THE PASCHAL SERMON
(which is read aloud in every Byzantine Church on the morning of the Great and Holy Pascha of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ)
If any man be devout and loves God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast! If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoice and enter into the joy of his Lord. If any has laboured long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any has laboured from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any has come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in no way be deprived because of that. If any has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. And if any has tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness. For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as to him who has laboured from the first hour. He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. He both accepts the deeds and welcomes the intention. He honours the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord; receive your reward, both first and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival! You sober and you heedless, honour the day! Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fattened; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown out from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of death has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. (All shout Embittered!) It was embittered, for it was abolished. (All shout Embittered!) It was embittered, for it was mocked. (All shout Embittered!) It was embittered, for it was slain. (All shout Embittered) It was embittered, for it was overthrown. (All shout Embittered!) It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. (All shout Embittered!) It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen. Oh Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is your victory? (All shout He is risen!) Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! (All shout He is risen!) Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! (All shout He is risen!) Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! (All shout He is risen!) Christ is risen, and life reigns! (All shout He is risen!) Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. (All shout He is risen!) For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruit of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
CRISTOS ANESTH - ALIQOS ANESTH
"If one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come."
2 Corinthians 5, 17
DEATH AND LIFE: JOURNEY INTO THE LIGHT
Have you ever flown overnight from West to East, from San Francisco to New York, or from Boston to Dublin? The night is compressed into a few hours and soon after take-off the light begins to spread over the horizon. At times, you have the sensation that the plane is hovering over the dividing line between darkness and light. Ahead, there is a display of colours that is unknown to those who walk on the ground. Behind, there is night. But light overcomes darkness, and eventually the wamth of the sun envelops all creation.
To have faith in the resurrection is to believe that our life is a joumey into light. But, then, why are we so sober? Why are our songs so subdued?
It is not easy for us to experience the same joy that erupted in the hearts of the disciples of Jesus at the news of his resurrection. We are accustomed to the Easter mesuge, to the monotonous repetition of the Creed: "I believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting." We heard it all, took it with no demur and then we returned to our occupations with no emotions. The capacity of a human being to reduce a wondrous deed to banality is remarkable.
The news of resurrection does not rip our hearts and the promise of immortality does not make us shout with joy, because our being has not been touched and shaken by the reality of death. To sing the Easter alleluia wholeheartedly, it is necessary to cry out of the depths of the valley of death.
The peoples of ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean. before the time of Christ were deeply preoccupied by the fact of their own mortality. They knew that man must die. Wars were frequent, so were plagues, and there was no modern medicine to take care of the sick. All were exposed to fatalities. And when death came there was nothing to embellish it, there was no attempt to cover it up. They understood that no matter how miserable this life could be, death remained the greatest tragedy. They looked for a remedy, and found none.
When mankind is searching something consciously or unconsciously, the discovery of it makes news. Indeed, the cry that Jesus was risen from the dead made news. It made resounding news! People listened. Some believed, some did not. But for all it dealt with a burning issue. In no time the message rebounded from one end of the known world to the other. Many of those who believed died for the truth of it. Many of those who did not believe mounted a systematic campaign against it. In one way or another they were interested.
Our world is different. We have little knowledge of our mortality; consequently, not much desire for immortality. The experience of the harsh reality of death, has been eliminated from our consciousness, and in most cases has been left to doctors, nuns and priests trained to deal with awkward situations. Polite persons do not talk about death; if they must speak of it, they avoid the term. Death takes place often enough away from the family in an antiseptic and impersonal environment. The true face of the dead is hardly ever seen. The traces of his final agony and the peace that his last surrender brings are covered over by the subtle mask the undertaker puts on him. The wake is rarely a reunion in sadness, prayer and hope. Often enough, it is a perfunctory social function hiding the harsh reality with sophisticated techniques.
We do not appreciate immortality because we have no experience of mortality. Our faith in the Resurrection is weak because we are not convinced that we must die. The unbelief is hardly ever explicit; it is an attitude, a subtle attempt to escape. It springs from thoughtlessness. After all, much in our life conspires to make us avoid questions about any ultimate reality. The pressure of business keeps us captive during the day, the screen of the television holds our senses in suspense late into the night Another day brings no redemption;just the same thoughtless routine.
