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Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen! From the Paschal Message of St. John Chrysostom:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in no wise be deprived there of. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor 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 fatted; 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 forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it 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. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. 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.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

About the Author: St. John Chrysostom (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time. He had notable ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek Χρυσόστομος, “golden-mouthed.” The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint (feast day, November 13) and counts him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (feast day, January 30), together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. (from orthodoxwiki.org)

Women’s Day Retreat to be Held this Saturday

The abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Mother Christophora (Matychak) will lead women in a day retreat devoted to prayer, worship, fellowship, and mutual support from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, 2017. Worship will bookend the retreat with the Memorial Divine Liturgy for the second Saturday of Lent in the morning (9 a.m.) and Great Vespers in the evening (6 p.m.). Services will take place at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, 119 S. Sparks Street, State College, with sessions and meals taking place next door at the Trinity House Ministry Center, 123 S. Sparks Street.

The retreat, entitled “Preparing for Christ,” will examine the life of Princess Ileana of Romania, who became Mother Alexandria and the founder of Transfiguration Monastery. Using the theme of prayer and watchfulness with the biblical book of Nehemiah and Holy Tuesday’s Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids as backdrops, Mother Christophora will offer two sessions of instruction with a group discussion after each one. A third session allowing participants an additional time for questions will conclude the day spent together. 

Mother Christophora will be joined by Mother Seraphima, née Sister Helene (Krenitsky), a Penn State graduate and former president of the Penn State Orthodox Christian Fellowship (Mechanical Engineering, ’05) who joined Transfiguration Monastery in 2009 and was recently tonsured to Little Schema by Archbishop Nathaniel, the monastery’s overseer, on December 31, 2016.

The schedule is as follows:

9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.  — Memorial Divine Liturgy
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. — Continental Breakfast/Fellowship
11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. — Session I
12:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. — Lunch
2:00 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. — Session II
3:15pm – 4:00 p.m. — Time for Q&A

The retreat is offered to all area women free of charge and is sponsored by Holy Trinity’s Women’s Ministry. Attendance at the ministry’s Tuesday night bible studies on Nehemiah this Spring will be a benefit to participants, but is not required; and all women are welcome to attend one or all of the sessions and meals. (Registration is required, however, so an appropriate amount of food can be prepared.) Please email women@holytrinity-oca.org or call 814-231-2855 to learn more or to RSVP.

 

Some Advice from our Parents Sessions

by Dn. Mark Oleynik

Advice: You can hardly go anywhere without getting it from someone or something, whether it be from the magazine rack at the checkout line, the millions of self-help books, the television shows that are on 24/7, or your co-workers, neighbors, and family. Just open the browser on your computer or phone and you could miss several meals getting immersed in trying to find the best way to get a fast start in the morning to how to get a good night’s rest—and everything in between. Even more, we are mostly being given advice without asking. (Good thing most of the time, it’s free.)

The right place to start looking for good advice is in your Bible since Paul tells Timothy that all scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). You can also look to your elders, clergy, and to people whom you respect and have something in common.

During one of our Parents Sessions, parents were asked to provide what advice they would give to other Orthodox Christian parents for raising a child. Here are some of their pearls of wisdom:

  • Pray more for them and with them every day.
  • Support your spouse.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know what you are doing.
  • Look for comfort and answers in the Bible.
  • Pause: you don’t need to answer every question immediately.
  • Stay in touch with the Church, your faith, and trust God.
  • Teach by example.
  • There will be many bumps in the road.  Think ahead.
  • Make the Church relevant and alive to them every day.  
  • Don’t worry about small things worry about eternal things.
  • Listen carefully to everything kids say and teach them to listen to others.
  • Go to church as much as possible and as often as possible.
  • When bad things do happen, assess if it will be important in ten minutes and/or in ten years.
  • Use the saints as examples of real heroes. 
  • Love regardless.
  • Trust your kids.
  • Make every opportunity an opportunity for kids to realize others needs before their own.
  • Simplify your life and enjoy your children.
  • Read Scripture at mealtime.
  • You create normal for your children. Icons, prayers, church aren’t weird or counter-cultural when your child is immersed in the life of the Church.
  • Let your children be themselves. 
  • God’s love is unending—make sure you child understands no matter what God will still love him or her—and so will you. 
Editor’s Note: Parents Sessions are held monthly after the Liturgy. Topics discussed focus on the challenges and joys of raising Orthodox Christian children in a secular world. All parents are invited (your child need not be enrolled in Sunday School.)

