21 April OS 2016 – Wednesday of Renewal Week, Holy Hieromartyr Januarius, S. Anastasios of Mt. Sinai
Christ is Risen!
In the reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter concludes his great proclamation of the Resurrection delivered to the multitude in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost:
At that time, Peter said: Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. – Acts of the Apostles 2:22-36
From the Apostles’ time until now, every generation has heard the proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ, and everyone who has heard has had to decide, “Do I believe or not?” St. Theophan the Recluse addresses this choice in his message for today:
The mind can prove the truth of the Resurrection through reason based on the Scripture, and a non-believer cannot but admit the power of its arguments, as long as a sense of truth is not yet dead in him. A believer does not need proof, because the Church of God is filled with the light of the Resurrection. Both of these indicators of truth are faithful and convincing. But counter-reasoning can spring up and contradict the mind’s reason, and faith can be trampled and shaken by perplexities and doubts coming from without and arising within. Is there no invincible wall around the truth of the Resurrection? There is. It will occur when the power of the Resurrection, received at Baptism, begins to be actively revealed, as it purges the corruption of the soul and body and establishes within them the beginnings of a new life. He who experiences this will walk in the light of the Resurrection, and anyone speaking against the truth of the Resurrection will seem to him insane, like a person saying in the daytime that it is night. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 86
We have all experienced this: Doubts arise, temptations to question our Faith, to wander off somehow. Then by God’s grace we take action: We arise and say our prayers; we do some spiritual reading; we go to Church and experience the joy of the divine services; we express our doubts to our priest or an Orthodox friend, and he gives us an inspired reply. The heart is made firm, the mind clears, we are at peace once again, and we say, “How could I have ever thought that?”
After the effort of Great Lent, and especially the effort of Holy Week and the climactic great vigil of the Resurrection on Holy Saturday night, there is usually a temptation to let down our guard spiritually and lapse into a worldly way of thinking: “Whew, that is over with. I have done my duty, and it was very nice, but now I can go back to ‘normal’ life.” For some, this means perhaps missing daily prayers now and then, or just eating too much, or losing our resolve not to think bad thoughts about others, and other typical daily failings. For others, however, it may mean forsaking any Church attendance and any thought of the Faith for weeks on end – taking a “summer vacation” from being Orthodox. Light-minded people pass this off as normal behavior, but it is actually not a light matter; it is equivalent to killing yourself in May and hoping that God will resurrect you in September to pick up where you left off. But God is not obligated to do so. God is not mocked. After your little “vacation,” you may not return; you can very easily become that insane person who does not believe in the Resurrection.
It is possible, even, in a sense, easy, however, to maintain our vigilance and not “take a vacation from Church,” because what we have received at Pascha is precisely this power of the Resurrection that St. Theophan writes of, a power given not for show but for work: the power to purge the corruption of soul and body. But to put this power to work, we have to choose to be vigilant and active in our spiritual life, and we have to go deep within, desiring to treasure and nurture inside of us the grace that we have received, not just have a nice experience and then distractedly move on to other things. When we experience the inner resurrection, the cleansing and enlivening of the soul, it brings us great joy. But it is a quiet joy, an inner reality, not a scene in a sentimental religious movie with emotional music playing and special effects enhancing our “religious experience.” It is not manipulated from without; it comes from within. We have become so used to being manipulated, however, as a way of life, that being proactive agents in our spiritual and mental life seems foreign to us.
Let us, then, be proactive and take simple steps to maintain the Paschal grace. Yes, we are not fasting as much now, and the services are shorter. But this little relaxation is provided to give us the energy to be more vigilant, not less. Let us make sure we have our prayer ropes and are saying the Jesus Prayer as much as possible, that we keep up our prayer routines and going to Church, and that in forty days we prepare to go to Communion again, not waiting for the Apostles’ Fast. Also, let us pick out a good spiritual book and do some reading every day. This simple approach, if taken seriously, will be very pleasing to the Risen Lord, and He will give His grace a thousand-thousand-fold to aid our humble efforts.
St. Peter’s words above are the bold proclamation of the Resurrection. I would like to conclude with something he said in another place, to remind us how to preserve and nurture the grace of the Resurrection within us:
Brethren, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist, steadfast in the faith. – I Peter 5:8-9