There is no universal remedy against such a state of things; no general liberation is in sight from such inhumanity. Only those will be freed who have the courage to, seek out personally the harsh reality of death, and through facing it, they discover their own innate desire for immortality. They must go through the valley of death, out of its depths they must cry before they can erupt in joy and sing their alleluia at the news of the resurrection.
Then they understand the meaning of the journey Jesus made: there was a man who has passed through the valley of death, but returned to life, showed himself to his friends, and lives with a life that knows no end.
More than ever we Christians need the experience of the joy that follows the promise of resurrection. But what a hard way to reach it! We must joumey through darkness before we can see the light: we must know the tragedy of death before our whole being can expand at the news of the resurrection.
But once this journey is accomplished, we can sing the alleluia anew; the alleluia that rebounds on Easter Day from one ead of the earth to the other.
Christ is risen, and we shall rise with him.
I. Orsy S.J.
"Why do you seek the living One among the dead?" In fact a sepulchre was not the place to look for the risen One. (St. Bede)
"He has risen": Let us therefore rejoice and exult because the Lord, by His resurrection, has brought peace and desired salvation to all. Let us rejoice, because we see how He, Who submitted Himself to death for all, has arisen from the dead. Let us exult, because we may rejoice with Him, now reigning; and rejoice because of the grace which He, in His mercy will not only be fortified by the solace of faith, but will never be separated from this faith. Let us therefore, always be to all an example of virtue. (St. Maximus)
FRUIT – Jesus said: I am the Resurrection and the Life, and He substantiated this with facts. Let us increase our faith; the Savior will raise us from the dead.
SUNDAY OF ST THOMAS
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO DO NOT SEE, AND YET BELIEVE
Christians are the ones who caught a glimpse of a new universe. It is different from all that man has known before. It is beyond space and time. Its immensity and its eternity is revealed in the person of the Risen Christ who visited us by passing tghrough our closed doors and who spoke to us about life that knows no end.
Christians are like those pilgrims who in ancient times walked toward Rome but, before entering the city, stopped on the hill outside it and contemplated the sacred place, the churches and the towers, through a gentle haze. But pilgrims could move into the city as they wanted. Christians cannot at their good pleasure move into the world they see through the haze of faith. They must wait and wonder what is beyond it all. To be a Christian means to live on the edge of the unknown.
No one likes to stand for long on any edge. Some want to belong solidly to the land from where they come. Some want to be adventurous and explore the strange places beyond the land. To live too close to the unknown that both attracts and frightens can be upsetting.
To be a Christian means to be content to wait on the edge of unknown spaces. To wait means to live with questions for which there are no answers; not for the time being.
Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. Since they have questions without answers, their mind is frustrated. Since they sense God’s presence, their heart is filled with gladness. The paradox of the beatitudes is there.
Blessed are those who have no answers and yet believe; because they have learned to live with God’s own mysteries.
I. Orsy S.J.
THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST
It is the feast of Our Lord's departure from earth which took place in the presence of His disciptes. This event, forty days after His resurrection, is a fundamental article of our faith and was predicted by Christ, John 6, 63; 14, 2.
His work on earth completed, Our Lord took His disciples to Mount Olivet, near Bethany, renewed His promise to send them the Holy Spirit and while blessing them He ascended into heaven, Acts 1, 11; Mark 16,19; Luke 24, 50.
The feast, which St. Augustine asserts is of apostolic origin, is celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter. In the Eastern Church the feast is called "the Taking Up", and "the Salvation", the latter title being a testimony to the Ascension as the completion of Christ's work of redemption.
THE ADVANTAGES OF THE ASCENSIONwere great both for the Apostles and for us. In fact, on the tenth day He sent the Holy Spirit, Who filled all the faithful present, according to His promise: It is better for you that I go; for if I do not go, the Consoler will not come to you. He ascended into Heaven to appear before God to our advantage and to act as our Advocate before the Father. Nor is there a more certain fountain from which we can draw greater joy and happiness of spirit, than to know that we have a Mediator of our cause, an Intercessor of our salvation, Jesus Christ Himself, Who enjoys with the Father the highest grace and authority. Finally, He has prepared a place for us in Heaven, and by entering it first He has opened its gates and made the way easy for us.
