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Thoughts about Holy Pascha
Thy Resurrection, O’ Christ the Savior,
The Angels in Heaven sing
And make us worthy also on Earth
Glorify Thee with pure heart!
Stikhera for the Holy Pascha, tone 6
…And make us also ..with pure heart!
The Holy Pascha is coming and we don’t want to be just observers or even witnesses. We want to participate, participate with our entire being. We want to be with Christ, no – not just with Christ, we want to be part of Him, we wish to live His life! He is risen – we long to rise with Him. We want to run to the Sepulchre with Peter and John, we want to touch Jesus together with Thomas, we want our heart to burn while hearing His words like Luke’s and Cleopas’. “My Lord and my God!” (John 20,28). Not just God, not God of the entire world, but mine, my own – the One who came to save me, to change my life, to purify my soul, to make me part of Him. Pascha, the Holy Christ’s Resurrection, the Feast of the Feasts and the Celebration of the Celebrations – comes down to be something very precious and intimate, even concealed.
I remember my first Pascha in the church. I was baptized in 1981 near Moscow. It was Brezhnev time: religion wasn’t forbidden, but was viewed as something extremely odd and outlived, some of the churches were opened, but most of them were closed. Yes, you could come to church for the service on Sunday, but it would be better if you do it in some rural place or not during major holidays, let alone Pascha.
During Pascha, churches were heavily patrolled by the police and parishioners, especially the young, who wanted to come for the celebration, were filtered: to get inside one would need a special pass. Officially it was done for the protection of the parishioners from the strangers, unofficially – to limit the number of the churchgoers which was supposed to be very small in a blooming atheistic state (other methods to lead the youth away from the church such as disco parties during Pascal night, so called subbotnicks – mandatory, free of salary workdays on Paschal Sunday, etc – were also broadly used by the civil authorities).
As a second-year medical student, I wouldn’t face jail time if I got caught in the church, but would definitely encounter some problems during my career – so, like many others, I preferred to not take a risk.
Besides being an unwanted obstacle for the state, I had even a bigger problem in the family. Like many more others in the Soviet state at that time, my family members were non-believers (by mercy of God, it changed with years). Besides that, they were also coming from the Jewish origin. They didn’t know too much about Christianity, but they had heard of two myths: that believers were wild and uneducated people, and that Christians participated in pogroms. Obviously, with that background they weren’t going to accept their son being part of such a group!
The latter obstacle was much harder to bypass for me: if the state ultimately didn’t care what one believed as long as his behavior was quiet, it was almost impossible to hide what you were doing from your loving family. So, I tried not to attract unnecessary attention to myself and attended the church more or less quietly and almost secretly – and henceforth coming to church during Paschal services was a closed subject for me. Only five years later, when the attitude started changing both in my family and the society, I managed to come for my first Paschal service openly.
My first feeling was that finally I reached the Kingdom of Heaven which had been closed for me before because of my unworthiness. I hadn’t gone to the seminary and academy yet and my mind wasn’t overloaded with Dogmatic Theology, but my heart knew it all already!
I remember another Paschal Procession a few years later when the society started going not only through the freedom of faith, but also freedom of everything else. Approximately an hour before the beginning of the night service some young people with their hair and faces dyed with a color unknown to humanity, and with the expression of their faces which was very far from any spiritual interest, but rather hungry for fun and adventure, entered the church, looked around and walked outside. They climbed up the fence around the church and were waiting for the procession to start with an obvious intention to interfere with some noisy comments…
When the service began, the clergy and then the choir started singing at much slower pace than it is usually done. Much slower, much quieter and much more solemn! It is very hard to express, but the feeling was unbelievable! When the procession went outside the church and started walking around the temple, young people on the fence were completely silent. They weren’t even talking to each other. They looked stunned, astonished, glued to the fence! They disappeared soon thereafter, but during that moment there was no doubt that their hearts felt the Divine Grace and they became also participants of the Holy Resurrection.
About ten more years later I was already in New York City and was helping in the Altar during services as a subdeacon. My nephew, who was also my godson and was only 10 or 11, served as an altar boy, too. Processions around St. Nicholas Cathedral at that time weren’t taking place yet and the whole procession was ending up on the steps at the front entrance. I called my nephew to help the bishop during the procession, but he, as usual at his age, was very busy talking to his friends, making jokes and got extremely displeased that I pulled him away from his noble business.
We walked throughout the church to the front entrance and came down the steps – so did my nephew having a very bored and upset expression on his face. The doors of the temple got closed and the Paschal Matins started. “Christ Is risen from the dead trampling down death by death..” Christ is Risen, – cries out the bishop. – Truly He is Risen – replies the crowd. I am looking at my nephew… There is an expression “the face was shining”.
It was probably the first time in my life when I saw this happening literally, not just symbolically. His face, his eyes were brightly shining! We Orthodox people are unaware of the precious jewelry we own. We can’t imagine what our faith can do, what our worship does! “Weren’t out hearts burning within us while He talked to us on the road and opened to us the Scriptures”? (Luke 24, 32).
I am wishing the readers to enjoy peaceful, quiet, prayerful and really spiritual celebration of the Holy Pascha.
Christ Is Risen!