Pascha - what in the world could be more radiant, majestic or joyful? All the living things - people, animals and plants down to the tiniest blade of grass - are a part of its universal jubilation.
No two Paschas are alike. All are unique and full of blessings. The Paschal joy transcends the universe. It reaches down to the gloomiest, darkest and most hopeless corners and brings light even to the most sorrowful and unbelieving souls. In the words of Saint John Chrysostom, all rejoice in our Saviour's resurrection, those who kept the fast and those who did not, Christians and unbelievers, every human being and the whole universe.
Christ's resurrection from the dead enlightens the world, and our experiences of it are like diamonds that glow in His light and add to the brilliance of this great feast. Let me share with you some of the highlights of the Great and Holy Pascha at different times of my life.
The first Pascha that comes to my memory was in my school years. I was with my brother, who also went to school. We were a couple of young atheists and enthusiastic believers in a bright and happy future without God. We viewed religious faith as something backward. We scoffed at the idea of God. Space travel was our dream, astronauts were our deities. We spent most of our Great lent with our grandmother. We were having fun listening to loud music, dancing and fighting. We were a disobedient lot and were a handful for our grandmother. Only on Passion week did she ask us to turn the television off. Her request came as a shock, but we listened. In the silence of the flat, our grandmother, a devout faster, was humming something to herself as she was frying pork stakes in a sizzling pan.
The next thing I remember was the Pascha. The smell of spring was everywhere. A snow-white tablecloth covered the table, and standing on it were the traditional Paschal treats - dark-red dyed eggs, the semi-sweet Paschal bread, called Kulich, and corned beef. Our grandmother had put on her best clothes and was standing next to the table. She greeted us with a hug and a kiss and exclaimed, "Christ is risen!" "Truly He has risen," replied our parents. We felt obliged to follow suit. "Truly He has risen," we chanted.
We all sat at the table in the light of the warm sun. Our grandmother was glowing with joy. We marvelled as we looked forward to a warm summer and an exciting life ahead. What a great day! It gave us great joy to spend it with our beloved parents and grandmother. We wished that it could last forever.
The next Pascha that comes to my mind was many years later. We celebrated it with my husband. We had just joined a church choir and spent the entire passion week singing at every service at a church in a Moscow suburb. We were both fully exhausted. Yet, as it sometimes happens after many days of great strain, the last night before the Pasca, suddenly brought us relief.
It was our first Pascha after we converted to Christ. We were hurrying to the Church for the matins, and we were desperately late. The service was about to begin at any moment, but we still had a long way to go, and my husband's legs began to ache. Suddenly, by some miracle of God, time almost stopped flowing. We could not believe it. We did not take our eyes off our watches for a moment. We knew that we were late for an important service, and we were upset.
Suddenly, the hands of our watches went still. We made it on time. The Lord had mercy on us, an imperceptive couple of newlyweds and new converts running down a dirt road towards a rural church in the environs of Moscow. He gave us the miracle we asked for when we needed it the most.
Our next Pascha a year later came at a very difficult moment for us both. My husband was in the hospital at the opposite end of Moscow. I spent all my days travelling between the church, work, and hospital. I came home in the early hours of the morning for a few moments of sleep. I felt as if I was running a marathon where I could win a gold medal but would be put to death if I lost. The Passion Week was over, and I had just finished singing the last Paschal hymn at church. Christ had risen, and I was on my way to my husband to bring him the good news. I had picked up some Paschal eggs dyed dark-red, and a large piece of the Kulich. After a train and metro ride, I finally get on a bus for the final leg of my journey. Suddenly, through the cracks of the audio system, I heard the driver saying, "Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, Christ is risen!" "Truly He is risen," responded the passengers in a chorus. Even a group of Muslims on the bus joined in the exchange of greetings. Like a flash of lightning, some unexpected joy illuminates even the most rebellious souls.
Joyfully, I reached the hospital and met my husband. He also felt upbeat. "Give me a piece of the Kulich. I will give it to a lonely old man on my ward and greet him on the Pascha." He returned a few moments later in excitement. "He kissed my hand and cried. He was touched, and he said he had never received a more cordial paschal greeting in his life." As I continued to cut the pieces, my husband proceeded with his round of his friends and acquaintances in hospital. Every Pascha in our lives brings joy and magic; and each reminds us of the same fundamental truth - that we were born to resurrect. The risen Lord saves us by His mercy. He fills our callous souls with compunction, gratefulness and a sense of belonging.
Our Paschal days are our moments of closeness, even to strangers. We become partakers of God's infinite love for all of His creations - the lonely old man, the carefree couple of newlyweds, and even the young faithless believers in the bright future of a world without God.
This homily, written in 2008, is published in blessed memory of the recently departed Metropolitan Filaret, the Patriarchal Exarch Emeritus of All Belarus. A tireless advocate of Orthodoxy, he argues that God is the same forever.
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