Eastern and Western liturgical calendars differ regarding the celebration of moveable feasts such as Pascha (Easter). Sunday, April 8th, Easter is celebrated by most Christian denominations. The Eastern Orthodox Church will celebrate Pascha on April 15th. It still uses the Julian calendar whereas the civil and liturgical schedule in the West is the Gregorian calendar. This can be a dilemma for some Orthodox parishes. Immigrants may want tradition in contrast to those born in America or Canada wanting a more widely used calendar. Some parishes try to accommodate both immigrants and first, second, and third generations with two Easter liturgies. Others have adopted the Western calendar. In Eastern Europe there is no dilemma. Only the Julian calendar is used.
As a sojourner I have developed an appreciation, perhaps a need, for utilizing both the Julian and Gregorian liturgical calendars. I find it an opportunity to further explore spirituality from what John Paul II described as Christendom’s left and right lungs (the Roman and Orthodox Churches). It better oxygenates my soul. It gives me pause to think in different ways about Christ’s two greatest commandments – to love God with heart and soul and to love one another as Jesus unconditionally loves us.
Holy Week in the Western tradition includes an invitation to reflect on the Stations of the Cross. The Eastern Church, with the exception of some Western Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics, do not have a similar observance. The Eastern Church, however, does have the Twelve Passion Gospel readings (John 13:31-18:1; John 18:1-29; Matthew 26:57-75; John 18:28–19:16; Matthew 27:3-32; Mark 15:16-32; Matthew 27:33-54; Luke 23:32-49; John 19:19-37; Mark 15:43-47; John 19:38-42; and Matthew 27:62-66). Cultural and theological reasons exist why the Stations devotional is not observed among the Eastern Orthodox.
Part of it stems from Christological differences. Personally, I also think that the Eastern Church has a kind of mysticism to it not found in the West. In Orthodoxy, Jesus is better understood as a mystical man, a mystical God-head, a mystical person beyond our comprehension. This is not to suggest that Orthodoxy doesn’t recognize him as having been a real, tangible presence on earth. The Western devotional to the Stations of the Cross underscores the humanness of Jesus with a different kind of spiritual reality.
Although not discounting in any way the suffering of Jesus, Orthodox mysticism calls the worshiper’s attention to a transfigured, transformative experience. If any comparison is possible think about how you feel smelling the ocean and hearing its roar. You’re not likely to think “isn’t that beautiful.” Probably you’ll have stillness of thoughts to live in the moment. Sit and watch a grove of birch trees with branches swaying in a gentle wind beneath a blue sky. You won’t tell yourself “isn’t that pretty.” You take in the moment. You taste it with your eyes. You inhale the experience and let it fill your being.
The Stations of the Cross is a devotional that draws one to empathy and compassion. It draws you into a different kind of feeling. It attempts to “quantify” or make real for our limited minds the willingness of God to experience pain, degradation, and humiliation on our behalf. We all know first-hand about pain, degradation, and humiliation. In a very small way we can understand in a small way what Jesus did on behalf of others.
It spiritually teaches us in a tangible way to love and forgive. It reminds us of ongoing suffering and to see Christ in the faces of the homeless, abused children, battered women, or those fighting to pay a mortgage in a down economy.
Using Christendom’s left and right lungs I can feed my soul mystically and still experience the tangible presence of God. I can empathize with a brother or sister’s pain and through the mysteries of private prayer help them transcend and transform. I’m reminded of God’s kingdom here and now and of the kingdom that is yet to come.