By Rev. Fr. Alexander Lukashonok, M.Div
All too often among Christians, the celebration of the Pascha of our Lord Jesus Christ is viewed as the end. Our Lenten journey comes to a conclusion with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and now we can relax and forget about the Church, for the Victory has been won. This understanding is very dangerous, because it could make the Great Fast into a temporary superhuman event which in turn isolates Pascha from our every day life. We could easily place our religious duties into a small 40 day compartment, and then get on with our lives. How wrong! Such an understanding actually defeats the purpose of Lent, and maybe time will have been wasted, and thus we have sinned even worse. Liturgically, the Church does not hide the conclusion of Pascha, nor does she ever stop celebrating the Resurrection. The Resurrection is the reality in which the Church prays and gathers; the Eighth Day remains constant, firmly planted in the seven day weekly cycle. Thus, the Fast is given in light of Pascha, alongside it, and even after it.
The Fast is meant to be a time of rebirth, always meditating upon God‘s Word, while at the same time benefiting from, celebrating and living in the Grace that comes directly through the Empty Tomb from the Risen Lord. This repentance is a standard part, constantly present in the Christian life from our baptism to our death, our “shoes” if you will along the path to the Kingdom of God. It is this path precisely which Christ on the Cross has created, and which our Lord offers to man. It is the promise of good things to come, and to live forever in the Kingdom, but it requires a decision, to live by faith. One has to, first, believe that this path has been created by the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and second, one has to decide to take the same road and “follow Him.” (Mat. 4.19) To where, He has gone, we must desire to go also, and we can arrive there only by the same way by which Christ has arrived there: by a righteous life totally obedient to God. This obedience brought Jesus to the Cross, and it will also undoubtedly bring us also to a crux [‘cross’] with this world, and our love affair with a lawless life, rebellious to God, will have to be crucified. St. Paul affirms this saying that it is by the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which this world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” (Galatians 5.14) Yet, remember “God has gone up with a shout, with the sound of a trumpet.” (Psalm 47) He showed power and gloriously ascended to the Father and sits at His right hand, never to leave us alone. Therefore, this also awaits the Christian, and inspires us “to choose first the Kingdom of God” and then the other things in life.
The Law of God has never changed, God has always desired that man repent and live, but the choice is ours. In Deuteronomy 30.15-18, God makes the choice clear:
See I have set before you this day, life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God…by loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statues, and His ordinances, then you will live, multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering [in order] to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them. I declare to you this day, that you will die you will not live long in the land into which you going, over the Jordan, to enter and possess it.
. The whole promise of salvation is contingent on man’s faith in God. Even the two paths life and death, are explained in expanded terms of good and evil. Will man be virtuous or will commit evil deeds? In Deuteronomy, the Israelites know to where they are going, the “Promised Land” as Christians today know to where they are going, and the intent of the Israelites is also the Christian intent, “to enter it and possess it.” St Paul reminds us in Thessalonians that sinners and righteous, believers and non-believers will all have a Resurrection, but not all will be seated at the Heavenly Banquet with our Lord in His Kingdom. So, it is possible, to be resurrected, to come to the Kingdom and to be turned away! That is, not to “take possession of it” in the words of Deuteronomy. Thus, do not be indifferent to Christ’s Victory, taking it for granted, but accept this great gift and offer the correct response: gratitude and reciprocal love. St Paul writes, “working together with [Jesus], then, we entreat you not to accept the Grace of God in vain.” (2 Cor. 6.1)
Pascha is the Victory of our Savior over our enemy: sin and death. He defeated death by not sinning, by listening to God It is important for the modern Christian to understand that after we join ourselves to Christ and His Pascha, we must have a personal Pascha as well, demonstrative of our Baptism, the joining to Christ and His death and resurrection, and our pledge to be holy. The Pascha of Christ does not gloss over our lives and give us the free “get out of jail card.” We do not all automatically go to heaven and we can not all make this assumption. We will all have to answer for the time that is given to us, and for our actions, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” (2 Cor. 5.10)
Jesus had a ministry, a word given to Him by God, to save mankind. He was born and matured and lived among men, specifically in order to be crucified for our sins. He did not come to see how we were doing. He did not come to give us a secret knowledge, or a new teaching, nothing had changed, except man’s dire and hopeless existence. Man lived on the earth succumbing to death, and to die and exist in hell without any hope of the Grace of God, and the gift of His eternal life. “God sent His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not die but have everlasting life.” (John 3.16) Our Lord has worked out our salvation in the center of the world, making it a public event and not a clandestine mission for the few, the elite. To proclaim the cross and resurrection is the ministry of the Church, beseeching men and women to “be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5.20)
Today, as we begin the annual celebration of the Resurrection of Christ let us be enlivened by the Holy Spirit to choose life and do good. The Feast of Feasts is not the end of our Church liturgical life but the beginning of the Christian life and the New Covenant. Having worked hard during the Great Fast because of Pascha, let us be recharged to live the way God has instructed, by following His commands. Let this be the new manner of living, fit for the “new creation” and worthy of the Pascha of Beauty. One can only take the Lenten journey as a baptized Christian, and come to stand in the Church on the Eighth Day, the Day of the Lord, and proclaim like St Mary of Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord!” TVOO