Pascha in the West and the East

Pascha in the West and the East May 6, 2005

by His Eminence, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

[I’ve read his books, admire his work, met him, and consider myself a “fan”. But I honestly have no idea what His Eminence is trying to say in this article. Perhaps something got lost in translation?]

The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Resurrection, because it gives prominence to Christ’s victory over death. Pascha is the overcoming of death, the passage of the Word to the human nous and not the diffusion of the nous to human reason and senses.

When one examines the “ethos” of the Orthodox, one finds that it sheds the “spirit” and the life that comes out of the Tomb: the “life in the tomb” as the hymns say. It is a blaze and orgasm of life. This is where the difference between western Christianity and the Orthodox Church can be seen:

*Saint Francis, in Kanzantzakis’ biography, reaching the highest degree of spiritual life by feeling “God crucified” in his body. He said, “It’s a cross, Brother Leone, man’s body is a cross — open your arms and you will see — God is crucified upon it”. And he prayed, “My Christ, my love, I ask one favour of you, one favour for me before I die — that I may feel in my body and soul, as far as possible, Your pain and Your Holy passion…” He reached the point of seeing the wounds of the Cross on his body, and while he asked for another, greater, experience, he heard a divine voice saying: “Do not ask for more; this is where man’s ascent ends at the Crucifixion!”

*On the other hand, an Orthodox saint, St. Silouan the Athonite, saw the Resurrected Christ and experienced Pascha within his being and within creation. Following the vision of Christ resurrected he said, “I was living in a paschal feast. Everything was beautiful; the world was grand, people were pleasing, nature was unspeakably lovely, the body changed and became light, strength was added … the soul overflowed with joy, it had compassion on people and prayed for the whole world.”

This difference between Western and Eastern thinking is seen in the difference between Sartre and St. Serpahim of Sarov. The former (Sartre) disillusioned by western Christianity said “The other is my hell!”. The latter (saint Seraphim of Sarov) addressed everyone who met him with the greeting “Christ is Risen, my joy”. Each and every ‘other’ is not ‘different’ a ‘stranger’ a ‘foreigner’ , but a brother. The experience of the Resurrection overcomes death, neutralizes selfishness, abolishes Hades. Otherwise, man is enclosed in his own personal hell.

Mortal problems

In celebrating “our Pascha” as “the feast of feasts” and as “the death of death, the first-fruits of another life that is eternal” we feel within ourselves and around ourselves the scent of spiritual death, of life that is before the Resurrection of Christ.

We live biological life simply as survival, and indeed, mortal. We chant “Christ is Risen!”, we celebrate on the outside, but the bitterness of Hades rules within us, often even in church life. The remembrance of death is bitter, so too the pain of loneliness. The venomous constraints in the field of Christianity are bitter, even in the Church itself, which continues to be the Church of the Resurrection and to preach the mystery of the Resurrection.

Our various passions keep us away from the existential festival of life. The various pressures make church life feel different. Christians divided by various political considerations, the Orthodox with various rivalries amongst themselves, does not remind us of the Resurrected Christ at all.

The crucifixion of the Orthodox Church continues. The wounds of the Cross of the Church in Jerusalem, from internal weaknesses and external influences blacken the “Holy Fire” that comes from the Sepulchre of Christ. The political opportunism, the nationalistic racists with all too human passions do not allow the joy of the Resurrection to shine out as light to the people around.

The domineering powers that can be seen in all Christian confessions drain away the “Joy to all”, the “Peace unto you”, the “be of good cheer”, because they are ruled by other alien powers, foreign to the “spirit” of the Resurrected Christ. Unfortunately, politics, often in ecclesiastical dress, are the nails of the crucified Church, the bride of the Resurrected Christ. And the worldly-led pressures take place in the name of the term “mother Church”.

In accordance with the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods and the later secession of the Papal Church from the truth of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the First Throne – mother Church. However, some Orthodox Churches are trying to raise up the Church of Jerusalem into this place and they call her mother Church, at the expense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Even the new Pope, as President of the Committee for the teaching of the Faith, which is an continuation of the Inquisition, a few years ago (2000), published a text which examined the term “sister Churches”, which had been used both by Patriarch Athenagoras as well as by the Second Vatican Council. He explained that “The holy, catholic and apostolic universal Church (meaning the Roman Catholic) is not a sister, but the mother of all the particular churches.” So he recommends that “One should avoid, as a cause of misunderstanding and theological confusion, the use of terms such as “our two Churches…” The Ecumenical Patriarchate is thus undermined and a worldly expression of

the Church can be seen.

The True Pascha of the Church

Our Pascha, as the victory over death and the experience of life, is lived out today despite the secular-minded powers and tendencies. It is experienced by those who live humbly and existentially within the sphere of the Church, away from secularization, racism and political considerations and can be clearly seen in the relics of saints. Normally, the bodies of those saints that have fallen asleep, which are a just mass of cells, within which are included the cells for ageing, should rot away. However, the power and grace of the Resurrection does not let them break up, something which proves they have overcome death. The saint is a person who is asleep awaiting the last wake up call. This is our Pascha, as a mystery of the Resurrection, and not as a religiousized Christianity with the passion of love of precendence, of division, of rivalry. ‘Our Pascha’ cannot be replaced by ‘our Religion’, which lives under the rule of death. Resurrected Christ cannot be made up of political expressions of Christianity, and the power of the Resurrection cannot fit within “Christian States”. It is experienced apophatically, hesychastically, with eros, and humility.

Translated from:;=34938448.
Originally posted on the Orthodox (Indiana) List by Marina Robb.

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