CNEWA Canada

Easter — An Orthodox Perspective

In anticipation of Easter on the Julian calendar Sunday, read a reflection on the tradition in the Orthodox Church, originally published in April 1991.

Read an excerpt from “Easter: An Orthodox Perspective” below, then read the full story.

The genius of the Orthodox Church, Balkan, Greek, Middle Eastern and Russian, lies in its ability to reveal glimpses of the divine through the drama of the liturgy, which in Greek means, “work of the people.”

“Christianity is a liturgical religion,” wrote Georges Florovsky, a pre-eminent Orthodox theologian. “Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second.” According to the saints of the church, both Catholic and Orthodox, humanity was created to know, love and serve God — literally the meaning of worship. Through the “work of the people,” the church commemorates the life, death and resurrection of her founder, Jesus Christ.

To understand the Orthodox conception of Jesus Christ, a grasp of Orthodox Christology is imperative. He is the God-Man in Orthodox theology. “The Church,” wrote Vladimir Lossky, a notable Orthodox lay theologian, “will always show in its liturgical hymns and icons the God-Man preserving his majesty even in humiliation.” The icon of the crucifixion best illustrates this Christology.

In traditional Catholic iconography, depictions of the crucifixion emphasize Jesus’ agony and death. His body swoons from the pain of the nails piercing his hands and feet; blood pours from his side. Crowned with thorns, drops of blood flow from his brow. Below the corpse, Mary collapses; often she is depicted in the arms of the apostle John.

Byzantine-inspired icons of the crucifixion do not depict agony and death, but primarily reveal hope. “The Cross is the very image of the Redemption,” said Lossky, “which is the economy of the love of the Trinity toward fallen humanity.”

Jesus’ body hangs gracefully from the cross. There is little blood, no gore. Mary and John stand below him calmly pointing toward the suffering Redeemer. The power of death, represented by a cavern beneath the cross, is vanquished by Jesus’ death. Adam’s skull, a symbol of fallen humanity, fills the void.

Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of Orthodox Christology takes place during Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating with the Easter Vigil on Great (Holy) Saturday.

Read more.

Michael La Civita is CNEWA’s director of communications.

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