May 4, 2013

The Joyful-Sorrow of the Paschal Season

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

One of the strongest and most expressive words encountered in our tradition is the word "joyful-sorrow" (χαρμολύπη). All things in our life are mixed with sorrow and joy. Life is not a theater with scenery changes, but an experience that is both joyful and sorrowful, where sorrow turns to joy and at the point where joy culminates, sorrow emerges, due to the mortality of our passionate nature.

We encounter this word "joyful-sorrow" in the 6th century book of Saint John of Sinai titled The Ladder, where we are urged to acquire "the blessed and joyful-sorrow of holy compunction" which can "present you a cleansed offering to Christ" (Step 7). It can be an ascetic experience, but also one of the world, since we all live in the desert of the city, even in a so-called Christian society.

The word "joyful-sorrow" can be considered synonymous with the word "crucified-risen Pascha" (σταυροαναστάσιμο Πάσχα) which shows how on Great Friday everyone can rejoice in the putting to death of Hades and death, and on the Bright Day, Pascha, there can be sorrow for a beloved person who has been swallowed by death, that hungry beast, which continues to gobble people up in the present time separates the communion of loved ones.

One lives this experience of "joyful-sorrow" daily on a personal existential level, within ones family, community, or nation. Lately we are living this on the economic level, because on the one hand we are facing an existential crisis, and on the other hand we are looking forward to the experience of love, affection, solidarity and existential freedom from the enslavement of false ideologies that disorient a thinking person. We hope to experience the truth that a person is not what one has, but has that which is, and this is the glory of our timeless traditions.

We also lately experience this in the intense criticism of the Church. No one is unaware that there do exist triggers for such criticism, because various people of the Church, even the great dignified Clergy, do not fully express the ethos and life of ecclesiastical experience. But this criticism also, even the points where the Church bears no responsibility, the Church accepts, like any mother who accepts with love the outbursts of her children, whether responsible or not. The Church is the mother of the Orthodox people, who accepts all the reactions of her children with love, affection and forbearance, offering the caress of familiarity, the smile of loving affection, and the bowels of compassion, as was shown by the Archbishop, the Holy Synod, and the majority of Clergy, who did not want to quarrel with their children.

Still, this "joyful-sorrow" appeared this past Holy and Great Week and culminated on Pascha. The Church showed that its wealth is not in salaries and dividends, but in her theology, her culture, her hymnography, her gatherings of worship, which are directed through its timeless tradition. In this Week the Church showed her wealth which is her Bridegroom, who arrived out of "passionate love" to be stripped, humiliated and crucified, without reciprocating in the least, and without uttering a word, and in the end He rose, without fanfare or theatrics, without terrorizing His crucifiers and the guardians of His tomb, without punishing the irresponsible and unjust political power, headed by Pilate, and without being triumphant over His resurrection or pulverizing the religious leaders who pretended piety. Still, the wealth of the Church is the harlot woman, who showed exuberant love towards Christ, changing one erotic love for another erotic love, who knew how to love exuberantly, with an overflow of love and works and not in a way of conventional life. Her wealth is also the crucified robber who was able to recognize the divinity within the humiliating Cross and became a great empirical theologian.

The Church experiences this crucified-risen life, she lives her own joyful-sorrow, and in this way she guides her children, even the most "unruly". She is still the mother of the people, who bears with pain the pregnancy with her children, and is in pain at their birth, feeds them from her breast, and sacrifices herself for their growth, and sometimes accepts with love and forbearance the tantrums of their pain. The Church resembles the Fools for Christ, who although they were laughed at by all, they lived internally complete and gave of their greatness, even in their extreme obscurity. She lives the apparent weakness of the Crucifixion with the completeness of the Resurrection.

With this joyful-sorrow of Pascha, we experience the celebration of the crucified-risen "Pascha the Lord's Pascha", exchanging the embrace of love and sending out greetings to everyone saying: "Christ is Risen, my joy!"

Source: Paremvasi, "Η χαρμολύπη τής Πασχαλιάς", April 2010. Originally it appeared in the newspaper Απογευματινή (4/9/2010). Translated by John Sanidopoulos.