The Fatalism of Pascha
Archimandrite Savva (Mazhuko)
Behind the cry of “Christ is Risen” lies the inevitable fact that each one of us will also rise. But then what? On the leave-taking of the feast of Pascha, we offer the following reflection by Archimandrite Savva (Mazhuko).
It is a well known fact that the Paschal cry of “Christ is Risen” contains within itself the entire Gospel, like a summary of the apostolic preaching. It is like the short formulas in mathematics or physics in which entire volumes of scientific works are presented in “condensed” form: if you want to expand this formula, to remove the parentheses and write it on the board, the board might not be big enough, but you will feel a bit lightheaded, experience a flush of rapture and delight, and even get a scientific thrill.
We rarely remove the parentheses from our usual “condensed” Gospel – “Christ is Risen” – because it is just so joyful to shout “Christ is Risen,” to exchange kisses, and to sing the Paschal Canon with childlike enthusiasm to the entire church, making mistakes, forgetting words, and joyfully shouting until we have grown hoarse. Fine and good. There is something restful and even quiet in this Paschal polyphony.
Then comes a sudden flash into this quiet: “Christ is Risen” is about my fate, about my resurrection, about the fact that one day each of us will be able to cry out to the entire universe with unrestrained jubilation in a new voice: “I am risen! I am alive forever!” Alive with the Savior’s life and risen with Christ’s resurrection – but it is I, the real me and no one else, who is risen. I shall see Him myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:27).
There is something else, something frightening and disarming, that tempers this delight. I am not the only one who will rise. Everyone who is alive or has lived will rise and have life. The eyes of every one of these people – these very real people who have risen in their very own bodies – will see their Redeemer and Resurrector. And they will also see me. “Savva is risen!” “Truly he is risen!” “Andrew is risen!” “Truly he is risen!” “Anna is risen!” “Truly she is risen!”
They will all rise – absolutely all of them. Even that enormous lady who floods my apartment every month? Undoubtedly. Even that evildoer who slandered me to the boss? Most certainly. Even my friend who so cruelly deceived and laughed at me? Him too. Everyone.
Even people into whose eyes you are afraid to look, and that girl you are terrified of meeting, and your brothers to whom you paid so little attention, and the children who have been waiting too long for your love and pride, and your mother, whose fondness for chocolate you have only just discovered.
Our neighbors are immortal. They are our eternal companions. We are condemned to them. They are our fate: we are sentenced to them, and they are sentenced to us. This is both frightening and disarming. There is nowhere to run! They will be there in the bridal chambers prepared for them – their faces, their hacking coughs, they way they chomp away at table, that wheezing of theirs.
The only way out is to learn how to love them in the here and now. To learn right here – at home, in church, at work – how to get along with everyone, so that when we see their faces and hear their voices we would love, accept, and forgive them. Therefore the preachers of the Gospel, who shouted only one message to all peoples and tribes – “Christ is Risen” – went on to say: Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath… Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:26,31-32).
These are not just ethical maxims or moral appendices to the Apostle Paul’s Christology, but the most immediate consequence of preaching the Risen God. The dogma of Christ’s Resurrection is the foundation of Christian ethics. It is upon this foundation alone that these ethics can be accepted, understood, and absorbed.
“My eternal brethren, my immortal brethren!” Thus the great Serbian Elder, St. Justin (Popovic), began a Paschal letter. Holy people have seen this frightening but reassuring fatalism of Pascha. We cannot hide from our neighbors anywhere – although it is comforting that they, too, have nowhere to hide from us. We are condemned to one another. Therefore the only way to accept the Paschal tidings is to learn to love our eternal companions for Eternity.