|38 - PENTECOST, May 27, 2018|
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John 7:37-52, 8:12
A teaching, a doctrine is imbedded in the very structure of Pascha, which we also call the “Pentecostarion”. The structure of Pascha is also the structure of salvation; and so, it sets before us the nature and content of salvation in Christ.
Pascha is a season of eight Sundays. It begins with the LORD’s Pascha and ends with Pentecost. Pentecost is the renewal of our baptism when our life in Christ began. We were raised – not in theory or imagination but in the concreteness of the baptismal waters of the Font – from death to life. This is when we were “saved”. The “last” feast of Pascha, Pentecost, is the real “commencement exercise” of a real “graduation”, our graduation from the Tomb of Christ; it is the beginning of our ascent in Christ to our Father in Heaven.
The Feast of Christ’s Ascension 10 days ago was the “leave-taking” of the LORD’s Pascha. But, we are only today coming to the end of “Pascha”, the Eighth (and final) Sunday of “Pascha” – eight itself is the number of the Resurrection. Pentecost, it says, is the fulfillment of the appointed time and promise of Pascha (1st Sessional Hymn from Matins).
Pascha means a passing over, as the Pascha of Israel when she passed over the Red Sea from Egypt into the desert on the other side. And, when she concluded her Pascha through the Red Sea, she was now ready to begin making her way to the Promised Land of her Inheritance. Ascension is the completion of the LORD’s Pascha, His passing over from death to life and His sitting in Glory at the Father’s Right Hand above the heavens. That means that our Pascha, our passage from earth to heaven, from death to life, is ready to begin; and it begins with Pentecost.
Note that Pascha, then, is not a state of being; it is a movement, a journey, an Exodus: not a physical Exodus through a geographical desert, but a mystical or inner Exodus, a real journey of our inner man through the desert of our soul to enter the LORD’s Tomb. That, historically, is in the heart of the Promised Land; but, spiritually or mystically, it is in our own heart, the sanctuary of the temple of our body. We enter the LORD’s Tomb when we go with Peter and John (cf. Jn 20:8) into the sanctuary of our heart in order to come into the mystery of the LORD’s empty tomb – empty of death, there is no corpse in it – into the Resurrection of Christ, ready now, in faith, to begin following the LORD on our own Pascha, our own passing over from earth to heaven, and in our union with Christ, to ascend the summit of Eden with Him, and to become in our union with Him one with the Father.
Our Pascha takes place or moves wholly within the mystery of the Church – the mystery of Christ’s glorified Body that was crucified, dead and buried and risen from the dead. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning of the inner Exodus and its destination. He is the Promised Land, our Inheritance (Num 18:20, Eze 44:28); He is the Path that leads through the Red Sea of our death, through the desert of our soul, into the tomb of our heart made one, in Him, with His New Tomb, His life-creating Tomb, out onto the other side in the Garden of His Resurrection, and up the mountain to the summit of Eden at the Father’s Right Hand above the heavens.
This inner Exodus in Christ begins at our baptism, which, as I said, is renewed in the joy of Pentecost. Our baptism is our re-creation, when the LORD creates in us a clean heart and puts in us a new and right Spirit, His Holy Spirit. There are in the hymns of Pentecost, clear echoes of Eden as well as of creation and Sinai: “Coming down to those on earth, the Holy Spirit’s Spring was seen in the form of fiery streams (Gn 2:10) distributed spiritually to all, and thus the fire became a cloud bedewing them (Gn 2:5&6), filling them with light (Gn 1:3), raining flames on them (Ex 19:11-20).”
In the Font, we descended with Christ in the likeness, the intimacy, of His death, and then we were raised with Him from the Font and clothed anew in the Robe of Light or in the Glory of the Holy Spirit. Our heart, our true self that is deep, beyond all things (Jer 17:9) was created anew, a new and right Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was renewed in us, and we became living souls (Gn 2:7).
We were led by the priest, an image of Christ, at our baptism from the Font to the Chalice. So, the LORD now calls us to follow Him through obedience to His commandments – viz., to deny ourselves and to lose our life for His sake, to put to death what is earthly in us (our egotism) out of love for Him (this, by the way, is the substance of His command to Adam not to eat from the tree) – onto the hidden path of the Gospel’s inner Exodus, “the better and changeless path” that was uncovered in the depths of the Font (FM p. 377), to complete our resurrection in the Font by ascending with Christ to God (FM 383), to become one with God the Father by partaking of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4) as our food and drink in the Eucharistic mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood (cf. Jn 6:51ff.).
As you can see, this liturgical season of Pascha together with the liturgical structure of our baptism sets before us the pattern of our salvation; or rather, I believe it truer to say that in these liturgical movements, we are clothing ourselves with the garment of Christ’s descent and ascent. Through these liturgical rites of the Church, the movement of Pascha is established – not in theory or religious imagination but concretely in these liturgical rituals that encompass our body, our mind and our soul – as the new principle of our life. This, the mystery of Christ’s descension and ascension, His death and resurrection and Ascension in Glory, this is what is now working in us; and to the degree that we give ourselves to it, to that degree and more, our life in this world is transfigured into an ascent into heaven from the tomb of our heart, now transfigured in the baptismal font into a bridal chamber, where we become one with Christ who is risen from the dead and lives in us in the Glory of His Holy Spirit. The life we live in Christ, then, is not the biological life of this world. It is the eternal Life of His Heavenly Spirit, this Life that is the Light of men, the Joy of Christ in us in Communion with the Father, the Most Blessed Theotokos, and all the saints.
Our dying in this world, then – for, what is the life of this world but a dying, a drawing ever nearer to our grave – is transfigured into a “secret closet” (Mt 6:6) in which we put on as a garment the incorruptible and the immortal Life of the Glorified Christ (I Cor 15:54); our daily life becomes the garden in which our heart works (cf. Gn 2:15) by the sweat of our ascetic labors to put to death what is earthly in us, viz., to pull out the thorns and thistles (cf. Gn 3:18) that are produced from our egotism; and, our actual death is transfigured into the actual death of our death, when our “actual” death is swallowed up in the “actual” victory of Christ’s Holy Cross (I Cor 15:54, cf. Isa 25:8).
This liturgical season of Pascha, then, sets before us where we are going when, in the fear of God, with faith and love, we draw near. It shows us how we get there. We are on an Exodus through the desert of this life to heaven. We get there by uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death – denying ourselves for His sake. The Gate of Heaven is His Tomb, found in our own heart when we freely, in the fear of God, with faith and love open our heart to receive Him. Every Divine Liturgy, then, is Pentecost for us; for, we receive the LORD’s Heavenly Spirit as our living food and drink in the mystery of Holy Eucharist. And, when we freely choose to live in the Spirit of the LORD given us in the Living Bread and Cup of the Church, then it is the Ascension of Christ in Glory that becomes the principle that gives shape and meaning to our life in this world. Uniting ourselves to Christ, as we swore we would do at our baptism, we live in the Glory of His Resurrection on the other side precisely as we unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death on this side. As we lose our life for His sake, in that very instant our resurrection begins, the illuming of our darkness begins in the joy and love of the Glory of Christ the world cannot take away. Amen!