Homilies and Spritual Instruction
Hymnography and Services
History and Culture
The Holy Fire
Around the World
Homilies and Spritual Instruction
Hymnography and Services
History and Culture
The Holy Fire
Around the World
God created us by His love to be partakers of His Divinity, to drink from Him forever as from a sacred spring, the Divine water of life. And blessed is the man who diligently preserves himself from sins, who courageously conquers himself with the word of Divine love, for such a man purifies his soul, he frees himself from the spiritual filth which humiliates him and deprives him of the ability to enjoy such a sacred gift as happiness.
How were simple fishermen able to spread the news of the Resurrected Christ throughout the whole world? Why do we not bury the dead on Pascha? Do we have to fast before Communion during Bright Week? His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry speaks on these and other issues in this interview.
The feast of the Resurrection of Christ is the most important for Christians. “Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness,” St. John Chrysostom summons us in his catechetical word on the feast of Pascha. The joy of the resurrected Savior is appointed for every man on earth, but not all know about it and not all understand how to join in this common exaltation. Igumen Nektary (Morozov) talks about how to share the joy of Pascha with others.
Оn the night imbued with the Divine light, replete with great solemnity and spiritual joy in the Lord of the world who has vanquished death, I address you all with the ancient exclamation that testifies steadfastly to our immutable hope: CHRIST IS RISEN!
We have just celebrated Pascha or Easter as it is otherwise known and the celebration that we partake of for 40 days is the celebration of Life over death, of Good over evil, of Light over darkness, of Holiness over sin. In the midst of our celebration it is easy to lose focus and to forget that this is not just a story that has been passed down to us for 2000 years.
Following the Angels, we have entered into the feast of the Resurrection of Christ; we have gathered together along with the Patriarchs, the Prophets, and the Righteous, led into the Church for the feast like into Paradise and Heaven. Think then, what kind of celebration this must be! It must closely resemble the angelic; it must be worthy of communion with the Heavenly Church of Patriarchs, Prophets, and Saints; it must be worthy of Paradise and Heaven.
In Orthodoxy, this imagery is the coin of the realm in the hymns surrounding Pascha. All of Holy Week is predicated on the notion of Christ descent into hell and radical actions of destroying death and setting free those held in captivity. St. John Chrysostom’s great Paschal Homily, read in every Orthodox Church on the night of Pascha, is an “alley, alley, in come free!” of salvation.
Christ, ‘the first fruits of them that slept’, has shown us the only possible way of overcoming sin and death. This is the way of love. And it is to this love that we are called to bear witness before the whole world. And we are called in the first instance by the example of our own lives, for ‘by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’.
This letter from Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov, a Russian priest, is a moving testament to the resilience and cheerfulness of interned clergy during tremendous oppression. The Paschal context of his letter is poignant for us this week.
It is the day of Resurrection! Let us be illumined, O ye people! Pascha! The Pascha of the Lord from death to life and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us, as we sing a song of victory. (Paschal Canon, Ode I)
I give voice to my own heartfelt desire that the Risen Lord, Who loves mankind, will in the midst of our sorrows and temptations, renew us all with the joy of His Life-bearing Resurrection, support faith and piety within us, and illumine us with trust in the coming, eternal celebration “on the never-waning day of His kingdom.”
“Pascha?” I asked. “What’s Pascha?”The man chuckled and said, “You know it as Easter.” He then spent ten minutes explaining why “Pascha”—the “new Passover” by which the entire human race passes from slavery to freedom under Christ—should replace “Easter” as the favored term for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection.
And indeed when should they have stolen Him? on the Sabbath? And how? for it was not lawful so much as to go out. And even if they transgressed the law, how should they have dared, who were so timid, to come forth? And how could they also have been able to persuade the multitude? By saying what? By doing what?
In this manner, the Third and Sixth Hours are chanted before Liturgy. Likewise also before Vespers, for the Ninth Hour; and once for Compline. Likewise for the Midnight Office. It is a pious tradition to substitute the Paschal Hours for morning and evening prayers during all of Bright week.
