The Resilient Orthodox: Pre-Paschal Reflections on Faith

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It’s Saturday evening and bright, soon-to-set sunlight still shines through our windows. It is a blessed contrast from what the weather has been for the past two months and we delight in it.

It has been quiet around Communicating Across Boundaries this past week for it has been Holy Week in the Orthodox tradition. It began with Palm Sunday last week and took us through somber and reflective services until last night’s Lamentations service to commemorate the death and burial of Christ. It is at this service when we walk through Allston – a busy area where bars meet with restaurants and students, where the sacred seems difficult to find – with a decorated bier chanting “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have Mercy on Us.” People stop and openly stare for it is a sharp contrast to the world that surrounds us.

And then today the somber tone turned to joy–Great and Holy Saturday. In Orthodox tradition this is one of the most important days of the year, where we believe Christ descended to Hades. Madeleine L’Engle puts it well “Where was Jesus on that extraordinary day between the darkness of Good Friday and the brilliance of Easter Sunday? He was down in hell. And what was he doing there? He was harrowing hell, or to put it in simpler words, he was ministering to the damned.” We have an icon of this – the Resurrection Icon where Jesus reaches down with strength and unyielding power, taking hold of Adam with one hand and Eve with the other, rescuing them from Hades. It is an incredibly powerful depiction of this event between Good Friday and Easter.

All week there has been a sense of something big coming, but today even more so, for tonight is our Pascha — our Easter celebration. We will gather at the church around midnight and celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Our priests will stride through the crowd shouting “Christ is Risen” in many languages and the joy will be palpable. In the wee hours of the morning we will end the celebration with a feast to top all feasts – lamb, ham, chicken, special Paschal cheeses and breads, fruit, cream, chocolate – it will all be there and in abundance for we have kept a fast, free of dairy or meat for seven weeks. Tonight, that ends and feasting begins.

So there is much to anticipate, much to look forward to, but now I sit in the quiet and think about the mystery of faith.

We all live by faith. Whether we acknowledge it or not, faith is a huge part of what it is to be human. Make no mistake – even if we believe nothing, we walk in faith. Some would argue it takes more faith to believe in nothing than to believe in a god or gods.

Woven through our life journey is a journey of faith. We’re all born – whether it be in Shanghai, Karachi, Los Angeles, or a million other places around the world. We all go through early stages of childhood where we are shaped for better, or sometimes, for worse. We move on into later years and our lives are shaped by circumstances, our response to those circumstances, those around us, and faith.

Our spiritual journey can include many events and even more emotions. Perhaps we’ve gone through a period where we are so angry at God that we feel bile rise in our throats. Perhaps we have yelled to the Heavens that life is unfair. Other times maybe we have questioned whether God is good, or whether there is universal truth. And throughout this journey life happens: friendships are formed, marriages made, babies birthed, funerals attended.

There was a time when I saw this faith journey as black and white. If I deviated from the path then there would be unforgivable consequences. There was a “perfect will of God path” and I had to find it. More recently I’m grateful for ‘process’; that God is a God of process. He takes the clay that he has and molds it, shapes it, and then often reshapes it – an artist that works with our soul and our character, creating something worthy, something beautiful, something that reflects its maker. There was a time when I thought the struggle was a problem, that it had to be eliminated. Through my own struggles and the struggles of those I love I have found that the struggle can and should be honored.

But there are those other times like the one I anticipate tonight – when my faith is celebrated with joy and in community. When I don’t try to make sense of this journey, but accept the mystery and grace that are a part of it. Where I take the body and blood of Christ, “not for judgement or for condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body.”*

So now I sit in the quiet, watching the sunlight fade, grateful for this week, this day, this faith. 

*From the end of the prayer before receiving Holy Communion.

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/pottery-potter-s-wheel-crock-457445/ Word Art by Marilyn R. Gardner

5 thoughts on “The Resilient Orthodox: Pre-Paschal Reflections on Faith

  1. I wish you the joy of Christ’s Resurrection! I wish you the fullness of feasting after the long weeks of lenten fasting. I wish you true hope and deep Shalom! Christ is Risen!

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  2. Thank you, Marilyn. I share your joy as I have often shared your struggles and pray all the blessings of knowing the living risen Christ, alive forevermore!

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