Category: Pascha


Holy Week and Pascha 2017

According to Jim Forest,

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. Continue reading

Humility and Secrecy

One of the holy men named Philagrius lived in Jerusalem and laboured to earn himself enough to eat. And when he was standing in the market-square trying to sell what he had made, by chance a bag fell on the ground near him, containing a great many shillings. The old man found it, and stood there thinking, “The loser must soon come here.” And soon the man who had lost it came lamenting. So Philagrius took him apart and gave him back his bag. The owner asked him to accept some of the shillings, but the old man would have nothing. Then the owner began to shout and call: “Come and see what the man of God has done.” But the old man fled away unperceived, and went out of the town, so that they should not know what he had done, nor pay him honour.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Abba Philagrius demonstrates well the admonition of Christ,

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:2-4)

Not wanting the praise of men for his reward, Abba Philagrius fled, knowing that praise can induce pride, and pride destroys compassion and humility, which are better than any material reward.

There is something else about this story, however, that I find insightful. Continue reading

Abba Evagrius said: … “Weep and lament for the judgement of sinners, bring to life the grief they suffer; be afraid that you are hurrying towards the same condemnation. Rejoice and exult at the good laid up for the righteous. Aim at enjoying the one, and being far from the other. Do not forget it, whether you are in your cell or abroad. Keep these memories in your mind and so cast out of it the sordid thoughts which harm you.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 3.3

A necessary corollary from the fact that all die, from a Christian perspective at least, is that all will face the judgment seat of Christ, who “will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed). Indeed, while I have focused recently on the logic of asceticism, life—death—resurrection, it is important to remember that, in fact, there are two sorts of resurrection described in the Scriptures, the one to new life and the other to the “second death.” Continue reading

After just writing a reflection on the practice of meditating on the final judgment and how we daily face the choice between rising to new life or the second death, through a glitch in WordPress the post was completely lost. And then I wrote a little post like this, which was promptly lost as well. Surely there is deep goodness and life beneath these daily deaths, if only I have eyes to see it. Blog posts, after all, are mortal and corruptible too. I’ll have to resurrect this one some other time.

Thank God, Christ is risen! Blog posts be damned.

Death and the Struggle for Permanence

Abba Evagrius said: While you sit in your cell, draw in your mind, and remember the day of your death. And then you will see your body mortifying. Think on the loss, feel the pain. Shrink from the vanity of the world outside.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 3.3

Last night I was honored to participate in a panel discussion at the Acton Institute (my employer) that discussed the art of Margaret Vega, a professor at Kendall College of Art and Design here in Grand Rapids, MI. The subject of my contribution was “Death and the Struggle for Permanence.” Given the many ascetic commendations of meditating on the day of one’s death in the Christian tradition (see above), I figured that it might be of interest to readers at Everyday Asceticism as well. The full text, with some light editing, is below: Continue reading

Sacred Skepticism

With his searching right hand, Thomas did probe Your life-bestowing side, O Christ God; for when You did enter while the doors were shut, he cried out unto You with the rest of the Apostles: You are my Lord and my God.

~ Kontakion of the Sunday of St. Thomas

The story of “doubting” St. Thomas is read both at the Agape Vespers the morning of Pascha and during the Sunday after Pascha, St. Thomas Sunday. It is interesting to me that the Orthodox tradition does not seem to criticize St. Thomas for his doubt but rather, as does the hymn above, praises his confession and even, perhaps, “his searching right hand,” i.e. his skepticism.

The biblical story comes from the Gospel of John:

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

So he said to them, “Unless 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.”

And after eight days his disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then he said to Thomas, “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.”

And Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

(John 20:24-29) Continue reading

Dead Toward Rising

Since, therefore, by our forty days’ observance we have wished to bring about this effect, that we should feel something of the Cross at the time of the Lord’s Passion, we must strive to be found partakers also of Christ’s Resurrection, and “pass from death unto life,” while we are in this body. For when a man is changed by some process from one thing into another, not to be what he was is to him an ending, and to be what he was not is a beginning. But the question is, to what a man either dies or lives: because there is a death, which is the cause of living, and there is a life, which is the cause of dying. And nowhere else but in this transitory world are both sought after, so that upon the character of our temporal actions depend the differences of the eternal retributions. We must die, therefore, to the devil and live to God: we must perish to iniquity that we may rise to righteousness. Let the old sink, that the new may rise; and since, as says the Truth, “no one can serve two masters,” let not him be Lord who has caused the overthrow of those that stood, but Him Who has raised the fallen to victory.

~ Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermon 71

“[T]here is a death, which is the cause of living, and there is a life, which is the cause of dying”—Why did I write my post for Great Friday, when in this simple phrase Pope St. Leo the Great said what I strove to say in 1,200 words? Continue reading

Great and Holy Pascha 2014

Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”

~ The Gospel According to St. Luke, 24:1-7

Last year, I posted the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom. Holy Saturday always seems a bit too busy to write my own reflection, and anyway, we celebrate Pascha (Easter) for the next forty days, so I will have plenty of time for that. Instead, I would like to simply offer a little florilegium of passages from the fathers on the meaning of Pascha. Continue reading

Great Friday: Christ Crucified

Today is hung upon a tree,

he who hung the land upon the waters. (x3)

Crowned with a circlet of thorns is he,

who is the king of angels.

Wrapped in the purple of mockery is he,

who wrapped the heavens in the clouds.

Buffeted upon the face is he,

who in the Jordan set Adam free.

Joined with nails [to the cross] is he,

who is the Bridegroom of the Church.

Pierced with a spear is he,

who is the Son of the Virgin.

We venerate your passion, O Christ; (x3)

show us also your glorious Resurrection!

~ Great Friday Matins, Fifteenth Antiphon

Tonight in the Orthodox Church, we observe the matins service for Great Friday by anticipation of the coming day. Kelly and Brendan and I had intended to go, but Kelly had to work and Brendan staged a successful rebellion against napping this afternoon, so I’ve had to content myself with this reflection on the most somber and beautiful part of the service. The priest chants this hymn slowly, with a loud voice, as he processes with the acolytes and others, holding a life-sized icon of Christ crucified, which he and the faithful all venerate once he has set it at the front of the nave. Everyone kneels in the candlelight as the procession passes and all is quiet except the thundering proclamation, “Today is hung upon a tree, he who hung the land upon the waters.”

Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom,” writes St. Paul to the Corinthians, “but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). He goes on to say, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). What does it mean to know nothing but “Jesus Christ and him crucified”? Continue reading

Lazarus Saturday: Come and See

By Your word, O Word of God, Lazarus now leaps out of death, having returned to this life. Therefore the peoples honor You with their branches, O Mighty One; for You shall destroy Hades utterly by Your own death.

By means of Lazarus has Christ already plundered you, O death. Where is your victory, O Hades? For the lament of Bethany is handed over now to you. Let us all wave against it our branches of victory.

~ Exaposteilaria, Saturday of St. Lazarus. Tone 3

Today is Lazarus Saturday, when we commemorate, just before Palm Sunday, the last Sunday before Pascha (Easter), the resurrection of St. Lazarus from the dead by Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John reports that this drew so much attention to Jesus that it served as a major impetus for those who opposed him to plot his death: “Then, from that day on, they plotted to put him to death” (John 11:53). But death, as the story of the raising of Lazarus shows us, was not something Jesus intended to avoid. Continue reading