Christmas: Will it Be a Joy or a Letdown?

by Dn. Mark Oleynik

IMG_0378Many years ago, I had a conversation with a friend the day after Christmas and he said something which surprised me. He sadly said, “There is nothing more done than Christmas.” This was surprising because he was the most joyful and outgoing person you would ever want to meet—and a real ambassador of Christ. I learned much later that it was at that precise time he was going through a personal tragedy and that year Christmas was quite difficult for him. Fortunately, in time his pain eased and he was back to his old self. But I never forgot his words and what they meant to him that day.

In preparing for the Nativity of our Lord, most parents try to teach their children to be joyful givers. But we all know a child’s focus on Christmas is on “getting the gifts” and it’s probably likewise true for many adults. Most assuredly, parents do their best to provide at least some of items from their child’s wish list not to mention gifts for their spouse, parents, and friends. But when the presents are all unwrapped, the Christmas meal is over, and the house is probably turned upside down from the children and all the guests—do you feel kind of let-down? Do you feel Christmas is done?

In just the few short weeks preceding Christmas emotions are built up to a fever pitch: the shopping and baking, the plans to be made, and the endless commercials for the latest-and-greatest, all mixed in between the innumerable Christmas movies. To top it off, research shows that for many Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year. Not only sad memories of those who are no longer with them—but often the tragedies witnessed both in their families and in the world at large provide stark contrast to joy of the season. So, given the combination of too much emotion, too much excitement, too much to eat and to drink, and just the general chaos of the season…is it any wonder you might feel a slight letdown?

Certainly you and your family will receive wished-for presents, but will you receive the real gift at Christmas—the gift of Christ Himself? His peace, and joy, and presence in whom we find the only lasting source of Life. The true gift giver on this  and every day is Christ, but you must include Him on your Christmas list—invite Him to be the most important part of your life and your family’s life. Amidst all of the worship and singing of our grace and our customs, plan to take personal and family time and ask the Savior, “Lord, come and dwell with my family and me this day. Be by our side so that we may know and walk with you throughout all our days.”

If you have eyes to see it, the world is flooded with His joy. If you have the heart to receive it, your life will be touched by His. And if you have faith to live it, He will be with you all your days, and all your hours. For behold, truly we all have been given good news of great joy – for unto us, if we will receive Him, is born into our hearts Christ the Savior. And if we will receive this gift for Christmas, all our days will be blessed.

So what do you really want to receive this Christmas? What will you allow God to give you this Christmas? Will it really be the gift of Himself—or in all the busyness of the season will you not take the time and really ask Him.

It’s up to you. At the end of it all, Christmas can just be “done” … or it can be done rightly.

Angels Appearing this Month
Plan to stay after the liturgy on Sunday, December 18 for the annual retelling of the story of Christ’s birth by our Church School. Our students will once again present a living icon based on the Nativity scriptures, complete with angels, shepherds, wise men, and assorted animals. You will not want to miss it!

 

Dn. David Smith to be Ordained a Priest on June 18

Deacon David and Matushka Brenda Smith.

Deacon David and Matushka Brenda Smith.

By the Grace of God, Dn. David Smith will be ordained to the Holy Priesthood by His Eminence Archbishop Melchisedek the weekend of Pentecost—the patronal feast of both Holy Trinity and its mission outreach, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

Providentially and fittingly, the event will take place at the Chapel (145 North Kern Street, in Beavertown) where Dn. David has faithfully served as co-founder and administrator for several years. It will occur during the Saturday, June 18 Memorial Lit-urgy at 9 a.m., with a celebratory reception to follow at the Beavertown Firehall on 222 South Sassafras Street.

