CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD, TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH, AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE! I couldn’t wait to sing and hear these words this past Sunday! Pascha (Easter) is the greatest celebration on the Christian calendar. Sure, the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) is important as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But, the mission of the Incarnate Word destroyed our greatest enemies; death and corruption (sin) with His death on the cross and third day resurrection. No other time of worship means more to Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians alike. But, I suspect that some Orthodox Christians suffer from the same problem that I have seen (and sometimes suffered from) when I was Baptist. Evangelical author and speaker, Dr. Tony Campolo noted the problem of Revival Services. “During Revival, Baptist sing 20 verses of the hymn, “Just As I Am,” come forward to the altar to be saved just as they are, and go back to living just as they were.” It is not uncommon for people to feel the spiritual urge to live more Christ-like when there is good preaching and singing during a three to five day series of revival services. But, when revival is over, it is too easy to be distracted from the goal of living better and even worse to set aside the desire to live better when the guest preachers and choirs have returned to their churches. I suspect that this happens among too many Orthodox believers as well. After 40 days of fasting during Great Lent and Holy Week, attending Akathist and Pre-Sanctified Liturgy services, making many prostrations during the Liturgy of St. Andrew of Crete and the prayer of St. Epherm the Syrian; we want to celebrate and relax during Bright Week. For those of us in the Antiochian tradition, we don’t begin the Wednesday and Friday fast again until after the Feast of the Ascension. So, there is that temptation let our hair down until we let our heads down as well. We can be lured to putting aside the period of spiritual renewal until next year. Eating bacon and cheese on everything at every meal can cause us to forget our personal prayer rules, the lessons from the spiritual books we read, and even make church more of an option of tradition rather than the place where we stand in the presence of God with our fellow believers. When this happens, the cry, “We have found the true faith,” rings hollow. What is the point of becoming an Orthodox Christian if you aren’t going to take the faith seriously and grow in it? A Baptist, Pentecostal, or other Christian who has never heard the Nicene Creed or read a “Jordanville” prayer book acts in seriousness and sincerity shows more spiritual maturity than the Orthodox that takes the faith for granted. Our Lord warned us that judgment day will be more tolerable for those who had never heard the Gospel than for those who heard the words of salvation and failed to act on them. Father Seraphim Rose describes the failure of not striving to live to one’s spiritual renewal as “spilling one’s grace.” For anyone who has celebrated Easter, Pascha, Revival, or whatever; Fr. Seraphim’s words are worth heeding. Don’t spill your grace. If there was a prayer that you have used that had brought you closer to God’s presence, a suggestion from a spiritual book that helped you to overcome a bad habit, maybe a song or word from a sermon that reminds you to make time for personal worship or confession; don’t sit around and wait for the next such service to use these God-given tools on your spiritual journey. Sure, you don’t have to make 100 prostrations until the next Cannon of St. Andrew. But, adding a few of these acts of humility in your time in your prayer closet isn’t a bad idea. Yes, have that bacon and chili cheese burger until the celebration of our Lord’s Ascension (if that is your tradition). But, why not skip the red meat on the Wednesdays and Fridays out of respect for the brothers and sisters in the other jurisdictions that return earlier to the weekly fast? The early Church Fathers didn’t expect everyone to live as a monastic all year long. Even monks and nuns are guided not to be extreme in their ascetic disciplines. But, we must be diligent to work out our salvation. Applying a little of what we have gained during our prescribed seasons of spiritual renewal will cause us to become more spiritually mature. Speak with your pastor as you look to see what can be added to your walk with the Lord and how to add it. Don’t spill your grace. Grow in it.
… “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Mark 16:10
A Happy Easter to those of us in Western Christendom! A Blessed Palm Sunday to all Orthodox Christians. I will write more when I get back from Sunrise Service. But, here is the sermon in a nutshell.
THE STONES WE EXPECT
(Introduction) In his life’s ministry, we see Jesus having awesome power.
(Antithesis) Seeing him die on the cross, the women had faith enough to see where his powerless body was entombed.
(Thesis) The power of salvation goes beyond the stones we expect will block us from it.
(Relevant Question) What are these stones and why are they such a huge barriers between us and Jesus?
(Points) 1. Our weakness
2. Our low expectations
3. Our lack of understanding
(Conclusion) Those who are faithful to seek Jesus will witness the power of salvation over the stones.
Yours in Christ
Brother Cyprian Bluemood
Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene