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Christos Anesti! – i.e. "Christ is Risen!"

 


Or perhaps “Cheese-toast [sic] Anesti!” to fans who recall actor John Corbett’s poor attempt at psittacism in the 2002 movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding as “Ian Miller.” A few Greeks found the movie a little ‘insulting’ or ‘too stereotypical’ but I’m not among them. I find it healthy to laugh at oneself when apropos and even savour the idiosyncratic characteristics embedded in one’s culture. Quite often there are delightful reasons stereotypes of this sort emerge over time to highlight our differences … dare I type diversity? I ask forgiveness for recycling this title/text from any reader who may remember my first Alabama Gazette Easter column about a dozen years ago. I also penned a column several years ago for those who asked why Easter and Pascha rarely fall on the same date; I’ve waited for a year when they did NOT fall in the same month so my Pascha column would be noticeably after Easter. This year was perfect as the dates fell so far apart April 4th v. May 2nd.

Socrates offered sound argument to examine one’s life – so please join me for a little self-exam of the heart, mind and spirit. While the movie is largely about a Greek girl’s travails of dating and marrying a “Xeno” (outsider) in the orthodox Church, it also makes reference to baptism and “Pascha” – i.e., Easter. As one who is a very poor example of a Greek orthodox Christian (specifically I know very little Greek, nor is my life one to hold up as an example to replicate) I could easily identify with Ian Miller’s first “Cheese-toast Anesti!” salutation.

As I now approach sixty, my oldest clear memory of youth is still singing the “Christos Anesti” anthem with my grandfather (who bore the same name) at my side as it has been sung for almost 2,000 years. Just as Ian Miller’s “Cheese-toast” I really didn’t know what I saying – nor if it were English could I’ve possibly yet acquired the maturation to begin to understand the power of the words or the charge they put upon all those who sincerely want to follow Christ’s path. Powerful pscittacism, but nonetheless a child ‘parroting’ the words while soaking in the melody and feeling of unity in Spirit. Some may have similar memories of their youth (esp. in the South) going to their first college football game. I’m indeed a beneficiary of the inheritance referenced in Ephesians (birthplace of my paternal grandmother) I’ve come to hold most dear from my parents and grandparents who knew and had the fortitude to “suffer their little children to know Him.”

The opening words from this age-old Paschal anthem translate from the Greek as follows:

“Christ is risen from the dead, by His death destroying the power of death …”

It wouldn’t be until my early twenties, as I was slowly compelled to make peace with the evdeavour of existing in this world, where I would truly begin to understand what this Pascha/Easter commemoration meant. In Christ’s time, Rome was the biggest ‘up and coming’ leviathan (meaning large command and control despotic government) mankind had witnessed since the likes of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians … and thankfully for the Greeks – Sparta won their ‘war between the Greek Nation-States’ when Athens tried to replace recently defeated Persia as a tax tyrant, but military efforts to curb the relentless spread of Roman tyranny had failed. Those who knew the past could easily forecast what the future held. It would require a widespread change of man’s heart, mind and spirit to end this evil and try to put in place a longer term understanding to make it more difficult for the next leviathan (after Rome) to emerge and survive. As usual, I beg forgiveness from theologians for type on this matter by the hands of an economist. For those interested in reading more on this history, I highly recommend Charles Adams’ book entitled, “For Good & Evil: the impact of taxes on the course of civilization.”

To illustrate how encompassing the power of Rome applied to Christ’s time on earth, even His place of birth was soiled by the Roman leviathan as Caesar Augustus mandated return to cities of origin to be taxed. Christ witnessed firsthand the cruelty of Rome which tormented the souls of young and old alike – think of the demon “Legion” (one of many) He cast into swine, which some theologians consider purposeful, thinly veiled symbolism of despotic Roman rule. Christ knew the meaning of David defeating the Philistines (Star of David) the reason for the Maccabean Revolt (Menorah) and other common teachings of this sort to Jewish children; just as our young people knew about Washington’s 1783 victory over the British, War of 1812, War Between the States, etc… when they were taught well to our youth.

The Caesar in power at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, Tiberius, was a man of poor character by most accounts, but he’s noted as the Caesar who spent a great deal of effort in advancing his propaganda “Ti Caesar Divi Aug F Augustus,” – i.e., “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God Augustus.” This was very important to establish after the killing of Augustus, who had set himself up as god. For most readers, esp. those who may have read my past column on the First Commandment, I doubt I have to type more on how Christ proclaiming He is the Son of the true God (obviously NOT Augustus) would place him at odds with the likes of Pontius Pilate, the Procurator of Judea who was responsible for tax collection with sufficient Roman soldiers in his charge to easily secure the task.

At the rawest level, the power of Rome was facilitated by a complete and some may consider irrational fear of death. Those who Rome wished to use and control via this overpowering fear could be sent into the depths of mines to fuel the despotic government’s huge resource demands; could be chained to oars to power Rome’s ships to their very last breath; entertain Romans in blood sports to the death; etc… In the current world, think of how our modern Rome has her citizens so afraid to die they are willing to advocate theft from others, even their own children’s future to continue their existence for another breath. I remain awestruck with how little regard some have for their dignity and souls to continue ‘life’ in this world to aid and abet a leviathan which no doubt will make their (and their posterity’s) existence dark and grim.

