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The Paschal Period

Just as the Great Lent consists of seven weeks, which are like the seven steps of a ladder that leads us to the joy of Pascha, so the paschal period (from the Resurrection of Christ to the Pentecost) also consists of seven weeks the seven steps of a ladder that leads us to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. At each step (i.e. each Sunday) of this period, too, the Church commemorates a special event or example which helps us to prepare ourselves properly for the great moment. With His Resurrection the Lord destroyed the power of hell and death, and opened the gates of paradise to us. Now, through church services, we continue to delight in the joy of Pascha and to prepare for the further joy and the indescribable and immeasurable gifts which the faithful receive from the Holy Spirit.

While ascending the ladder of the Great Lent, we held onto the handrails of penitence and prayer, by means of which we were purified and spiritually uplifted. During the paschal period we hold onto the handrails of faith, which quickly and easily transports us from earth to heaven. Each Sunday the Church offers us wonderful examples of this faith and shows us the amazing results of it. The second paschal Sunday (the first being the day of Pascha itself) is dedicated to Apostle Thomas and is, therefore , called the Sunday of Thomas. Apostle Thomas was an unbeliever in an empirical sense; he was like modern scientists curious about everything, but wanting to experience it through his five senses before being able to believe or accept anything. Such was his reaction to the news of Christs Resurrection. And the Lord deliberately appeared to His disciples on the first day of Thomas absence, in order to give the doubting apostle a chance to believe in Him by way of the heart. However, in view of Thomas absolute need to reach faith by way of the mind, the Lord again appeared to His disciples a week later, and charitably allowed Thomas to touch His wounds, so that this unbeliever, who required physical proof, could rapturously cry out together with the others: My Lord and my God! However, in replying to the apostle, the Lord pointed out that faith through the heart is so much more preferable, and left consolation for the faithful of all ages by saying: You believe because you have seen; but blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

The third paschal Sunday commemorates the holy Myrrh-bearing Women, those truly wondrous women whose love and devotion to Christ surpassed even that of His disciples, and for which they were the first to hear of Christs Resurrection from the angels sitting at the tomb of Christ. And having heard this amazing news, the myrrh-bearers believed it right then and there, not doubting for a single moment and, filled with great joy, went off to share the news with the apostles. The myrrh-bearing women are an example of absolute and perfect faith, which accepts spiritual manifestations instantly and without doubt, and which does not demand any proof. This kind of faith also receives the highest reward: the holy women, while on their way to the apostles, were also the first to see the Resurrected Lord Himself.

On the fourth paschal Sunday the Church offers us the example of the Paralytic, who lay in his terrible condition for 38 years without getting any help. The paralytic suffered for his sins, but the Lord visited the house of mercy where this sufferer and others like him lay, and healed him by His word, ordering him to take up his bed and go. The paralytic believed the Lord and went off, obeying the Lords command even in the face of reproaches from the Jews, who were upset that the healing took place on a Sabbath. The example of the paralytic shows us how faith helps to overcome sin and the consequences of sin suffering and illness.

The fifth paschal Sunday is dedicated to the marvelous Samaritan woman, who is an example of simple-hearted and enthusiastic faith. Such faith can completely transform even a sinner and bring him to a state of righteousness, as the Church shows us in the Samaritan womans touching conversation with the Lord at the well. The Lord once came to a city in Samaria called Sychar, where there was a well that had been given by Jacob to his son Joseph and the latters descendants. Wearied from His journey, Christ providentially sat to rest at the well, while His disciples went to town to buy food. At that time a certain woman came from the city to draw water from the well. The Lord asked her to give Him to drink. The woman was surprised by such a request, since the Jews normally had no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus said to her: if only you knew Who is speaking to you, you would ask Him yourself to give you to drink, and He would give you living water. The Samaritan woman was even more amazed: how could Jesus give her living water, when He did not even have anything to draw it with? The Lord replied to her that those who drink water from the well would thirst again, while the water which He gave (i.e. His teaching) would become a source of eternal life. Then the Lord, knowing full well that the Samaritan woman, though secretly living in sin, nevertheless had a very ardent faith in God and firmly awaited the arrival of the Messiah, gradually revealed to her that He Who was talking with her was, in fact, the awaited Christ. Then the Samaritan woman, overcome with joy, threw down her pitcher and ran to the city to urge her fellow-citizens to come out to meet Christ, and because of her testimony many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus Christ on that day. The blessed woman herself, who had had the great honor of conversing with the Lord, became a martyr for Christ during the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero. Her name is holy martyr Photinia (Svetlana).

One of the brightest examples of faith is the Blind Man, to whom the sixth paschal Sunday is dedicated. The Lord once came upon a man, blind from birth, who sat and begged for alms. Knowing that this man had been born blind for the sole reason that God be glorified through him, Christ spat on the ground, made clay of the spittle, and anointed the eyes of the blind man with this clay. Then He said to the blind man: go and wash in the pool of Siloam. The blind man went and washed and came back seeing. The Pharisees, who observed the law of Moses with hypocritical strictness, did not believe in the healing and went out of their way to discredit the miracle. At first they expressed doubt that the blind man had actually been born blind, and so they questioned his parents extensively, and later questioned the man himself. Then they began saying that Whoever healed the blind man could not have come from God, since He did not observe the Sabbath (i.e. He healed the blind man on a Sabbath!), that only Moses communicated with God, and they did not know from whence this Man came. The man who had been blind was not afraid of the Pharisees, but boldly answered them: It is truly amazing that You do not know from whence He comes, and yet He has opened my eyes; from the beginning of time it has never been heard that any man opened the eyes of one who was born blind, so if this Man were not from God, He could do nothing. Then the Pharisees became enraged and cast him out. Jesus Christ, hearing that the blind man had been cast out, found him and said to him: Do you believe in the Son of God? The blind man asked: And who is He, Lord, that I might believe in Him? Jesus said: You have seen Him and it is He Who is speaking with you. Then the blind man exclaimed: Lord, I believe! and worshipped Him.

This moving story shows us the example of a man who through his faith received total sight both physical and spiritual. He earned this miracle by suffering and patiently enduring his blindness for many years, and now suddenly both his physical and his spiritual eyes were opened, and he simultaneously saw the sun in nature and the spiritual Sun the Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, the blind man was not afraid to declare his faith openly, fearing neither any man, nor harassment, nor persecution for his faith. In this he shows us the way, since we, too, live in a world that is just as hostile to Christ and to true faith in God as were the Pharisees who cast the blind man out from their midst.

The story of the blind man also gives us great comfort: it clearly indicates to us that innate physical defects are not specifically given as punishment for sins, but often to demonstrate Gods grace. When the disciples asked Christ: Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? the Lord said to them: neither this man sinned, nor his parents, but this was given so that the works of God should be manifest in him.

On the seventh paschal Sunday the Church unites all the examples of faith in commemorating the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, who welded this faith into a single, harmonious and Orthodox doctrine. The First Ecumenical Council was convened in 325 in the city of Nicea, in order to examine the false teaching of Arius. Arius rejected the divinity of Christ and taught that Jesus was not the Son of God, but only a supreme form of creation. Arianism has lived on in various forms to this day, and in our times it is being propagated extensively. The Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council, which included such holy men as Saint Nicholas, who even slapped Arius in the face for latters insolent blasphemy against the Lord Jesus Christ, roundly condemned Arius false teaching and composed the first eight articles of the Creed, in which they clearly and concretely explained the tenets of the Orthodox faith.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff
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