We are now entering the very heart of the Church year when all things are filled with light and the faithful are proclaiming Christ is Risen! This exuberant and joyful greeting can never be considered mere information. It is proclamation!
The first time that I ever heard this proclamation was about 25 years ago in a little Russian church in Miami, Florida. Beforehand, many people had told me what to expect, but I was in no way prepared to experience the spiritual power of this proclamation. I was in no way prepared for all of the Paschal elements (the lights, processions, bells, singing, and shouting). I had known the INFORMATION all of my life. I knew that Christ had risen from the dead. But it was never proclaimed to me until that moment… and how it burned my heart!
So how do we move from simple passing on of information to life changing proclamation that results in nothing ever being the same again? Well, that is the theme of this conference (last year’s Parish Life Conference). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are filled to the brim with a sort of Divine Insanity. We become prophets, dreamers and visionaries. Anything and everything is possible…if only we embrace it in our lives!
Before the Crucifixion, Christ tried to explain to the Apostles that He would die and rise again on the 3rd day; but they didn’t get it. After the Resurrection, the women were told by an angel to go quickly and proclaim (there’s that word again) this incredible news to the Apostles…and they did; but the Apostles still didn’t get it. Even after dwelling among them during these refreshing days following the Resurrection that we are sharing together in San Diego (at last year’s Diocese of the West Parish Life Conference)…these glorious 40 days…they still didn’t quite get it. They were still uncertain. It was only after the Holy Spirit was poured out onto them and into them that they finally remembered all of the information and proclaimed it to the world. Now there was meaning! Now there was vision! Now they were changed! Now the world could never be the same!
So after experiencing the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, and especially after our own Baptism, Chrismation, and Partaking of the Divine, Holy Communion, how can our lives be anything but Divine Intoxication and Joy? How can they our hearts not be brimming with true Excitement and Fire! Dear Orthodox Christians, the Holy Spirit is upon us!
Allow me, at this point, to tell a story. No, on second thought, I actually need to proclaim it. In 1989, I was visiting the Soviet Union as a Priest and I arrived with my party at the Kievan Caves Monastery. Housed here are the incorrupt relics of the Holy Fathers from 800, 900, or 1000 years ago. The deacon that hosted our tour showed us to an underground room. Present in this room were the departed Bishop Zachariah and many Monks. The deacon proceeded to tell us about a Paschal incident that had occurred in his presence about ten years earlier. As he and another deacon entered the underground room in order to cense the departed fathers lying there and to greet them with the Holy resurrection, Bishop Zachariah himself started proclaiming from the grave that “Christ is risen!” What’s more, the monks buried in the same room as him responded “Indeed he is Risen!!!”
I believed what that sweet Deacon proclaimed to me even as I believe the scriptural accounts of the Resurrection of Christ. So if the Holy Spirit can enliven a dead body to proclaim that Christ is Risen, what can we not do?! We have so much spiritual power that we don’t even know about yet! After The Holy Apostle Peter preached one Spirit-filled, divinely given sermon to the crowd on the day of Pentecost… when he allowed God to really proclaim something through him…about three thousand people joined the Church! Now I don’t know about Southern California (the site of last year’s conference), but in North Idaho, (the location of preacher’s parish), if we add three thousand souls in one day, we‘re going to need to make some pretty big adjustments in order to meet the needs of our new community. But that’s our vision! And that’s our dream come true at the same time! Our vision and our dream are that Christ is risen and we live it and we can hardly keep it inside because it is flowing out of us. It is truly divine insanity.
And some might say “so what?” What if the whole world considers us mad for proclaiming such teachings and living differently because of it? Well, that’s okay too. Didn’t the people on Pentecost think that the Apostles were drunk when they received the Holy Spirit? It’s our great, great blessing to be spiritually drunk in the risen Christ. There will always inevitably be some who won’t understand and they will want to stop us. We’ve learned a Paschal lesson about this up in North Idaho during the ringing of bells at Midnight. The first few years after the ringing of the bells, I quickly needed to add a new ministry (men guarding the parking lot because of neighbors driving up to the church in pickup trucks armed with shotguns ready to target anything that moved). Our new practice is to call the sheriff every year so that the civil authorities can protect our divine madness from the onslaught of those who just don’t understand.
Finally, please allow me to set before us a threefold Paschal challenge. I would expect…
For us Orthodox Christians to be so madly in love with our Resurrected Lord that the very first thing that comes pouring out of us during the Paschal period when we greet one another is “Christ is Risen!” – On our lips, in our eyes and filling our hearts. I must admit that I was puzzled yesterday at the clergy meeting when we were asked to remind one another that we greet each other with the Paschal greeting during these 40 days. Did I need to be reminded to proclaim that Christ is risen? It is like being reminded to breathe so that we don’t die! It is life itself! It is our holy vision!
I would also expect…
For us Orthodox Christians to be so madly in love with our resurrected Lord that we greet absolutely everyone…family, friends, Orthodox Christians, and even strangers (maybe even especially strangers) with Christ is risen! Three thousand people didn’t become Christians on Pentecost because the Apostles chose to simply stay in the room and exchange the good news among themselves. People need to hear this life-saving message. And if they don’t hear it from us, then from whom? Oh yes, we will get lots of strange looks, condescending smiles, and smart remarks. But we will also touch some hungry hearts. You might hear: “Christ is risen!” “Yes, he has!”; “Christ is risen!” “How do you know?” “Christ is risen!” “You betcha He has!” “Christ is risen!” “Alleluia!” “Christ is risen!” “What do you mean?” “Christ is risen!” “Amen!” I’ve heard a million responses; and all of them invite us to dialogue about the Risen Christ! My favorite response was one that I heard at my hotel from a security guard: “Christ is risen!” “Does your church believe in Marriage?” So we talked for several hours about Christian marriage!
By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have something to say. All of us have something to say to the people we meet. Are we ready? Our Diocese descends on a luxury hotel every year with the potential to touch the hearts and souls of desk clerks, waiters and waitresses, maids, janitors, managers, security guards, other guests, etc, and all we need to do is proclaim that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.
I would also expect…
For us Orthodox Christians to be so madly in love with our resurrected Lord that we sometimes even forget what time of the year it is and continue to proclaim that Christ is Risen in every season! I am not proposing anything official (no liturgical innovations); but when we run into the cashier at Wal-Mart and have nothing meaningful to say in Mid August, Why not proclaim Christ is Risen? Our beloved ones come to us in November or in January with big problems, (sickness in the family, lost all of their money, lost their job, their husband or my wife has left them, etc.). How important it is for us to remember at those times that Christ is Risen after all is said and done and by that same power we can be healed. Why wait until Pascha each year to live and share that reality? St. Seraphim of Russia greeted everyone with Christ is Risen all year round and he is a Saint of our Church! He experienced the divine insanity of being a Christian every day… not only during Pascha.
Dear Friends, all of the joy, all of the love, and all of the power of God is contained in that little statement. All of the meaning and vision and prophecy and spirituality of our lives is captured by that simple expression. Everything that I am supposed to be and do is embodied in those few words. If I don’t proclaim them, then I am not alive. So, please forgive me, but again once more let us enter the mystery beyond mysteries together as we proclaim to San Diego (or wherever we are), to those who love us and those who hate us, and to the entire Universe: “CHRIST IS RISEN!”
This article was originally a homily given by Fr. Gregory Horton, Pastor of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Post Falls, Idaho, at the 2006 Diocese of the West Parish Life Conference.
Originally published in DIAKONIA, Spring 2007