Feast Ye Sumptuously!

Christ is risen!

As I say just about every year, there is no more beautiful homily preached than the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, read in every Orthodox Church, every year on Pascha night. But just as it is unparalleled in beauty and truth, I believe it is as misunderstood to the same degree. Enjoy the first part, and I’ll explain what I mean after:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in no wise be deprived therefore.

If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. 

You rich and poor together, hold high festival.
You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast…

Beautiful! Inspiring! Freeing!

Millions of Orthodox Christians hear this sermon each year, and having either fasted for 40 days (or heard about the Fast and neglected it), marvel at God’s mercy and look forward to the Paschal Breakfast of the foods that the faithful have fasted from, to which we have all been invited to “feast ye all sumptuously!” So we do—we feast sumptuously! Then we go home to sleep off our food comas…and the exhaustion of going to church in the middle of the night for a three hour service!

But is that really what St. John meant? I purposely ended my quoting of his homily before two key words that change how we hear his message, which is even more beautiful when we understand it correctly. When he says “Enjoy ye all the feast…” he doesn’t say “…of meats, cheeses and eggs (and more recently, whiskey).” The actual quote is “Enjoy ye all the feast…of faith.”

It is FAITH with which the table is richly laden. FAITH is the recompense for those “who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.” FAITH is given, whether we have offered God deeds or just intention.

The explosion of joy that is Pascha is the moment which we can exchange our sorrows, worries, guilt, and regret to receive the true nourishment that only comes when we place our trust in God and not in our own ability to feed ourselves. Our Orthodox Christian Faith is the Gospel that Jesus came to preach. Our Faith is the road to the Kingdom of God. It is our access to the One who is the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” All the virtues we are called to practice, the sins to repent of or avoid, the prayer to cultivate, the worship to share in, the fasts, the feasts—all of it: these are the rich foods with which the table of the Feast of Faith has been “richly laden.”

So let’s indeed “feast sumptuously,” but not simply on the food, upon which we feast and then grow hungry again. Let’s feast on FAITH in our loving, humble and victorious God, which satisfies every hunger, heals every wound, and exchanges every sorrow into joy.

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.”

Christ is risen!