The Heart of the matter

This long quote is from the introduction to Fr. Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent: Journey to Pascha. I have returned to it several times because Fr. Alexander seems to cut right to the heart of Christian faith and worship with a clarity and directness that needs no explicating.

At least for me.

However, as one would expect, this clarity and directness reveals the deep mystery. These few paragraphs are a firm doorway (or a wardrobe if you prefer), simple and easy to see, into the depths of the darkness of Mount Sinai.

I considered bolding the stuff I underlined in my physical copy, but I think readers should read it through a few times and underline it for themselves.

from Great Lent: Journey to Pascha

Each one of us received the gift of that new life [on the day of our baptism] and the power to accept it and to live by it. It is a gift which radically alters our attitude towards everything in this world, including death. It makes it possible for us joyfully to affirm: "Death is nor more!" Oh, death is still there, to be sure, and we still face it and someday it will come come and take us. But it is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage--a "passover," a "Pascha"--into the Kingdom of God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory. "Trampling down death by death." He made us partakers of His Resurrection. this is why at the end of the Paschal Matins we can say: "Christ is risen and life reigns! Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the grave"

Such is the faith of the Church, affirmed and evident by her countless saints. Is it not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the "new life" which we receive as a gift, and that in fact we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us? All this because of our weakness, because of the impossibility for us to live constantly by "faith, hope, and love" on that level to which Christ raised us when he said: "Seek ye, first of all, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness." We simply forget all of this--so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations--and because we forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes "old" again--petty, dark and ultimately meaningless--a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. We manage to forget even death and then, all of a sudden, in the midst of our "enjoying life" it comes to us: horrible, inescapable, senseless. We may from time to time acknowledge and confess various "sins," yet we cease to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. Instead, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity.

If we realize this, then we may understand what Easter is and why it needs and presupposes Lent. For we may then understand that the liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services, exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it. How can we love and desire something that we do not know? How can we put above everything else in our life something which we have not seen and enjoyed? In short: how can we seek a Kingdom of which we have no idea? It is the worship of the Church that was from the very beginning and still is our entrance into, our communion with, the new life of the Kingdom. It is through her liturgical life that the Church reveals to us something of that which "the ear has not heard, the eye has not seen, and what has not yet entered the heart of man, but which God has prepared for those who love him." And in the center of that liturgical life, as its heart and climax, as the sun whose rays penetrate everywhere , stands Pascha. It is the door opened every year into the splendor of Christ's Kingdom, the foretaste of the eternal joy that awaits us, the foretaste of the eternal joy that awaits us, the glory of the victory which already, although invisibly, fills the whole creation: "Death is no more!" The entire worship of the Church is organized around Easter, and therefore the liturgical year, i.e., the sequence of seasons and feasts, becomes a journey, a pilgrimage towards Pascha, the End, which at the same time is the Beginning: the end of all that which is "old"; the beginning of the new life, a constant "passage" from "this world" into the Kingdom already revealed in Christ.

And yet the "old" life, that of sin and pettiness, is not easily overcome and changed. The Gospel expects and requires from men an effort of which, in his present state, he is virtually incapable. We are challenged with a vision, a goal, a way of life that is so much above our possibilities! For the apostles, when they heard their Master's teaching, asked Him in despair: "but how is this possible?" It is not easy, indeed, to reject a petty ideal of life made up of daily cares, of search for material goods, security, and pleasure, for an ideal of life in which nothing short of perfection is the goal: "be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." This world through all its "media" says: be happy, take it easy, follow the broad way. Christ in the Gospel says: choose the narrow way, fight and suffer, for this is the road to the only genuine happiness. And unless the Church helps, how can we make that awful choice, how can we repent and return to the glorious promise given us each year at Easter?

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