St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Today is the Day of Salvation

 

Sermon preached by Kyra Limberakis at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA on Sunday, March 20, 2016

The present moment gives us two options: to love or not to love, to walk with Christ or to stray from Him. While this may seem harsh, the present moment is the most important moment we are given in life. Yet, we spend the majority of our lives planning for the future or dwelling on the past. In moments of quiet reflection, I’ve thought about how often I dwell on my past wrongdoings, decisions I regret, and ways I have been betrayed or hurt. Conversely, I think about how future-oriented my life is; always thinking of what’s next or fearing what’s to come. When I reflect on this tendency, I realize that in many ways our culture has so many elements that force us to think about the future at every stage of life, for better or for worse.

When you’re a child you’re asked—what do you want to do when you grow up? When you’re in high school—where are you going to go to college/are you going to go to college? Then, if you go to college, what are you going to major in? Once you’ve decided your major (a huge feat at that)—what are you going to do when you graduate? Before you know it (so I am told) the question becomes: When are you going to retire? When bombarded with these questions at each stage of life, it’s no surprise that often, our life is a reflection of the answers to those questions. Because who doesn’t want to have an answer to them? Who wants to say, “well I'm in transition right now” or “I’m not sure what’s next, I’m just living in the moment.”

I shed light on this future-oriented way of being, because I believe there can be ways it’s detrimental to our relationship with Christ. The present moment is the only moment where we can truly meet God.[1] It is the only moment where we can truly meet our neighbor. And it is the only moment when we can truly be more of our most authentic selves. Archimandrite Meletios Webber describes the present moment in saying, “This is an area where God chooses to put limits on His own power. We choose whether or not to live in the present moment. We can only make decisions in the present moment. We can only enjoy sights and sounds in the present moment. We can only love or hate, sing or cry, in the present moment.”[2]

Fortunately for us, every year we are provided with a beautiful opportunity to focus on the here and now, through the Lenten season, as illustrated in many of the hymns of the Church. One hymn in particular that is worth ruminating on in this regard is the Paschal Canon that is sung at the Matins service of Pascha.  It beautifully directs us to the present moment through its joyful language and recognition that Christ’s resurrection is here and now.

Before we can explore the major themes of the Paschal Canon, it’s important for us to really understand…what is a Canon? What is its place in our Orthodox liturgical life? The Canon is a particular style of hymns that follows a specific structure.  It is composed of nine “Odes” which are based on nine “canticles,” or songs, from the Bible. These canticles are mostly songs of praise to God for his works and care for his people. The canon uses the biblical canticles as a catalyst for meditation and elaboration of the thematic aspects of a particular feast. Through their poetic expression and specific structure, they offer a deep and eye opening entrance into the theology of our Orthodox faith. St. John Damascus, a great saint of the 8th century from Syria, was instrumental in the development of this type of hymnography.  This is especially true for the Paschal Canon, written by St. John, for it is in this canon that we see how significant the present moment and the liturgical time of now are for our Christian faith.

The Paschal Canon does not just commemorate an event from the past; rather, it encourages us to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection in the present. As we sing at the beginning of the Canon:

“This is the day of Resurrection,
let us be radiant, O Peoples!
Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha;
for Christ has brought us
from death to life, from earth to heaven,
as we sing the triumphal song.”[3]

We, using St. John’s words, go on further to exclaim,

“The inspired prophet Habakkuk
now stands with us in holy vigil.
He is like a shining angel
who cries with a piercing voice:
Today salvation has come to the world,
for Christ is risen as all-powerful.”[4]

Here we see St. John bringing a prophet of the Old Testament into the present celebration of the resurrection of Christ. This merging of the past and future into the present occurs in almost every ode in this canon.

The words of the Canon ring in my ear as I think about our time during lent. Lent is not just a period of time for us to remember the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ as past events. Father Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, profoundly reminds us further, “Lent is also not just a season for sentimental devotions, anxious introspections and pietistic pseudo-offerings…it is not the time for self-inflicted agony or self-improving therapy. It is greeted as the sanctified season consecrated to the correction, purification and enlightenment of the total person through the fulfillment of the commandments of the crucified God.”[5] Lent is a period in which we are specifically called into action to be in the present moment with Christ; to walk with Him on His journey to the cross where he suffers, sacrifices, and ultimately surrenders Himself to God so that He may resurrect to unite us with Him once again. The services and hymns of the Lenten season give us that opportunity to walk with Christ, to be in an intimate relationship with Him. As we sing in ode 3 of the canon,

“Now all is filled with light:
heaven and earth…
Let all creation celebrate the rising of Christ.  
In Him we are established.”[6]

Our time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving during lent, is not just a mere practice, but, rather, a way to strengthen our relationship with Christ so that in every moment of every day, we may ask Christ to be our guide and strength, to bring peace and love to others. And furthermore, so that we may ask ourselves in each moment, how can I transform and transfigure this moment to be more Christ-centered than self-centered? 

If we are hesitant or fear we have already failed in our Lenten commitments, let us remember that every moment is a new opportunity for renewal! Now is the time to infuse every moment of this sanctified Lenten season with the fruits of the Holy Spirit through “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”[7] Now is the time to “follow Him,”[8] as Christ invites Phillip in today’s Gospel.

We began the Lenten season with the beautiful call to action from Forgiveness Sunday Vespers singing, “This is the acceptable time; the time of repentance is here. Let us put aside the works of darkness; let us put on the armor of light, that passing through Lent as through a great sea we may reach the third-day Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the savior of our souls.”[9] And as we continue on our Lenten journey with Christ, let us remember those words and enter every present moment in such a way so that at the end of our journey we may be able to sing the words of the canon with fervor, “Yesterday I was buried with you O Christ, today I rise with you as you arise. Yesterday, I was crucified with you; glorify me with you Savior in your Kingdom”[10] for “Today is the day of salvation.”[11]



[1] Meletios Webber, Bread & Water, Wine & Oil. Conciliar Press, Ben Lomond, CA, 2007, p. 80.

[2] Meletios Webber, Bread & Water, Wine & Oil. Conciliar Press. Ben Lomond, CA, 2007, p. 80.

[3] Damascus, St. John, Paschal Canon, Ode 1.

[4] Damascus, St. John, Paschal Canon, Ode 4.

[5] Hopko, Fr. Thomas, The Lenten Spring. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Crestwood, NY, 1983, p. 11.

[6] Damascus, St. John, Paschal Canon, Ode 3.

[7] Galatians 5:22.

[8] John 1:42.

[9] Forgiveness Sunday Vespers.

[10] Damascus, St. John, Paschal Canon, Ode 3.

[11] 2 Corinthians 6:2