The Leave-Taking of Pascha and the Feast of St. Dimitri Donskoi

The Apodosis of Pascha today comes between the end of Divine Liturgy and the start of the Ninth Hour when the Paschal Tropar and official “Christ is Risen!” greeting ends. Some saints, notably St. Seraphim of Sarov, reportedly used the Paschal greeting throughout the year. But liturgically we are left with a transition or time-between Pascha and tomorrow’s Feast of the Ascension, and from there ten days to Pentecost. It is partly an edgy time and partly a continuum. In the Church we are left to marvel and rejoice with the Apostles seeing our Lord and God and Savior ascend in bodily form into heaven to be on the right hand of the Father in human incarnation, wholly God and wholly man, two natures unconfused and undivided, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

What a wondrous mystery! Yet also there is a joyful sorrow again of the passing of the Pascha season. We await the return of the Lord promised by the angels at the Ascension, His return from the clouds, when we pray to meet Him amid them, the clouds that embody the mystery of God, He Who Is, which is the Orthodox translation in English of the Tetragrammeton generally rended Kyrios in the Greek Septuagint and in Orthodox iconography by the Greek letters Ὁ ὬΝ. The Apostle Paul wrote famously that five heartfelt words in prayer were better than a multitude, and so too may the Jesus Prayer (five words in effect in Greek and Slavonic in the form “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”) remain the constant meditation in our hearts between the Ascension Pentecost and beyond, so that we may keep Him in our hearts.

This transition highlights how the grace of the uncreated energies of God permeates all Creation in the Body of Christ, the Church, throughout and beyond time. Time and non-time in Orthodoxy include the pre-eternal or beyond-eternal of the divine and God’s uncreated energies, and the eternal of angels and demons and the human soul, and the human-social time now framing us in the digital world, and the natural time of the cycle of seasons, of animals and plants. God sees and knows all beyond time, and His Providence guides, directs, supports, and fashions all within time, although in a synergy of free service to Him with that grace.

Today is also this year (May 18, 7530, on the Church calendar, and June 1, 2022, on the civil calendar) the Feast of St. Dimitri Donskoi )”Dimitri of the Don.”  Born in 1350 to the Grand Prince of Vladimir and Moscow, the Synaxarion tells of how he grew up in great piety. The Holy Metropolitan Alexis became regent when Dimitri’s father died I n1359, and “he learned to carry out the duties of his state in conformity with evangelical principles, and to seek in all things the glory of God.” As ruler he would take up the task of rebuilding Russia after the long Tatar/Mongol domination, while “Saint Sergius of Radonezh and his disciplines presented the monastic life to the people as a model of Christian perfection.” Under the direction of Sts. Alexis, Sergius, and Archbishop Theodore of Rostov, and with the blessed influence of his wife St. Eudocia, the Grand Prince understood the unification of the various Russian principalities and assured the Church’s independence. He faced enemies among the Tatars and Lithuanians and jealous princes. But “the goal of his policy was to create a unified State through the principalities’ free submission to the Grand Prince of Moscow, following the model of the mutual love of the Persons of the Holy Trinity,” memorably symbolized in the icon of the Trinity by St. Alexander Rublev, a younger contemporary of St. Sergius. The Prince often visited St. Sergius’ monastery and founded many monasteries headed by the Saint’s disciples. In 1380, Khan Mamai entered Russia with almost 400,000 men to overwhelm the Prince’s successes against the Tatars. Following the Synaxarion by Hieromonk Makarius (vol. 5, p. 211):

“Realizing that the decisive moment which Providence had been preparing since his childhood had arrived, the Grand Prince, harvesting the fruits of his patient policy of the reuniting of the Russian principalities, assembled a powerful army near Moscow under the slogan ‘God is our refuge and our strength!’ After the Feast of the Dormition, he went to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, and Saint Sergius gave him his blessing to engage in battle against the ‘godless,’ foretelling victor for him.

“On the eve of the Nativity of the Mother of God, the troops at the end of which the Prince, like a second Constantine, had placed the life-giving Cross, crossed the Don and arrived on the plain of Kulikovo. The time for battle having come, Saint Dimitri addressed his men, saying:

“‘My dear brothers, let us fight for God, for the holy Churches and for the Christian faith. If we must die, this death is not death but life eternal. Do not think of any earthly thing, my brothers. Let us not abandon the battle, and we shall then be victoriously crowned by Christ our God and the Saviour of our souls.”

A novice from St. Sergius’ monastery first launched himself into battle and was the first victim, in the greatest battle Russia had seen. St. Sergius was able to see in spirit the battle and commemorate those killed. “The Battle of Kulikovo became the symbol of the spiritual and national awakening of the Russian people and the victory of the light of Christ over the darkness of paganism.”

St. Dimitri’s ideal of Christian country relates to the troparion “by the virtue of Thy Cross preserve Thy commonwealth.” May that spirit and prayer inform an end to the tragic current fratricidal struggle in the Ukraine, which involves an aspect of confrontation between the mechanistic spirit of the age and ancient spiritual realms of Orthodoxy in the extended Byzantine civilizational zone.

The weapons in that battle ultimately must be spiritual and not carnal, for the pulling down of strongholds of the spirit of Anti-Christ, which sets the faithful against one another in a world that seeks to deny through materialistic technocracy the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a sign of victory He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to fully found the Church that is His Body and is still us still on earth.

Tomorrow we will exclaim, “Christ is ascended! From earth to Heaven!” as we look forward to the assurance of Pentecost.


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