"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch


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Tuesday, 3 May 2016


The Essential Meaning of the Paschal Feast

my source: pravmir.com by
The following is the text of a public talk given by Fr. Alexander on May 2, 1989, in Moscow.

It is a remarkable feature of the night of Pascha that many people appear in church who otherwise almost never go there. Something mysterious and incomprehensible, yet not always conscious, attracts them there. What accounts for this? We say: it is the festival of spring. However, there were many different kinds of “festivals of spring.” And, of course, the picture of awakening nature – of these trees coming back to life, of the earth that has awoken from sleep – all of this is near and dear to all. You city dwellers have to observe all this as if under a microscope: you see only the very smallest signs of spring, but you see them nonetheless. And the traditions of Pascha, of course, have a direct relationship to this.
But I would like to speak with you about something different. There are people who do not consider themselves Christians who unfailingly try to have at least decorated eggs, kulich, and cheese pascha at home on Pascha. But we are reasonable and civilized people, so it would not be a bad idea to figure out what is going on here, what this all means. What is the origin of the relationship of all this to the Christian tradition? Or is this simply the remnants of paganism? How fair is it to say that these are remnants of paganism?

Yes, ancient man was able to stand in reverence before the majesty of resurrecting nature. He looked at it through entirely different eyes: for him nature was both mother and sister. Man rejoiced when, after the winter slumber, nature awoke and resurrected. And not only because he received more food as a result, but because he felt something special, some special currents flowing to him from Eternity, from the Cosmos.

This is why the Church did not reject the pagan elements of the Paschal celebrations. First of all, there is the Paschal kulich itself. (In the Ukraine it is called “pascha.”) What is the meaning of this? People collected the remnants of the past year’s harvest and, as if in memory and gratitude for the completed labors, they baked these loaves, sometimes in the form of birds and sometimes in the form of a column, as we commonly do now.

And “pascha” is molded curd with the emblem of the Risen Christ: XB for Christ is Risen [in Russian]. It is called “cheese pascha” to distinguish it from kulich.

The egg is a remarkable symbol, a very ancient pagan symbol of the resurrection of the dead. The egg looks like a dead stone, smooth and unmoving, but life beats inside of it – a marvelous miracle is hidden inside. Think about how this miracle develops. The result of this is a being that is alive, that thinks a bit, that undoubtedly feels, and that moves about beautifully – and it had been hidden inside this little white oblong ball. This is why people have always valued the egg as a symbol of eternal life, revival, and resurrection.

There was also the following ancient custom: eggs were placed on sprouted grass. In advance, in early spring, a sort of garden box was made into which seeds were planted, most often oats. With the warmth of the sun the first green shoots would rise up – or, rather, get up and run – and colored eggs would be placed among them. Many nations – I will not list them, but nearly every European nation – have this custom. For children the custom of playing with eggs has remained: they roll them, judging that the winner is whoever’s egg remains intact upon collision – it is like a kind of billiards.

There were masks, carnivals, and a wide variety of Paschal games – this was a time of letting loose, of extraordinary joy. Every one of you has likely heard, and many have seen, how in these pre-festal days the courtyards of the churches are filled with people bringing their offerings: kulichi, pascha, and eggs. I remember from childhood – even though it was during Stalinist times and this was all none too easy – how as soon as the morning of Great Saturday had arrived, lines of people stretched out along the half-dark streets, each bearing white bundles in their hands. It was easy to understand where they were all headed: they were going to have their Paschal meal blessed. Why indeed is the meal blessed?

Because when someone who has observed the fast reaches the time when the fast ends, then just as God’s blessing had been upon the fasting food, so too now must God’s blessing be upon the non-fasting food. This is so that one does not think that meat or cheese is unclean in and of itself. The Lord Jesus rejected the idea that food could be unclean: it is human thoughts and actions that can be unclean.

The blessing of meals is a framework for the blessing of life – the blessing of human joy and the blessing of human labor – that allows us the opportunity to see the food that is in front of us. Such is the meaning of this rite. And just what accounts for all this? I will briefly touch on this important topic.

The earthly life of Jesus Christ, His brief witness to the world, ended in failure, in the most profound defeat and overwhelming tragedy, because His disciples – as, indeed, everyone does – sought triumph over evil, they sought external victory, they thirsted for external power. They saw that power was hidden in the nature of their Teacher, that He could restrain the possessed, heal the sick, and pass unharmed through crowds trying to seize Him. And suddenly all this ended in the blink of an eye. It was as if they had all abandoned Him in the garden of Gethsemane the night He prayed concerning His cup.

What comes next was the most difficult for them, because He was treated like the least among criminals, disgracefully, with the clothes torn off Him. He who had been held in awe was now nailed onto a pillory alongside two bandits, with a mocking inscription hung above Him. After a short time He gave up the spirit. He gave up the spirit while praying for His executioners, repeating the words of a psalm. And then it was all over. And therewith Christianity came to an end.

Some people say: yes, of course, the disciples reverently preserved His memory, which learned people passed on. But these were not the sort of people to preserve memory and doctrine: they were simply artisans and fishermen, unlearned but kind people that were faithful to Him. After all, a complete catastrophe had just taken place before their very eyes, eliminating their hopes with one fatal blow. They said: “But we had thought He was the One Who would save Israel” from the oppressors – and to save, along with Israel, the entire world from evil. “But we had thought…” Such was their condition: fear, despair, and profound disappointment. They spent Saturday without going out – by Jewish law it was forbidden to travel far on the Sabbath. They locked themselves in, silently remaining in this stupor. I do not think they spoke about anything, but just sat there in silence. They were in mourning.

This was not simply the mourning for a deceased loved one: this was a lamentation for all their life dreams, all their hopes, all the wagers they had placed on this beautiful but misled man.

Some time later, early in the morning, before the sun had risen – by our reckoning this was the first day of the week, which we now call Sunday – Mary Magdalene came running to them. We know little about this woman. Legend has it that she had been a harlot. This is often used in novels and films, although in fact nothing is known about it – all this is fiction. The Gospels simply say that she had been ill, and that He had cast seven demons from her.

She entered, saying: “I have seen Him.” They had a single response: that the poor woman has gone mad from grief. But she relates that she had been at the tomb, that the stone had been rolled away, and that she had stood and wept. Other women had also seen that the tomb was empty, which meant that the authorities had simply extracted the body and hidden it somewhere so that people would not go to the grave to pray – a natural solution.

She said: “And then someone approached me from behind, saying something to me. I thought it was the gardener.” (There was a garden there, in which the tomb was located.) “I said: ‘Sir, if you have removed Him from here, then tell me where you have laid Him.’ He spoke a single word to me: ‘Mary.’ And I recognized Him: He Himself was standing before me! I rushed to touch Him, but He told me: ‘Do not touch Me. Do not touch me because I have not yet gone there.’” There were odd words: “When I go there, then you can touch Me.” (I will explain to you later what was going on here.)

It goes without saying that none of the disciples believed her. Indeed, what might a woman reduced to despair say? But then several more women came. They had gone to perform the final rite of anointing Him. In the East the custom exists of anointing the body of the deceased with precious ointment, which is very expensive. But inasmuch as Jesus had been buried quickly (it had to be done before the setting of the sun), they did not read all the prayers or properly anoint the body. Not having accomplished this, they wanted to finish it now.

So they went. They did not even know that the tomb had been guarded. They arrived: the enormous stone – which was round and flat, moving in a groove – had been rolled away. The tomb was empty, and a young man in white clothing was sitting there. He said: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They were terrified and frightened: something about this young man in white clothing provoked fear in them. They ran away, deciding not to say anything to anyone. They were afraid. What were they afraid of? Horror had struck them: it was as if they had touched some otherworldly, superhuman mystery.

On that same day, two disciples were walking to a village near Jerusalem, talking between themselves and lamenting their fate, lamenting His fate, and bemoaning all this misfortune. Evening arrived. Someone joined them, walking alongside them. In the twilight the stranger asked them: “What are you talking about? Why are you so sad?” They replied: “Are you a stranger here? Have you not heard that this was Jesus of Nazareth Who died? He was executed the day before yesterday, but we had thought that He was the Savior of Israel and the world.”

Then He replied: “You are foolish; you have slow and hardened hearts. Even in the Bible, in Scripture, it says that the Savior, when He comes to the world, must suffer, die, and rise again.” He began to cite the words of the Old Testament prophets and the words of the Psalmist that speak of how the Redeemer, when come to the people, will endure suffering – great suffering, up to and including death.

Suddenly everything somehow became easier, calmer, and clearer for them. They reached their village. He was going to continue further, but they said to the Stranger: “Stay with us, be with us, and eat with us – for the day is already inclining toward evening.” He went with them into a room in the half-darkness. They lit the lamps and placed bread on the table.

He took and broke it, using the very same gesture of blessing that was so familiar to the disciples. They peered into those features – and suddenly the two of them were alone. There was bread on the table, breadcrumbs on the tablecloth – and the two disciples in the room.

They leapt up, saying: “Did not our hearts burn while He was speaking? It is He Who gave us this sign!” They rushed back from this village of Emmaus in the dark, running to Jerusalem. They knocked at the door of the disciples, who had locked themselves in for fear of agents and soldiers. When they opened the door, there were already no more tears, no more mourning. They all embraced, laughing and saying: “He appeared to Peter! The women have seen Him!”

They, too, related how they had recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, in this sacred act of bread-breaking. We call this the Eucharist; our Liturgy is at this table. We the faithful recognize His great presence through the breaking of bread.

Then they sat together, confused and anxious, but eternally joyful, still not understanding what had taken place. And suddenly they heard His voice: “Peace be unto you” – which means “salutations” or “greetings.” And He was standing among them. The doors had not been opened, and they had not heard a knock. His face changed continuously. This was an astonishing encounter, and there can be no talk of a “revived” body. The tomb was empty, but the Jesus Who appeared to them was different. He said to them: “I have been given all power in heaven and on earth.” He could be recognized, but He could also not be recognized. He could disappear as suddenly as He appeared.

But they had to go on living; they had to feed themselves by the work of their own hands.

The majority were fishermen. They went to the Sea of Galilee, cast their net, brought it up empty, and then cast it again. It was early in the morning; the sun had not risen, but the surface of the sea had already begun to turn silver. As they approached the shore someone was standing in the distance. He shouted: “Do you have anything to eat there?” It often happened that people came and bought fresh fish from the fishermen on board. They replied: “No, we fished all night, but did not catch anything.” And suddenly they remembered.

John was the youngest of them; he may not have been even twenty. He remembered that when the Lord Jesus had called them, the same thing had happened: Peter had worked all night without catching anything, but after Jesus spoke he cast again, and his nets were filled. When he was thinking about this, a cry was heard from the shore: “Cast to the right side!” They cast the nets as if asleep, but suddenly felt how it had begun to strain. They struck the oars and began moving towards the shore. The young John cast himself before Peter and whispered: “It is He, the Teacher.”

Peter was not the sort of person to reason and discuss: he disrobed immediately – they were half-naked on the boat – and began to swim to shore. When he reached the shore, a man with barely recognizable features was standing there. A fire was burning, and there was grilled fish on spits and bread – the meal was ready. “Come,” said He Who was both so familiar and simultaneously unfamiliar, “come, sit down, and eat!” They dried themselves off in silence one by one – they had come out of the water – and sat around the fire, silently passing around the bread and fish.

Suddenly everyone felt that this was as it had been before: He was among them. They hid their faces, lowered their eyes to the ground, and concealed themselves with their veils. No one dared ask: Who are You? But these simple hearts all suddenly felt that this was an Encounter, this was a Visitation.

Then He arose and, taking Simon Peter by the hand, took him aside, while the young John crept behind him. Peter heard:

“Simon, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me?”

