or Roman Catholic. I’ve been told that it would be easier to just become Orthodox. Perhaps it would. But easier isn’t always the best option or the right one. God has a purpose for the Byzantine Catholic Churches. In a talk he gave last September, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church defines the Byzantine Catholic Churches as living out the spirit of the first Christian millennium; that is we live out an Orthodox spirituality and theology while living in communion with the See of Rome. He sees us as living out the call of Christ for His people to dwell in full and loving unity. Diversity ought to be allowed, accepted, and embraced.

I could go on about that for ages, but that’s a digression. I believe that the Byzantine Catholic Churches have a beautiful purpose in our world. I believe that we need to be vocal in showing the world the beauty of our Church. We are a living and active representation of heaven on earth, and we must live that out in a way that radiates into the lives of those around us. I firmly believe that we are called to show the beauty of unity to the world by our lives. Yes, we hold a complicated position, but it does not follow that this position ought to be abandoned because of difficulty.

There is beauty in this difficulty. I’ve talked before about the difficulty of being an Eastern Catholic both in an ecumenical environment and in strictly Catholic environments. It is not easy to be the minority or the other. And at times it does feel as though some obnoxious accident of geography put me in this place. But it wasn’t an accident that put me in this place. It was God, and if God put me here, then there is beauty in this complicated place.

It may not always be obvious beauty. It may not always be easy to look past external complications. Yes, Byzantine Catholicism is aesthetically pleasing. I love the sensory experience of my church. It is is a gorgeous place to be. The music is beautiful. The people (at least in my experience) are wonderful. However, the disunity of the Christian body can be discouraging and ugly.

It is hard to know leaders of other Churches believe that my Church is the greatest obstacle to unity between the Christian East and Christian West. It’s hurtful to be called a “uniate.” On the other hand, I can understand that it is hurtful to other Churches that my Church reestablished communion with the See of Rome several hundred years ago. Yes, we acted from political reasons more than religious/spiritual, and I can easily see why that’s hurtful to others. We have to accept that and work with it; we cannot ignore the hurt in the hopes it will go away. The wounds need to be acknowledged and discussed.

Christian unity is a complex thing. Yes, we are called to unity, but we are called to unity in diversity as St. John Paul II said. It’s important to highlight our common ground, but it’s also important to acknowledge our differences and discuss them. We need to embrace our brokenness and take it to the Cross, to the One who heals all wounds. Christ alone can heal the brokenness of our Church. He can bring great goodness into this situation and out of it.

In closing, it is the beauty of geography that made me Byzantine Catholic rather than Roman Catholic or Orthodox. The geography that wrought this situation is beautiful because it was made by God. God the Father may not have willed the brokenness of His Son’s body. He may not rest well pleased with the wounds within the Church. But that absolutely does not mean that He will abandon His Church, the Bride of Christ to perish in brokenness. No, Jesus comes to make all things new (Rev. 21:15), and He will use anything to do that. He will use politics, geography, humble prayers, conversations, ecumenical action…God will use anything that comes from a sincere desire to serve His Kingdom to make this thing new.

And maybe we won’t see the Church fully restored on this side of Paradise, but we have not been abandoned. He is a God of restoration and renewal, not a God of accidents. He makes beautiful things out of us. He wants this Church, His Church to be whole. And to do that, he’s going to use all of us-Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Protestants…we’re all called to this table. We’re all called to unity. We are called to be One as the Trinity is One.

Father God, heal and restore Your Church. Make us One as the Trinity is One. Renew and restore Your people. Break down walls, and heal wounds. Give wisdom to Church leaders, and give hope to Your people. Father, make us one. 


(This is the other well-known article about the region of Europe from which my ancestors came. March 15, 1939 was our big day; we should celebrate that more.)