04 April 2010

On the Feast of Pascha

Christ is risen! Tonight death is vanquished, and human nature is restored. We celebrate the Feast of Feasts, and Festival of Festivals. We pass from death to life, and from earth to Heaven. We chant the hymn of victory. As Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos writes, ‘The Resurrection of Christ is the greatest event in history.’ [1]

I will not comment at length about this great Feast of Pascha, the beauty and significance of which are well beyond my ability to put into words. But there are a few things I’d like to share with those looking for a little Paschal reading. First, the lovely poem, ‘Easter’, by the 17th-c. English poet, George Herbert:

RISE heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
And multiplied;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever. [2]

Second, I would like to offer a passage from the First Festal Oration of St Gregory the Theologian, ‘On Pascha & on His Slowness’, wherein St Gregory relates the event of Christ’s Resurrection directly to our salvation:

5. Let us become like Christ, since Christ also became like us; let us become gods because of him, since he also because of us became human. He assumed what is worse that he might give what is better. He became poor that we through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor 8.9). He took the form of a slave (Phil 2.7), that we might regain freedom (Rom 8.21). He descended that we might be lifted up, he was tempted that we might be victorious, he was dishonored to glorify us, he died to save us, he ascended to draw to himself us who lay below in the Fall of sin. Let us give everything, offer everything, to the one who gave himself as a ranson and an exchange for us. But one can give nothing comparable to oneself, understanding the mystery and becoming because of him everything that he became because of us. [3]

Third, in a fascinating article on the mythological theme of the ‘dying god’, associated with Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, the Christian historian Henry Chadwick has argued against those who believe the observance of Easter to be some sort of thinly Christianised pagan festival:

The Christians simply took over from the Jews the feasts of Passover and Pentecost: why they did not also take the autumn festival of Tabernacles is a puzzle for the solution of which only very tenuous scraps of evidence survive. The origins of Easter as an annual festival lie simply in the continuing observance of the Passover meal among the Christian communities. Nothing could have been more natural. In this traditional form the rite was practised by the Christians before it acquired its full weight of interpretation as the unique annual festival of the resurrection of Christ. But in New Testament times, as can be seen from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the resurrection was being celebrated each week on the f irst day of ‘Lord’s Day’, dominica as the Latin Christians soon called it. It was not difficult to hold a special commemoration once a year on the Lord’s day which fell nearest to the Jewish Passover. Late in the 2nd century AD after some difficult controversy, the annual Easter festival was transferred from the original date, which always coincided with the synagogue Passover, to the following Sunday—that is, to the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

The myths of Attis, Adonis and Osiris were intended to explain the rites of the cult by referring to ‘events’ of immemorial antiquity; and by the 1st century BC they were generally understood as allegorical myths with a cosmological or psychological meaning. The Christians startled the contemporary world by declaring as sober record that their master who lived recently, and died under Pilate the governor, had risen again and was now living. It is evident from Paul’s dry catalogue in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, that they would not have existed as a community if they had not believed themselves to be reporting a fact. [4]

Finally, I urge all to read the wonderful short story, ‘A Village Easter: Memories of Childhood’, by the pious Greek writer, Alexandros Papadiamandis. [5] It will touch your heart and soul.

[1] Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, The Feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts & Orthodox Christology, tr. Esther Williams (Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2003), p. 241.

[2] The Works of George Herbert, in Prose & Verse, ed. Rev. Robert Aris Willmott (NY: D. Appleton & Co. 1857), pp. 34-5.

[3] St Gregory the Theologian, Festal Orations, tr. Nonna Verna Harrison (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2008), p. 59.

[4] Henry Chadwick, ‘Dying God’, Man, Myth, & Magic 26 (Maple Plain, MN: Purnell, 1971), p. 744.

[5] Alexandros Papadiamandis, ‘A Village Easter: Memories of Childhood’, tr. Andrew Watson, The Boundless Garden: Selected Short Stories, Vol. 1, ed. Fr Lambros Kamperidis & Denise Harvey (Limni, Evia, Greece: 2007), pp. 21-30.

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