THE SENDING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Pentecost is a major Jewish and Christian feast. Celebrated among the Jews on the fiftieth day after the 16th of Nisan (the word is derived from the Greek for fiftieth), it is usually called the "Feast of Weeks" or the "Feast of the First-Fruits" in the Old Testament, Ex. 34, 22; Num. 28, 26). The Christian feast is celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus, Acts 2, 1 ff., an event that took place on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. On this day Christ sent, as He had promised, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach, strengthen and guard His Church. As soon as the apostles received the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost they lost the fear that had possessed them, boldly emerged to preach the Gospel and baptized thousands. Thus the Holy Spirit began His work of enlightenment and sanctification in the Church, a work which He continues for all time as the soul of Christ's Mystical Body.
The Christian feast is also called Whitsunday because converts, baptized the previous day, used to wear their white baptismal robes on Pentecost Sunday. Since the revision of the rubrics, only three feasts now have octaves - Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. Only Easter and Pentecost have octaves of the first class; the days within these two octaves are of the first class.
WITHOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT,
God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organisation,
authority is a matter of domination,
mission a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy no more than an evocation,
Christian living a slave morality …
BUT IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,
the Risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission is a Pentecost,
the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.
MY CREED FOR THE NEW YEAR
THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
THE ROYAL WAY OF THE HOLY CROSS
There is no health of soul nor hope of eternal life but in the cross
To many this seems a hard saying: "Deny yourself, takes up your crossi and follow Jesus." Mt 16, 24.
But it will be much harder to hear that last word: "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire." Mt 25, 41.
For they who now willingly hear and follow the word of the cross shall not then be afraid of eternal condemnation.
This sign of the cross will be in heaven when the Lord shall come to judge.
Then all the servants of the cross, who in their lifetime have conformed themselves to the Crucified, shall come to Christ their judge with great confidence.
Why then are you afraid to take up your cross, which leads to a kingdom?
In the cross is salvation; in the cross is life; in the cross is protection from your enemies.
In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the cross is strength of mind; in the cross is joy of spirit.
In the cross is the height of virtue; in the cross is the perfection of sanctity.
There is no health of soul nor hope of eternal life but in the cross.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
JESUS FORETELLS HIS DEATH
Nothing does so much establish the mind amidst the rollings and turbulency of present things, as both a look above them, and a look beyond them; above them to the good and steady Hand by which they are ruled, and beyond them to the sweet and beautiful end to which, by that Hand, they shall be brought. Study pure and holy walking, if you would have your confidence firm, and have boldness and joy in God. You will find that a little sin will shake your trust and disturb your peace more than the greatest sufferings: indeed, in those sufferings, your assurance and joy in God will grow and abound most if sin be kept out. So much sin as gets in, so much peace will go out.
ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL
IF THE PRAYER OF A MULTITUDE DELIVERED PAUL FROM DANGERS(2 Cor. 1, 2), is it not our duty to expect that we also shall derive great benefit from this advocacy? For although weak when praying by ourselves, when we are assembled we become stronger, and prevail with God by our numbers and our unanimity. So great is the power of the supplication of a multitude. Thou canst indeed pray at home, but thy prayer has not such great force as when it is made in company with thine own fellow-members, as when the body of the Church in its entirety sends up its prayer with one voice, while the priests are present, aud are offering up the prayers of the universal multitude. Would you learn how great is the power of prayer made in the Church? Peter was once bound in the prison, and fettered with many a chain; but "prayer was being made with earnestness by the Church for him," and straightway it released him from the prison. What then can be more powerful than prayer, which assisted the pillars and towers of the Church? For Paul and Peter were pillars and towers of the Church; and prayer loosened the bonds of one, and opened the mouth of the other Eph. 6, 19.
St. John Chrysostom
Christian Readings - Home