“Yes, my Lord, I love You,” he said.

He then heard the voice that was infinitely familiar to him: “Then feed My sheep.”

Then He asked him again: “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, I love You.”

“Feed My lambs.”

And a third time: “Simon, do you love Me?”

Simon suddenly remembered how he had denied Him three times out of fear, saying he did not know this Man; how, not in order to betray Him but out of cowardice, he had denied Him three times. Grieved and sorrowful, he said: “You know everything. You know that I love You.” Then he again heard the voice:

“Feed My sheep. Follow Me. When you were young, you went wherever you wanted. When you are old, they will bind your hands and lead you where you do not want to go. Follow Me.” Follow Me along the path of the Cross ­– such was the meaning.

“And what about him?” asked Simon about his younger brother, John, who was walking behind them.

“Do not give thought to him. If I so desire, he will be here on earth until I come. You follow Me!”

Then it was the hills of Galilee once again. Everywhere there are places where He had been. He recognized every hill. You all know well just how dear places where we met with someone we love become to us. They arrived at Galilee, walking along the valleys, among fig trees, chestnut trees, and cypresses, saying: “Here He was with us, and here He said such-and-such, and on this shore He performed such-and-such a miracle.” Once they saw Him standing on a mount, and He spoke solemn words, special words, that seemed to resound through the entire world, and which have continued to echo throughout the centuries: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and teach all the nations.” Namely: has been given.

This means that as long as He was bearing His Cross on earth, He did not have such power. He was prone to illness, human infirmity, and even death. But now He says: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and teach all the nations, Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to perform everything I have commanded you; and I will be with you always until the end of the ages.”

Baptism means being united into one in the spiritual community that today we call the Church. That is what Baptism is. “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Of the One God, Who appeared to us as the Creator of the world; and of Him Who was revealed as Divine Love in this world to which He came; and of the Spirit of God, Who lived, lives, and will live in mankind, in His community: the Church of Christ.

“Go and teach all nations.” The history of the Church began at this moment two thousand years ago, from a small beginning, from a small brook.

What does the Resurrection mean? The victory of Truth.  As the great Russian philosopher, Vladimir Solovyov, put it: If Pilate, the high priests, and all the dark forces had turned out to be right, then life would be meaningless, for in that case evil would have defeated and shattered the most beautiful, the most pure, the sinless God-Man. But, as the New Testament tells us, death could not contain Him. Our spirit is powerless to halt the process of death and decay, but pure and deified spirit is capable of accomplishing the victory over the decaying forces of matter.

This is the origin of that miraculous historical event: yesterday they were a handful of frightened fishermen, but today they enter the public square and shout: “Christ is Risen!” This is what they tell people, these very same ones who yesterday were afraid even to whisper about Him. Historians know this; the history of the world knows this. No one saw the mystery that was accomplished in the tomb. And there is no need to try to imagine it. But we must face the fact that an explosion burst out of this small kernel.

Many of you have likely heard that, according to modern theory, the universe came about from a small nucleus – and then there was an explosion, the Big Bang. Then the universe began to unfold. So it was with Christianity: a seed once sown explodes, Christ gives rise to the Church, and now for two thousand years these ecclesial galaxies have scattered in different directions.

This also means that He has remained with us. This is the most important thing. For example, the Church’s hymnody, architecture, traditions, books, and customs are, of course, as precious to me now as they were in my childhood. But all this would have only passing significance – no more important than the traditions of the ancient Indians or Egyptians, or of any other people or time – had I not felt that He indeed has remained, had I not heard His voice within, a distinct voice, more distinct than any human voice.

This is the mystery of history, the mystery of the earth: He has remained. The greatest moving force in history has remained intimately and profoundly in the world. “I will be with you always, until the end of the ages.” He rose in order to be present everywhere in our lives. Everyone can find Him today, too. He is not a historical figure about whom one can either remember or forget. Yes, He lived two thousand years ago. Yes, in ten years we will celebrate the two thousand year anniversary of His birth. But He not simply was, but is. This is the whole mystery of Christianity, the key to its power.

There have been many great scholars these past twenty centuries. Many minds have appeared in the spheres of philosophy and politics. On the island of St. Helena, Napoleon said that he had wanted to start a new religion in the world. But he added: alas, with my regiments and armies I could not accomplish what Jesus Christ accomplished, Who without an army taught us to love Him for centuries.

Christ has always conquered without bloodshed. When violence has been done in His name, when attempts have been made to impose the Gospel by force of arms or through coercion – then the spirit of Christ has been perverted. Why, you might think, in the history of the Christian churches have there been so many tragic pages? Why have they so often endured calamitous and grievous defeats? Was it only because there were forces of political evil or some other such forces? By no means was it only because of this.

It all started with us Christians. When we deviated from Him, therein lay the germ of future catastrophe. When today, with sorrow and pain of heart, I look at ruined churches or photographs of churches that have not survived, I appreciate that this is the work of barbarians, of cultured savages, so to speak; this is the work of totalitarianism, violence, intolerance, and black hatred. But I see the main root in something else.

A holy thing remains solid and inviolable only so long as the people gathered around it do not lose spirit. The Lord Jesus told those of His disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven to punish sinners: “You do not know of what spirit you are.” These are words that could be addressed to our brothers: you do not know of what spirit you are. This is all very important.

There is nothing accidental in history; there is nothing accidental in life. We reap what we sow. If today we weep over ruined churches, then we should weep no less for the past sins and mistakes of Christians, our spiritual and bodily ancestors. Something had obviously gone wrong, that such tribulation might occur. It could not have occurred on its own. Because He has remained, and He continues to preside.

He said: “Now is the judgment of this world.” At the very moment of His coming, when His gaze penetrated into people’s souls, then began the judgment of each person’s conscience and fate. And this judgment continues today. This judgment is purifying. This judgment raises us up from the level of animals; it raises us up from the level of everyday dullness; and it raises us up to the level of spirituality, insight, and the fulfillment of our divine ideal in this earthly life.

