As (Orthodox) Easter approaches…

by George Hatjoullis

This weekend it is Orthodox Easter. It is a mystery to me why all celebrations of Easter do not coincide with the jewish passover as the crucifixion and passover are inextricable linked. The Easter celebration is the christian celebration because it celebrates the crucifixion and the resurrection. It is also noteworthy that passover requires sacrifice of a lamb and that lamb is the dish served on Easter Sunday in every Orthodox household. Jesus as sacrifice would seem to be the link. Every Easter I come under intense pressure to take part in the festival, primarily from my wife. She is very active in our local Orthodox church and is somewhat embarrassed by my lack of piety. The problem I, and many, have is a desire not to be hypocritical.

For most, religion is not a choice. It is cultural indoctrination. We are born into it and indoctrinated long before we have the capacity to think independently. It becomes part of our culture. I was fortunate because my mother did not inflict any of her views on me. She allowed me to form my own views from childhood. So I did. I concluded that God as characterised by humanity was very unlikely and formed no spiritual link to christianity (or any other religion for that matter). However, cultural indoctrination continued through other channels. At school I studied Religious Education. It was compulsory and so I treated it as history. I found most of the bible to be quite incoherent and rather nasty. However, I was taken with the philosophy of the four Gospels. The God in these chapters seemed quite different to the vengeful chap that came before and after. He was loving and forgiving and seemed much more like Buddha. I became a philosophical christian of no particular denomination, by conviction.

The behaviour of priests and the church over the centuries did not enamour me to church going, though I do like the saturday Orthodox Easter mass. At the end of a night of repetitive chanting the lights are turned off and the priest emerges with a lighted candle. Everyone has a candle and those nearest light their candles from that of the priest and pass the light through the crowded church. This is a spectacular (and slightly precarious) event and quite inspiring. It symbolises, to me, the spreading of light through the wisdom of the Gospels. Given that I do see wisdom there, albeit not uniquely so, it is a celebration that I find it comfortable to take part in. I do not believe in any human characterisation of God. I do not believe in the literal resurrection. I have no view on the historical Jesus. More important none of these matter to me (or many others). What is important is the idea and the language used to express the idea. A good idea and good language leads to good action. The Gospels contain some very good ideas, attributed to Jesus. If the historical Jesus was crucified then it was a horrible act of torture and murder that should not be celebrated. His ideas would stand whatever happened to him. It is the ideas that we should celebrate (and perhaps try to implement) not his murder and alleged resurrection.