Pascha And Creation

There are several religious or theological mistakes to make about Christ’s resurrection. They are generally innocent, and refelct the faith as a number of people have been taught it. The problem lies in the fact that many do not rightly understand the resurrection nor the true scope of its significance. I am just a sinner and not worthy to offer corrections to others – but I will offer what I know.

1. The resurrection surely occurs in history. Christ was crucifed, dead and buried. On Sunday following, His followers found the tomb empty and encountered the Risen Lord for the first time. However, the event of Christ’s resurrection, though occurring in time, was also more than that. The resurrection is of such a character that it cannot be measured by space and time. Whatever occurred, happened as well on a level beyond our comprehension. The mistake comes in reducing the resurrection to a mere space-time event, whose primary task was to certify that Christ was Who he said He was, and to give us assurance of eternal life. Such a description is too small and fails to comprehend, the heighth, depth, and breadth of the resurrection.

2. Secondly, it is a mistake to view our lives or the debts and debtors of our lives in purely legal terms. We live in the midst of an existenial crisis, one that goes to the very character and nature of our being, and not a legal crisis. What we need from God is not legal relief, but relief from suffering and death – the burden of corruption which afflicts us all. Thus the resurection must be understood in ontological or existential terms and not in merely legal terms. To forgive by the resurrection is an existential statement and not merely a legal statement.

3. Though Pascha occurs at a specific moment in history – it is more than that moment in history – for the one who is crucified is also “one of the Holy Trinity.” He is the “Alpha and the Omega.” We crucified the One Whom Himself is both beginning and end. Thus the event that occurs cannot be limited to a day in Jerusalem but stand both in and out of time, even as Christ was both in and out of time. “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth” (Rev. 13:8) is an eternal offering of God on behalf of His creation and not simply an offering in space and time.

4. The universe itself – all that exists – exists for Pascha. We were created for this.

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Everything which exists, exists for Christ, was made by Him and for Him. According to St. Maximus Christ’s Pascha is the cause of all things. God’s statement, “Let there be light,” was a Paschal moment in which the world came into existence through His infinite goodness. Thus, all that we see, every speck of dust is itself the result of Pascha.

By the same token, Pascha is also our recreation: “If anyone is in Christ, behold, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Further, we can also say that the whole of our Baptized life is the creation of Pascha:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4).

These things being the case, how should we then live? As one reader asked, “How do we live Pascha?” In a sense the answer is too large for it is the whole of the Christian life. As such the fullness of the answer can only be found in living the fullness of the life we have in Christ. But I will offer one small suggestion. It is found in the words of the Morning Prayer of the Elders of Optina, found in many Orthodox prayer books. To pray it and mean it, is to walk in the resurrection. It is, at least, a place to start. Particular attention should be paid to the petition that all things come from God – without this understanding, we cannot give thanks – and unless we give thanks to God for all things, we will never truly know Pascha, much less love our enemies. If we truly know God and see Him in the fullness of His Pascha, we will be able to forgive even our enemies, even those who have not asked forgiveness and intend to hurt us again. Because I am dead, I cannot be hurt. Because I live I cannot die. Great is the Mystery of God in Christ Jesus!

O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will.

At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.

Direct my thoughts and feelings in all my words and actions. In all unexpected occurrences, do not let me forget that all is sent down from Thee.

Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone.

O Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, and to love. Amen.

14 Responses to “Pascha And Creation”

  1. Lucias Says:

    Point 2 is so profound a difference. I am amazed at how it transforms everything.

    Two questions related to the image. First where is it, what church. Second what is it we are observing happen ? I find the teachings of the Orthodox to be compelling. But a picture like this causes my evangelical fundamentalist background to come leaping up in my mind and my instinctive responses to take over.

  2. November In My Soul Says:

    “Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, and to love. Amen.”

    So much in one small sentence. Do we let God direct our will? Will we learn how to pray? Do we pray? Do we believe? Only a fool would say we always believe. There have been many instances where my belief has been sorely tested, times when I cried out in anger and in misunderstanding. Hope, the only thing left in Pandora’s box, eludes me some days. Some days I even hope to have hope. I am impatient to the point of absurdity. Slowing down, dropping into a lower gear, taking time to listen, to listen patiently never comes easy. Many times I think I have forgiven only to discover I am still hording that burning coal of indignation, still relishing the feeling of hatred and scorn. I have been forgiven but many times I fail to reciprocate. To love. The greatest gift, the power that no enemy can defeat. We are called to be open handed warriors, to offer a hand, to love the unlovable, to give back the love that has been given to us.

    Thank you Father for your faithful service and wonderful insights.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    This is the chapel of Golgotha, that marks the place where Christ was crucified. The archeological evidence only gets stronger the more it is examined. There is an altar over the place and an icon called the “Bridegroom” there. There is also a place on the floor that marks where the cross once stood. Believers come to the altar (when there is not a service taking place) and venerate the rock of Calvary. Something hundreds of protestant hymns do. It is located, ultimately, under the same roof as the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Resurrection being very extensive indeed, with many levels and sub rooms. The tomb in which Christ was buried was a new tomb, owned by Joseph of Arimathea, and was nearby, i.e. it was handy for something that had to be done on the Sabbath, etc.

  4. Benjamin Says:

    Again, thank you for such a wonderful post.

