The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 24 “On Pascha, Sophia Maria & Isaac”


The Orthodox hymn gets in your brain and you find yourself wanting to belt it out in loud measure everywhere you go.

Christ is risen from the dead, 
trampling down death by death.
And upon those in the tombs 
bestowing life! 

Pascha in the Orthodox Church begins with a darkened sanctuary. The light of one candle is held by the priest and as one we move forward as he calls us to “Come, take the light!” Candles now light up the church and we head outside around the church as though to the tomb. We come back to the door of the church and are told “He’s not here – He is risen from the Dead!” As we enter again into the sanctuary we move forward in joyous hymns and priests rushing joyfully into the congregation declaring in many different languages “Christ is Risen!” to which we reply in various languages “Indeed! He is Risen!” or “In Truth, He is Risen!”

And all this happens between midnight and three in the morning.

The first time I went to a Pascha service I lasted from 11:30 until 12:30. I was beyond reluctant – I was like “You all are, in my daughter’s words, ‘cray-cray’ (the vernacular for crazy)” Now I’m like “When will I get to take grandchildren to this glorious service?!”

A lot has happened in 11 years. And today – Holy Saturday – the reluctance was buried in an Orthodox Baptism, and as reluctance died, acceptance rose. Yes – my husband and I were baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church. We were cheered on by a church body that has loved us well these past couple of years, by a Poppadia (priest’s wife) who walked beside me these past weeks, even when I sent emails saying “I can’t do this thing!”, and by two priests who we trust and who have heard the bad, the hard, and the ugly, telling us there’s nothing we could tell them that they haven’t already heard in some form or another and assuring us that God’s grace covers all.

This is not new information. I was taught and loved well in my life by parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, friends. So many who have reflected love and grace and the very best of Christianity. But as I’ve said before, sometimes old information needs new clothing. And so it has been in our case.

We celebrate Pascha as “Sophia Maria (Marilyn)” and “Isaac (Cliff).” I figure that two saints are better than one. The lives of both Sophia and Maria (Mary of Egypt) exemplify Wisdom and Repentance and I find I am in need of both of those, in abundance. You can read up on their lives here and here.

This step in no way erases all reluctance or all questions. Indeed, the more I learn the more I realize this Grace is a mystery and confounds much of the time. I’ll be writing a bit more in later posts on going from reluctance to acceptance; on being Sophia Maria; on legalism and grace; and on some of the more humorous ‘mistakes’ I have made (including calling the priest’s wife a “PoppaDokka” and our son calling Father Patrick “Pope Shenouda.”

But tonight I celebrate Pascha, Sophia Maria, and Isaac.

Because with Christians all around the world I sing the words:

Christ is risen from the dead, 
trampling down death by death.
And upon those in the tombs 
bestowing life! 

“*A few drops of blood recreate the whole world and become for all human beings like a curdling agent for milk, binding and drawing us together into one.” 

Nazianzen, Gregory. Festal Orations. Trans. Verna E. F. Harrison. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2008. Print.

Baptismal photo credit: Dn Tudor Sambeteanu



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18 thoughts on “The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 24 “On Pascha, Sophia Maria & Isaac”

  1. Congratulations and many years! What a joyous event, the end of one long journey and the continuation/beginning of another. I’ve so enjoyed and appreciated your reflections on reluctant Orthodoxy and look forward to reading many more.


  2. Yay!! Many congratulations to you! Christ is risen!! We also got chrismated on Holy Saturday back in 2006. Pascha is such a wonderful time to join the OC. I hope you had a beautiful Pascha and feasted a lot!! :)


    1. Karissa – I love hearing this! I thought about you that afternoon – some things that only Orthodox would truly appreciate were these: We had two priests because it was my husband and me – so when he was reading out one of the beginning passages and it’s sort of the big “name reveal” he leans forward and says “What’s your name?” to which I reply “Sophia Maria” and he does a double take “What” he whispers. 10 people shout “Sophia Maria.” and we all start to giggle. Then when I’m being tonsured the priest who I don’t know as well has the scissors and is going for my hair. Fr. Patrick – who knows me well :) grabs the scissors and says “If she’s going to be mad at anybody, she’s going to be mad at me” – thanks so much for your congratulations. It’s a good journey. Can’t’ wait to meet you some day and talk about all this.


  3. Marilyn, Blessings to you and to Cliff as you have made this new step in your spiritual journies with the Lord. I have not read your previous blogs about this step but will do so. I did see that your son had taken this step. It has been a beautiful Easter for us and I know it has been for you as well.


  4. Congratulations! My favorite advice I ever heard given to a newly illumined Orthodox Christian: on the eighth day after baptism, when, in the ancient church, a newly baptized Christian would remove the white baptismal garment and become a “regular” member, I heard a priest tell a new convert that one day, sooner or later, she would look around and realize that the church was full of hypocrites. The good news, he said, is that there is room for one more.


  5. Thanks for giving me something beautiful to read as we prepare for this Feast of all Feasts. So glad we are now in communion with one another. As Sayedna Philip (of blessed memory) would say, “WELCOME HOME!”


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