Translated from the Russian.



 “This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad therein.” Pascha is the day of universal joy and peace. The entire world, every breath and all creation, triumphs and rejoices. For the Lord has conquered and destroyed death, abolishing the “dominion of death” – the power of death. With the Resurrection of Christ, the dawn of the coming general Resurrection has already begun to break over all creation, for we hope in “the life of the age to come.” Paschal joy is boundless, dissolving every sorrow and doubt. “Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.” All offences and distress are forgotten: “let us forgive all things on the Resurrection.” Not a single cloud of grief and dark memories should obscure the luminous and light-bearing Paschal night. Christ is Risen!

Yet the infinite and eternal joy of the Resurrection is mysterious. In its fullness it is beyond the capacity of each of us. This Divine Revelation of joy and glory so often catches us off guard, as it were, and spiritually unprepared. It is for this reason that the Church prepares us for the light-bearing day of Pascha through a long and penitential trial, leading us along the path of fasting and vigilance. Without this, the entire meaning of the Paschal victory would remain incomprehensible and inaccessible to us. Pascha completes Passion Week. And joy comes through the Cross. Eternal joy came into the world through the Cross of the Son of God, the agony in Gethsemane, and the voluntary passion and death of the Only-Begotten One on the Cross: “for behold, through the Cross joy hath come to all the world!” The Resurrection is intrinsically inseparable from the Cross, suffering, and death itself. And not only for us, but for Christ Himself, the “Prince of life.” Pascha is the mystery of the Life-Giving Tomb.

Passion Week is made up of days of agonizing memories. How painful it is to relive the entire ineffable mystery of Divine condescension anew, listening in deep spiritual confusion to the Gospel account of the Savior’s “final days of earthly life”! Everything is full of light, quietness, and Divine love: the Lord is saving the world. Therein lie our immutable trust, support, and hope. But how impenetrable, even for Divine love, is the night of sin. We are unable to feel the full measure of this utmost horror of sin, stagnation, and resistance. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not (John 1:11). Not only did they not receive Him, they rejected, repudiated, and condemned Him to death. One of the Twelve was a traitor. And how easily was the triumphant “Hosanna” followed from the very same mouths by the wild “Crucify Him”!

During the days of Passion Week the terrible abyss of fallen man’s sin, helplessness, and irresponsibility opens wide before us so clearly. The Church prompts us again and again to pass through this fright and horror. For the sin that raised the Savior onto Golgotha was not someone else’s sin, not “their sin,” but our common sin. As Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow explained, the Cross of Christ is, as it were, composed of all our sins; our unrighteousness makes up the weight that He bore. Sin is committed on earth, but it rattles the heavens. The Son of God came down upon the earth in order to raise up the Cross and to fit into a small tomb. Only when we have experienced the full extent of the inescapable gloom of sin can we draw closer to the joy of Pascha and experience the true joy of liberation: “the beginning of another life eternal.”

The Resurrection of Christ is the victory over death – over human death. For it is in man that death is the “wages of sin.” Having sinned, man began to die; that is, he began to stop being human. For man is not a bodiless spirit; and a disincarnate soul is not a whole person. God created man of soul and body, in indissoluble unity, for his eternal sojourn. Sin disrupted this unity, making human existence itself impossible. This is the true horror of death. Therefore it is the “enemy,” the “last enemy” in the words of the Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death is terrible not because it so often seems premature, suddenly interrupting our lives and the lives of loved ones, causing a sorrowful parting for us. Death is terrible because it reveals man’s doom, his inability on his own to be such as he (every man) should have been according to the creative plan of the Creator.

So, it is only in the Resurrection of Christ that this opportunity and ability were returned to man anew. The hopelessness of death has been repealed. The Lord descended into the very depths of the kingdom of death and abolished it, rising as the first-fruits of them that slept; following Him everyone shall be made alive in his own order (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). The entire world is relieved through this victory: for all creation suffers from man’s mortality. Therefore Pascha is the universal victory and joy: the joy of earth and heaven.

For many of us this is unexpected and unusual; it may even appear to be inappropriate and vain philosophizing, inappropriate on the Bright Feast. But this is precisely what the Church sings and glorifies on this luminous night, in the entire cycle of Pentecost, and every Sunday. “We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hades, the beginning of another life eternal.” And grief and joy are linked together: “Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ; today I rise with Thine arising. Yesterday I was crucified with Thee; do Thou Thyself glorify me with Thee, O Savior, in Thy Kingdom.” Yesterday and today are inseparable: the Cross and the Resurrection. In is only under the light yoke of the Cross that we shall enter into the joy of our Lord, Risen in glory from the tomb of voluntary death.

“O Thou Who didst endure the Cross, and didst abolish death, and didst rise again from the dead: Make our life peaceful, O Lord, for Thou alone art almighty.”

Translated from the Russian.

Friday, 29 April 2016


Knocking Down the Gates of Hell
my source: Glory to God for All Things (Orthodox)
Fr. Stephen Freeman 

The Swedish Lutheran theologian, Gustav Aulen, publish a seminal work on types of atonement theory in 1930 (Christus Victor). Though time and critique have suggested many subtler treatments of the question, no one has really improved on his insight. Especially valuable was description of the “Classic View” of the atonement. This imagery, very dominant in the writings of the early Fathers and in the liturgical life of the Eastern Church, focused on the atonement as an act of invasion, smashing of gates and bonds, and the setting free of those bound in hell. Aulen clearly preferred this imagery and is greatly responsible for its growing popularity in some segments of Western Christendom.

The language was obscured in the West by the later popularity of propitiatory suffering (and the various theories surrounding it). Aulen noted, however, that Luther tended to prefer this older imagery. I had opportunity to do a research paper in grad school on the topic. I surveyed all of the hundreds of hymns written by Luther and analyzed them for their atonement theology. All but about two used the Classic View. Aulen was right.

