While many Christians have long celebrated Easter, this year Orthodox Easter takes place on Sunday, April 27 – much later than normally, as a result of ancient calendar calculations and regulations requiring the prior celebration of the Jewish Passover, in accordance with their traditional interpretation of scriptural record. Thus, at midnight on Saturday April 26, the night that is said to be brighter than any sunlit day, some 300 million Orthodox Christians will crowd churches to hear the words: “Come, receive the light!” Throughout the world, entire congregations, previously waiting in darkness and anticipation, will light up in splendor and people’s faces will shine with joy and hope. All of them will chant the familiar hymn of triumph: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and granting life to those in the tombs.” For Orthodox faithful, Easter is the feast of feasts. As one Orthodox Easter hymn says, the feast of the Resurrection proposes “another way of seeing” and “another way of living.” Yet, the secret of that new life is already foreshadowed in the previous day, when the Orthodox Church recalls the harsh reality of the Cross.
Faced with the seeming inevitability and impasse of global suffering, it is so easy to be cynical; it is tempting to dismiss issues like climate change or global conflict or world hunger, criticizing those who transform these into political flags or else who transmit messages of love. Yet, while people have become insensitive to sermons about the gloom and doom of our world, the reality of evil transcends any act of war or terrorism and every expression of violence or suffering. These are but symptoms of a deeper reality, which is overcome on the Cross on Good Friday [or Holy and Great Friday, as Orthodox Christians prefer to call it] through the radical power of forgiveness, tolerance, and compassion.
The truth is that the Gospel message is as simple as it is radical. We are called to stand for love where there is hatred, to preach compassion where there is injustice, and to insist on dialogue where there is division. This at least, as we have been assured, is how people should recognize that those who call themselves Christians. (John 13.35) In fact, however, as uncomplicated as this may sound, it is a much harder Gospel to live by. It is far easier to proclaim a Gospel of power and might. It seems far less challenging to be dismissive of efforts to sustain conversation among unlikely partners from radically different religious or cultural backgrounds (even among the great monotheistic traditions, such as Christians, Muslims, and Jews) and conservation of natural resources (whether fundamental to our survival as human beings, or responsive to developing nations that experience poverty or hunger, or else supportive of our lifestyles). It is certainly far less intrusive in our personal lives to resist changes to our habits. People have far too much at stake.
Hoping for change invites challenge in our worldview and lifestyle. But how willing are we to pay a price for our selfish consumption, our wasteful pollution, and our prideful discrimination, both racial and religious? When will we stop and be silent long enough to notice the direct impact of our way of life on the poor among us and on the poor of the world? Do we even recognize the wounds we have wrought upon the flesh of our brother and sister, as well as upon the body of the world? Is it that difficult to discern the arrogance of our behavior, conveniently and complacently overlooking the damage that results from our silence or ignorance?
When Orthodox Christians recall the Resurrection, they are not primarily concerned intellectually with how that miracle actually took place. In fact, they think less of an empty grave and more of an open tomb, which remains an open invitation to those who believe. The miracle of Resurrection calls for an openness to confess the reality of the darkness within us and around us, admitting our role and responsibility in refusing to eradicate the suffering in our world. Then, when we stand honestly before the reality of our evil – in earnest recognition and prayerful confession of the hurt we inflict upon our neighbor within society and within the global community, and the abuse with we treat the earth’s resources – at that very moment of realization are we also able to perceive the hope and light of the Resurrection. Only then are we able to apprehend the relationship between the Resurrection and the presence of war, racism, global warming and terrorism in our world. For then, we shall also be able to discern the light of the Resurrection in our hearts and in our world.
This is why for forty days after the bright night of that Easter vigil, Orthodox Christians will continue to greet one another with the words: “Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!”