In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1, 1-17)
This is the starting point for our understanding of the sanctification of time. It is the Eastern Christian experience, which goes back to the apostles themselves, that in the
center of our liturgical life, in the very center of that time which we measure as year, we find the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection. What is the Resurrection?
Resurrection is the appearance in this world, completely dominated by time and therefore by death, of life that shall have not end. The One who rose again from the dead does not die anymore. In this world of ours, not somewhere else, not in any “other” world, there appeared one morning someone who is beyond death and yet in our time. This meaning of Christ’s Resurrection, this great joy, is the central theme of Christianity; and it has been preserved in its fullness in the liturgy of the Eastern Christian church. There is much truth expressed by those who say that the central theme of our faith, the centre of all its experience, the frame of reference for everything else in her, is the Resurrection of Christ.
We Eastern Christians living in the West are in danger of losing this resurrection spirit of Christianity. We are concerned with death much more than with resurrection, and church life sometimes is dominated by the funeral rather than the resurrection type of piety. Yet no one can understand the real structure of the liturgical cycle of the year unless he understands that the center, the day that gives meaning to all days and therefore to all time, is the yearly commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection
Pascha is always the end and always the beginning. We are always living after Pascha, and we are always going towards Pascha. The whole spirit and meaning of liturgical life is contained in Pascha, together with the subsequent fifty-day period which culminates in the feast of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
This unique Paschal celebration is reflected every week in the Christian Sunday, the day which in Old Slavonic is called Voskresenie, “Resurrection.” Though it may seem strange to you, it is important to realize that every Sunday is a Little Pascha. I say “Little Pascha,” but it is really “Great Pascha.” Every week the Church comes to the same central experience: “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ . . .” Every Saturday night, when the Priest carries the Gospel from the Altar to the center of the Church, after he has read the Gospel of the Resurrection, the same fundamental fact of our Christian Faith is proclaimed: CHRIST IS RISEN! St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been
raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (I Cor. 15:14).
There is nothing else to believe. This is the heart of our Faith; and it is only the reference to Pascha, as the end of all merely natural time and the beginning of the new time, that we can understand the whole liturgical year. Pentecost is the fulfillment of Pascha. If you open a calendar, you will find all our Sundays are called Sundays after
Pentecost, and Pentecost itself is fifty days after Pascha. Pentecost is the fulfillment of Pascha. Christ ascended into heaven and sent down His Holy Spirit. When He
sent down His Holy Spirit into the world, a new society was instituted, a body of people, whose took on a new meaning.
This new meaning comes directly from Christ’s Resurrection. We are no longer people in meaningless time that leads to a meaningless end. We are given not only a new meaning in life, but even death itself has acquired a new significance. In the troparion of Pascha we say, “trampling down death by death.” We do not say that He
trampled down death by the Resurrection, but by death. And although a Christian still faces death, being in this way similar to any other man, death has for him a new
significance. It means entering into the Pascha of the Lord, into His own passage from the old into a new life. This is the key to the liturgical year of the Church.
Christianity is, first of all, the proclamation in this world of Christ’s Resurrection. Eastern Christian spirituality is paschal in its inner content, and the real content of the Christian life is joy.We speak of feasts, and the feast is the expression of Christianity as joy. When you teach children, you convey to them not only certain knowledge but also the spirit which is behind this knowledge. You know that the one thing a child accepts easily is joy. But we have made our Christianity so adult, so serious, so sad, so solemn, that we have virtually emptied it of that joy. Yet Christ has said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15, and Luke 18:17).
To become like a child, in Christ’s words, means to be capable of that joy of which an adult is no longer capable, to enter into communion with things, with nature, with other people, without suspicion or fear or frustration. We often use the term grace, but what is grace? Charis in Greek means not only grace but also joy. If I stress this point so much, it is because of my certainty that our first message must be this message of Paschal Joy. When on Pascha night we stand at the door of the Church and the Priest says, “Christ is Risen,” the night in the words of Gregory of Nyssa, Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ becomes “lighter than the day.” Here is the strength, the real root of the Christian experience. And only within the framework of this joy can we understand everything else.
Let us keep in mind that Pascha is the real beginning of our liturgical year. The year “officially” begins on September 1st; but I am speaking here in terms of its spiritual principle and foundation, because Pascha truly opens our understanding of time. The world was dark, and Someone brought in light and warmth. The world was sad because it had become a cemetery, and Someone said, “Death is no more.”
This is what Christ did in this world. It was cold and sinful and cruel, and He came and said, “Rejoice!” This is the way Christ addressed His disciples. “Rejoice! Peace
be with you!” Paschal joy is, therefore, the beginning of Christian experience.
- Reflection by the Very Rev. Alexander Schmemann, who is the author of several books including 'Great Lent: Journey to Pascha'.