Reservations are required for the meal only by calling (814) 231-2855 or emailing ordination@holyspirit-oca.org.

There is no charge to attend the formal reception, but a freewill offering is being collected in honor of Deacon David and Mka. Brenda for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit Fund. Your generous gifts memoed “Smith Ordination” will help the Chapel and their newly ordained priest continue their ministry to the people of the central Susquehanna Valley. Thank you.

Before being received into Orthodoxy, Dn. David served as a Lutheran pastor for 20 years. He helped to establish the Chapel in 2008, and hosted services in his home while the community prepared to build its new temple. To further the Chapel’s apostolic work, he was ordained to the diaconate on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul (June 29) in 2013. Father’s first full liturgy as priest will be Pentecost at Holy Trinity (June 19, 10 a.m.). He will also serve the Holy Spirit Day (June 20, 9 a.m.) and Nativity of St. John liturgies (June 24, 8 a.m.) here at Holy Trinity before commencing weekly Sunday services at the Chapel.

Your prayers and presence are requested.

A Reflection on the Bridegroom Icon

BridegroomOur faith teaches that Christ became man so that we might by grace become God.  It is in this icon that we clearly see the import of this exchange. Here we do not see as we might expect, a groom full of joy and dressed up in handsome clothing, with a king’s crown on, and ribbons binding the hands of the couple as a symbol of how love binds them together. Rather,  in this icon we see a sorrowful Christ, a captive whose hands are bound, who is without a wedding garment, and who is wearing a crown of thorns.  It is here in this icon that we see Christ as having fully entered into the mess, the brokenness, the sorrow, of the Fall. He comes to his bride in humble clothing to match hers.

We know however, that the story does not end here. Although here He “weeps over Jerusalem” yet, “for the joy set before Him he endured the cross”—The joy over one sinner who repents, the joy of seeing His bride without spot or wrinkle, dressed in the glorious garment of His purity and light.  It is at Pascha that we will see the groom and bride as we expect in the fullness of joy and the beauty of holiness.

The Paschal Icon focuses our gaze on the Kingdom to come in hope and expectation, but it is in this icon that we are reminded of Christ’s example for us of how to live in a fallen world—that in the face of sin, love must be humble in order to act as a healing balm to the proud, love must be sacrificial and self-denying as a healing balm in the face of the selfishness surrounding us.  It is in this icon that we see what it means that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is in this icon that we hear Christ saying, “As I have loved you, so you also must love one another.”

— Anna Stickles

Great Lent: Rejoice in the Fast

by Dn. David Smith

Smith - Version 2Winter has the potential to give us “snow days”—days of grace and contemplation because of a winter storm, when life is “forced” providentially to slow down and our agendas com-pelled to yield to the greater work of God. It is an opportunity granted to us for refreshment if we but step into it and receive it with faith, hope, and love as God’s gift.

Such is Great Lent, the Great Fast. We have entered into this providential season of contemplation and of grace: of prayer and of fasting and of almsgiving. Like the other fasts, this one is afforded to us by the Church for our renewal through the personal and communal practice of intensified spiritual disciplines. It is the Great Fast, however, because of its more intense rigor, a rigor preceding and leading us into the Resurrection of Christ God, a rigor worthy of the Church’s participation and of the Great and Holy Pascha. It is a holy season and a divinely appointed opportunity for our spiritual renewal and reclamation (shades of Ebenezer Scrooge here).

But, the question is: Will we receive this holy season as a gift of utter grace for our salvation or will we bear it, begrudge it, put up with it, tolerate it, resent it, and not find joy in the salvation it offers us? May we not forget last month’s parable of the elder brother of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). It is the younger brother, the prodigal, who tends to get our attention and limelight. (Pesky younger siblings and troublemakers tend to!)

ProdigalSonA

Icon of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24), courtesy of oca.org.

However, this parable of our Lord is just as much about the older brother as it is about the younger. It is a sad commentary that the elder—and obviously, more responsible—sibling could not rejoice in the return of the family’s black sheep to the fold. Perhaps it takes the heart of a father to thoroughly bask in such a return or repentance.