    I was wondering though. I know that the central focus should not be on a legal rightness before God (ie. justification) but is this not a part of it? Or would you say that this is a perversion of the Gospel? It seems that this theme runs very deep in the Roman Church and its wayward ecclesial community children. Can this not be reconciled?

    Again, thank you and father bless!

    -Benjamin

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    There are ways to reconcile it – but ultimately only when it’s seen as metaphor. Most damaging if it is connected with the idea of divine punishment. It runs just as deep in many Protestant, and in the same case it reduces the understanding of Pascha. May God help us all. We only know what we’ve been taught.

  6. Shevaberakhot Says:

    Father,

    We are in agreement. The resurrection “cannot be measured by space and time”, and it cannot be reduced “to a mere space-time event”.

    The Resurrection transcends historicity precisely because it was affirmed in and by the glory of the eternal Father. This event took place at a later point in time, some 40 days after to be precise — a one time “earth shattering” event in time became an earth shattering event for all times, and for all peoples, into eternity.

    This is VERY significant. The glorification affirmed the “everlasting to everlasting” nature of God, it is a re-validation of what has always been, i.e. the Holy God of Israel is Sovereign, perfectly just, and justly perfect.

    As the last verse of the book of Zechariah proclaims:

    And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD Almighty — Zechariah 14:20.

    Benjamin,

    Truth cannot be reduced to semantics, or used to affirm the supremacy of East versus West (or vice versa) — for in truth, what has Baal to do with the glory of the eternal throne of God?

    Blessings.

  7. Lucias Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for the answer.

    I cannot tell you how much this teaching of separation and healing of the heart -vs- “crime and punishment” combined with the death, descent into hell, and resurrection, as opposed to just the death and resurrection have resonated in me. They are not trivial points. The Orthodox view completely transforms everything and makes much that was puzzling clear. I am constantly trying to follow them to their end. But I suppose I will do that my whole life.

    Thank you for exposing me to this teaching. Pray that God will heal my heart too.

  8. Cameron Says:

    Father,

    I’d like to add another question for consideration in your series on Pascha. My apologies if it’s already been asked somewhere and I’ve missed it.

    If not a legal transaction to satisfy the Father’s wrath, could you explain what Christ’s sacrifice is and means, and why it happened? What makes Him the “Paschal lamb”?

    This is a question I often come across in talking with Protestant friends, and I’m sure your answer would be helpful for many on the journey.

  9. handmaidleah Says:

    Among other things, Shevaberakhot Says: “The Resurrection transcends historicity precisely because it was affirmed in and by the glory of the eternal Father. This event took place at a later point in time, some 40 days after to be precise — a one time “earth shattering” event in time became an earth shattering event for all times, and for all peoples, into eternity.”

    This is a confusing statement, it sounds as if you are writing of the Ascension -40 days after the Resurrection (which happened in three days after the Crucifixion). The way this is stated is not clear but that is nothing new for me…

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Cameron,
    Read the article River of Fire which is in my pages list. It will say more about atonement issues than I can begin to. Beware, it’s sort of harsh with regard to the West, but is quite accurate in its use of the Father’s and the Orthodox understanding of salvation.

  11. FrGregACCA Says:

    Cameron:

    I completely endorse Fr. Stephen’s recommendation on reading “The River of Fire”, including the caveat.

    To answer your question directly: this is a matter of expiation (that is, the cleansing, covering, removal of sin and the healing and restoration of humanity) vs. propitiation (placating an angry god). In the Old Testament, the sacrifices for sin are clearly instances of expiation. (Yom Kippur, for example, literally means, “day of covering”.) And Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices. He is the “Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sins of the world”.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    More damage has been done to Christianity by ill-informed preaching about the wrath of God than any army, persecution, dhimmitude, etc., could possibly do. The right understanding (patristic) of the wrath of God is essential to any preaching of the Gospel. If you get it wrong, you wind up preaching a false God.

  13. Reader John Says:

    While I cannot disagree with point 1, there was a time about 40 years ago, in my late adolescence, when apprehending the space and time historicity of the resurrection kept me from leaving Church, which surely would have eventually killed off any vital faith. I still count that as one of the benchmarks in my spiritual life, each of which came as a sort of epiphany. The latest was my discovery of Orthodoxy, by the way.

  14. Karen C Says:

    Dear Father, bless!
    Thanks again for a wonderful post. I never tire of hearing these truths proclaimed. Like Lucias above, it is wonderfully solidifying the ground of the gospel under my feet as I tread the road of repentance (though I am forever doubting and slipping in the mud that is slung by the enemy in my path!).

    Fr. Greg, thank for your clarification. In my journey to Orthodoxy, this distinction was very helpful for me to understand as well. There is an online paper by evangelical philosophy prof. at Messiah College, Dr. Robin Collins, which touches on the Orthodox meaning of the Atonement using philosophical constructs of the West (so I found it quite useful for dialogue with western-minded Christians). He also touches on the relationship of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to OT sacrifices. Here is the link:
    http://www.home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/AT7.HTM

    Cameron, the link above might also be quite helpful to you as you seek to dialogue with evangelical friends.

    Reader John, I agree that Fr. Stephen’s point in no way diminishes the importance to our faith of the real historicity in space and time of the Resurrection. It seems to me this really is the starting point of all true Christian faith. The two levels of reality are necessarily and intrinsically related.

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