In Orthodoxy, this imagery is the coin of the realm in the hymns surrounding Pascha. All of Holy Week is predicated on the notion of Christ descent into hell and radical actions of destroying death and setting free those held in captivity. St. John Chrysostom’s great Paschal Homily, read in every Orthodox Church on the night of Pascha, is an “alley, alley, in come free!” of salvation.

I have written on this topic before. I thought, however, to share some of the verses from the hymns for the Matins of Holy Saturday. Their language is a pure expression of the spirit of Orthodox Pascha and the atonement teaching of the Fathers.

Hell, who had filled all men with fear,
Trembled at the sight of Thee,
And in haste he yielded up his prisoners,
O Immortal Sun of Glory

Thou hast destroyed the palaces of hell by Thy Burial, O Christ.
Thou hast trampled death down by thy death, O Lord,
And redeemed earth’s children from corruption.

Though thou art buried in a grave, O Christ,
Though Thou goest down to hell, O Savior,
Thou hast stripped hell naked, emptying its graves.

Death seized Thee, O Jesus,
And was strangled in Thy trap.
He’’s gates were smashed, the fallen sere set free,
And carried from beneath the earth on high.

O Savior, death’s corruption
Could not touch thy holy flesh.
Thou hast bound the ancient murdered of man,
And restored all the dead to new life.

Thou didst will, O Savior,
To go beneath the earth.
Thou didst free death’s fallen captives from their chains,
Leading them from earth to heaven.

In the earth’s dark bosom
The Grain of Wheat is laid.
By its death, it shall bring forth abundant fruit:
Adam’s sons, freed from the chains of death.

Wishing to save Adam,
Thou didst come down to earth.
Not finding him on earth, O Master,
Thou didst descend to Hades seeking him.

O my Life, my Savior,
Dwelling with the dead in death,
Thou hast destroyed the iron bars of hell,
And hast risen from corruption.

These examples could be multiplied many times over. The section of Matins from which these are taken has over 100 verses! Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha has many ways of acting out this theology. Lights go up at the hint of victory, particularly as we sing the Song of Moses celebrating the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. In some parishes, bay leaves are tossed in the air by the priest in a fairly violent and joyous celebration of the victory. In yet others, at certain points during the Vesperal Liturgy of Pascha,  loud noises such as the banging of pots and pans are heard as the liturgy describes the smashing of hell’s gates. There’s is one village in Greece where two parishes have developed a custom of firing rocker fireworks at each other in the Paschal celebration.

Such antics completely puzzle the non-Orthodox and even seem comical. The Paschal celebration in Orthodoxy is far more akin to the wild street scenes in American cities when the end of World War II was announced – and for the same reason!

All of this also explains why many Orthodox are very reluctant to engage in “who’s going to hell” discussions with other Christians (though some Orthodox sadly seem to relish the topic). The services of Holy Week, as illustrated in these verses, are filled with references to hell. I daresay that no services elsewhere in all of Christendom make such frequent mention of hell. But the language is just as illustrated above. It’s all about smashing, destruction and freedom. It is the grammar of Pascha. It should be the grammar of Christianity itself.

Hell is real. Jesus has come to smash it. It is the Lord’s Pascha. It is time to sing and dance.
What Is Pascha? Ahead Of Orthodox Easter 2016, Russian, Greek And Other Eastern Churches Begin Celebrations 
Orthodox Christian worshipers from Serbia hold crosses as they walk along Via Dolorosa during the Holy Week Good Friday procession in Jerusalem's Old City April 29, 2016.

Orthodox Christian worshipers take part in a procession along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday, during Holy Week in Jerusalem's Old City, April 29, 2016.
Ethiopian Christian Orthodox priests pray during the Washing of the Feet ceremony, one of the Orthodox Easter celebrations, at the Deir al-Sultan chapel on the roof of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City April 28, 2016.

In the streets of Kiev, Ukraine, traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs, known as pysanky, are on display for the holiday. Outside of beautiful, decorative eggs, it is traditional for eggs to be dyed red to symbolize the life and the blood of Jesus Christ. It is common for people to also play games with eggs, banging them against each other. Whoever ends up with the non-cracked egg is supposed to have luck for the coming year. Many worshippers also bring baskets full of food and special breads to church on Easter Sunday to be blessed.
A woman takes a picture of a traditional Ukrainian Easter egg "Pysanka," installed as part of the upcoming celebrations of Easter, in central Kiev, Ukraine, April 29, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Metropolitan Theophilos (C) blesses the crowd during the Washing of the Feet ceremony outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, April 28, 2016, ahead of Orthodox Easter.PHOTO: REUTERS/AMMAR AWADplease click on:good friday: jesus christ died for our sinsa.schmemann, r. cantalamessa ETC

The God Who Fights For Us
by Father Stephen Freeman

I was small for my age as a child, and quite thin at that. I liked to play, but was not particularly rugged and did not enjoy sports that involved getting knocked around. I grew up with another “Steve” next door to me, who was big for his age. Inevitably, I was nicknamed “Little Steve,” and he, “Big Steve.” I confess to being glad when he moved away, at least for my name’s sake. I was born in the post-War era of the 50’s and lived near an air base. War and military exploits were the daily fare of the playground imagination. It is difficult to cultivate a warrior’s mentality if you’ve lost every fight you were ever in. I wasn’t a “wimp,” but I could have been a happy pacifist.

I often think that my childhood experience has colored my adult love of Pascha. In my years as an Anglican priest, I was always careful that my favorite hymn be sung at all the Easter services:

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The strife is o’er, the battle done,
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
let shout of holy joy outburst.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped,
he rises glorious from the dead:
all glory to our risen Head!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell,
the bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
let hymns of praise his triumphs tell!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Lord! by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live and sing to thee.

It is, I think, one of the most Orthodox hymns in the Anglican tradition, both in its tone and in its content. Pascha, in Orthodox thought, is described primarily in terms of battle. Christ “tramples down death by death.” That line, part of the primary hymn of Pascha, is sung over and over in the course of the feast.

