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

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

Advent Focus

It’s beginning to look a lot like Advent!

This year, I decided that I wanted a theme  or focus for my advent. I thought about and prayed with a few.

First, I thought about “In God’s will is our peace.” It’s beautiful, but it didn’t feel quite right.

Then, I thought about St. Augustine’s quote “O God, command what you will and give what you command.” I like this also. But something still wasn’t ringing right with me.

Then I found this quote from St. Teresa of Jesus, one of my favorite Saints. “Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”

I think that sums up nicely both of the other quotations. And I think that it speaks beautifully to where I am in my walk with the Lord. My goal for this Advent, for the next 40 days as we draw near to the celebration of the Birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is to trust God more completely and to grow in the belief and knowledge that I am where he wants me to be.