May-June 2023

The week after Pascha is known as Bright Week, referring to the joy of the feast and the brightness of the services, each of which is a repetition of the Paschal services. The week is also known as Renewal Week, reminding us of the renewal that takes places in the risen Christ. It is this latter aspect that I would like to focus on here because, while this week bears the name of renewal, the Christian faith is always one of renewal.

St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians and trying to strengthen them through various difficulties, says “we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:14). We are reminded of the same truth at various times during the year, for example in Orthros for the feast of Theophany, where we sing:

The Spirit's cleansing has washed away from us now * the dark and dirty enemy's poison venom. * Therefore we have landed on a new unerring * path, which leads to happiness that has no access, * save to them whom God to himself reconciled.

These reminders throughout the year are yet another means for us to take stock of our spiritual lives. I think all of us, at one time or another, get stuck in ruts, start feeling restless, or deal with sundry feelings of dissatisfaction. These feelings are often rooted in the physical reality around us. They are valid, insofar as they reflect that reality with its fallenness. However, if we abide in Christ, the reality of the resurrection tinges these feelings with God’s peace. The reality that God has conquered the world is never far from our hearts.

That being said, “living in this world and being beguiled by the devil” (from the text of the sacrament of confession) t is always possible to lose God from our sights. Often, the first symptom of this spiritual loss is a loss of that peace of Christ that overshadows the cares of this life. This, in turn, often becomes a drive to fill our lives with activities, images, noise. Counterintuitively, the most important thing that we can do in these circumstances is to listen to God’s voice telling us to “be still and know that I am God.” Out of that stillness, God may lead us to action – indeed many bishop saints were called to active leadership in the Church from lives of stillness – but it is essential for our spiritual health that we root ourselves in the stillness that allows us to draw near to God. It is in this quiet stillness that we give God the opportunity to renew us, refresh us, and refashion us in His likeness.

But, perhaps, finding stillness is difficult. Where do we begin? We begin by driving out useless noise, at least to the extent where we have some time that we can dedicate to God. That time is probably not going to be still, but there, too, we can drive out useless noise. If all we can offer is one prayer, then glory to God, but let us offer that prayer carefully, pondering the words in our hearts. If we find ourselves getting distracted, let us go back and restart. Again, the point is not to offer many prayers, but to offer a prayer with as much stillness as we can muster, blocking out as many distractions as we can. Maybe this means the Lord’s prayer takes five minutes. Again, this is okay; as Fr. Thomas Hopko once said, we pray as we can, not as we think we must. By God’s grace, we make progress, but often not quite as we would like it. For this reason, one of the most important things we can do to make progress in the spiritual life is to put up with our shortcomings, persevere, and not get discouraged. In spring a lot happens unseen before leaves and flowers appear. Perhaps an even more apt image is the work that Christ did in Hades while he appeared to be merely dead in the tomb. As God’s work is often hidden, so within our souls, a lot of renewal happens unseen, especially to those who are in the middle of that renewal, until a time when God reveals it to us.

So, at this Paschal time and all through the year, I hope that we keep the promise, hope, and joy of the Resurrection in our hearts.

May the light of the Resurrection always renew our souls and shine on all our thoughts, words, and deeds.