April 14, 2012

On Leaving Church Early On Pascha After "Christ is Risen!"

By Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Patras

As we approach Holy Pascha and are preparing to venerate the Honorable Passion of our Savior Jesus Christ and glorify His Resurrection from the dead, many thoughts flood my mind and many emotions flood my heart.

It would take too much space and time to explain what I feel as an Archpriest all that shakes my inner world. I believe that all people's feelings, on these holy days, are comparable to mine.

Our Lord is lifted up on the Cross and offers His Most-Holy Blood; He descends to Hades and is resurrected on the third day to give us new life and make us heirs of His eternal Kingdom.

"We praise His Passion, hymn His Burial, and for His Resurrection cry out: Lord, glory to Thee."

I am moved by the participation of the People in our sacred worship services, and rejoice because Greeks have deeply rooted in their souls faith in God and devotion to the Church and His Resurrection.

But our joy, unfortunately, is tempered, or rather, it is overshadowed when I think of the way we celebrate Holy Pascha. I will only refer to one issue. Thousands of faithful flock to the sacred temples around them during the ceremony of the Resurrection and are expecting with joy and jubilation to receive the Holy Light.

Creation is illuminated by the unwaning Light of the Risen One, and angels with men celebrate chanting triumphant hymns to the light-bearing Resurrection of the Lord. "Let us celebrate the death of death, the destruction of Hades, the never-ending beginning of another life."

And while all are glad, many (perhaps most) of the participants in the ceremony of the Resurrection, as if by magic they are seized by the Evil One, and they avert their faces from the Risen One and rush to leave the heavenly and earthly feast together; the Gathering of heaven and earth is in a hurry to leave the Lord, Who is sacrificed on the Horrific Altar and is offered as drink to the faithful, finding it more worthwhile to reach the same or other villages for the enjoyment of worldly joy and physical tables (in the homes).

In no other case do I feel so sad, but at that time. It is a very great sorrow, when we chant the verse, "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those who hate Him flee from Him", knowing that people are fleeing, they are scattering, whoever was previously glorifying the Risen One.

Mentally at that moment I see and hear our Lord asking, while showing the marks of the nails, the question which He asked His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour?"

"My children," He says, "why are you leaving? Are you that tired? Could you not take any more shedding of heavenly light? Are you hungry perhaps?

My children, why do you forsake Me? My people, what have I concocted against you and why do you reciprocate? Instead of My love, you give Me oblivion! Instead of My sacrifice, you give Me denial! Instead of My descending into Hades to lift you to Heaven, you give Me ingratitude! Instead of accepting the invitation to the Eucharistic Resurrection Supper, you give Me ungratefulness!

My people, why do you exchange heaven with dirt, the eternal with the transitory, the immortal food with temporary eating, the joy of the Reign of God with false worldly fun?

My people, why do you extinguish the light of the Resurrection and run to illuminate the darkness of your soul with the false lights of this vain world?"

How will we answer our Lord to these questions of His? No human logic can explain this fact. We try to analyze this phenomenon and explore its essence.

It is strange to listen to and a horrible spectacle. It is unfortunate this has occurred in recent decades and is the result of ignorance of the depth of the feast and its mystery, of the Resurrection, and salvation.

It is a product of secularization that has plagued our lives and our society.

It results from the influence of the devil, who rejoices with this attitude of the people.

In conclusion, the departure of people from the holy church before the Liturgy of the Resurrection is a great sin and betrays frivolity in relation to matters of faith. All the struggles one has undergone until Pascha, prove futile.

Some have an excuse ready: "Not everyone will fit in the church, we will be outside. What should we do then? We will leave, I can't endure it."

To this question - it is an excuse rather - I answer: The Grace of the Resurrection of the Risen One fills everything and the light of the Resurrection encompasses both inside and outside the holy temple and illumines the faces of the children of the Resurrection. "Now all things are filled with light: heaven and earth, and the nethermost regions."

And furthermore...

The Lord became man, humbled Himself, was punched, wore a crown of thorns for us, was spat upon, flogged, ascended Golgotha carrying the Cross on His shoulder, given bile and vinegar to drink, was lifted onto the Cross, and descended into Hades. He rose from the dead to raise fallen man. All these things we have forgotten and we leave...because we are burdened?

I would like to talk to you about two shocking experiences that I have lived with people of faith, who waited for hours to express to God their feelings.

I will limit it to two of them:

- When serving as the Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod, I accompanied Archbishop Christodoulos for a peaceful visit to the Church of Poland. There, we liturgized in the Monastery "Grabarka" during the feast of the Holy Transfiguration. Thousands of people had flooded the hill of the Monastery. During Holy Communion rain broke out.

My thinking was that people would scatter. But nobody left the Fearful Mystagogy, but with patience remained in the rain, to commune of the Pure Mysteries, receiving the All-Holy Body and Precious Blood of the Lord. Nuns were holding umbrellas, not to protect the priests, but the Holy Chalice.

- The second shocking experience was in Bucharest, Romania last October, where we carried the Holy Apostle Andrew's Skull for a blessing and sanctification of the Romanian people.

Thousands of Romanians waited almost twelve hours day and night, in terrible cold, to await their turn to venerate the Holy Skull. They had a splendid serenity on their faces and their eyes seemed to be of sweet anticipation for the meeting with the Saint.

My brethren, it is time to change our attitude regarding certain issues that are vital for us. The center of the life of our Church is the Resurrection and the Resurrectional Supper, the Resurrectional Table.

The celebration of Pascha should not be external, but should be a matter for the inner man.

Untiring should be our ability to return back to the Kingdom of God, and let it not be a secular opportunity for turbulence and a luxurious life.

I believe that this Pascha we will change our attitude, and we will want to stay for the Supper of the Kingdom, listening to the golden-worded panegyric of Saint John Chrysostom crying festively:

"Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!"

And having acquired the experience of being drunk at the immortal table of the Resurrection, let us depart for the goods of the other table in our homes, which will have the fragrance of the Resurrection, and as gifts of God will give us pleasure and material enjoyment, since man is a psycho-somatic entity, and as a mixed pilgrim, according to the sacred Gregory the Theologian, we will be sanctified by the Church of the Resurrection.

My brethren, do not leave from the church on Pascha before the Divine Liturgy. Do not forsake the Lord. Do not commit this great sin.

A Good Resurrection to you.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.