But, at the same time, it certainly is not out of the question for such joy to be shared by all in the family, including the dutiful older brother. Sadly, despite never leaving the family estate and the preserve of his father, the dutiful elder son of the family could not tolerate such wasteful extravagance on someone who had obviously failed and proven his unworthiness!

Sadly, having served faithfully his father “these many years,” going about his father’s business each and every day without so much as a request, the elder son, loved dearly by his father, had lost the joy (I wonder, did he ever have it?) of being a part of the family, of celebrating the fact that he was the son of so loving and forgiving a father as his. It is so very easy to “neglect [the joy] of so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3) when we get focused solely on our fulfill-ing of “obligations” and start comparing ourselves to others who may not be living up to our standards. Insidiously, the old devil turns our attention from whence we have come and saps our hearts of the joy of being made sons and daughters of our heavenly Father by Whose utter grace “we live, and move, and have our [very] being” (Acts 17:28)

In these holy days of “obligation,” the Church invites us to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matt. 5:12) in the midst of the “duty” of our Lenten labors, basking in the sublime reality that we are profoundly loved by God our Father, though unworthy sinners that we are. Through the coming of our true elder Brother, Jesus Christ, in the flesh we have all been made children of the Most High to share in the joy of His Kingdom (Rom. 14:17-18).

Chapel of the Holy Spirit Opens in Beavertown

by Dn. David Smith

After nearly seven years of praying, worshipping, catechizing, planning, envisioning, and dreaming, a new Temple has been raised to the glory of God! And above it, a golden Cross has taken its place amidst the skyline of Beavertown.

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit was packed full of worshippers and well-wishers on the weekend of October 31-November 1. Sixty souls crammed into the 24-foot by 24-foot nave on Saturday evening to experience that which can only be experienced once in the life of a parish community—a service for the Opening of the Doors (Thyranoixia). Presiding were Fr. Mark Meholick, Dean of the Eastern Deanery, along with Fr. John and the Deacons of Holy Trinity.

Related: Coverage of the Chapel’s grand opening on oca.org.

The service of Great Vespers followed immediately thereafter with the evening being capped off by a fellowship hour. On Sunday morning, the first Divine Liturgy was served in the new Temple by Fr. John, along with Fr. James Chuta, a member o our extended parish family who has served and continues to serve both the Chapel and Holy Trinity from time to time.

Great support was once more abundantly evident by the attendance of parishioners from Holy Trinity! We here at the Chapel have been and are certainly blessed by all the love and support we have received over these years and know we will continue to receive from our mother church.

See More: View pictures of the event on the Chapel’s Facebook page.

We thank all who supported this great undertaking and all who have continually bolstered this missionary endeavor in a multitude of ways.

The work before us has just begun, to be sure, and at times seems daunting, but with your continued prayers and love and by the great mercies of God Who has called us to these efforts the seed of the Kingdom of Heaven will be planted and the sheaves of the harvest will be reaped.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord henceforth and forevermore!

Family Pascha Guide

by Dn. Mark Oleynik

As we draw near to Pascha, our journey becomes more intense and our anticipation of the Great and Saving Night grows. The anticipation is particularly acute in children and parents should be prepared to take advantage of their curiosity. Below are some notes and tips to assist parents in guiding their children during the Paschal weekend (April 28-May 1).

Matins of Holy Friday (Thursday, 7 p.m.)
This service features the reading of the 12 Passion Gospels. The first gospel relates Christ’s discourse with His disciples at the Last Supper, the next ten gospels relate the Lord’s sufferings, and the last gospel describes His burial and the sealing of the tomb. These readings provide the narrative for the events that take place while the accompanying hymns sung throughout the service clarify and give deeper meaning to the text. Between the fifth and sixth gospels there is a solemn procession with the large wooden cross from the sanctuary into the center of the nave. We find additional clarity when visible actions are added to the gospels and hymns.

Parent Tips

  • This is a lengthy service so give your children advance notice (so you can limit the number of times the question of “how much longer?” is asked.)
  • Focus your children on how the text advances the events or provides additional detail in each subsequent lesson. If possible, read these gospels with your children prior to the service.
  • As always, everyone should stand or kneel during the gospel readings.
  • Explain to your children that although Matins is a morning service, this service is “anticipated” and is celebrated on Thursday evening.

