No matter what season of the year it was, [St. Seraphim of Sarov] greeted visitors with the paschal salutation, “Christ is risen!” As another paschal gesture, he always wore a white robe.
Truly he is risen!
Pascha came early to my little family this year. That’s not a reference to the Eastern Church calendar either; by some liturgical accident East and West had the same date this year.
No, I say Pascha came early because our second son Aidan was born right at the start of Lent.
My wife Kelly wasn’t fasting while pregnant, and she doesn’t fast while nursing either, so for nutritional reasons we didn’t participate in that aspect of the season. There will be many more Lents to come, but Aidan only gets born once (sort of).
Instead, Aidan came five days after his due date (a wonderfully modern concept—my wife informs me that only 4 percent of babies are born on their due dates).
In any case, we thought he might even come early, so when the due date came and went, our patience began to thin. The last week or so of a pregnancy is a weird thing; to know that the child inside your wife’s womb could be outside it and perfectly healthy, but it isn’t; to know that you could be holding your newborn child, but it hasn’t yet been born; to still wonder what the baby will look like and, in our case, whether the baby is a boy or a girl.
This was not my most productive week at work. I couldn’t focus on anything. Anticipation rose day by day. Excitement and eagerness built up as I couldn’t stop thinking that at any moment I could get a text from my wife saying, “Come home. The baby is coming.”
But the due date went by, then another day, then another. We waited, knowing that what lay ahead would be difficult (more for my wife than me, admittedly, but still). That week was our Holy Week.
I am reminded of the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “for the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
That is the point of the waiting: waiting is nothing if not waiting for something. We fast through Lent and endure extra austerity during Holy Week because of “the joy … set before [us].”
As parents awaiting our new baby, our hope and anticipation and excitement was grounded in the joy set before us, and my wife’s willingness to go through labor for it is one of the most potent pictures of the meaning of the cross.
When Aidan was born, after Kelly I got to hold him. And I did with Aidan as I did for Brendan: I sang the Paschal hymn, even though it was out of season—“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” This was the first song both of them heard.
So Aidan’s birth was our early Pascha, and the days and weeks that followed, even though technically still Lent, were our Paschal season. Friends and relatives came to visit and brought us food so that we didn’t need to cook. I took two weeks off of work (one for paternity leave—pretty snazzy!). I spent extra time with Brendan, who is five now and has been a very good big brother, but of course, no longer being our only child, has felt a bit neglected and is still adjusting to our divided attention.
Jim Forest describes St. Seraphim’s life and all he endured before being known for saying “Christ is risen!” at all times of the year. Most of us can’t dedicate our lives to asceticism like him and arrive at the point where we can say that out of genuine joy in the resurrection at any time of the year.
But his example is a good reminder that when we find ourselves confronted with those rare joyous exceptions of life—a new baby, a wedding, even perhaps a funeral—we should not hold back the most fitting expression of that joy: “Christ is risen, and Hades is overthrown!” Evil will not have the ultimate victory, and thus it can be defeated and even now has crumbled before the cross of Jesus Christ, if only we can carry that Paschal joy within us through every breath and thought and word and deed.
If only we dare to say, “Christ is risen!” we will see that in all things new life triumphs over death.
Christ is risen! Happy Pascha.