At some point during Great Lent, most of us go through a bit of a cycle. It goes something like this: “Lent’s not so bad! I could eat salad and lentils all year!” which transitions into, “Wait, how many days until Pascha?” until finally all we want is our favorite non-Lenten treat. It’s like that part during Vespers when the priest says, “Let us complete our evening prayer to the Lord,”...but Vespers isn’t done yet.
When Pascha finally comes and we “come receive the Light” and we sing “Christ is risen,” everything seems right in the world. It’s the greatest conclusion to this grand period of expectation and waiting. We sing, “Christ is risen” for forty days until Christ’s Ascension. Fasting is even lightened for a period. It’s a joyous time!
But before we know it, that joy that we found on Pascha morning begins to fade. We don’t find the same excitement in the little joys of meat and cheese, we don’t have a big feast day to look forward to that’s on everyone’s minds, we don’t have the beautiful cycle of church services to keep us on our toes. So how do we hold on to the joy of Pascha the rest of the year?
Does anything taste as good as that first Chick-fil-A nugget after Pascha? Let’s be honest. Okay, so you can replace chicken for a bacon cheeseburger or feta, or whatever it is that you were craving during Lent. The thing we can all agree on is that we appreciate things so much more when we go for a period without them.
After Pascha, there’s a profound sense of freedom. The week after Pascha, I thought, “I think I’ll have a burger today - because I can.” But because of Pascha, it quickly becomes, “because Christ is risen” and “because the Resurrection.” In other words, my appreciation for my freedom in the things I eat becomes tied to my freedom in Christ.
When I’ve lived places where it rarely rained, or when it snowed more than I thought possible or when I lived in an apartment without a washing machine, I became especially appreciative of the opposite when I moved away. But after a while, I forget and get frustrated when it rains or wish for a snow day or get frustrated with my washing machine. Somehow I forget what it was like beforehand.
What Pascha calls us to all year round is to appreciate the freedom we have in Christ, to appreciate all of God’s blessings seen and unseen. I remember to be appreciative of God’s blessings and His grace by practicing gratitude. When I specifically thank God for people, things, and moments, I am more aware of what God is doing in my life. And the more I appreciate what I have now, the more I can only imagine what God is going to do next.
“Are we there yet?” How many times have we all said that either as kids or on a flight somewhere? We have a sense of expectation that drives our excitement. This expectation for what is to come - where we’re going - keeps us motivated to deal with the long car ride, the uncomfortable plane seating, the lentils and beans.
But once we’ve arrived at Pascha, the expectation is gone and quite often so is our motivation. After a busy Holy Week - filled with beautiful services and hours of prayer and being around people - my motivation to pray and my desire to be around people really shrinks. It’s that feeling when you’re hiking and you get to the top of the mountain. The excitement of “I made it!” only lasts until you realize, “I have to get back down!?” In the spiritual life, we can experience the same thing - a sort of crash or “low” after the spiritual “high” of Pascha.
What we need is to be able to hold on to a level-headed sense of expectation. St. Paul says, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). We see then that the feast of Pascha is not our final goal - Christ Himself (Who is the true Pascha) is our goal. And we keep Christ as our daily goal, the One for Whom we press forward in our life, by living an active life in the Church.
The Lenten period is a time of spiritual exercize, a time that prepares us for the rest of the year. But it isn’t just a time to charge our spiritual batteries so that we can rely on the past to keep us going today. We have to continue to keep our minds sharp, our hearts attuned to God and watchful against the passions so that we “may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
If we are already less appreciative of the things we were so excited for during Lent, or if we are already dreading the walk back down the mountain (so to speak) that we sense post-Pascha, our participation in the life of the Church may already be slacking. Check out your parish calendar to see what is going on besides Sunday Liturgy. See what services they have during the week (Paraklesis, Vespers, special feast days), see what Bible studies or special evening events your community will be hosting. If you fasted during Lent, how might you be able to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays during the year? Have you ever kept the Apostle’s Fast?
Equally important as communal participation is continued participation in your own personal relationship with Christ when you’re alone. How might you keep a simple prayer habit when you wake up or before you go to bed? What habit of reading Scripture and another Orthodox book can you keep after Pascha?
After so many weeks of action, we may feel burnt out with all of the “doing” of our faith. But action and spiritual activity are important because they keep us spiritually fit. Our participation in our faith keeps us trained so that all year round we are able to perceive the presence of God in our lives and have a strong relationship with Him and our neighbor.
Pascha is easily my favorite day of the year. But I can forget that every Sunday is a little Pascha; every Sunday, we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. That means that the joy I feel on Pascha is something that I can experience every week. And even during the week, I can be appreciative of the little things, of all of God’s blessings at work in my life. I can live a life of expectation of God’s Kingdom - not only of a date on the calendar. And finally, I can live a life of active participation in the Church day to day, throughout the year.
How are you holding on to the joy of Pascha? How do you keep away the post-Pascha blues?
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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.
Photo Credit: depositphotos