Archive for the ‘Pascha’ Category

The Resurrection makes the Impossible Possible!

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Holy Saturday


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Brothers and sisters, did you hear in the readings – those fifteen beautiful readings[1] – did you hear of the resurrection? Did you hear of faith? Did you hear of things that seemed to be impossible and yet became possible?

How was it that if God promised to Abraham that He would make him a father of many nations[2], and he was an old man, and he had a boy, Isaac — that if God told him to kill his son Isaac, how can he become a father of many nations? But Abraham obeyed when God said, “Sacrifice thy son Isaac.” And even when his son in innocence, asked, “Father, we have the fire and the wood, but where is the ram for the burnt offering?” he said, “God will provide, my son.”

What about when the widow gave hospitality to Elias?[3] This was during the drought that Elias had called upon the earth. People were dying because there was no food. The widow had just a little food left, and Elias said, “Make me a meal first, and then you and your son shall eat, and the cruse of oil shall never run out.” And indeed, it did not during that entire time. But her son died, and Elias prayed, and her son was raised.

An even more poignant example is when Elisseus came to the Sidonian woman.[4] The Sidonian woman had made him a place to stay because she knew that he was a holy man. He, desiring to give her something good, asked her what she would need, and she, out of modesty, would not tell him, so Gezi his servant (who later on turned out to have a sin, a problem in his life — this was a good turn that he did and may the Lord save him for this thing) said that the woman was old and had not a son.  So a son was born according to the promise of Elisseus. And not too long thereafter, the son gets a headache in the fields, goes to his mother, lays his head between her knees and dies.

So what does this woman do? Does this woman tear out her hair and start screaming and wailing, as is the custom of peoples of that area to mourn their dead? No. It doesn't’t even say that she told her husband. She brought the boy up to where the holy man stayed, put him on the bed, and saddled an ass, and went to see the holy man on Mount Carmel. An impossible thing she was wanting – something she could not even express with her lips. She couldn’t even say “Raise my son from the dead.” She could only say, “I told you not to deal deceitfully with me.”

So Elisseus came. Did you listen carefully; do you see what he did? He went up into the room, and he made the sign of the cross on the boy! His hands to his hands, his feet to his feet, his lips to his lips – what was he doing? Making the sign of the cross on the boy, and breathing on him – and it took seven times, and the boy was raised. Impossible things!

What about when the Egyptians, a huge amount of heavily armed, very well trained soldiers, warred against a ragtag group who had no arms – perhaps a few sickles, a few axes, a few clubs, nothing much to speak of – and were running away from Egypt being pursued by this army?[5] The Lord made a wall of waters, so that the people of Israel could go through the Red Sea.  And when the Egyptians, in their arrogance, came into the Red Sea and the wall of waters was still there, the Lord made the wall of waters crash upon them, and horse and rider fell into the red sea. Do you think any Jew, at that moment, when they came to the Red Sea, before the wall of waters; do you think any one of them really thought that they were going to be victorious? They probably thought all was lost. And if you read carefully Exodus and Deuteronomy, you can see that constantly they doubted the Lord. They tormented poor Moses, and yet the Lord saved them.

An impossibility became possible. Elias raises a son, Elisseus raises a son, the people of God are saved from their pursuer – impossibilities become possible because of our Lord. Now how is it that if such things happen and we have such an array of witnesses about us, as the Apostle talks about in Hebrews, how is it that we live such mediocre lives? Why don’t we believe? The resurrection is available to all of us. The power of the resurrection, sure belief, is available to all of us.

How is it that we can attain this understanding? The Apostle Paul tells us how. He says, “Know you not that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that as like Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, that we should also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”[6]

What does this mean? What is the likeness of His death? What kind of death did Christ die?

I’m not talking about how He was executed. That He was put on a cross is immaterial. The Cross has become our symbol of victory, but it could have been some other form of punishment that would become our symbol of victory. The Cross itself — although it was prefigured by the prophets and therefore we know it should be the Cross — is not the likeness of His death.

Jesus Christ lived in a way that He gave Himself to the world. He did not live for Himself, but He lived for others. Actually, to be more precise, He lived for One Other. He lived to do the will of His Father. And His Father’s will was that He would become incarnate, He Who had been in the bosom of the Father from the ages of ages, and would walk upon the earth and be an example for others and die a terrible death so that we would live. That is the likeness of His death. It is obedience and righteousness.


The reason why the world does not understand the resurrection – even those who say they are Christians – is that they don’t understand that in order to understand the resurrection you have to live it. You have to live like the One Who was resurrected first. You have to live in His likeness. You have to die like He died. Now, He did not have to die to self, because His whole self was willing to do the deed. His whole self was willing to obey His Father.


Now our self, on the other hand, many times is not willing to obey God. Stubborn. Obdurate. I was just reading Deuteronomy recently, and I thought, “Things have not changed very much” – we are just like those chosen people, who continually complained, and continually were faithless. And they didn’t understand. They couldn’t understand the greatness of God because of their selfishness.

The key to understanding Christ, the key to being empowered, brothers and sisters, the key to happiness, the key to what God wants us to be, to the fulfillment of our destiny, of what God has predestined us to be, is to live in the likeness of His death. And I say live in the likeness of His death, because He is not dead anymore. He was dead for only a short while, and then He was alive. Now we, we can become alive by living as He lived.

If you struggle to follow virtue, then you will understand about the resurrection. It will enlighten you. That is the key. This is the key. This is why we read this epistle on this day. Because all of the pomp, and all of the beauty, and the rose petals[7] – and the Lord knows, I love the rose petals; the Lord knows, I love all of the beauty of Holy Saturday: the flowers, and the festivity later on, with the foods, the Kulich, the sausages, the Pascha, the eggs, and all the rest, and all the joy and all the feasting – all of that cannot be understood in such a way that brings real joy to the heart — joy that, as our Savior said to His apostles just before He was killed, no one can take away from you, that kind of joy, the kind of joy that cannot be stolen, cannot be lost, is ever with us, never dissipates — that kind of joy can only be had if we live as He lived and if we live in the likeness of His death, and therefore the likeness of His resurrection.

All these things are possible. The Sidonian woman’s son dies, and yet he was risen. Abraham was told he would be a father of many nations, and yet he was told to kill his son, but he believed still, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Do you have anything in your life that you have trouble believing? Don’t despair—the key to believing is not in trying to force yourself to believe this thing. When you have doubts, you cannot force yourself to undo your doubts. We’re temporal creatures, we believe this way, that way, and we’re like a reed blowing in the wind.

The way to no longer have doubts, the way to be able to have power and strength, to live according to the resurrection in its power, is to strive to become righteous, to desire to be pure, to desire to put off all sin – even the difficult ones. Even if you continue to fall, if you desire to live righteously, the Lord not only will forgive you of your sins, but much more than that, He will give you joy, joy which cannot be taken away, joy which ever abides in your heart. And He will give you, with that joy, certainty. How many things in this life are certain? None of us are certain that we will live another hour! If your souls strives to become righteous, to live as Christ lived, God will give you certainty about Himself and the resurrection. And the key is trying to live righteously.

What a blessed day this is! For us still, the Lord is in the tomb, but we know what is occurring right now; We read about it last night.[8]

He went down to Hades, having been preceded by His good messenger, John, and He destroyed the hold that death had over us. Not for only those who were before Christ went down into Hades when they died – that is not the only extent to which death has a hold over us. Even now to this day, death has a hold over people who do not believe in Christ, or who believe in Christ only weakly. And they live as though dead. He made us able to live as though completely alive, completely pure, completely happy, complete in all things, lacking nothing!

What a joy it is to be a Christian! Is there any greater name that a man can have than to be called a Christian? I mean a true Christian – not a Christian in name, not a Christian by patrimony, not a Christian by coming to Church, but a Christian by living righteously and knowing that God will help him with whatever is amiss.

Glory be to God! Glory be to God that we can live! Brothers and sisters, the key, I say again, you must live as if you were baptized into the death of Jesus. The way He died – with humility, with long-suffering, with forgiveness – this is the way which you must die. And your dying will be occurring for the rest of your natural, human life – that is, on the earth.

Live by dying. The world thinks, “We don’t understand what he is talking about.” But Christians understand. And as you die a little, then you feel more alive. Glory be to God that we can live. Amen.

Priest Seraphim Holland


[1]  Fifteen Old Testament readings are read at Vespers on Holy Saturday: Genesis 1:1-13; Isaiah 60:1-16; Exodus 12:1-11; Jonah 1:1-4:11; Joshua 5:10-15; Exodus 13:20-15:19; Zephaniah 3:8-15; 3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:8-24; Isaiah 61:10-62:5; Genesis 22:1-18; Isaiah 61:1-9; 4 Kings (2 Kings) 4:8-37; Isaiah 63:11-64:5; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Daniel 3:1-23.

[2] [Genesis 22:1-18]

[3] [3 Kings 17:8-24]

[4] [4 Kings 4:8-37]

[5] [Exodus 13:20-15:19]

[6] [Romans 6:3-11]
[7] There is a tradition of scattering rose petals, and sometimes bay leaves, around the church on Holy Saturday, while the choir sings “Arise, O God” and the vestments are changed from black to white in honor of the resurrection. After the priest has changed his vestments, he comes out of the altar with a basket full of rose petals and scatters them on the tomb and around the whole church. The faithful have the custom of picking up and keeping some of the petals as a blessing.
[8] In the sermon of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus for Holy Saturday, read before the tomb after the Lamentations Matins.

Pascha: As many have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Tonight, brothers, and sisters, I wish to bring you one word. We sang just a moment ago, “As many have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”. This is sung at several great feasts, preeminently Pascha. Why do we sing this hymn today? What does it have to do with Pascha?


Look at the example of the apostles and all the Saints. For them, the Lords resurrection, with the subsequent giving of the Holy Spirit, ENABLES them to become like the Lord in virtue! This is the meaning of Pascha! Now we are ABLE to live, ABLE to know God, ABLE to become sweet. Without our Lord living as a man, and breaking the hold death held on the flesh, we would not be able to live, truly be alive, and be in Christ, that is, put on Christ.


He broke much more that Hades hold on us after this life. His resurrection heals us now, enables us to attain to the knowledge of Him, and as the Apostle says today – to become sons of God.


This is only possible by putting on Christ. If you do not do this, by sincere struggle, the stone at your tomb will not be rolled away, and there will be no resurrection in it’s cold, darkened contents.


Put on Christ! Live like Him! Struggle to live virtuously. Put away evil and do good, knowing that all this is possible because Christ did all these things as a man, and therefore we can too, and His resurrection breaks any hold death has on our flesh in this life or the next,  if we only live!

Condemned to Immortality: A meditation on the Resurrection Archiamandrite Justin Popovic

Monday, April 5th, 2010

People condemned God to death; with His Resurrection He condemned them to immortality. For striking Him, God returned embraces; for insults, blessings; for death, immortality. Never did men show more hate towards God than when they crucified Him; and God never showed His love towards people more than when He was resurrected. Mankind wanted to make God dead, but God, with His Resurrection, made people alive, the crucified God resurrected on the third day and thereby killed death ! There is no more death. Immortality is surrounding man and his entire world.

With the Resurrection of the God-Man, the nature of man is irreversibly led toward the road of immortality and man's nature becomes destructive to death itself. For until the Resurrection of Christ, death was destructive for man; from the Resurrection of Christ, man's nature becomes destructive in death. If man lives in the faith of the Resurrected God Man, he lives above death, he is unreachable for her; death is under man's feet. Death where is thy sting? Hell, where is thy victory? And when a man who believes in Christ dies, he only leaves his body as his clothes, in which he will be dressed again on the Day of Last Judgement.

Before the Resurrection of the God-Man, death was the second nature of man; life was first and death was second. Man became accustomed to death as something natural. But after His Resurrection the Lord changed everything: and it was only natural until Christ's Resurrection, that the people became mortal, so after Christ's Resurrection it was natural that the people became immortal.

Through sin, man becomes mortal and temporal; with the Resurrection of the God-Man, he becomes immortal and eternal. In this lies the strength, in this lies the power, in this lies the might of Christ's Resurrection. Without the Resurrection there is no Christianity. Among the miracles, this is the greatest one; all other miracles begin and end with it. From it sprouted the faith and the love and the hope and the prayer and the love toward God.

from "Philosophical Cliffs"

Pascha: Sin and death are conquered.

Monday, April 5th, 2010


I must say a few words on this holy day, not too many, because the hour is late, and we're not accustomed to praying late at night.


What is it that we celebrate, brothers and sisters, what do we celebrate today?


We celebrate two healings: the God-man, with His two natures – a son twice – healed us of death and sin. And if you read carefully this gospel, it speaks of this . . . not openly, but in a way that is mystical and spiritual.


Now, we all know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. What His rising from the dead did was made our flesh able to become pure. And to the pure all things are pure as it says in the scriptures. If we become purified with the help of God, because now we're capable of becoming this, we will know God. Not only will we know God, but we will become sons of God.


Now really, death and sin are two sides of the same coin: where there is death, there is darkness, and sin also darkens the soul. No one can be happy when their soul is darkened with sin, and inevitably, sin brings about death. But the lord broke this cycle where man is born, and inevitably He sins, and inevitably He dies, and is not able to see God, because our lord lived as God in man, made His flesh able to see God – now if He was only begotten of the father, He always knew God as God's son: eternally, but, as a man, He had to make His flesh invigorated, so that it could see God.


We can appropriate this great salvation. Now how do we appropriate it? St. John says as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name, which were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God.


Brothers and sisters if you want to truly feel the resurrection, if you want to have joy that cannot be taken away from you, then you must receive Christ. And what is this receiving? The Lord gives us commandments, perfect and wonderful commandments; His yoke is easy and His burden is light, and He desires us to follow these commandments and He makes us capable of following these commandments; and if we struggle to follow them, it is a certainty that the lord will make His abode with us and we will be happy. Happiness that the world doesn't know, happiness that never ever grows old.


This is what we celebrate on Pascha, that we can become complete, we can become whole, we can become perfected, we can have absolute happiness, for eternity, knowing God.


But the Lord didn't just break the bonds of death: He broke the bonds of sin too, because as a man He lived without sin. He was like us in all things. He was tempted in all ways, just as any other man would be tempted, except that He did not sin. So He made our flesh change, just as the old covenant changed into the new, the old man, who would live in sin and die and go into the grave, was changed into the new man, who would live, and would be capable – if He would receive Christ, of living righteously, and when He dies, He would not die the death of eternal damnation, but He would be alive in Christ. This is what the resurrection does for us: makes us able to see God.


Glory be to God that He has given us so many blessings. He's given us grace and truth and grace for grace. May God help you to live righteously so that you can feel in every aspect of your life the presence of God and joy.




Why do we read from the beginning of John on the night of Pascha? Pascha Homily 2010

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

To live in the resurrection, we must know Jesus Christ.

Pascha 2010

John 1:1-17


The Descent into Hell.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Christ is risen!  TRULY HE IS RISEN


Christos Anesti! ALITHOS ANESTI!


Christos Voskrese!  VOISTINU VOSKRESE!


Brothers and sisters, on this bright day of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, we read from the beginning of the Gospel of John, which does not say anything about resurrection. There are many passages in the Gospels that speak about the resurrection; we read eleven of them in a cycle throughout the year in matins, but we did not read this time about the resurrection. We read about it this morning, but not this evening.


Now why is this, that on the very day when we most extravagantly celebrate the resurrection we read from the beginning of John and not a resurrection story?


Well, we certainly know about the resurrection, but have we lived it yet? Who is the resurrection? – Jesus Christ. Saint John, preeminently, of all the Apostles and Evangelists, shows us Who Jesus Christ is. In order for the resurrection to be actualized in our life, we must know Jesus Christ. So it is apropos that from this day forward, during the cycle of Pascha, for fort days an onwards – forty days after Pascha is the Ascension and fifty days after is Pentecost – we read from the Gospel of John because we are to learn of Jesus Christ, the One who is meek and lowly, the One Who came to save us from our sins.


Just knowing this does not make it happen – we must live according to Who Jesus Christ is. The joy of the resurrection is that we can become completely alive, completely human, as we are meant to be. Right now, brothers and sisters, we are in a state that is between human and not human. God created us to know Him perfectly and intimately. Since we do not, we are not quite what we should be. But the joy of the resurrection is that we can become this.


Jesus Christ became like us in all things except for sin. And He lived on this earth as a man and also fully as God, having two natures, not intermixed, but cooperating with one-another. And His human nature is as ours should be. It was as ours in all things except sin, even to the point that it would die, because we know that our Lord dies on the cross.


But then a wondrous thing happened. Of His own power, of His Divinity – the hymns of Holy Saturday especially sing of it – the one Who created the universe, Who laid dead in tomb, became alive of His own power.


And He imbued humanity with the ability to be alive too. This is what we are celebrating, brothers and sisters! We are not celebrating merely the event of Christ rising from the dead; we are celebrating that reality that WE can rise from the dead.


And make no mistake – this is not a future event for us. The Lord made that perfectly clear, when He began preaching and said that “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”


So right now, brothers and sisters, we should live according to the resurrection, in everything. And as we live in this light, we become light; we become peaceful.


Now let’s be honest with ourselves: there is a lot in us that is not peaceful; there is a lot in us that is not light. But God came so that we could be ALL LIGHT. That is what we are celebrating today. He resurrected Himself so that we could become resurrected. For Him it happened in a flash, in a moment. For us it happens in a lifetime, with struggle, with difficulties, with happiness, with sadness, with holiness and with depravity – all the things that are mixed up in our complex nature.


But I tell you, God’s nature is not complex – He is only good. And that is what we are to become – simple and only good. And our Lord Jesus Christ, although he was man, was simple, because He was only good as man, and only good as God. And He made us capable of becoming good, and fully human.


This is what we celebrate today, and this is why we start reading the Gospel of John today – because you cannot know the resurrection unless you know Jesus Christ. It is not possible. And there is only one way to know Jesus Christ – to become like Him. That is what we are called to do. And the great joy is that it is possible – God came so we could become like Him. This is what we celebrate today, bothers and sisters.


Anything that you do in your life, no matter what it is, no matter how small or how large, no matter how long it takes, or if it is just for a moment — if it is according to the resurrection, then it will bring you light. Anything that you do that is not according to the resurrection only brings darkness.


It really is that simple.


Certainly we live in a complex life, with complex decisions to make about things and difficulties that we are perplexed about – this is true. But basically life is – choose good and avoid evil. Not becomes the Lord commands, but because it is the only way to have life. So we celebrate today that we can have life.


Brothers and sisters, this life is in knowing our Lord Jesus Christ; that is why we read the Gospel of John.


After a feast, the church will have hymns that discuss the feast in a deeper way. You will see this all throughout the whole period of Pascha. All the Gospels for Sunday are about the gradual enlightenment of man, because the resurrection occurs in us bit by bit. You can see it how it happened to the women, to the apostles. At first they could not believe, at first they were afraid. At first the Apostles thought that the words of the women who announced the resurrection were nonsense. Thomas could not believe for eight days. Peter could not have the joy of the resurrection until the risen Lord had them go fishing and then He restored him after they caught many fish.


This is the way life is, brothers and sisters. It takes time to be enlightened; it takes effort to be enlightened. And the church will speak of it over the next forty and fifty days. So the Gospel of John is sort of the prelude to all that.


The church IS Jesus Christ. All truth is Jesus Christ. The truth is not an abstract concept; truth is a person – Jesus Christ. So when you say that you live according to the truth that means that you are becoming like Christ. The Gospel of John teaches us preeminently Who Jesus Christ is, but it cannot be learned just by reading – it can only be learned by … becoming


So let us celebrate today that we can become like as God; we can become light, with no darkness in us at all; we can become arisen, with no death in us at all. This is what we were created for, and this is what we celebrate.


Christ is risen!  TRULY HE IS RISEN


Christos Anesti! ALITHOS ANESTI!


Christos Voskrese!  VOISTINU VOSKRESE!


May God bless you and help you to live in the light of the resurrection.

Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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The moment before we receive the Paschal light…

Sunday, April 4th, 2010


The moment before we receive the Paschal light is a holy moment, a quiet moment, which the soul so often needs. The church is dark, and still, and we are full of anticipation.

As we are singing "Thy resurrection…", first softly then louder, and getting ready to bring the Paschal light through the Royal doors, out in the darkness is heard in a stage whisper (that is, loud):



(E, aged 4 ("I am almost five!"))

Pascha. Why do we read from the first chapter of John tonight?

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

On Pascha, we do not read one of the resurrection accounts in the Gospels, but instead begin with the first words of the Gospel of John. Why is this? There is a very important reason. It has to do with the truly good news of the resurrection and what we must do to hear all of it.


John 1:1-17 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

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Grandchildren at Pascha, 2009

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

grandchildren at the Pascha 2009 Midnight Service

The proud pastor’s grandchildren at the Midnight Service. For an excellent writeup about this service, see:

Pascha 2009. Let us forgive all things on the resurrection.

Sunday, April 19th, 2009



It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant for the feast, and let us embrace one another. Let us say: Brethren, even to them that hate us, let us forgive all things on the Resurrection, and thus let us cry out:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, And on those in the tombs bestowing life.

Paschal Stichera

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VIDEO:Choir singing "Shine Shine, O new Jerusalem…"

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

“Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem,
for the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee;
dance now and be glad, O Sion,
do thou exult, O pure Theotokos,
in the arising of Him Whom thou didst bear.”
Sung by the choir at St Nicholas, Dallas/MCKINNEY! Texas
Want to see more? Visit Natalia Hawthorne’s videos, and subscribe to them if you wish.
Thank you Natalia! This is a great idea! I hope you do a lot more.