Royal Hours (Friday, 10 a.m.)
There is no liturgy on Holy Friday since the Divine Liturgy is always a celebration of communion with the Risen Lord. We do however read the Royal Hours on Friday morning. This service takes its name from the fact that it used to be officially attended by the Emperor and his court in Constantinople.

Parent Tips

  • If you cannot attend, you can teach your children the significance of each of the hours: First—when Christ was led into the Praetorium (i.e., the palace of the governor) before Pilate (~7 a.m.). Third—when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles on Pentecost and Christ was condemned by Pilate (~9 a.m.). Sixth—when Christ was released to the Jews, condemned, and nailed to the Cross (~12 noon). Ninth—when He died on the Cross (~3 p.m.).
  • This is the strictest fast day of the year. Help your child as much as possible to refrain from eating other than minimally.

Unnailing Vespers (Friday, 4 p.m.)
At Vespers on Holy Friday, the shroud (a large icon depicting Christ lying in the tomb) is lifted by the priest from the altar table and then carried in procession out of the altar to the specially prepared tomb in the middle of the church.

Parent Tips

  • The service’s structure is like Saturday Vespers so children should be able to recognize most parts.
  • The Gospel reading tells the story of the Christ dying on the cross. Don’t be afraid to discuss with your children (of all ages) that Christ really died and this is the story of how He died.
  • The most moving and solemn part is the carrying of the shroud to the special tomb. Children quickly understand this movement just as the children understood Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
  • You can show your child that the same words (“The Noble Joseph…“) sung during the carrying of the shroud are embroidered on the edge of shroud.
  • Ask your child what Joseph of Arimathea (i.e., the “Noble Joseph”) may have been thinking as he carried the lifeless Body of our Lord to the tomb.

Lamentations (Friday, 7 p.m.)
During Matins of Holy Saturday, the tone and theme gradually changes from lamentation to victory over death. We stand before the tomb—but it is revealed to us as the life-giving tomb. The shroud is carried in a procession around the church while all the people (including children) carry lighted candles and sing “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us…” Upon returning to the entrance of the church we walk under the shroud reminding us that we must pass through death to the Resurrection. While the church is softly illuminated with the faithful’s candles, we hear the Ezekiel’s dry bones prophecy and words of Pascha: “Let God arise…” As the day ends, we are left with a sense of anticipation.

Parent Tips

  • Children love processions and they like to hold candles—here they can do both. Tell them they are a very important part of the service.
  • Ask them (especially older children) to listen to the music for “changes” (tone, rhythm, etc.), what they were, when they happened, and what was being sung at the time. Teens and preteens listen to a lot of music with their iPods: get them “into” the music and how the Church uses it to help us.
  • As you drive home, discuss how we are dependent on light (car lights, street lights, etc.) and how we could not function without it. Use this as a transition to discussing the light of Christ.

Vesperal Divine Liturgy (Saturday, 10 a.m.)
Saturday is called the “Blessed Sabbath.” For the Jews, this was a day of rest, but for us it is when Christ worked and our sorrow is transformed into joy. During Vespers, there are 15 Old Testament readings! After these readings, and during “Arise, O Lord” (which is sung in place of the “Alleluia” verses), the dark (purple) clerical vestments are exchanged for bright (white) ones. The votives and coverings and are also changed at this time—this is an exciting moment for kids. The “light” of Resurrection is really made visible to us as the Liturgy of St. Basil continues in this joyful light.

Parent Tips

  • On your way to church talk with your child about what they have experienced in the Church during the past few days. Certainly, they will remind you how long the services have been but you may be surprised by other things they may have noticed.
  • Perhaps you can dress your child in white/light colored clothes and have them wear a dark sweater or jacket as a top layer. During the changing of the vestments, have them remove the top layer.
  • Tell your children that catechumens were originally baptized and received into the Church during the Old Testament readings. (Later in the day, some of our Holy Trinity catechumens will be received into the Church as well.)

