So having just completed our Paschal services, and beginning Bright Week in the Orthodox Church, I’ve been contemplating a lot recently on what it means to say “Christ is risen!” In so contemplating, I began to think about my journey of faith, from childhood through leaving the Church, through rediscovering my faith and the entire process.
There have been during the course of my journey two prominent churches that stood out to me, which I shall not name. However, what I will say of each of them is that one of them taught me to be heavily vested in the power of the Holy Spirit, with a very emotional attachment to the faith; and the other taught me the value and importance of discernment, the value of testing everything against the Scriptures and how to reconcile those things which I was taught with the teaching of the Holy Scriptures to ensure that they were correct; akin to a modern day version of the Bereans. Each of those two taught me very valuable lessons, the like of which I am extremely grateful to God for. While seeming to be polar opposites on the surface, each of them were invaluable to me to teach the importance of each aspect of faith.
And then, one day, I was posed a question, by a prominent Protestant pastor. The question was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Forget everything you know about church, everything you know about theology, just forget all of that. Now, if you were stranded on an island for three years, with nothing but the Bible, and you read it day in and day out for all three years; and then you were to get off of the island and go to a church in America, would that church look anything like you would have imagined based on the Scripture?” And, the very honest answer, that I’m sure even the most devoted evangelical would give, is no. Not even close. So, after hearing that and deeply, prayerfully, contemplating that, I began to observe more and more each time I went to church, in order to return to the Church of the New Testament, what would have to change? And I found myself more and more going to services and thinking, “okay, this would need to change, and this would need to change, and…” so on and so on. I began studying the Catholic Church, against my better judgment, because it’s roots were much deeper than the Protestant Church.
And then a very valuable thing happened, I heard about Hank Hanegraaf converting to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and I was wondering, “what is THAT?” I had never even heard of it. So, I began researching it more and more. And, as God would have it, I came into possession of a book (as good Protestant aspiring theologians seek) called, “Becoming Orthodox,” by Peter Gilliquist. And it was the founders of the “Campus Crusade for Christ,” and a detailed account of their search for the New Testament Church, the search for the Church that we read about in the Book of Acts. I won’t go really into detail about this book, but I will say that I highly recommend it. Basically, they divided into groups based on the important elements of Church, of prayer, of worship; and once they had all done years of research, they came to the conclusion that the Church of the New Testament, the Church that we read about and aspire to come to, still existed, and it was the Orthodox Church.
All of this was rekindled in me as we celebrated Holy Week last week, and the Passion of Good Friday last Friday; the descent into Hades on Saturday, and the Resurrection Saturday night/Sunday morning. It was all rekindled in me, because I started thinking about how exactly I had gotten here.
See, as a Protestant, I was taught all about the Resurrection from a very strong academic view. I was taught that Christ had been crucified 2000 years ago, was placed in the tomb, and was resurrected on the third day. But, it was almost like reading a history book, and a history book about something that I was chronologically challenged, that since I was born almost two centuries later, that I could never experience. Even the reenactments of “Maundy Thursday” and all of the movies never gave me the true sense of what was happening. Basically, it was “Christ died and was risen, and sorry kid, you missed it.”
And that’s what I love so much about the Orthodox Church. It’s not past tense, it’s not something that I missed due to the chronological challenge of being birthed nearly two thousand years after the fact, because our God exists outside of time. During Holy Week, we relive the whole experience of it all. We proclaim Hosanna as our savior rides into Jerusalem. We weep bitter tears as He is tried and crucified; we celebrate Saturday His descent into the depths of Hades to rescue the souls of those trapped therein. And then, on Pascha, we begin the vigil in tears and prostration before the tomb, in near total darkness; only to have procession and then end in the Sanctuary joyfully proclaiming that Christ is Risen. Christ IS Risen, not two thousand years ago, but today. Not theoretically, not historically, but in present day reality. He is resurrected, and we with Him, every day of our lives. As many as died with Christ in baptism are made alive with Him.
And THAT is the fullness of the faith, not studiously, but experientially. Not only to learn about Christ, but to experience Him as well. And that is what I have been contemplating on. My journey. I will never regret any of the time that I spent in any of the churches that I have encountered, because each of them taught me foundational truths that were necessary for me to experience the fullness of the faith. I love the very emotional approach of the Church that I was initially baptized in, because it taught me to love the feeling of being in the presence of God and to not overthink that feeling, to not try to rationalize away those feelings which the Holy Spirit Himself placed in me. I love the studious approach to Scripture that I learned in the other prominent influence in my life, because it taught me a degree of respect for the Scripture which I don’t know if I would ever have otherwise attained.
But, even more, I love the Orthodox Church because it ties the two together in a way that makes it truly real in my life. We have a very strict doctrine which is fully based on the Scriptures which has been preserved by millenia of tradition; while at the same time making it very real in our lives. So that, every Sunday, we are able to partake of that divine mystery of the Holy Eucharist. We are able to join ourselves every Sunday to the pure body and blood of our Lord. Every year on Holy Week, we are able to live the anguish, the joy, the sorrow, the excitement, the hope, and the truth that Christ IS risen, not just once 2000 years ago, but every day in our lives. Christ is risen, and we are risen with Him, and thus death itself has lost it’s sting, because our Lord has defeated the power of death itself. The wholeness of the faith that St Paul writes about is not a studious look at the historical resurrection, but rather the power of that Resurrection in our lives themselves.
“Today a sacred Pascha is revealed to us: a new and holy Pascha, a mystical Pascha, a Pascha worthy of veneration, a Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer, a blameless Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, a Pascha which has opened for us the gates of paradise, a Pascha that sanctifies the faithful…So the sinners will perish before the face of God, but let the righteous be glad…This is the day of Resurrection. Let us be illumined by the feast. Let us embrace each other. Let us call brothers even those that hate us, and forgive all by the Resurrection. And so let us cry out:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Christ IS risen from the dead!!!” (from the Paschal Stichera).
Christ is risen!!