This week has been Holy Week for millions around the world who are part of the Orthodox Church. It is the final week before we celebrate Pascha and the world changing resurrection of Christ.
It is my custom to write a reflection before Pascha. Our service begins at midnight, but we generally try and arrive by 11pm to get a seat. We enter into the nave in darkness with only a few candles burning and someone chanting the Psalms. Just before midnight, the bells begin to ring, and the room goes completely dark. At midnight, our priests begin to chant “Thy Resurrection, O Christ Our Savior, the Angels in Heaven sing. Enable us on Earth to Glorify Thee in Purity of Heart.” The senior priest then comes out, a candle in hand and says “Come! Receive the light!” The people surge to the front, candles in hand, and receive the light either from the priest or from each other. It is glorious! It gets even better, but I’ve described this before in this space, so I won’t go into detail other than to say that there is an enormous amount of joy, hundreds of “Christ is Risens” in every language that is present in our parish, and it all ends with a huge feast at 4am.
So now, at 7 pm with several hours to go, I enter my reflective space.
During these last weeks of Lent, I have been listening to the audio version of the Narnia series – specifically The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy.
My connection to Narnia started in childhood when my mom would read to us during the evenings when we were on vacation from boarding school. Dressed in pajamas and curled comfortably in the living room or on my parents’ bed we would listen to tales of an enchantress, winter, and a lion who was not safe but was good. We heard stories of talking horses and boys turned into dragons, of Puddleglum and a giant mouse called Reepicheep, and finally of a poor donkey manipulated by an evil and cunning ape into dressing as a lion and a final battle that opened the door to a new world “farther up and farther in.” These stories captured my imagination, and I would dream of doors in our world that led to worlds beyond like Narnia.
As a teenager and then adult, I began reading the series on my own, never growing tired of the stories and metaphors, the word pictures and wisdom that the Narnia series offered.
As I have listened to this during Holy Week, the author’s brilliance in capturing this timeless story has struck me anew. It has been profound to listen to this during this time of the year.
On this eve before Pascha, I think about the climactic event from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Aslan, innocent of any wrongdoing, took on the punishment of Edmund, and was brutally killed at the hand of the White Witch.
But that wasn’t the true climax or the end of the story. The story was bigger, deeper, and more powerful than the White Witch could ever know. And the gift of understanding this was first given to Susan and Lucy by Aslan as he conquered death.
Consider these words:
At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.
“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”
“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
“There is a magic deeper still”,,, I don’t for a moment believe that my faith is magic, but I do believe in my deepest soul that there is a mystery so big and so deep that I will never fully understand it in this life, that the greatest love imaginable in heaven or on earth has been given to us through the Resurrection. I do believe that before time dawned Christ “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages” the Redeemer knew what was to be. This is one of the glories of Pascha, that I get to both experience and bear witness to a collective, community gathering of celebration, entering into the timeless truth of Christ’s resurrection and what it means for the human race.
“Looking back into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned…” As I enter into the wee hours of the morning, I will once again reflect on this mystery and what it means for me and millions of others around the globe.
And with that, I will say:
Xristos Anesti! Χριστός ανέστη
المسيح قام Al Masih Qam
Hristos a Inviat!
Christ is Risen!
Indeed, He is Risen!
Image – Coptic Cairo, 2016