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PASCHA 2019

Christ is Risen!   Хрїсто́съ воскре́се!     Χριστς νέστη!

In our increasingly secular times, we are told that death is natural and we should accept it as such. A human being, an animal, even a plant is born, matures, grows old and dies. This is called the cycle of life. But from a Christian perspective, death is not natural. God did not create death. Death is the most unnatural thing in the world. God created humanity for eternal life, for an embodied life with God. It is only with human sin that death entered the world. Adam and Eve sinned by partaking of the ‘forbidden fruit’ and were subjected to death. Even so, death is not simply a punishment. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they sinned against God. If they had eaten of the Tree of Life they would have become immortal. This may sound good, but it would mean that they would have lived forever with the stain of sin on their souls. To prevent this God subjected them to mortality in the knowledge that he would send his Son, Jesus Christ, to save humanity from sin and death.

Sometimes people think that the Christian belief that people’s bodies die, and their souls go to heaven to live with God. However, this is a pagan way of looking at things. For Christians, life is an embodied life, a life lived in union of soul and body. The separation of soul and body at death is unnatural. Therefore, when Christ comes at the end of time all the dead will rise to a new, embodied life, a life that will be eternal. This is what men and women are created for.

Christ’s resurrection is the origin of our salvation. The resurrection is not simply an event in the past. Rather, when we are baptized we become partakers of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Christ was in the tomb for three days, so we went down into the water of the baptismal font three times. And just as Christ was raised from the tomb, we were raised from the font to become partakers of a new resurrection life. We will not fully experience resurrection until Christ comes again, but we participate in this life here and now, especially when we received Holy Communion.

All of this means that Christ’s resurrection is not simply an event of the past. Every Easter we experience the joy of resurrection life. Easter lasts forty days but during those days we should never forget that Christ’s resurrection even though we are busy with daily life. 

Beyond this, every Sunday is a mini-Pascha in which we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of the Christian faith. It is, as St. Paul writes “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” But Christ is risen, and we share in this joy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paschal_greeting

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (6A)

One of the main themes of the Old Testament and the New Testament is that of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Before we look at the Jerusalem Temple as it existed in the time of Jesus, we have to look at its predecessor, the Tabernacle in the desert. At one time in the Old Testament God ordered Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant, which was a gold-covered wooden box with a lid and a cover. (If we know about the movie from the 1980s, this is the ark in the title “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) This ark, or box contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, a golden jar holding manna and Aaron’s Rod, which budded.

“…. having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.” (Heb 9:4)

This ark was carried by the Hebrews as they travelled in the desert. It was a truly holy object, in which God’s presence was strongly felt. Because it was so holy when the Hebrews camped it was put into a special, richly-decorated tent called a Tabernacle. The description of the Tabernacle is found in Exodus chapters 25-30.

The Tabernacle in the desert was a large, rectanglar tent which was erected whenever the Hebrews settled down in a camp. It had three sections. The first section was where people first entered. The second was called the Holy Place. The altar of incense was there. Finally there was the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was located. As the name implies this was the most sacred place in the Tabernacle. It is described in Exodus.

“And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; in skilled work shall it be made, with cherubim; and you shall hang it upon four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, upon four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps and bring the ark of the testimony in thither within the veil; and the veil shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy. You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the testimony in the most holy place. And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table; and you shall put the table on the north side. “And you shall make a screen for the door of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. And you shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them. You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad; the altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze.” (Ex 26:31-27:2)

Eventually, after the Hebrews had entered the Promised Land and became a settled kingdom, the Temple in Jerusalem was constructed by King Solomon. This temple was attacked and damaged several times by the enemies of the Hebrews, and finally was completely destroyed by the Babylonians in 585 BC when Jerusalem was attacked and the Jewish people were taken into captivity in Babylon.

The Second Temple was built between 538-515. This Temple was renovated and expanded by King Herod the Great in 20 BC. This is the Temple that existed in the time of Jesus. This Temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans and followed the same pattern as the Tabernacle, but in a much more elaborate way. The layout was as follows: First came the Courts of the Gentiles or non-Jews. This was the only part of the Temple that non-Jews could enter. As a matter of fact, if a non-Jew went further than this he could be put to death. To see how seriously this was taken we can take an example from the Book of Acts. St. Paul was in Jerusalem with Trophimus, a gentile (non-Jew) convert to Christianity. The Jews believe that St. Paul brought him into the temple beyond the Court of the Gentiles. This is how the Jews reacted:

“When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd, and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Troph’imus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. (Acts 21:27-32)

In other words, the Jews wanted to kill St. Paul for brining a non-Jew into the Temple. There was such a disturbance that Roman troops were called to calm things down.

Next was the Court of the Women. Then the Court of the Israelites, where any ritually pure Jewish man could enter. After this we have the Court of the priest then the temple court, where the altar of sacrifice was located. Finally, we get to the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was the holiest place in the Temple. This was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Tabernacle in the first Temple. But as we have seen it disappeared with the destruction of the first Temple. Only the High Priest cold enter this part of the Temple. He would enter it once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (5b)

It is worth noting that Pentecost means fifty, the fifty days after Easter. The old law was given fifty days after the Passover and the new law is given fifty days after Easter. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles,

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. (Acts 2:1-4)

This experience of receiving the Holy Spirit is obviously not the giving of a new written moral law (the Ten Commandants are always valid), but rather the old law is now written on human hearts. This is “inspiration” in the truest sense because inspiration literally means the going in of the Spirit. In that way the external law of Moses is fulfilled by the internal laws of Christ.

