Pascha 2009


PASCHA  2009


Christ is Risen!!





Dn. George

The Final Four

It seems to me that it is ironic that “March Madness” happens each year during Great Lent.  If you’re a sport’s fan, like me, you watch the progress through the brackets; always looking forward to the next weekend.  For those readers outside the U.S., what I am talking about is the basketball playoff system that is used by the college and university system here in the states.  After playing in their leagues across the land, the top sixty-four teams begin a playoff leading to four teams which are called the Final Four. During that last few days, the tension increases while the last four teams play each other until there is one winner. I think that there is a parallel with the Fast. 

We’re constantly pointing to our goal, Pascha. Each service prompts us to remember the final step, the Resurrection.  We work our way through the brackets, each Sunday of Great Lent.  At each stage there is a victory.  The victory enables us to move on to the next.  As we progress through these Sundays, we must prepare for the next level.  During the week, the Church gives us “practice opportunities;” the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies, the Akathist Hymn.  Each, in their own way, not only encourages our progress, but also supports our efforts.  Each Sunday gives us a new game strategy, with an almost ESPN-like hall of fame player featured.  Each of us is supported by a coach, our father confessor.  The final week the excitement grows and by the last few days there is real tension.  Like the march to the Final Four, it is much more satisfying if you have been involved from the very beginning of the long progression to the big finish, but you can get into it at the very end and still feel the exhilaration.  Here’s where the really moving divergence comes to pass.  Unlike the Final Four, there are no losers, when our “big week” is over.  Everyone is a winner.  We can all cheer, because this triumph is universal and eternal.

Discerning the Signs of the Times (Part 3)

The chapters we will explore today are chapters 5 and 6.  It is my opinion that the editors of this book made a slight mistake.  I believe that the order of these two chapters should be reversed.  So, I am going to discuss chapter six, first.  The topic of this chapter is Alexander Bukharev.  He was a Russian religious thinker of the nineteenth century.  Honestly, he is a reasonably unknown except to a few Russian specialists.  As Mme Behr-Sigel reveals, Bukharev’s theology has influenced many Russian theologians of this last century, the names of which, we would all recognize from the Russian émigré community of Paris.  Most of all, I believe Bukharev influence is evident when the topic of the “mystical theology” of Orthodoxy is discussed.  A child of a clergyman, a theologian, monk-priest and once again a layman, Alexander returned to the world after some years in monastic life.  In his teachings, he emphasized the parallel between the kenotic love of Christ

Rublev's Face of Christ
Rublev's Face of Christ

and being the servant of one’s neighbor in the world.  Through his life and writings, we can see a Christian who does not cloister his faith, but makes faith alive in service to humanity.  For Bukharev, a faith alive was one that had a social context to alleviate suffering in the earthly world.  As Behr-Sigel says: “Bukharev’s approach was the integral connection between this ‘mystical theology’ and the concern for a compassionate, actively creative and transforming presence in the world.”  The Monk in the City as Elisabeth titles her essay elucidates a life of service linked with a profound spiritual empting of one’s self to express the love of Christ.  This theology expresses “worship of the living God through service to others” is evocative of the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The proceeding chapter focuses on the story of Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945)a spiritual inheritor of the theology of Bukharev.  Born in Latvia, her name in the world was Elisabeth Pilenko.  She became a politically active Socialist in Russia around the time of the revolution; escaping to Paris with her husband.  In Paris, she became involved with the Russian Students Movement and became friends with many of the Russian theological intelligentsia.  Sergius Bulgakov became her father confessor.  A theologian, poet and social worker she petitioned her bishop to take up the habit.  She was professed and was given the monastic name Maria.

Mother Maria of Paris
Mother Maria of Paris

She strongly wished to continue a monasticism open to the world in the manner of Alexander Bukharev.  In the 1930s she reached out to the suffering poor of Paris. A controversial socially active monasticism caused a scandal with more conservative church members, but Mother Maria endured.  With the advent of World War II, Mother Maria and her friends reached out to help Jews hide and escape Nazi persecution.  She was betrayed to the Germans and was put to death, taking the place of a young girl scheduled to die in the gas chambers.  Her martyrdom took place in the last days of the war in Ravensbruck concentration camp;   On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky. All four died in German concentration camps.  On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky.

Being in the Desert

It hardly seems possible, but here we are at week four of Great Lent.  The Church tries to bolster our spirits by holding up the Holy Cross as a symbol of courage, sacrifice and victory; pointing us to the Resurrection.  Never the less, if you’re like me there is this feeling of a slump.  We start the fast with enthusiasm and zeal, but we’ve come this far and it seems that we’re tiring of the whole thing.  Besides during this Lenten period, it seems that there are “slumps” everywhere, the markets have really slumped, the employment picture is slumping, and even the new president’s popularity numbers are slumping.  I guess we are not immune to the sense of dissatisfaction even with the course of our progress towards the Great Feast. 

Sign of Victory
Sign of Victory

 As a young boy, I remember my dad, who was a priest, always placed the Holy Cross on a tray of bright yellow daffodils.  This sign of spring and the promise of the coming of Pascha seemed enough when I was that age.  Now, I don’t know!  I am much older; life is much more complex.  Our consumer society offers so many distractions and alternatives.  In every Orthodox parish there is the increased availability of services during this period, but there is also all those other things that sidetrack us.  It is so easy to say not tonight, not this morning, next time.  So what should we do?  I know you’re probably thinking … Here it comes – the scolding and the guilt trip.  Actually no – because this year I am more at fault than most of you!  Well, again, what do we do?  I really don’t know.  Last night, when I was trying to think how to structure this entry something came to me.  Maybe, what I need is to quiet the clamor.  The word that came to mind, which reminded me of St. Gregory Palamas, is hesychia, silence or quiet.  This might be the time to sit down, shut the world out and let God speak to me and tell me how to fight the slump.  What a novel idea listen, don’t think – don’t talk – just listen. As you probably guessed, the concept of not thinking and being quiet is difficult for me.  I’ll let you know if it helps.