I pray readers now have enough history to get to the important Q&A. Why did Rome fear this little Jewish carpenter who taught so meaningfully and righteously? The power of His ideas and teachings provided a cure to the growing cancer Roman despotism was on mankind. If Christ had the will to follow His heavenly Father into the next world – even upon suffering the most horrific death Romans could devise; AND others were willing to follow – the tyranny of Rome could not survive. There were those who understood and wanted Christ’s body, passion, Spirit and teachings to be buried and forgotten. Thanks to His disciples (including Peter who denied Him in the aforementioned fear) and countless martyrs who followed Christ, this was not so.

To be clear (from the old orthodox anthem) Christ’s path destroys the power of death so the fear of death in this world may not be used by the Romans (or the many leviathans certain to follow) to advance their despotic ends. Christ showed us the way – it is up to us to have the courage, faith and wisdom to follow. If we do not stand well against evil and despotism in our everyday lives, we are failing Him and this noble effort so many have suffered for mankind.

I type this just before our Holy Week, but when you read this, our Paschal celebration will have passed almost a month after Easter. While Pascha is the end of venerating Christ’s journey as man in this world, it is indeed a beginning for us all… a renewal of our commitment to a better world and the courage to stand well against evil. How will you proceed? Do you know Christ’s teachings well enough to sort out the righteous from evildoers? Will juries and legislatures shepherd us to light or darkness? Will administrators, clergy, executives, et al, make the sound (often difficult in the short-run) decisions to advance us toward a better world or slowly become part of the problem?

Not picking a ‘terrorist’ like Barabbas over Christ may have averted the consequences, which follow in 70 AD Judea. Imagine the courage it took for Peter and John to stand-up to wicked clergy like Caiaphas and Annas after just witnessing the role they played in slandering and serving up Christ (their beloved master and teacher) to Pilate. Knowing the Gospels of Holy Thursday teaches us to distinguish between good clergy like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who opposed the faction of evil clergymen. Good men of Joseph & Nicodemus’ character are still around today – can you identify and have the courage to support them? Governors like Herod are alive and well today, who have little regard toward the well being of those in their charge and easily purchased by Rome, but there are also those public servants who will not succumb to this evil – will you sacrifice to support them? Poor jurist like Pilate will always be with us – will you still take wrongdoings to the courts (even when certain to lose) to shine light on their evil? How often do you observe the modern day Judas, claiming to care about the children, the environment, the poor and sick while really caring about advancing their own avarice?

The way Rome saw to overcome Christ (when it became obvious He would NOT be buried and forgotten) was to test devotion to His teachings… could Christians really love their neighbors, truly pray for their enemies to turn away from despotism, be patient enough to turn the other check and even suffer death in this world to shine light upon evil? As the greater power of Christ’s teachings took root and spread across the Roman empire, the threat of Christians had to be explicitly addressed to where it reached a high-watermark with Diocletian (one of Rome’s worst) who championed the public humiliation, torture and death of Christians including sawing them in two, feeding them to lions, etc. for public viewing and ‘entertainment.’ In modern times leviathans have learned to be much less vulgar to the righteous by simply imprisoning them, disgrace, slander, taking away their children, employment, homes, etc…

If you are indeed sincere about following Christ’s path, you will be in for a blessed life – esp. in these times where it seems increasingly difficult for God to find servants. I often pray for God to be patient with me when it is very clear I’ve been put in situations to shine His light on evil – when I know there are much better potential servants than myself, but they’re unwilling. When you devote your life in this manner, you’ll find many situations where you can not remain silent; must help those in need; can’t let corruption go unchecked. I’ve been a part of efforts to shine light on accountants who embezzled where I’ve worked; on poor administrators, bureaucrats, businessmen, clergy, and university presidents; been threatened by Congressmen, Governors; taken poor Federal judges to the US Supreme Court to win unanimously. I still find it odd when folks tell me I’m special when it so obvious (certainly in my case) it is not so – what they really see is Christ in others – and anyone who wants to follow His path will be a part of advancing God’s Light and the Holy Spirit in this world. Furthermore, one of the many satisfying revelations of knowing Christ is when finding good, honest accountants, bureaucrats, businesspeople, righteous clergy, dept. heads, jurists, lawyers, politicians, university presidents, et al – is realizing how great a blessing it is!

So in closing, it is no longer “Cheese-toast [sic] Anesti” psittacism. You know the meaning and power of the “Christ is Risen” anthem. Christ has already done the ‘heavy lifting’ clearing the Way for us. It is up to us to follow. Those who don’t follow, do so at their own peril and have little standing to complain when evil surrounds and envelopes them in darkness. Those who do follow and take up the Cross in their everyday lives refusing to succumb to ‘the fear of Rome’ will probably not be remembered – that’s OK … there’s an old Greek orthodox funeral anthem for that as well – “May their memory be eternal through Christ.” It doesn’t matter if our name or accomplishments in this life are remembered … it does matter the powerful teachings of Christ are eternal to shepherd mankind toward something better – i.e., to be more like Christ.

 

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