An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
A few recent Facebook postings from some folks I know has reminded me of something I'd not thought about much lately, and though I'm sure I've blogged about it before I think it bears repeating – if for no other reason than for my own sake and who knows maybe after the past few years I'll have a different perspective. I make no pretensions to suggest I have anything terribly unique or profound to say here, but here it goes anyway.
There is, I think, a very simple reason why in the west Easter as a holiday has in general and in comparison to Christmas, shriveled over time. Now I cannot say precisely when in the west the season of Christmas began to eclipsed Easter, but I do operate under the assumption that at one time (as it is now in Eastern Christendom)this was not the case. I don't think there can be any argument that we, as a nominally Christian society, have pumped steroids into the Winter holy day and largely have watched from a distance as the Spring holy day slowly atrophied. Now please keep in mind I am not making an moral claims about the superiority of traditionally Orthodox cultures - I've no doubt there are huge swaths of people there who really believe that (e.g.) Christos Anesti actually can be translated as "Happy Easter!"
Now, some will no doubt wish to believe that the atrophy in the west happened because Christmas is so much easier to commercialize and I don't fully doubt that that plays a role in the matter, but I suspect it is completely secondary and that something deeper has allowed that to happen to begin with. Could theology play a part?
First, if I were to compare and contrast the FB postings of my Orthodox (admittedly mostly convert) vs. Non-Orthodox friends, it quickly becomes evident that Easter (or as we prefer to call it: Pascha) really was not comparatively that big of a deal to my Non-Orthodox friends...I do not mean that in a negative way, I'm simply comparing the volume of postings that related to Easter/Pascha. And, if you consider the volume of postings related specifically to “Resurrection” then the contrast becomes even more stark. And I would suggest this might reveal the theological difference that leads the west to find celebrating Christmas far more easy than Easter.
Let me give a generic example of the sort of FB post I am talking about: “Happy Easter! Thank you Jesus for dying for us!” This struck me as odd when I read it, but it reminded me that in my past I really didn't know what to do with the Resurrection of Christ. If Christ's work on Friday assuaged the righteous anger and judgment of God, then what did Sunday have to do with it? (“It” being salvation.) So what did the Resurrection mean to me? It's hard for me to remember...I cannot recall ever preaching a sermon that focused on the Resurrection, but there were plenty on the crucifixion, in fact I recall the fad of preaching at length about the horrific medical implications of being crucified. Please keep in mind I am speaking solely of my experience here...but I do wonder if my perception was remotely unusual. I think I saw the Resurrection as simply being an apologetic point, proving that Jesus was God incarnate.
Easter in the west is intimately and perpetually connected to a man being cursed, beaten, and nailed to a cross in order to kill him, and then that being devoid of hell harrowed and death defeated as was necessary for our salvation then it's difficult to get past it being a holiday about death. In contrast, Christmas is about a little baby being born: God with us! What's not to celebrate!?
Of course, salvation isn't just about Friday. As you may recall in Mel Gibson's movie, the minute Jesus dies on the cross, Satan (who had up until that time worked hard to get Him to avoid the cross) screams in apparent agony and defeat. I'm sure that 15 years ago I would not have thought twice about this depiction, but now I'm aware of the Eastern tradition in which Satan sought to kill Him and that death “took a mortal body, and met God...it took earth and met heaven.” In other words, the devil (and death personified) rejoice in Christ's death, but later find they've bitten off more than they can chew. Like a Trojan Horse virus of devastating proportions, the operating system of death and the devil is irrevocably corrupted. Death is trampled down by death and this I think changes the perception of Easter – radically. At least it certainly did for me and for my family. Over the years we have watched Easter/Pascha begin to grow in our lives, becoming bigger and bigger and more and more important to us. In time we've watched it – to some degree – eclipse Christmas in order to take it's proper place as the “Feast of Feasts” and “Holy Day of holy days.”
Without Sunday, Friday has no meaning. In fact, without last Sunday none of this crazy thing we call life has any meaning.
Well, of course. You've "discovered" the Faith. Not Eastern vs. Western theology, but the Faith. Nothing else makes any sense whatever, and is, in fact, heresy. Why? Because it is intellectually at variance with what I/you/we think? Hardly. It is heresy because it kills mankind. I don't care who believes it. Period.
Tony Campolo has a famous talk where he quotes a sermon he once heard, "It's Friday, but Sunday is coming!"
I would also have to say that ancient Christianity is not good for the economy. What with the loss of productivity and declining retail sales during Holy Week. Nope, money talks in this land. Further, the government has had a decided interest in lengthening the winter "holiday season".
Yes, I remember the Tony Campolo statement. I don't recall details and with so many varieties of belief on the matter who can say...from *MY* experience the context would have been regarding the despair the Apostles felt in seeing their Lord killed...and less so a deeper theological statement on death being defeated. But I can't speak for Mr. Campolo of course.
I wonder if the ancients weren't far more productive though when they weren't celebrating feasts than we are without them...maybe we're so lazy these days we can no longer afford feasts??? ;) OR we prefer to spend our vacation days doing things that have NOTHING to do with Church feasts and more to do with beaches and mixed drinks? Laziness is worse for an economy than ancient Christianity...and what on earth we consider a "good" economy today is a whole different matter...my guess is the members of the early church had to work FAR harder for FAR less...and STILL made time to feast, after all they didn't have TV or Blogs. LOL! Hmmm...now I'm wondering if Ancient Christianity wouldn't be GREAT for the economy!