Wednesday of the 4th Week of Pascha-Feast of Mid-Pentecost. Let God Arise, and the Story of a Dear Friend Named Eva
Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those who hate Him flee before Him! As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before fire, let the wicked perish before God! But let the righteous be joyful! Psalm 68: 1-3 This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 (Verses sung with the Paschal Hymn “Christ is Risen” during Bright Week)
Christ is Risen!
Today, the church celebrates the feast of Mid-Pentecost. This day marks the half-way point between Pascha and Pentecost, falling on the 25th day of Pascha and 25 days before Pentecost. The Gospel lesson of the feast day is from John 7:14-30, and gives an account of Jesus speaking to the Jewish leadership in the temple. The icon of the feast depicts Jesus as a twelve-year old teaching in the temple as told in Luke 2:41-52.
We learn everything that we know through repetition. Only in experiencing something over and over again do we retain it. Thankfully, the Church understands this and the Lord understands this. This is why the Lord created days and seasons, to give us starting and ending points. Can you imagine if a day lasted a week, a bad day would feel like an eternity! Thankfully at the end of each day, we rest and awake refreshed from many daily frustrations. Thankfully, we have many opportunities for new starts in our lives.
New starts are available at any time, through prayer, repentance and confession. One doesn’t have to wait for Lent and Pascha to come in order to have a new beginning. However, one also doesn’t have to go out of his way to create a new beginning because Lent and Pascha provide this opportunity for us each year. All we have to do is take advantage of it.
Every year, when we proclaim Christ is Risen at the empty tomb, we sing it ten times, with the above verses intoned before we sing each hymn. These verses refer to the triumph of God’s people in the Old Testament, and they foretell of His rising from the dead in the New Testament.
They are a powerful reminder to us that in God rising from the dead, the greatest enemy—death—is vanquished. All enemies of God are invited to be scattered and flee. The Psalmist tells us that as smoke vanishes, the enemies of God will also vanish. They will melt in the same way wax does in the presence of fire. For the ungodly, there is reason to fear-they will perish at the sight of the Risen Lord. For the righteous, there is cause to rejoice.
Psalm 118:24 is also included with these Psalm verses, with the Paschal refrain of “Christ is Risen from the dead, by death trampling down death and to those in the tombs, He has granted life.” This verse reminds us that this (today) is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. If every good and perfect gift is from Above, (Jan1es 1:17), then this very day is a gift. Because it is a gift from God, it is a cause to rejoice. Because every day brings us one day closer to our own resurrection in Christ, then each day is a day to rejoice. If nothing else good happens to you on a particular day, we are one day closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. For the ungodly, this is cause for fear. For the devout Christian, this should be cause for constant joy.
There was a woman in my parish many years ago named Eva. She was a very devout lady and a dear friend. On Holy Wednesday of 2004, she was the last person in line for Holy Unction. I remember that we had a beautiful conversation, even made plans to get together the week after Pascha to do some flower planting in her garden, Eva, my wife and I. The next evening, Holy Thursday evening, Eva came to church for the service of the Passion of Christ. During this service, after the fifth Gospel, we carried the life-size cross of Christ crucified through the church and placed it up in the front. I invited people to come up and venerate the cross and pray in front of it as the service continued. I remember that Eva came up and venerated the cross, and was waving to people, including me, which I thought was odd. I remember that it looked like she had a halo over her head, like she was an angel. After she venerated the cross and returned to her seat, she laid down on her pew and quietly passed away. Apparently, her heart gave out. It wasn’t a traumatic event for her. It was for the rest of us who witnessed it, but for her it was the perfect ending to life-in church, with her friends, her last words were probably, “Lord, remember me in Your kingdom,” and she died at the same hour we commemorated the death of the Lord.
I remember that we held Eva’s funeral on Bright Tuesday. The church had been filled on Holy Thursday night when Eva passed away. Since virtually the whole community witnessed this, the whole community came out to her funeral. The funeral during Bright Week is different from the funeral at other times of the year. We sang, “Christ is Risen,” ten times with the Psalm verses, just like at the Resurrection service. I love these verses, because they speak of the power and majesty of God—Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered!
As I stood at the head of her casket and offered the words of the Psalm, I looked down and saw my dear friend Eva who had such an unbelievably beautiful death. Then my eyes looked up to see the altar table, bathed in all white, and continued looking up to see the empty cross (the figure of Christ is removed from the Cross on Good Friday and the cross remains empty until the feast of the Ascension) and felt this awesome presence of Christ all around me. Here was this special lady, who had lived 77 years in expectation of her personal resurrection, which was made possible in the most beautiful and special way because of the empty cross and empty tomb. Looking back at that moment, I felt not only joy, but also euphoria and ecstasy. I have to say, that moment was one of the most joyful moments of my LIFE, and it happened at a funeral! On that day that the Lord made, even though I mourned the loss of a friend; I did it in the context of the Resurrection, that to those in the tombs Christ grants everlasting life. Even on a sad day, there was cause for joy.
We were illumined, O brethren, by the Resurrection of Christ the Savior. And now we have reached the middle of the feast of the Lord. Let us sincerely keep the commandments of God, so that we may become worthy to celebrate the Ascension as well and witness the coming of the Holy Spirit. (Doxastikon from Orthros of Mid-Pentecost, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes
TODAY is a day that the Lord made for you. Rejoice and be glad in it!
~Father Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, THE ROAD BACK TO CHRIST: REFLECTIONS on LENT, HOLY WEEK and the RESURRECTION