Monday, June 24, 2013

The Paradox of Bright Week and the Paschal Season

As the Paschal season comes to a close and Pentacost begins, I realize that this season of brightness came as a sort of paradox to me. In this season, we celebrate the Light of Life, God's victory over death. We end our season of relinquishment and fasting, replacing it with a celebration.

In past years, I have experienced this transition as most people do. I would celebrate my more varied diet, eating hamburgers and ice cream. But this year, things were different.

The difference, I think, is that because my teaching job has failed to provide any courses for me to teach, I had plenty of free time on my hands. Therefore, throughout Lent, as much as I could, I attended services. The first week of Great Lent started out with a week full of services, and ended with Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. The end was approaching.

Holy Week entailed an even greater number of services, at least two per day. And because of my limited work, I was able to attend almost all of those. Hours upon hours of worship.

It was simply wonderful.

Never before had I experienced Holy Week like this. Before, it was all I could do to get to Great and Holy Saturday, or the Lamentations at the Tomb on Friday, to say nothing about the services earlier in the week. This year I experienced a Holy Week more stunningly profound than I had yet known. It may never again be feasible for me to attend so many Holy Week services, but I will not forget how incredibly moving it was to return to my parish each day, a couple of times a day, to enter and navigate this spiritual architecture.

Pascha came. We celebrated in the morning, and again in the afternoon. Greta and I returned home exhausted after the big Paschal feast, where she ate to her heart's content and was attended to by several children. On Bright Monday, I awoke early and attended Divine Liturgy again, eating leftovers from the day before and enjoying the company of those who were able to come in that day.

On Bright Tuesday, however, there were no services, and that's when I started to feel a little bit of sadness. After all of this struggle, after full immersion into my spiritual path, I felt a real sense of loss to not go to my church every day, to not see my priest and deacons and parish members, to not hear the beautiful hymns each day.

So, Bright Week seemed a little ... well, less bright. Yes, I was back to eating hamburgers and enjoying a bowl of ice cream. But that in exchange for what? I missed the intimacy of commemorating with the members of my parish the life of Christ and His conquest over Death by His own Death. I found that attending church that much deepened my life.

As the Paschal season continued, I certainly felt my schedule open, and the mood was definitely festive. Coffee hour included previously-forbidden delicacies; when Fr James called out "Christ is Risen!" in many languages, we joyfully shouted our answers back to him. But I was missing something.

Today was Pentacost in the Eastern Church, and today, after 50 days of celebration after Pascha - a 50 day celebration begun by the Jews after Pesach, or Passover - we finally knelt again in worship. At the end of our Divine Liturgy, we all knelt as Fr James recited prayers to each member of the Holy Trinity.

I think I really missed the kneeling. My knees didn't miss it. But my soul did. Not that I don't enjoy celebrations, because I do. But as I've explained earlier, my ideal spiritual life involves challenge. It involves getting me out of my comfort zone so that I can grow in my faith, and grow as a person.

There was an element of spiritual challenge that returned today. Today we remembered, in our bodies, what this journey is really about. It's about forgiveness - forgiving others and asking for forgiveness. It's about devotion without agenda. It's about humility. It's about remembering that the last of us will be first one day, and that we must all be servants to others, in some way.