Third Sunday of Pascha – The Myrrh-Bearers

This Sunday presents us with the proclamation of the resurrection according to St. Mark.

We are first confronted with the death of our Lord. Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to reclaim the body. Pilate wonders that he died so quickly, while Joseph entombs his body with great care and love. As Christians we must confront the reality that Jesus died as a sign of his love. His glory was the Cross, making the Christian faith unique –love is found in sacrifice, life is found in death, power is found in service. And St. Paul’s words are read on Good Friday: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside’ (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). Believing in the Resurrection, we are confronted with the Christian paradox that the world cannot understand.

The women go to the tomb on the third day, but Jesus is not there. The young man announces to them: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women are told to announce the resurrection, but they fail to do so, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). This too is a challenge to our faith. Where do we seek the Christ? Can we today complete the mission the women were entrusted with, can we proclaim the resurrection? Do we understand the gospel and commit ourselves to the Lord, “who trampled upon death by death.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Thomas Week Thursday

“Who stopped the hand of the disciple from being melted when he approached the fiery side of the Savior? Who gave him such boldness, to be able to touch this blazing door?” – Ikos of Thomas Sunday.

When God appeared to Moses, he first spoke to him from the burning bush. “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. So Moses decided, “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” (Exodus 3:2-3). Later God was to tell Moses on Mount Sinai, “But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Indeed, the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

The image of the burning bush of Moses was later to be applied to Mary, the Birthgiver of God. She was able to bear the Son and Word of God in her womb. The burning bush reveals to us that the love of God is so intense that it would destroy us, fragile and mortal as we are. Yet in becoming a man, the Word of God became a transforming fire, uniting the human nature to God, thereby deifying us, protecting us by grace that we are able to touch God himself present in a human body. This is the meaning of the revelation to Thomas, as God says, “Touch me now, for now you are deified and can touch God. Then Jesus tells Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). We are those who have not seen what Thomas saw, but are able now to see the eucharist, and to touch and partake of the body of Christ, our connection with God. Therefore, in some Eastern Churches the bread of Holy Communion is the coal that touched the lips of Isaiah, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged” (Isaiah 6:6-7). Like Thomas, we too can touch God by grace.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Day of Rejoicing

On the first free day after Bright Week [i.e., today], the Church traditionally remembers all those who have fallen asleep. Because of the hope of the resurrection, this is called the “Day of Rejoicing,” in Slav “radonitsa.”
 
On this day, the Tuesday of St. Thomas week, according to the order instituted by our Holy Fathers, we call to remembrance, in Paschal joy, all those who have died from the beginning of the ages in faith and in the hope of resurrection and life eternal.
 Having previously celebrated the radiant feast of Christ’s glorious Resurrection, the faithful commemorate the dead today with the pious intent to share the great joy of this Pascha feast with those who have departed this life in the hope of their own resurrection. This is the same blessed joy with which the dead heard our Lord announce His victory over death when He descended into Hades, thus leading forth by the hand the righteous souls of the Old Covenant into Paradise. This is the same unhoped-for joy the Holy Myrrhbearing Women experienced when discovering the empty tomb and the undisturbed grave clothes. In addition, this is the same bright joy the Holy Apostles encountered in the Upper Room where Christ appeared though the doors were closed.
 
In short, this feast is a kindred joy, to celebrate the luminous Resurrection with our Orthodox forefathers who have fallen asleep.
 There is evidence of the commemoration of the dead today in the writings of the Church Fathers. St. John Chrysostom mentions the commemoration of the dead performed on Tuesday of St. Thomas week in his “Homily on the Cemetery and the Cross.”
 Today, the faithful departed are remembered in Divine Liturgies, ‘koliva’ is prepared and blessed in the churches in memory of those who have fallen asleep, and the Orthodox graves in cemeteries are blessed by the priests and visited by the faithful. On this day alms are given to the poor. Furthermore, it should be noted that due to the great spiritual joy this jubilant commemoration bears, it is called in the Slavonic tongue, ‘Radonitsa,’ or “Day of Rejoicing.” 

An excerpt from the Homily of St. John Chrysostom: “On the Cemetery and the Cross”
 “By His death, Christ bound the chief of robbers and the prison guard, that is, the devil and death, and transferred their treasures, that is, the entire human race, to the royal treasury. The King Himself came to the prisoners and broke the doors, crushed the bars, vanquished Hades, and stripped the prison.”
 
Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Saint Thomas Sunday: Antipascha

Saint Thomas Sunday: Antipascha

Every day during the week of Easter, called Bright Week by the Church, the paschal services are celebrated in all their splendor. The Easter baptismal procession is repeated daily. The royal gates of the sanctuary remain open. The joy of the Resurrection and the gift of the Kingdom of eternal life continue to abound. Then, at the end of the week, on Saturday evening, the second Sunday after Easter is celebrated in remembrance of the appearance of Christ to the Apostle Thomas “after eight days” (John 20.26).

It is important to note that the number eight has symbolical significance in both Jewish and Christian spiritual tradition. It signifies more than completion and fullness; it signifies the Kingdom of God and the life of the world to come since seven is the number of earthly time. The sabbath, the seventh day, is the blessed day of rest in this world, the final day of the week. The “first day of the week,” the day “after Sabbath”; stressed in all of the gospels as the day of Christ’s Resurrection (Mk 16.1, Mt 28.1, Lk 24.1, Jn 20.1,19), is therefore also “the eighth day,” the day beyond the confines of this world, the day which stands for the life of the world to come, the day of the eternal rest of the Kingdom of God (see Hebrews 4).