God fighting for you and smashing your enemies is particularly good news if you’ve been on the losing side most of your life. It seems to have been the “losing side” that was most drawn to Christ during His ministry. He excoriated religious leaders but was exceedingly kind to harlots, adulteresses, and turn-coat tax-collectors. It is certainly the case that the religious leaders of that time bullied the poor and the “unrighteous.”

None of that suggests that we should become harlots, and the like. It certainly suggests that we should not be bullies. But it strongly suggests that we should identify ourselves with those who lose. This can be difficult for some, particularly in a culture that so values winners. There are versions of the Christian faith that are better suited to the culture of winning. I suspect that this is part of the attraction of those groups who speak of themselves as having been “saved.” To have found out the mechanism of salvation and applied it in your life easily feels like getting the answers right on the test. And I worry as well when I hear a discussion about the wickedness of sinners and their destiny in hell.

My worry is that my years of pastoral experience have taught me just how complicated and twisted are the souls of “sinners.” I have known a number of people who simply cannot manage money. When they do work, they have no common sense about how things should be spent and how things should be saved. And their lives are always complicated with money problems. I see the same thing in many lives with certain moral issues. I see far more people do “stupid” things than “evil” things. Indeed, I see very few people who actually want to do anything truly evil. They simply don’t know how to “manage” being good.

Historically there has been a behavior described as “middle-class” or “bourgeois” morality. Sometimes used as a pejorative by radical types, it nevertheless can be very telling. It refers to a form of public behavior, typical in moderate and upper income homes, in which people have interiorized a set of rules about “how decent people should behave.” They are the rules for how to get along with others, and how to keep your head down and slowly improve your lot in life. Many people have a deep sense of satisfaction and competency that accompanies this internal ability.

In point of fact, it’s no great effort. Sometimes it is nothing more than Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation.” There is nothing heroic, or deeply sacrificial. It’s religion is always taken in fairly modest, acceptable directions. It is the essence of “public” morality, the least likely to cause difficulty for anyone. At its worst, it simply becomes insipid.

I’ve often wondered if such people will ever be incompetent, weak or sick enough to be saved. They are more likely to subscribe to religious views that lauds their competence and protects their vested interests. They do not need a God who fights for them. They would prefer the fight to be polite and metaphorical, at best. In New Testament terms, they are the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Puzzled by the celebration accorded to their n’er-do-well younger brother.

Christ, the God-Who-Fights-For-Us, fights for them as well, but their lives may generally lull them into thinking that they really don’t much help. They manage to stay away from battles. Their lives may not be paradise, but their hell has become comfortable enough to suit them pretty well.

Pascha is radical good news. God not only fights for us, but has won. If it seems rather ho-hum to you, look carefully at your life. You may be in a sleepy corner of hell, too comfortable to want salvation. The secular utopia, along with its modest religious forms, is the true opiate of the people.  

Holy and Awesome Saturday

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Archive
Now, it is for us to wait;
to wait with all longing, all hope, all desire for the news to reach us.

On this holy, great and awesome Saturday when the human soul of Christ was torn away from His Body, and when His incorruptible, holy Body rested in the tomb, what a deep sense of awe and what horror, what terror filled all creation. … A sense of awe, because all creation had recognized in Him the Living God, God’s Word, the Creator of all things; and what terror, what horror at the sight of His death! Humans in their blindness, prisoners of sin, prisoners of their mortality could continue to live insensitive to what was happening. Pilate went his way, the soldiers continued in their barracks, the multitude dispersed having been present at an awesome, strange event, but an event that remained undeciphered for them; and the High Priest rejoiced, and Judas died. But the whole created world knew more about what had happened than the humans.

On the first great Sabbath, God Who had created all things, rested from His labours, and committed the care and the charge of the world He had made to man, man who belonged to the created world at the very root of it; because he was not made as a fulfilment, as the greatest of all beings in a line of evolution: he was made of the clay, of the dust of the earth; lower he could not go, but at the same time, because he was partaker of the lowest there was, he partook of everything that had been born of this primeval matter which God had called into existence.

At the same time man was possessed of the breath of God, belonged to two worlds, indeed, the world of the created and of the uncreated. And his vocation was to lead all beings into that fullness to which he himself was called; from purity and innocence to the maturity of holiness, to that maturity which Saint Paul describes when he says that all things in the world were made in such a way that God be all in all, that all things created be, as it were, the vesture of God, the Body of God, filled with divinity, partakers of it: man and all the rest partakers of the divine nature.

But then man fell, he betrayed his vocation, he fell away, and the world stood in dismay, lost, without a leader who would lead it to the fulfilment of its calling. It would continue to exist — yes; but it could not become what it was called to be without man; and Paul, perceiving this so deeply said that the whole creation is groaning for the revelation of the children of God, for the day when man should become man again, as God had wanted, called him to be, made him to be, and when all creatures would find in him a vision of what they were to become and a leader on the way to this becoming, this eternal growth into God.

And then Christ appeared, the Son of God Himself became the son of man, and all things created, from the smallest atom to the greatest galaxy recognised in Him the Creator, but at the same time in the body of the Incarnation, in His flesh, all things recognised themselves fulfilled, brought to perfection, recognised themselves as God longed for them to become. And they saw also that this was possible, because if it was possible in Christ, it was possible for all things to be pervaded with divinity, to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, to become the body of the God Eternal.

And then, on one tragic day, once more humanity betrayed both God and its own vocation, rejected the Living God Who had come to save what He had created, rejected the Son of God become the son of man, and nailed Him to the cross, and killed Him. When Adam betrayed his vocation, deeply was the whole world shaken, but there was hope, there still was hope: God was there. On that day, the whole creation trembled with horror, because not only the real Adam, the true and perfect man was now dead, but God had been defeated in him. Was there any hope? There was no hope … And we can see that the powers of heaven were shaken, that the sun lost its light, that the earth trembled, darkness came down upon the world because even God had been and conquered by human hatred and blindness: nothing was left, seemingly, but death, disintegration, the end.