Great and Holy Pascha (Sunday, 12 a.m.)
Finally, we arrive at the Paschal night: the most joyous celebration in the Orthodox Church. After the shroud is carried into the altar and placed on the altar table, the Church is dark. As midnight approaches, the clergy begin to sing, “Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Savior, the angels in heaven sing…” Suddenly, the priest exits the Sanctuary with a lighted candle and by this candle all the people light theirs—one by one. We go in procession around the church until we arrive at the closed doors of entrance to the church. It is now that we hear for the first time “Christ is Risen!” After the doors are opened, everyone enters into a fully lit church where there is no darkness and we celebrate Matins and the Divine Liturgy in the middle of the night.

Parent Tips

  • Although it may be difficult, try to get your child to rest or take a nap on Saturday. Every kid wants to stay up late…this is their big chance!
  • Dress your child warmly and perhaps bring a blanket to wrap them in to keep the chill away.
  • Younger children will probably fall asleep at some point—this is to be expected. They will still probably remember many things about the night.
  • “Gently” rouse your child for communion several minutes before they will receive the Body and Blood.
  • Teach your children the Paschal greeting (Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!) in different languages. They will like to respond out loud to these greetings—especially in church.

Although the services are somewhat longer than usual, you can/should bring your children and prepare them to participate. Please be considerate and aware of your children’s whereabouts, actions, movements, etc., at all times during the services so those around you can also fully experience the joy of the Feast.

If Christ Be Not Risen, Our Faith Is Vain

by Fr. John Reeves

Last year on Western Easter, Marianne Budde, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, DC, opined that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it, “the entire enterprise would not come crashing down.” (virtueonline.org) This isn’t a new notion. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it as doctrine. But it’s been around a lot longer than that.

The belief that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead is part of the Gnostic family of heresies, this one in particular being called “docetism”, (from Greek, δοχειν, to appear). In other words, Jesus would only have appeared as man. This would make Him a divine spirit masquerading in human form; His death was only an appearance, as well as his Resurrection. If that is the case, the Resurrection would be superfluous.

Such errant preaching and teaching led me from the Episcopal Church to Orthodoxy almost forty years ago. It is sad to see how the denials of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Miracles, and oh yes, the Resurrection, have been multiplied over the past five decades.

Either Christ rose from the dead, or death is not conquered. If death is not conquered, we are still in our sins, to borrow from St. Athanasius (cf. On the Incarnation). Either Christ was and remains God in the flesh, before, during, and after his Passion and Resurrection, or all that we are about to celebrate is simply play-acting, a myth, a drama without much to compel it.

In writing to the Church in Corinth, this is St. Paul’s point: our faith, our life, and our eternal salvation are all based upon the Resurrection of Christ. If the Resurrection is not true, in what then do we place our hope? St. Paul says that his preaching, and our faith, would then be vain, pointless. He does not talk about the moral teaching of Jesus. He does not exhort the Corinthians merely to live ethical lives. He is blunt: Christ’s resurrection is our hope of resurrection. Without His victory over sin and death, we are all losers.

The story is told of a young man arrested during Soviet days for shouting “Christ is risen!” in front of Lenin’s tomb. Upon being interrogated, he was asked why he was “disturbing the peace.”

He asked his questioners simply, “Is there a body in Lenin’s tomb?”

“Of course, young man! Everyone knows that!” was the brusque reply.

“Christ’s tomb is empty! Christ is risen!”

On Pascha night, at Orthodox churches around the world, bishops, priests, deacons, and laymen will wait for the “Light of Christ” to pierce the darkness, in anticipation of the Resurrection. We know Christ’s tomb is empty. We fill the night skies with the cry which makes devils tremble: “Christ is risen!”

And we will say it, not merely because it is our tradition, but because it is the truth, a truth we believe down to the core of our being, down to the marrow in our bones. That in a nutshell is Orthodoxy: the Truth about God, the Truth about Man, and the Truth about Christ—God’s rising from the dead to save Man from sin and death. Otherwise, why bother?

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (1 Cor. 15:14)