Because He Lives

We join our brothers and sisters in the Eastern world in celebrating the power of Christ's resurrection.

By Alan Eason Published on April 12, 2015

ALAN EASON — Today, April 12, 2015 is Easter for Orthodox churches and much of Christianity in the East.

I was never in Russia over Easter, though I got close once when I was in Moscow in March. Most of my trips were in the summer, when I would hear Baptist and Pentecostal youth choirs in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine singing compositions they had perfected for previous Easter services.

They would belt out the Slavic versions of “Christ is Risen!” (Христос Воскрес!). They would sing with Slavic pathos about the trial and crucifixion of Christ, and cap it off with a thunderous chorus about the resurrection. You would even hear it in informal greetings as you mingled in the crowd in the packed churches, legal and illegal (this was the Soviet era). I sometimes got the sense that these Christians “lived” Easter year round.

Easter, or rather, the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, is somewhat different in Eastern churches. For one thing, most Eastern Christians don’t use the Western European and pre-Christian word “Easter,” but refer to the holiday as “Pascha ,” a term from the Hebrew for Passover. What feasting they do, they strive to keep sacred. In the Orthodox churches, they even bring the highly-decorated eggs to the church for the priest to bless.

But as an American Christian, the difference I most noticed in these Eastern Christians was their power to praise God in the face of severe trials and suffering.

In the 1970’s and ’80’s, the olive-drab and “commissar-yellow” government issue paint on the buildings, the crumbling concrete on newly-constructed apartments, the dirty sidewalks and even the dowdy proletariat clothing of the era gave the Soviet Union a feeling of decay. It would hit you when you arrived. It felt at times like a perpetual funeral. And it was not only Christians who suffered in that era; it was entire societies.

In stark contrast, when ardent Christians gathered (and the ones who gathered usually were ardent) their thoughts were on resurrection. Hence, their (year-round) Easter-like celebration. They had developed a transcendent joy and resurrection of the spirit that lifted one high over, not just the land of Lenin and Stalin, but the entire worldly experience.

This happens with churches under persecution. It is happening now with churches in the Middle East and North Africa, which, without our prayers and literal intercession, may disappear from the earth. It happens with Christians in the West in our individual trials of ordinary life, though we too may soon feel the sting of corporate persecution.

If so, our Eastern brethren can teach us this: It doesn’t matter what the trial is. It is Easter every day because Christ is risen, every day!

In his Easter Alleluia discourse, St. Augustine — a fourth-century north African — wrote:

Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now…

Because there are these two periods of time — the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy — we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future.

Now therefore, brethren, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbor, “Praise the Lord!” and he says the same to you.

Happy Easter, Happy Pascha, Praise the Lord!, Христос Воскрес!

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 NRSV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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