by Dn. Mark Oleynik
Now what? It’s the week after Pascha, the Feast of Feasts, and after working all day I find myself sitting at my desk and day-dreaming. Although full of joy I find myself thinking about the “good old days” of Lent. Yes, back in those days there was so much to do and so much to pre-pare. There was focus and intensity. The schedule was liturgically full. Certainly, the days and evenings in the coming weeks will be filled with things to do (no problem with that in my family) but it just won’t be the same “good” busy that became so familiar and comforting in the past seven weeks. And then I wonder, was the struggle and sacrifice really worth it?
There are two ways in which the question may be addressed. It can be asked from the standpoint of pleasure. The one who asks it in this manner has seen the summer of pleasure suddenly turn to winter. Dis-appointed and amazed, he feels that life has deceived him. In this way, the question is hardly worth asking because the answer is easy: No.
“Was Lent worth it?,” also can be asked from the standpoint of duty. In this sense, it is asked from a perspective of living and working for the highest things in life, from resisting evil, embracing the good, worshipping God and trying to do good for others. Asked in this manner, the question is very important and well worth asking.
To this question, St. Paul has a great answer. The answer comes at the end of one of the most beautiful passages of the Bible, where Paul climbs to the stars of inspiration, unfolding the glorious destiny of redeem-ed mankind. We are familiar with St. John Chrysostom quoting Paul in his Paschal sermon, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” But just two verses later, Paul has a far greater conclusion than that: “Because of what I have told you about life to come and the triumph of good over evil, therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord for as much as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15)
With that statement Paul provides two reasons of great assurance for the purpose of our struggle—our personal immortality in Christ, and the ultimate victory of the Kingdom of Christ.
First, because Christ is risen, and because we rise with Him, and live forever, life is not a vain or an empty thing. Death was the final and most dangerous enemy, but since death is conquered and we now live forever, life is baptized with sacred and glorious meaning and value.
You can feel the power of Paul’s argument if you try to imagine him giving the troubled Corinthians worldly advice. Suppose he had said this: “My friends, you will die and disappear forever, all of you; but remember the human race goes on, the generations of men come and go like the leaves on the tree every season; the tree remains, and so the human race remains: The stream of humanity flows forever on.”
Imagine the troubled and grieving Christians of that day in Corinth, or anyone today, getting strength or satisfaction or hope out of such assertions. St. Paul challenges this notion, arguing that if death is the end of all, then we might as well forget all about virtue, truth and honor (for these virtues have meaning only in the light of immortality) and take for ourselves the motto, “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Instead of that, Paul says Christ is risen and has become the first fruits of them that slept: We shall live as He lives, with the glorious body of the resurrection, assured of the final triumph of right and truth, and the ultimate victory of good over evil.
Sometimes our hearts grow sad at the condition of affairs in the world. Sometimes we grow heavy-hearted thinking we have made only a little impress-ion in the world. All our efforts seem like bailing the ocean with a cup, and we come to believe that evil might indeed triumph over good, or that there will forever be a perpetual recurrence of what we now see—a ceaseless conflict between right and wrong. This casts a serious doubt on the meaning of life for us, for the heart of man longs for the victory of truth, the complete conquest of evil.
What, then, is it that saves us from doubt and pessimism and despair? What is the ground for our faith and our courage? This is the same thing that Paul gave to the Corinthians, who feared that their best labors in the Lord might prove in vain. Paul did not speak about the evolution of human society or the disappearance of old systems of evil and iniquities in the past. No, he told them to look through the struggles and behold Christ their King, victorious, reigning until every enemy is put under His feet, when He shall deliver the kingdom over to God. Then the sun will rise but never set. Then none shall say, “I am sick.” Then no aggressor shall oppress and persecute the weak. Then there shall be no more night, and no more curses, and no more separating death, and no more tears and justice and peace and mercy shall flow down like a river, and God shall be all and in all.
No one ever spoke, or lived, or fought, or died for truth in vain. Not the labor of a single hour, not a single blow struck for the right, not a single choice of good as against evil, not one deed of mercy, not one sigh of anguish or pity shall be in vain if done in the Name of Christ.
Is it worth it? The answer is easy: Yes! Be of good courage and lift up your hearts. Be faithful in the work and place appointed to you. Be steadfast, unmovable, against all the tides and storms of evil. Your life counts forever because you labor in the Lord.