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587Homily for 4/27/14 - Pascha 1 - Fear and Doubt

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  • David
    Apr 27, 2014
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      John 20:19-31

      Even in the face of total defeat, the evil one does not give up. Rather
      he continues to fight against mankind and tries to take from us the joy
      of Christ’s victory and separate us from God. Early in the morning on
      the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb and there found
      the stone rolled away and the tomb itself empty. They were met by a
      vision of angels who told them that Christ had defeated death and was
      risen. They were told to go and tell the disciples. The Virgin Mary and
      Mary Magdalene not only saw the angels but encountered the risen Christ
      themselves. The Apostles John and Peter had run to the tomb and they too
      saw it empty, just as the women had said, with the grave cloths left
      behind – and having seen and heard all this, still they could not
      believe that Christ had indeed risen from the dead. Not only that but
      also they were afraid that with their teacher gone, the Jews would come
      after them next and arrest all of them. For this reason they hid
      together in a locked room, keeping silent and out of sight. Despite
      being defeated and bound and thrown out of his kingdom, the evil one
      still afflicted the disciples with unbelief and fear.

      Our Lord Jesus Christ did not leave the disciples to be subject to the
      temptations and delusions of the devil, but He Himself came to them and
      calming their fear eliminated their unbelief. At this moment, however,
      one of the apostles, Thomas, was not with them and when he returned,
      even the words of the other apostles who had seen the Lord did not
      overcome his disbelief and doubt. And so, out of His great love for His
      apostles, our Lord Jesus Christ came again to them, this time
      specifically to wipe away Thomas’ doubt and disbelief.

      This same pattern of temptation still appears today. Over and over
      again, the Fathers tell us that whenever we undertake any good work, or
      whenever we have experienced a great blessing from God, the demons will
      immediately begin to distract us and pull us away from the remembrance
      of God and steal away our resolve and purpose and if possible even the
      joy that we are given by encountering Christ.

      Today we are at the end of the Paschal day, which is in fact eight days
      long. All of Bright Week is considered to be a single day – the day of
      Resurrection. Today, the eighth day, the “Antipascha” as it is called or
      more commonly “Thomas Sunday” sets the new pattern for our faith. Unlike
      other feasts which we celebrate and then at the end of the festal period
      we leave them until the next year, Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ,
      stays with us and every Sunday becomes a “little Pascha” as it were,
      renewing again our celebration of the Resurrection. Prior to this feast
      we have struggled through the whole of Great Lent and Holy Week in
      anticipation of the victory of Christ, preparing our souls and bodies to
      enter into the joy of the Lord and to participate in His victory over
      sin, death and the devil. No matter how well or poorly any of us
      prepared, no matter whether we began at the first hour or the eleventh
      hour (as St John Chrysostom reminds us), we have all reached this great
      feast and have been welcomed into the joy of the Lord. This is indeed,
      for each one of us, a great spiritual accomplishment – not that we have
      accomplished ourselves, but that our Lord Jesus Christ shares with us.

      Because we have now all entered into the joy of the Lord and have
      participated in His victory of sin, death and the devil, our old enemy
      tries as he might to steal away from us any benefit, any joy that we
      might receive and enslave us again, before we get too far away. For this
      reason, the apostles were filled with fear and doubt, being attacked by
      Satan so that even in the face of the great victory of Jesus Christ,
      they would not realize that victory and not enter into their joy. By
      filling them with fear, he attempted to steal their joy and with doubt
      he attempted to prevent them from following Christ. We too, having
      ourselves been through the struggle with our own fallen nature during
      Great Lent and having ascended the cross with Christ, being buried with
      Him and then rising with Him on Pascha, find ourselves under the attack
      of the devil who tries mightily to recapture us and enslave us again to
      himself. This he does with a variety of temptations, probing every weak
      spot of our soul that might remain unguarded and vulnerable. For this
      reason we have all experienced a rash of temptations, of sufferings both
      great and small and even the memories of old sins. During this Bright
      Week when we ought to be basking in the joy of the Resurrection, we find
      the evil one hard at work to steal away our joy and to put up barriers
      again between us and our Lord. For some he attacks head on, rekindling
      our worst fears and passions. In others he brings back the memories of
      old sins and seeks to probe those long forgotten wounds with temptations
      in hope that they might now be left unguarded and vulnerable. Our
      passions and desires, so long now under the discipline of the fast are
      enflamed to rise again filling us with the impulses of anger, lust,
      greed, gluttony, love of pleasure, despair and so on. The evil one knows
      that if we follow even one of these impulses, he can draw us away from
      Christ and steal our joy.

      But our Lord does not abandon us or leave us to fight on our own. Just
      as with the disciples, He is here with us and by His word, by His touch,
      these seemingly furious assaults of the evil one are shown to be the
      hollow lies that they really are. You only have to wrench your heart
      away from following these impulses and again turn to the empty cross and
      empty tomb and cry out again, “Christ is Risen from the dead trampling
      down death by death!” and He Himself will come to stand with you and
      fill the cup of your soul with the wine of His joy.

      Christ is risen and all these attacks of the devil are defeated. Hold
      tight and close to the Resurrection, constantly keep the vision of the
      empty tomb before the eyes of your heart. Sing without ceasing the
      troparion of Pascha, “Christ is Risen from the dead …” Remind yourself
      and one another of the victory of our Lord by exchanging the Paschal
      greeting, “Christ is Risen/Truly He is Risen” Recall to your mind and
      lips the powerful verses of the Paschal celebration, “Let God arise; let
      His enemies be scattered; let those who hate Him flee from before His
      face; as smoke vanishes so let them vanish, as wax melts before the
      fire. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad
      in it.”

      The evil one is trying to steal from you – he is trying to steal from
      you the joy and victory of the Resurrection – but he can only do this if
      you let go of it and pay attention instead to his deceptions. The devil
      is trying to steal also from our Lord Jesus Christ – he is trying to
      steal you away from Him so that you might again be enslaved by him with
      the chains of sin – but again this is only possible if you choose to let
      him put those chains on you again. The devil is trying to undo the
      victory of Christ, but he can’t do it unless you let him – don’t let him
      get away with it.

      Every one of us has been tempted and tested this past week by the evil
      one trying to steal from us and to steal us from Christ. You know these
      temptations best because you have experienced them. However varied the
      attacks of the devil might be, the cure is the same – our Lord Jesus
      Christ, Who rose from the dead, comes to us himself and turns our sorrow
      into joy, our mourning into dancing, our doubt into belief and our fear
      into love for Himself. Do not then lose hold of the joy of the
      resurrection, but continue to live in it proclaiming again and again the
      great cry of victory: “Christ is Risen – Truly He is Risen!”

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org