But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing. …. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. (James 1:25, 2:12)

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:2-4)

To make an additional point, we know that in Old Testament times lambs (and other animals) were sacrificed in order to receive forgiveness of sins. However, the blood of the lambs could never change humanity inwardly.

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? If the worshipers had once been cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sin. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”  (Heb 10:1-4, 11-14)

But Jesus Christ is the true Lamb of God whose self-sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection earned for humanity a genuine forgiveness of sins and reconcilement with God:

“Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev 22:1-5)

Or in another passage

“… they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Rev 17:14)

So, when we look at all the history of the Bible we see Jesus Christ as the fulfilling of events and persons in the Old Testament. One of the most important fulfillments is that of the Paschal lamb. We know in the Old Testament as God was about to free the Hebrew people from slavery he order4ed the Jews to sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on their door. In this way, the angel of God who was sent to slay the first-born sons of the Egyptians, would know not to kill the children of the Israelites inside the house. So, the death of the lamb in the Old Testament which saved the Hebrews from death foreshadowed the New Testament when the blood of Christ, the true lamb, saves all of humanity from death. St. John in his Gospel sys quite clearly that Jesus is the true lamb.

“… and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)

It is interesting that in Western liturgies we find the phrases

“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us Thy peace.”

This takes place just before the breaking of the Eucharistic bread (i.e, the Body of Christ). The priest elevates it and says “The Body of Christ” so the people can see it and the priest continues “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

In these prayers we see clearly that we are saved from death by the sacrificial death of Christ, which foreshadowed in the Old Testament and is fulfilled in the New Testament and in the Liturgy of the Church.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (5a)

We are continuing our look at how events and people in the Old Testament foreshadow events and people in the New Testament and the life of the church.

One if the most important events in the Judeo-Christian history and indeed in human history is the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. We remember that scene. After the Jewish people had escaped from slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert for forty years. In the third month of their wandering they came to Mt. Sinai and God called Moses, the Jewish leader to ascend the mountain. We see this in Exodus.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God; and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. (Ex 19:16-21)

At this point God gives the Ten Commandments as can be seen in Exodus 20:1-18.

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work;  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates;  for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. “You shall not kill. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Now when all the people perceived the thunderings and the lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled; and they stood afar off. (Ex 20:1-18)

When we think of the Ten Commandments we think only of the ten brief moral laws. However Jewish tradition holds that most of the laws given in the first five books of the Bible were given to Moses then. So the fundamental laws given to humanity in Old Testament times were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Important as the laws found in the Old Testament are, there is always the danger that these laws will be something external to us and the observance of these laws a mere formality. Therefore, many times in the Old Testament God promised through his prophets that there would come a new law, written on human hearts by the Holy Spirit. For example:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the Lord of hosts is his name:  “If this fixed order departs from before me, says the Lord then shall the descendants of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the descendants of Israel for all that they have done, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:32-37)

Or

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

In other words, the law will not be something external, placed on us by a distant God, but will rather be a law written on our hearts. This new law which is the fulfillment of the Old Testament can only happen when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the Theotokos on the day of Pentecost.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (4)

As we have seen in previous articles, events and people in the Old Testament point forward to and foreshadow the events and people in the New Testament and in the life of the church. For example, the manna with which God fed the Jews in the desert points forward to Christ feeding the 5000 in the wilderness, to the Last Supper and to the Holy Communion we receive at the Divine Liturgy.

The Jewish people were saved by going down into the sea which Moses had miraculously parted. In the same way we are saved by going down into the waters of Baptism.

We continue the same theme here. Consider the following quote from St. Paul.

“I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (I Cor 10:1-4)

What is St. Paul talking about here? What is the supernatural Rock which followed them? To answer this question, we have to go back to the Exodus which describes the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. It says,

“All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Reph’idim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the Lord to the proof?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Ex 17:1-6)

The verses in St. Paul we see a reference to the “rock” which followed them. This may seem strange or even amusing. But St. Paul tells us the rock was Jesus Christ. The main point is important and clear.

In the desert people need water and water is often hard to find. God giving water to the Jews is a sign of God’s love for His people. Just as Jesus Christ is “bread from heaven” He is also the “living water”. We remember that when Christ speaks to the Samaritan woman he says

“the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”  Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (Jn 7:37-39)

In other words, water is necessary for life, physical life. In the same way this “living water” is necessary for our spiritual health. St. John tells us that this living water is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost.

Critics of Christianity often say that Christianity restricts human freedom, that it binds us with all sorts of rule and regulations. But if we look at the Bible, we see that Christianity is about liberation, about our freedom from slavery. The whole Book of Exodus is about the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. In the same way, Christ frees us from slavery to sin and death. When we act out our passions, our sins bind and restrict our freedom. This bondage makes it difficult to love God and our neighbor. The Christian life is a process of regaining our freedom. And of course, our greatest fear is death. Christ, who rose from the dead, promises us that He will raise us up also. Christ is the conqueror of death and the water of Baptism, and the Body and Blood of Holy Communion incorporating us into Christ’s victory over death. Or to put it another way, Jesus said, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Fr. John