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March 9, 2010

Sermon for the Fourth Wednesday of Great Lent

Catechesis 66: That This Pascha Is a Type of the Future and Eternal Pascha; and About Endurance and Courage.

by St. Theodore the Studite

Given on the Fourth Wednesday of the Great Fast

Brethren and fathers, Lent is already galloping past and the soul rejoices at the imminence of Pascha, because by it it finds rest and is relieved of many toils. Why did this thought sound for me in advance? Because it is as if our whole life directs its reason contemplating the eternal Pascha. For this present Pascha, even though it is great and revered, is nevertheless, as our fathers explain, only a type of that Pascha to come. For this Pascha is for one day and it passes, while that Pascha has no successor. From it "pain, grief and sighing have fled away"[1]; there everlasting joy, gladness and rejoicing; there the sound of those who feast[2], a choir of those who keep festival and contemplation of eternal light; where there is the blessed breakfast[3] of Christ and the new[4] drink of which Christ spoke, "I shall not drink of the fruit of this vine, until I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father".[5] Of this He spoke to his disciples when He was about to ascend to heaven, "I am going to prepare a place for you and, if I go, I will prepare a place for you. I am coming again and I will take you to myself, so that where I am you maybe also. And where I am going you know, and the way you know."[6] And a little further on, "On that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you."[7] And elsewhere, "Father, I wish that where I am they may be with Me also, so that they may see My glory, which You gave Me, because You loved from before the foundation of the world."[8] But because this concerns not only the Apostles, but also ourselves, He also said, "I do not ask this only for them, but also for those who through their word believe in Me, so that all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You, that they may also be one in Us."[9] What could be more comforting than these words? What could be more appealing? What soul can they not soften? What heart not prick with compunction, even should someone say that the human heart is a nature of stone? With thoughts like these the saints bore all that they bore, considering afflictions as joys, constraints as freedoms[10], struggles as delights, harsh training as relaxation, deaths as lives.

I beseech you, my brother, should not we also, since we have the same aim and seek the same Pascha, bravely and courageously bear our present condition, not falling, not succumbing to despondency, but rather roused with greater fervour watching for the wicked serpent who works to deceive us by the passions, transforming himself into an angel of light,[11]and altering things from what they are; show dark as light, bitter as sweet. This was how he ensnared our forefather, bewitching his sight and depicting as beautiful what was not, and as a result through food casting him out of Paradise. But let us, who have learned by experience what a deceiver he is, not leave the paradise of God’s commandments, nor, when he indicates to us that the fruit is beautiful, let the eye of soul or body be directed there, otherwise we are being caught in the snare. But let us flee by every means from looking. What is the fruit which seems beautiful? The love of the flesh, the evil lust of every one of the destructive passions. If we avoid experiencing them, my brothers, we shall be saved and easter[12] to age on age, with all the Saints in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.


[1] Isaiah 35:10. The phrase is familiar from the prayer for the departed.

[2] Cf. Psa. 42:4, where the Greek has a singular. The same phrase is found, but with the plural, in the prayers after Communion.

[3] Cf. John 21:12.

[4] The Greek has koinon, ‘common’, but the word should be kainon, ‘new’, as the following citation makes clear. There is also an echo of the Paschal canon, ‘Come, let us drink a new drink’ (poma kainon).

[5] Matthew 26:29.

[6] John 14:2-4.

[7] John 14:20.

[8] John 17:24.

[9] John 17:20-21.

[10] It is difficult to reproduce the play in Greek on stenochoria and evrychoria.

[11] 2 Corinthians 11:14.

[12] St Theodore uses a very rare verb paschazein, and temptation to follow G. M. Hopkins and use ‘easter’ as a verb is irresistible. The only reference in Lampe is to St Theodore’s contemporary Theophanes, who uses it of the Quartodecimans, who ‘easter’ with the Jews.