What wonder when, from the depths of hell, victory resounded the sound of victory, when the whole creation became aware that the Christ’s human soul had descended into hell, into the place where God was not, could not be, into the place which by definition was the place of eternal, irremediable absence; but He had come to it in the glory, the shining, the resplendence of His Godhead, and darkness was banished; the place of radical separation had become a place filled victoriously by the divine presence; hell was no longer; victory was won by God, but not only by God, because it is the human soul of Christ, the man filled with divinity that has won this victory .

And the body? The body lay in the tomb uncorrupted, because corruption could not touch this Body that was filled with divinity, even when His human soul had been torn away from it. Hope came, shy, yet exulting; the whole creation knew now that victory was won and that all things were possible, all promises would be fulfilled, all longings will be satisfied.

Only the world of man was still unaware of it. And we are today in that same holy and awesome Saturday, when the Son of God, the son of man rested from His labours. All creation knows the victory, all hell has been harrowed; now, it is for us to wait; to wait with all longing, all hope, all desire for the news to reach us, that not only hell was conquered but soul and body were reunited, that Christ the man had risen from the tomb, that all things were fulfilled, that the end had come — the end not as a point in time but as a goal attained: the vision of the perfect man united perfectly for ever with the Godhead, whose body stood not only for mankind, but for all the created, material and spiritual world.

Let us wait with awe, let us wait with gratitude, let us wait with the tenderness and adoration for the moment when we, on earth, will hear the news: Christ is risen from the dead, having trampled death by death, and to those in the tombs having been given life. Amen!

Commemoration of Holy Saturday

Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
On Great and Holy Saturday the Church contemplates the mystery of the Lord's descent into Hades, the place of the dead. Death, our ultimate enemy, is defeated from within. "He (Christ) gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the Cross ... He loosed the bonds of death" (Liturgy of St. Basil).

On Great Saturday our focus is on the Tomb of Christ. This is no ordinary grave. It is not a place of corruption, decay and defeat. It is life-giving, a source of power, victory and liberation.

Great Saturday is the day between Jesus' death and His resurrection. It is the day of watchful expectation, in which mourning is being transformed into joy. The day embodies in the fullest possible sense the meaning of xarmolipi - joyful-sadness, which has dominated the celebrations of Great Week. The hymnographer of the Church has penetrated the profound mystery, and helps us to understand it through the following poetic dialogue that he has devised between Jesus and His Mother:

"Weep not for me, O Mother, beholding in the sepulcher the Son whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb. For I shall rise and shall be glorified, and as God I shall exalt in everlasting glory those who magnify thee with faith and love."

"O Son without beginning, in ways surpassing nature was I blessed at Thy strange birth, for I was spared all travail. But now beholding Thee, my God, a lifeless corpse, I am pierced by the sword of bitter sorrow. But arise, that I may be magnified."

"By mine own will the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of hell tremble as they see me, clothed in the bloodstained garment of vengeance: for on the Cross as God have I struck down mine enemies, and I shall rise again and magnify thee."

"Let the creation rejoice exceedingly, let all those born on earth be glad: for hell, the enemy, has been despoiled. Ye women, come to meet me with sweet spices: for I am delivering Adam and Eve with all their offspring, and on the third day I shall rise again." (9th Ode of the Canon)

Great Saturday is the day of the pre-eminent rest. Christ observes a Sabbath rest in the tomb. His rest, however, is not inactivity but the fulfillment of the divine will and plan for the salvation of humankind and the cosmos. He who brought all things into being, makes all things new. The re-creation of the world has been accomplished once and for all. Through His incarnation, life and death Christ has filled all things with Himself He has opened a path for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible that the author of life would be dominated by corruption.

Saint Paul tells us that:

"God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Hence, eternal life - real and self-generating - penetrated the depths of Hades. Christ who is the life of all destroyed death by His death. That is why the Church sings joyously "Things now are filled with light, the heaven and the earth and all that is beneath the earth" (Canon of Pascha).

The Church knows herself to be "the place, the eternal reality, where the presence of Christ vanquishes Satan, hell and death itself.

The solemn observance of Great Saturday help us to recall and celebrate the great truth that "despite the daily vicissitudes and contradictions of history and the abiding presence of hell within the human heart and human society," life has been liberated! Christ has broken the power of death.

It is not without significance that the icon of the Resurrection in our Church is the Descent of Christ into Hades, the place of the dead. This icon depicts a victorious Christ, reigned in glory, trampling upon death, and seizing Adam and Eve in His hands, plucking them from the abyss of hell. This icon expresses vividly the truths resulting from Christ's defeat of death by His death and Resurrection.

Icon of the Commemoration of Holy Saturday

Mary Magdalene, Mary, the Mother of God, John the beloved disciple, and Joseph of Arimathea are shown preparing Christ's body for the tomb. Icon provided by Athanasios Clark and used with permission. Icon of the Epitaphios Thrinos provided by Athanasios Clark and used with permission.
Orthodox Celebration of Holy Saturday

Photo courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
At the Third Stasis when the verse "Eranan ton Tafon ai miroforoi mira lian proi elthousai-early in the morning the myrrh-bearers came to Thee and sprinkled myrrh upon Thy tomb" is sung the priest sprinkles the Epitaphios with rosewater, using the rantistirion (sprinkler). This verse is usually repeated three or more times. It has become the custom to sprinkle the people as well.

Photos courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
At the conclusion of the service, the faithful go in procession with the Epitaphios and often the entire structure that represents the Tomb of Christ around the Church chanting the Thrice-Holy hymn, in a similar manner to the traditional procession for a funeral.

Photos courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
It is customary for the clergy and people to hold candles during the singing of the Lamentations and at the procession of the Epitaphios. This practice is rooted in ancient Christian burial practices. Candles were lit in order to symbolize the victory of Christ over death, and to express as well the Church's belief in the Resurrection.