The Sunday after Easter, called the Second Sunday, is thus the eighth day of the paschal celebration, the last day of Bright Week. It is therefore called the Antipascha, and it was only on this day in the early church that the newly-baptized Christians removed their robes and entered once again into the life of this world.

In the Church services the stress is on the Apostle Thomas’ vision of Christ and the significance of the day comes to us in the words of the gospel:

Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20.27–29).

We have not seen Christ with our physical eyes nor touched His risen body with our physical hands, yet in the Holy Spirit we have seen and touched and tasted the Word of Life (1 John 1.1–4), and so we believe.

Bright Saturday

Today is the seventh day of Bright Week, the joyful celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. In today’s Apostolic Reading, St. Peter again proclaims, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). The gospel returns to the theme of baptism, for our life in Christ through the mystery of baptism is the beginning of our share in Christ’s eternal resurrection.

The gospel today begins, “After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing” (John 3:22). This is the only passage in the gospels that tells of Jesus baptizing, and he raised a theological problem: if Jesus baptized, would this be already the saving baptism in water and the Spirit. St. John, therefore, corrects himself in the next section of his gospel, “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples), he left Judea and returned to Galilee” (John 4:1-3).

The icon posted here, from the Novgorod School, nonetheless depicts Jesus baptizing, a baptism that is life-giving. Whatever the meaning of John 3:22, as a people reborn in the Holy Trinity in the font of baptism, the life-giving baptism of water and the Spirit, today we seal the feast in the joy of our baptism, in which we died with Christ, so that we could rise with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:3-4).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Bright Monday

Hearing the story of the fearful passion of our Lord, one is struck by two things: he was opposed by the religious leaders of his people, and was branded as a blasphemer deserving of death. He was persecuted by the state for treason because he made himself a king. Jesus was rejected then by the powers-that-be just as he is rejected today by a world which worships only power and the hatred of the other. The disciples may have believed and loved Jesus, but they proved to be of no help, they ran for their lives. One denied him but then repented, another betrayed him and lost the gift of life. But! – look and see – what does God make of this wretched situation? He takes it and he turns it upside down, transforming it into a cosmic salvation of the world and the total destruction of death. It is as Isaiah prophesied: “For the Lord shall rise up as on Mount Perazim, be-stir himself as in the Valley of Gibeon, to carry out his work—strange his work! to perform his deed—alien his deed!” (Isaiah 28:21).

Today the power of the world and its worshippers are shown to be vain and empty. Today the Lord reveals true power, as we heard at the end of the Paschal Vigil Gospel, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)” And today, as he appears to his disciples in the upper room, saying: “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-23).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Pascha

This is the “Feast of feasts.”

This is the radiant and glorious day of the Resurrection of our Lord.

This is a day of faith and hope and love.

Of faith – This is the day of resurrection, let us be enlightened by it … Fr. Taft told the story of a Russian Orthodox priest who said that there was no greater experience of faith than to live the brilliant and radiant night of our Lord’s resurrection, making the sign of the cross. We cannot truly celebrate Pascha without being transformed.

Of hope – “Christ is risen from the dead, by death he trampled death, and to those in the tombs he granted life. We sing our hope over and over again, this is our life, this is our hope of resurrection.

Of love – Pascha is the mystical marriage of Christ and his church:

Today, Christ has shown forth from the tomb as from a bridal chamber …”

It means love of one another, “let us embrace one another! Let us call “Brethren” even those who hate us and in the resurrection, forgive everything …

It is the day when God gives himself to us in communion for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

It is the day when we forgive everyone, even those who hate us.

May the radiant joy of Pascha fill us all.

“Christ is risen.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

A Paschal Sermon

The Catechetical Sermon of St. John Chrysostom is read during Matins of Pascha. This sermon is typically preached by the priest in Byzantine churches on Easter Sunday.

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor 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. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

The Holy Spirit’s appearance

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus says of the Holy Spirit’s appearance as a dove at Christ’s baptism:

And the Spirit comes as a dove, for he honours the body being seen “corpreally”, since He is also God by divinization. And since long ago the dove has been accustomed to announcing the good news of the flood’s end.
– Oration on the Holy Lights, 381 A.D.

Sunday of the Paralytic Man

A mystery might be defined as something hidden or veiled.

In Jesus our Lord the mystery was revealed, as St. Paul tells us, “the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past … has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27)

St. John Chrysostom also describes the mystery. He tells us that if an unbeliever enters a church during a baptism, all he sees is people being washed. But a believer sees people being reborn in the Spirit. The unbeliever sees only with the eyes of the body, the believer sees with the inner eyes of the soul.

When we are baptized all our body sees and feels is water, but by the Spirit our sins are washed away and we become children of God.

When we receive Holy Communion, all we see and taste with the eyes and mouth of the body is bread and wine. But with the eyes of the Spirit we see the forgiveness of sins and the bread of life. In baptism, we made a commitment to Christ and we renounced the slavery of sin. St. Paul: “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)”

Therefore, today’s story of the Paralytic Man. He sees the water of Bethesda, but it is the presence of God, Jesus our Lord come in the power of the Spirit, who gives him the strength to walk. This teaches us that by ourselves we cannot be healed or saved. We need the grace and strength of God to find forgiveness and life. Baptism is not just the day of our washing in water consecrated by the Spirit, it is renewed every day by our choice again and again to follow Christ day by day. Baptism, Communion, Forgiveness and Life are constant realities leading us to the fullness of life in Christ.