One of the beautiful traditions we have in the Orthodox Church is our Paschal Resurrection service. With the church darkened, the priest comes out with the light of Christ, proclaiming, “Come receive the light, the Light of Christ, who illumines those in darkness.” The altar boys and parish council members swarm forward and the light slowly makes its way throughout the church, filling it with brightness. This is such a powerful experience that many people who do not set foot in church all year will still be present at this one service.
I remember this well as a child. After the service, exhausted and wired, we would try to see if we could bring the light home. Sometimes it would be windy or rainy and our goal would be just to get the light to the car. Once in the car, we tried to get the light home without burning anyone’s hair. Sometimes, we were successful! Weary-eyed, holding an open flame in the car, (which I’m sure was a fire hazard) we were determined to bring the light of Christ into our homes. Why? Because our homes are the places where we live our lives, spend most of our days, and we knew that this is where the light of Christ belonged and it was also a lot of fun!
We need Christ in our homes because it is here where we learn about life and relationships. We learn how to love, how to be patient, and how to forgive. In our homes we learn what to expect from others and what to do when people don’t meet our expectations. We learn what to value in the world and how to live in it. Our homes are where our souls are shaped in the day-to-day activities of life. The light of Christ needs to be in that place as that is happening—illuminating all.
The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear. The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid. -Psalm 27:1
But what do we do with this light when we bring it into our house? How do we bring the light of Christ into our homes, into our families? Where do we put it? Does it have a place in our homes? Does it have a place in our hearts? First, let’s talk about physically bringing the light of Christ home.
Where do we place this candle in our home? The light came from the altar of the Church and belongs at the altar area, or prayer area, of the home. Does your home have a space, part of a room or maybe in the hallway, that is set apart for family prayer? Do you gather as a family for prayer? Do you have a place to keep a candili—a vigil light—that can be lit with the Paschal light? In that place you might hang your icons, maybe keep a censer, some holy water, a palm from Palm Sunday, a bible, a prayer book, and maybe a book of hymns. This place is set apart to come together as a family to pray, read the Bible, and to sing on a regular basis. We need to prepare a special place in our homes to receive the light of Christ.
We weren’t always successful bringing the Paschal light home. Some years the light blew out—sometimes from the wind, and sometimes from a sibling, who worked diligently to extinguish the other’s light. So, what happened when the light is extinguished? Do we ever blow out the light of Christ? Absolutely not! We know that as Christians, we don’t just carry the light of Christ, we are the light of Christ. And on Pascha, we bring that light of Christ into our homes as we carry the light of Christ in our hearts. Does the light of Christ have a place in our hearts? The purpose of the external traditions and practices of the Church is to nurture the internal reality of living with Christ in our homes by living with Christ in our hearts.
“You are the light of the world.” -Matthew 5:14
For fifty days we live in the light of the Resurrection. That is, we receive the light of Christ in our hearts by living according to the Light, as children of God, according to the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God, according to His commandments, which are lights that guide us. We live in the light of the resurrection by living as peacemakers (James 3;18), nurturing forgiveness (Matthew 6:12-16), learning to love (Matthew 22:35-40; I Corinthians 13:3), being slow to anger and quick to listen (James 1:19), hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5:6), being patient, kind, longsuffering, gentle (I Corinthians 13:4)—OK, that doesn’t sound much like mealtime at my home. That’s because we are still working towards this goal—or rather—Christ is still working towards this goal in us as we walk in the light of His resurrection.
As we receive Christ into our hearts, by striving to live as Children of God in our homes, we experience that warmth and peace in our homes that comes from the Light of Christ—from the love of Christ that shines forth on Pascha. We are invited on Pascha night to take home the light in our cars, that we may take it home in our hearts.
Christ is Risen!
Dr. Philip Mamalakis, with his wife Georgia and seven children, live in Boston, Massachusetts where he is the Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Dr. Mamalakis directs the field education program and teaches classes on pastoral care, marriage and family, grief, death and dying, and topics related to pastoral counseling. Dr. Mamalakis has an M.Div. from Holy Cross and a Ph.D. from Purdue University in child development and family studies, specializing in marriage and family therapy. Together with Fr. Charles Joanides, Dr. Mamalakis published, The Journey of Marriage, (GOA 2012) a resource for couples preparing for marriage in the Orthodox Church and is the author of Parenting Toward the Kingdom, (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016). In addition to his teaching and writing, he enjoys offering seminars and retreats on intimacy, relationships, marriage, parenting, and family life as well as Orthodoxy and psychology.