Before Pascha, you heard the Gospel reading in which the Lord, not long before His suffering and death, visited the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. One woman, filled with great love and gratitude to the Savior, brought a vessel of valuable oil and poured it onto the head and feet of the Savior, wiping them with her hair. The house was filled with its aroma. But the aroma of this love was interrupted by the stench of the greedy Judas.
The Holy Myrrhbearing Women were in a similar situation. You will recall that even Peter, the most determined and courageous of Apostles, had renounced Christ only two days earlier, out of fear that a servant girl would report him. The other disciples of Christ, fearful of being arrested scattered abroad. When they met again to discuss what to do next, on the third day after Christ's crucifixion, they did it secretly "for fear of the Jews."
During Pascha of 1981, I was in the prison of Aiud. Early that morning, when the guards was changing shifts, I broke every diabolic rule of the prison by saying to the guard (one of the cruelest): “Christ is Risen!” He hesitated a few moments, in which, like lightening, I saw passing on his face the innocence of childhood, when his mama or grandma led him by the hand to church and when he heard the angelic voice of the priest saying: “Christ is Risen!”
Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated the Easter or the Holy Pascha. The Orthodox believe Pascha to be the most ancient and important celebration of Christianity, with the services similar to the one held at the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem since the third century.
The living feeling of the pulse of eternity, which responds in every Christian, is especially felt on the feast of Pascha, the Resurrection. Little children are aware until they grow up that death is something completely foreign, incomprehensible, and unnatural to man. We adults remember well this perception of the realty of eternity in our childhood as one of the constants of existence of a person only recently come into the world.
Later the Risen Christ revealed Himself to the apostles in the Divine Glory of the Resurrection. And when they witnessed that glory, a new awareness of life was born within them along with the power of faith which moved them to new deeds in their apostolic service. It led them into a hostile world in which they were to endure suffering and which met their preaching of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ with enmity and scorn. But we know that Christ's apostles carried His holy message throughout the Greek and Roman world and into other lands, preaching Christ, how He had come into the world to save men and how, though Himself God, He had taken human flesh and lived as a man among men, and how, as a man, He had achieved incomprehensible perfection.
The phrase, “behind closed doors,” has become synonymous in English with things being done in secret – generally of an unsavory or nefarious sort. Institutions speak of an “open door policy,” and promise “transparency” to those from the outside. Closed doors have always had a sense of secrecy about them. Sometimes the secrecy hides the darkness of evil, other times it protects us from the wonder of the holy.
On the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha, Orthodox Christians celebrate the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This feast of feasts is the most significant day in the life of the Church. It is a celebration of the defeat of death, as neither death itself nor the power of the grave could hold our Savior captive. In this victory that came through the Cross, Christ broke the bondage of sin, and through faith offers us restoration, transformation, and eternal life.
Christians throughout the world celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He destroyed death by His death, and opened unto us the doors of paradise, and bestowed upon us the fullness of life and of great mercy. The power of the Resurrection of Christ transforms our weakness, and releases within us the dynamic of growing into the image and likeness of our Risen Lord.
In antiquity the sons of Israel, on the feast-days or triumphs, offered to God gifts according to the Law, that is sacrifices, whole-burnt offerings, first-fruits and the like. Therefore St. Gregory teaches us also (like them) to make celebration unto the Lord, as they did, and inspires us, saying, "The day of Resurrection," in place of the "The day of the holy feast, the day of the Divine solemnity, the day of the Pascha of Christ." And what does the Pascha of Christ mean?
In 1945, a Paschal Liturgy like no other was performed. Just days after their liberation by the US military on April 29, 1945, hundreds of Orthodox Christian prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp gathered to celebrate the Resurrection service and to give thanks.
Holy Week is not a celebration of long ago events. It is the reliving of Christ's Passion and Resurrection in the present. The hymns of the week repeatedly use the present tense and the word "today" because Christ's saving Passion and life-giving Resurrection are a present day reality and hope -- not some far away historical.
Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord; Receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival! You sober and you heedless, honour the day! Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Again, the focus of these cults and their “rituals” was to ensure—or rather, to attempt to ensure—that their crops would be fruitful at the time of harvest. The movement of these “gods” and “goddesses” from life to death was symbolic of, and intimately connected with, the life and death of their crops (and the resulting offspring). This, of course, begs the question: What does this have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only-begotten Son of God the Father?
Suddenly in the midst of this motley and rather unpleasant crowd I saw a group of very beautiful young men and ladies. I understood that they were foreigners, but that they were somehow out of the ordinary and special. There was some sort of light in them. They walked around the churchyard fence looking lost and obviously searching for something—as it turned out, the entrance.
Thus Great Week was born. The crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ, together with the event of the Mystical Supper, constituted the very heart and center of the Great Week. The solemn celebration of these events began on Thursday evening and ended on the early dawn of Sunday. During the course of the fourth century a process was set in motion by which the solemnities of the Week would be further enhanced and elaborated.
...Indeed, Easter celebrations in Palestine in general and in Bethlehem and Jerusalem in particular have a special vigor. From Palm Sunday until Easter Day sounds of church bells, drums, boys and girls scouts performing in the streets, and the chanting of hymns create a magical atmosphere that expresses a sense of spirituality that is deeply rooted in a community that is literally thousands of years old. According to Aida, " Jesus was Palestinian. He is one of us. As the followers of Jesus we are the first Christian community and we have lived for centuries in the same towns and villages where he lived."
Christians often celebrate Easter on different Sundays, as is the case again this year, because of differences in how the date is determined by the Eastern and Western churches. Whether it be April 8 (West) or April 15 (East), there's agreement that lamb is one of the most symbolic dishes you can place on the table at Easter.
There are few opportunities like Holy Week to gain empirical knowledge and partake in the Philokalic (love of beauty) Hellenic tradition that masterfully comes to life each year in Greek Orthodox churches and homes all over the world. The Orthodox Christian mentality is expressed in our persistent focus on the Resurrection.
Man sentenced God to death; by His Resurrection, He sentenced man to immortality. In return for a beating, He gives an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. Man never showed so much hate for God as when he crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose. Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His Resurrection made man immortal. The crucified God is Risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the world.
Expectation and presentiment of joy fixes everyone’s limbs, and only their eyes look toward the holy doors. Now, quiet singing can be heard from the altar, and as if with an unbelievable effort, the curtain is pulled aside, the holy doors open, and a flood of light and sound streams out of the altar into the church, from the church into the nocturnal darkness, then spreads out commandingly over all the earth. Fr. Archimandrite and clergy proceed from the altar in gleaming festal garments that multiply the Paschal rays, and following the marked path, go forth from the church.
Last time in the Russian-language Internet, a whole campaign was conducted to discredit the miracle of the Holy Fire. The fundamental idea of these “exposés” is that purportedly there are Orthodox who themselves deny the genuineness of this miracle but at the same time continue to “dupe simple, ingenuous people.” What arguments are offered to support this idea of duping and conscious deceit?
We are just outside of Eden, but on this side of Pascha. Bishop Kallistos observes, “Lent is a time when we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gates of Eden, repenting with them for the sins that have deprived us our free communion with God. But Lent is also a time when we are preparing to celebrate the saving event of Christ’s death and rising, which has reopened Paradise to us once more (Luke 23:43).”
Now all things are filled with light: heaven, and earth, and the nether regions… Christ is Risen! Children of God! I greet you from an abundance of unearthly joy, scorching with the power of these divine words: Christ is Risen! The holy fire of this saving good news, flashing out once again in a bright flame from the Lord’s Holy Sepulcher, has poured across the world.
Uncle Milios never spoke a truer word, when he said the good Christians living outside the town might end up having to celebrate Easter that year without a liturgy. In fact no prophecy was ever closer to fulfilment, for it almost came true twice — but happily God made the authorities see the light, and in the end the poor villagers, local shepherd-farmers, were judged worthy to hear the Word of God and eat the festive eggs.