The Scripture readings for the Matins service are: Ezekiel 37:1-14; I Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 3:13-14; and Matthew 27:62-66.

Photo courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
The Liturgy held on the morning of Holy and Great Saturday is that of Saint Basil the Great. It begins with Vespers. After the entrance, the evening hymn 'O Gentle Light' is chanted as usual. Then the Old Testament readings are recited. They tell of the most striking events and prophecies of the salvation of mankind by the death of the Son of God. The account of creation in Genesis is the first reading. The sixth reading is the story of Israel's crossing of the Red Sea and Moses' song of victory - over Pharaoh, with its refrain: 'For gloriously is He glorified'. The last reading is about the Three Children in the fiery furnace of Babylon, and their song of praise with its repeated refrain: 'O praise ye the Lord and supremely exalt Him unto the ages.' In the ancient church the catechumens were baptized during the time of these readings. The Epistle which follows speaks of how, through the death of Christ, we too shall rise to a new life. After the Epistle, the choir chants, like a call to the sleeping Christ: 'Arise, O Lord, Judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations... The deacon carries out the Book of the Gospels, and reads the first message of the resurrection from Saint Matthew. Because the Vespers portion of the service belongs to the next day (Pascha) the burial hymns of Saturday are mingled with those of the resurrection, so that this service is already full of the coming Paschal joy.

Photos courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Experience more of Holy Week in pictures through John Thomas' book "Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey"
After the reading of the Epistle, the priest follows the custom of tossing of laurel, saying: "Arise, O God, and judge Thou the earth: for Thou shall take all heathen to Thine inheritance". The Cherubic hymn of this day is: "Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling...", a thoughtful hymn of adoration and exaltation. The Divine Liturgy ends with the Communion Hymn: "So the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and He is risen to save us".

Hymns of Holy Saturday

Resurrectional Apolytikia
When he took down Your immaculate Body from the Cross, the honorable Joseph wrapped it in a clean linen shroud with spices and laid it for burial in a new tomb. 

When You descended unto death, O Lord who yourself are immortal Life, then did You mortify Hades by the lightning flash of Your Divinity. Also when You raised the dead from the netherworld, all the Powers of the heavens were crying out: O Giver of life, Christ our God, glory be to You. 

The Angel standing at the sepulcher cried out and said to the ointment-bearing 
women: The ointments are appropriate for mortal men, but Christ has been shown to be a stranger to decay.

Arise, O God; judge the earth, for You shall inherit all the Gentiles.


The Lenten Triodion. translated by Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1994), pp. 61-62, 622-661.

Calivas, Alkiviadis C. Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church (Brookline: Holy Cross Press, 1992), pp. 77-87.

Farley, Donna. Seasons of Grace: Reflections on the Orthodox Church Year (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2002), pp. 141-144.

Wybrew, Hugh. Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter: Liturgical Texts with Commentary (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997), pp. 109-112.

Christian Orthodox worshippers hold up candles lit from the "Holy Fire" as thousands gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City 


Patriarch Kirill  in Moscow's cathedral receives the sacred fire
 from Christ's tomb in the Holy Sepulchre  and the Easter Celebration can begin in earnest.

Serbian Christians celebrating  Easter in an mediaeval monastery in Grananica
Ethiopian Christians celebrating Easter on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre
An ancient Orthodox Easter rite engenders new and old passions
May 1st 2016, 12:37 BY ERASMUS | CORFU

FROM the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the Russian Arctic, millions of Orthodox Christians have been celebrating Easter this weekend, in a passionate cycle of lamentation, anticipation and candle-lit jubilation. And part of the point of those festivities is that they remain exactly the same year after year, century after century. Local practices can vary, of course, but once a custom is established, people never want to change it. In places where the British flag once flew, such as the Ionian islands of Greece or the Palestinian territories, there can be a slight Anglo-Saxon tinge to the eastern Christian ceremonies, with parades by uniformed scouts and marching bands. (The Christians of Bethlehem love bagpipes; on the shores of the Ionian, where musical talent abounds, the preference is for brass and drums.)

But regardless of the local variations, many practices are set in stone. For example, shortly after the midnight proclamation that "Christ is risen", clerics everywhere re-read a sermon by Archbishop John Chrysostom, who died in 407. With a generosity of spirit that has not always been shown by Christian clergy, or even by Chrysostom himself, the sermon invites everybody to the feast, regardless of how well or badly they have observed the discipline of Lent.

You rich and poor, enjoy the feast together. You temperate and heedless, honour the day. You who who fasted, and you who did not, rejoice today. The table is richly laden. All of you, fare sumptuously on it. The calf is fatted, let no-one go away hungry.
Despite the spirit of timeless universalism, every Orthodox Easter brings its share of contentious news stories, and this one is no exception. A Greek bishop who is known for his sharpness of tongue, Amvrosios of Kalavryta, gave an astonishing homily in which he compared the various disagreements between the church and the country's secular leftist government (which are mostly quite manageable) with the contest between the Hebrew prophet Elijah and the priests of the false god, Baal. (It ended badly for Baal's side.) May God "rot the hand" of education minister Nikos Filis if he appends his signature to measures downgrading the status of religious instruction in schools, the latter-day Elijah expostulated, in what people hoped was a rhetorical flourish induced by the rigours of Lenten fasting.

In another Paschal news flash, it was reported six of the refugees holed up in the Eidomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian border had been formally received into the Orthodox Christian church by the local bishop. The hierarch insisted to Orthodoxia.info, a religious news agency, that the refugees' conversion was far more than an impulsive gesture: they had requested and received elaborate instruction on the doctrines and practices of their new religion before undergoing the conversion ceremony, which involves being baptised and anointed with holy oil. All this is happening in a part of northern Greece where, in the 1920s, people gained the right to live if they were Orthodox Christians on the run and lost it if they were Muslim. So the consequences could be complex if many more refugees follow this example. But for the meantime, the newly-illumined are probably enjoying their Easter lamb.


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