Word Magazine May 1962 Page 4


By C. G. Pallas

If the celebration of Easter were a mere poetical remembrance of Our Lord’s Passion and triumph over death, we would find Holy Week in the Church a somewhat theatrical procedure, a sentimental pageant of song and ritual that could well be replaced by a simple reading from the Scriptures appropriate to the occasion. That it is not, however, encourages us to consider the Church’s deep understanding of the miracle of the Resurrection and her ability, nourished by nearly 2,000 years of experience, to coordinate and combine her doctrine and her liturgical function into that supreme form of prayer which we know as worship.

Anyone who has witnessed the Holy Week services of the Orthodox Church cannot come away without at least a minimal insight into the Church’s genius in expressing, through her worship, her innermost feelings and her deep love for Jesus Christ. A simple reading of the services themselves is a veritable lesson in theology, but it is a theology stripped of the complex eloquence that invariably surrounds doctrinal thought, a theology which the layman learns unconsciously, either by listening to a hymn or by singing it.

From the darkened atmosphere of Holy Monday to the solemn Lamentation at the Tomb to the spiritual brilliance of the Pascha night itself, the Church does more than piously recount the events that were destined to leave an indelible imprint on the history of the world — she lives them along with her Lord, praying with Him and, at the same time, beseeching His forgiveness. No other season in the Church Year is so vitally alive, so sensitive to the reality of Christ’s presence in His Church, and so conducive to an awareness of the sublime mystery of the Incarnation and the blessing it places at our disposal — the promise that every one of us can be sharers in His love.

To Orthodox believers, Easter is a re-living precisely because the Incarnation is a continuing Incarnation — not terminated by Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven — and because the Holy Spirit is a living, catholic Spirit which knows no bounds of time or space and which lives perpetually in the Church and is her breath.

If we believed Easter to be an historical event defined by time and the celebration thereof nothing more than a perfunctory or at best devout commemoration, then we would be obliged to believe also that Jesus’ promises of being in the Church were but philosophical utterances and that the Church has no life but a figurative one, and, in a sense, we would be denying the wondrous, mysterious and miraculous ways of God simply because Christ is no longer visibly present among us and because we have not put our hands into His side.

Yet, if the Redemption is to have the same glorious meaning for us as it did for the first Christians — and as, indeed, it should — we must understand the actuality of Easter 1962, the fact that Jesus is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” in the Church, in the Holy Sacrament, and, if we permit Him, in our hearts.

It is only when we can enter freely and wholeheartedly into the Church’s liturgical life, blending our prayers with those of our Orthodox brethren — both the millions that have gone before us and the millions that are our contemporaries — that our faith becomes a real and living faith, and the age of atomic energy but a short step from the age when Christians celebrated the Divine Liturgy, in its crude form, in dark and chilly caves. It is here, in the profound surrender of the soul to its Creator, that time and space have no meaning and the only reality is the eternity of the moment.