Dear Parishioners of Annunciation Kankakee and Friends Everywhere:
Let us be there with Christ, Tonight, Tomorrow, This Week, and Always!
This is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice in it and be glad!
Tonight is the eve of Holy Week for hundreds of millions of Orthodox and other Eastern Christians, and the eve of Easter for even more numerous Western Christians. As ever, all Christians are united in the unity of our essential belief, and the small things that identify us as different, best serve to give us new opportunities for spiritual growth and understanding. Differences in calendars and the celebration of Passover aside, we all know these days are the center of our life in this world, and the focus of our hope for life in the next.
This is an Easter season that no one has experienced before, and in our deep sadness that the world is ill, and that so much that we expect and value has been taken from us, I fear that we are too sad, too morose, too frightened. Yes, this time is unique, uniquely bad. But so much of human history been sad, morose, frightening; uniquely bad. People have lived through so much worse and survived. The resilience of God’s world is reflective of His saving Grace. So many wars that lasted for so many years; plagues with no hope and no end in sight; centuries of slavery and servitude; a Communist rule of half the world, where for decades, people were afraid – and places where they are afraid still – to be seen even to make the sign of the cross.
Today’s medical crisis has grown to be much more than that. I guess it was inevitable, but the uncertainty of today gives us great fear about tomorrow. We cannot let it. We must train all our thoughts and prayers and hopes on the centrality of Jesus’s birth, life, death and resurrection for us. For as my old friend at Loyola, Brother Michael Grace, with love in his eyes and no reproach in his voice, said, when I boasted to him that we Orthodox greet each other with “Christ is Risen!’ for the 40 days after Easter: “You know Nick, we could do that every day of the year.” And some people do. So should we.
Here is an approach to doing that, that I wrote three years ago. I think it still fits:
“From the time I was a boy, I think I have been a historian at heart. In that vein, it is, in my mind, impossible not to conclude that Easter – Christ’s Resurrection – was the most important event in the history of the world. The timeline of history absolutely reverberates from that date, and not just in the western world, though of course, that is its center. Correspondingly, Jesus Christ has been the most consequential human who has ever lived, and not just for those of us who believe Him to be God. He influenced history for all the world, in one way or another. His birth was the start of the story, but His Resurrection changed everything. It still does.
However, let me suggest that in the days ahead, we are not commemorating a historical event; we are not recalling and focusing our spiritual life on events that happened nearly two thousand years ago, as meaningful as this approach might be. Rather, we should place ourselves with a living Christ and live the events of Holy Week with him as they are happening, not centuries ago, but now. Because, it is all happening now, all over again. We can feel it and be there with Him if we try. If we do, our Holy Week becomes a living, breathing experience.
We can feel the pure joy as we welcome Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday morning, shouting “Hosanna!” and marveling at the humility of a king we have long-awaited, entering the city on a donkey not much bigger than him. We descend quickly into disappointments, mostly a disappointment in ourselves that we were not ready for, nor worthy of Him.
Perhaps most emotionally of all, we stand before the Cross on Thursday night and Friday afternoon and know that it is not an icon, but Christ Himself, in his singular sacrifice. I think I was in high school when a personal understanding of the truth of the event engulfed me, and the same truth comes pouring out of me every year as I stand before the cross, as I know it will again this year: “Jesus, how have we let this happen again? How could we have crucified you again? Have we learned so little? Please forgive us!”
Somehow, we know that He will forgive us, even though we don’t deserve it. So as we take Him down from the cross and laid Him in his flower-bedecked tomb, and sing songs at His funeral that we call The Lamentations. On the one hand, we are comforting the grief of his mother and his friends and ourselves, but on the other hand, we are also singing at the same time, almost joyously, of His Resurrection, for Christ has already gone into Hades and broken open the tombs of Adam and Eve and all the others. In our tears and our grief and our regret and yes, our guilt, we somehow know that, again this year, Christ will save us and offer us His grace one more time.
And at midnight, as Saturday becomes Easter Sunday, in the form of a single bright candle amidst pure darkness, He does arise again! And we are renewed. It will have all happened again, for nearly the two thousandth time. Christ will have suffered and sacrificed and died and gone to Hell and back and Risen for us, once again. And he will again and again, as long as, in His wisdom and plan, we need it.
Please live it this year with Jesus, and with your brothers and sisters… Let’s not leave Jesus alone this week. There will be moments when, in His humanness, He will be desperately lonely – in the garden, on the way to Calvary, in His divine uniqueness amidst all our humanity. Isn’t that a terribly painful picture of the human Christ feeling alone? Let’s not let Him be lonely. Let us be there with Him. For He is always with us.”
OK, many things are different this year. It’ll be somehow harder when we are not in church. None of us can worship in our communities that mean so much. And in Kankakee, we’ll do a couple fewer services during Holy Week, and be united by Zoom in a couple more. But the essence is the same. Christ will agree, once again, to be humiliated and crucified for us. And He will rise again for us. Let us stand with Him, in every way we can.
I’ll try, and I’ll try to help you do it too.
Meanwhile, stay well and safe. And in anticipation for all of us – whether in a few hours or a few days: Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Fr. Nicholas Greanias
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Bulletin No. 42, April 11, 2020