It’s been a long time since I’ve written because the last few months have been fairly calm. That is, the Spring semester started at the beginning of February, and the schedule that it entails is busy and fairly routine, not leaving much room for adventuring. For me, this semester has a very different feeling from last semester. Perhaps that’s because, rather than being totally lost, I’m a little more clued-in as to how the world works here. Or perhaps it’s because I’m a little more proficient at Ukrainian and thus, I’m better able to interact with the environment here, rather than being totally lost. Or, perhaps I’m just a lot more patient and comfortable with the fact that I’m totally lost. When people ask me if it’s hard to study in Ukrainian, I respond “sitting and listening to the lecture in Ukrainian is easy. I just don’t understand it!”
Another thing this semester has brought is Lent. I have to admit that this year the approach of the Great Fast was accompanied by some hesitance and trepidation on my part. I am very fond of Great Lent and Pascha and the ways in which I am used to observing them, and I was not particularly optimistic about the idea of celebrating them so far away from my normal environment.
Despite that, this Lent has been, though different from normal, a relatively positive experience. Every Wednesday I’ve attended the Liturgy of the Presanctified gifts in the seminary, and I’ve sung the Presanctified Liturgy every Friday with my choir in a positively enormous church. My Sundays have been spent in a number of different churches in the area, either with the choir or with other seminarians. Last week I served a hierarchical Divine Liturgy at my roommate’s parish, and was blessed to see a priestly ordination. Though even my diaconal ordination is presumably still some years away, I was reminded how very much I am looking forward to it.
This semester also brought the season of Spring: winter is over, the sun is shining, the weather is warm, flowers are blooming, and it is positively beautiful outside. This time of year always strikes me as having a sort-of intrinsic paradox: while the earth dresses itself in bright colors and seems to radiate with joy, the Church dresses Herself in dark vestments and celebrates the somber Lenten services. The liturgical and natural worlds find themselves somehow out of sync–while the beautiful weather makes one want to have picnics and parties, the Church calls us to fast and repent. It makes sense because sin is unnatural and is that which causes disorder, division, and discord. Sin ruptures the relationship between God and His creation. Because of sin we suffer from brokenness, and we are unable to live in this world in the wholesome and healthy way God intended us to live. The Lenten season is a time of cleansing when we focus on our personal sins and the sinfulness that brought and continues to bring that disorder into the world.
Yet this liturgical season is sometimes referred to as a time of “bright sadness” because, though a time of cleansing and repentance, it is injected with hope. While the natural world around us is filled with the breathe of new life, we are reminded of why we are fasting: to prepare for the eternal life granted to us through Christ’s resurrection. During the fast we lament our brokenness and sinfulness, admitting and confessing the problem that has warranted us to be cast us from the gates of Paradise. And when we celebrate Christ’s most glorious resurrection–Pascha–we celebrate that through God’s grace and love for all we are admitted back into Paradise free-of-charge, for we are incapable of earning our salvation. As Saint John Chrysostom says in his Paschal homily, recited on Pascha in every church every year:
If any be a devout lover of God, let him partake with gladness from this fair and radiant feast . . . For the Master is generous and accepts the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour in the same way as him who has laboured from the first. He accepts the deed, and commends the intention. . . Let none lament his poverty; for the universal Kingdom is revealed. Let none bewail his transgressions; for the light of forgiveness has risen from the tomb. Let none fear death; for death of the Saviour has set us free.
So, just as the entirety of the natural world was sanctified through God being made man and then redeemed by His death and glorious resurrection, when dawn breaks early on Pascha morning and the Church sings “Christ is risen!” for the first time, the liturgical world steps back into sync with the natural. It seems to me that springtime is the earth decorating itself in preparation for the Church’s Paschal celebrations.
For most of my readers, today is Great and Holy Saturday, and tomorrow is Pascha. For those of us in the Old Country, today is Lazarus Saturday and tomorrow is “Flowery Sunday.” I am already very excited for Pascha, but I’ll write about that when everyone is celebrating together.
To all who are celebrating Pascha tomorrow, I wish you a most radiant feast and celebration of Christ’s conquering of death. Christ is risen! To those who have just finished the season of Lent and are now entering Great and Holy Week, I wish you a most blessed week with the Bridegroom. I’ll see you on the other side. 😉 ☦️
Pray for me.
St Lazarus of Bethany, pray for us! St Joseph of Arimathea, pray for us!
~Philip, a subdeacon