Finding Our True Home in Pascha

Canadian Orthodox Messenger

Finding Our True Home in Pascha

By Anastasia Bartlett

I have always loved science and thinking outside of the box. My frequent questions were “why” and “what if”. Needless to say, they both got me into a lot of trouble as I had a tendency not only to think the questions but to act on them. In my early teens, those questions initially lead me away from religion but then brought me back to Christianity fully convinced of the existence of God even while I was taking physics at university.

My questions led me to speculative fiction and my favourite topic was time. In the early days of my scientific studies, I learned time was relative, it was not constant nor fixed and it might not only flow in one direction. There was more to life than past, present and future which meant the universe was filled with possibilities.

After I became Orthodox, thinking outside of time helped me to understand the church as more than a building or even a collection of like-minded people. Instead I understood the church to be the narthax of eternity, a place where the services, with all the icons and apparent ritual opened a portal through time where I, in all my human mortality, could join with the angels singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’.

We may not have conscious knowledge or understanding of what is happening but our spirit responds, especially during the services of Holy Week.... 

This is when the church prescribes services every day, sometimes twice or more, in an atmosphere of time does not matter. We celebrate Matins at night and evening Vespers in the morning. We follow the path of Christ’s final week on earth beginning with the raising of Lazarus from the dead on Saturday. We are with him when He enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

But the thing is, we are not re-enacting these events, we are not trying to recreate the event in modern day nor are we trying to dramatize it the way a movie would. We are doing more than just reading about the events, or singing about them. Through the time portal of the church, we are there, experiencing all the emotions as they happen with every disciple of Christ now and in the past and in the future. And not just with His disciples, but with all of creation. I had a sense of this as a child growing up in the Anglican Church when it seemed to rain on every Good Friday as though the whole world wept at the death of its Creator.

But in the Orthodox church there is more. As the children sing running and greeting Christ with palm branches, their song “Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”, reverberates throughout time and creation. We sing this same song, our congregation and those in every church all over the world and throughout time. We all join the procession, waving palm branches as we welcome Christ into our lives. All of creation glorifies her King and Creator.

During Holy Week, we sing the exegesis of the parables identifying Christ as the bridegroom and what he must endure before the wedding feast. The scriptures are opened to us and to all those who have ears to hear.

Holy Unction invites us to come for anointing revealing Christ as the timeless healer in the here and now.

We rejoice with the woman who humbles herself as she washes Christ’s feet with expensive ointment and wipes them with her hair, receiving forgiveness for her sins.

We shake our heads and ask why Judas? Why do your betray your Lord? We stand appalled at the obliviousness of the authorities as they plot to execute the miracle-worker.

We stand in shame with Peter at his denial of his friend. We live the Passion Gospels and physically suffer.

We lament with Mary weeping at the sight of her Son and God dead on the cross and I can’t help but imagine how I would feel if one of my beautiful boys was unjustly executed in such a horrible manner.

We follow the body of Christ as it is removed from the cross and carried to it’s final resting place. We commend Joseph and Nicodemus for tenderly wrapping Christ’s body and laying it in a new tomb.

But despite all our mourning there is excitement in the air. Our songs begin to change as we move closer to the resurrection and while we keep vigil at Christ’s tomb.

The King is asleep so all the world is silent.

Then at midnight, the culmination of all our expectations arrives, Christ is risen! We sing our joy, processing around the church as we know we are risen with Him.

Participating fully in Holy Week and throughout Lent gave me greater clarity for Pascha. The physical discipline of fasting culminating with decision to attend, and the physical endurance required for, all the Holy Week services can help discipline my spirit... if that is what I want,

I’ve done some physical training in the past and no matter how you cut it, training my body to do something new, whether a new skill, or improve on an old one requires commitment and the expectation of pain. Old habits had to be broken and new habits implemented. There was a point when I felt physically exhausted and could do no more, when I found my second wind and could surpass what I was doing previously to achieve the next level in my training. The catch was, I had to continue training at the new level in order to maintain it. 

This year, I think I caught a glimpse of the purpose of Lent for me. I’ve been spiritually training for 18 years and have made some progress, praise God, but never actually pushed myself beyond my comfort zone. This year I did. I found my second wind during Holy Week and was able to catch a glimpse of home. Now I want more. I want to maintain this level of training and reach for the next. 

We celebrate Pascha every Sunday. Christ’s shattering the gates of Hades is our victory as well. We are not longer alone but part of His Body, the Church. The Kingdom of God is among us now. Not just in Lent, not just in Holy Week, but every day. 

This is my training; to remember daily my true home is in eternity. I am only here for a short time to live as part of the Body of Christ and all that entails. I need to run the race set before me with all I have, trusting in God and relying on His strength so I can take it to the next level.

Christ is Risen!