PASCHA and PENTECOST

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. Orthodox 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, 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 1; 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.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann