Pascha: The Resurrection of Life
- Father John Townsend -
Father George Calciu, of blessed memory, was a contemporary Orthodox priest who spent over twenty years in the prisons of Communist Romania. He was kept there in order to break his spirit, the spirit of a priest who was determined to share the word of life given to him to preach to all who would listen. Godless Communism was committed to death, not life, so Father George with his word of life had to be silenced. The power of this word preached and lived by Father George was exemplified by an incident which occurred on one of the many Paschas that Father George spent in prison. As was usual every morning a young guard brought him the miserable rations he was fed. The rule in the prison was that the prisoner had to stand facing the wall when the guard brought his food. Father George, full of the joy of Pascha, dared this time to look at the guard and say to the young man with all the joy bursting from his heart the glorious words, “Christ is risen!” The young man, sensing the joy and power of these words of life could not restrain himself and answered, “Truly He is risen!” This exchange of words, full of the power and grace of the Living Word Who rose from the dead, changed the relationship of these two men forever. After that there was a spiritual warmth, the love of God, which united them, and it was no longer possible to follow the prison rule, the rule of this dying world. Already, the Kingdom of God was breaking through in this new relationship, and life was triumphing over death.
These simple words, “Christ is risen; truly He is risen,” which we say hundreds of times during Pascha, are full of the power and grace of God. Each time we say them, we open ourselves to the power of the most wonderful event in the whole history of the world, the resurrection of Christ. He Who triumphed over death on the Cross has become the giver of life to all who are willing to unite themselves to Him. And how is it that we unite ourselves to Him? It is through baptism that we die to the old man and put on the new. And who is this new man? It is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ Alleluia!” Our dead man, the man of sin, the worldly man, is buried, and the new man, the one who partakes of the divine life, is raised up. We are then able “to walk in newness of life.”
What does this mean in practical terms? It means that our relationship with God and with others is changed forever. We no longer have to stand with our faces to the wall, but we can look one another in the eye, knowing that “Christ is risen,” that “truly He is risen,” an event gushing forth a plenitude of love and joy. If we allow ourselves to be engulfed in this joy, we can dare to open ourselves to the love of all those we encounter, both the lovely and the unlovely. We can deal with all those who lift us up and who put us down: family, friends, other drivers, clerks, police, fellow pedestrians, people that we encounter everywhere. They are no longer faceless guards who are bringing us some miserable excuse for food; they are truly our own kin, related to us in the Risen Christ, our Creator and Lord.
The resurrection of Christ gives the possibility of life to our dead world, to our dead lives. If we choose to live in the light of the Risen Christ, we will be transformed, and our relationships with others will be changed just as the relationship of Father George Calciu and the young guard was changed. We as human beings, children of the One God, the Holy Trinity, are meant to be united, to support one another, to be channels of God’s grace to one another. We may choose to try to make it through this life outside the life in Christ, without His Church, outside His commandments. If we do, the best we can hope for is a warm, sentimental relationship with others, sometimes reaching a level of sacrifice, but never reaching the level of the divine overflowing love that comes only from union with God, the love that embraces the unlovable, the ugly and the enemy.
If we do choose to live in the light of Christ’s resurrection, we are given the strength, the desire, the grace to love those with whom we come in contact, not just our friends and family members but the people on the street, those on the road who otherwise make us furious. We start with coming to the Church of the risen Lord where in the middle of the night of Pascha we raise our voices with those words of power and grace “Christ is risen!” and answer from the depths of our joy-filled heart, “Truly He is risen!”
Note: We had the great privilege of having Father George Calciu visit our parish in the 1980’s. At the time he served with me at the funeral of a Romanian immigrant and then talked with us. He told us the story related above and also taught us from his experience that it is absolutely essential to forgive and indeed to love those who persecute us and offend us. He reposed in the Lord at his home in Washington, D. C. about a year ago. May his memory be eternal!