The Role of Memory in Identity Formation in the Orthodox Christian Paschal Feast

A talk given by Teva Regule as part of the 2009 Learning in Lent Series


My talk this evening will explore the role of memory in the Orthodox Christian Paschal celebration. Specifically, I will use the texts of the Vesperal Liturgy of Basil (i.e. the Paschal Vigil) celebrated on Holy Saturday and the Paschal Matins service. I will begin by exploring how we understand memory and its function, specifically in the liturgical context as anamnesis. I will then suggest that memory can function liturgically in this celebration to define a community; to allow for redemption, reconciliation and healing; and to aid in our salvation. This talk will focus on the role of memory in these feasts primarily in identity formation.

(This talk is excerpted from a longer, comparative work exploring the role of memory in the Jewish Passover and Orthodox Christian Paschal celebrations.)


From the moment humankind was created, we have been in relationship with God. In Genesis 1:26-27 we learn that God made humankind in the image and likeness of God. Genesis 2:7 tells us that God not only created us, but continues to sustain us, "...and [God] breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being" (Gen. 2:7 NRSV). The Hebrew word for "breathed" is naphach. It is in the imperfect or incomplete tense, meaning that God continues to breathe into us. God has taken the initiative. It is, as Fr. Bruce Morrill asserts, "God's activity of remembrance [that] is the source of humanity's creation and sustenance."[1]

God has first loved us. When we love, we participate in God's love. When we remember, we participate in that relationship again. We respond to God. Our memory has the potential to bring us back to the essence of our being, as those created in the image of God. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann, a noted Orthodox Christian theologian, says, "[Our] memory is [our] responding love for God, the encounter and communion with God, with the life of life itself."[2] Through our memory, we can participate in the reality of God once again and yet, anew.

For us, memory is a temporal function. We live within the confines of space and time. We can recall a past event, but are forever confined to the present. God, however, transcends the constructs of time and space. For God, reality is a single, unified whole, one in which God pervades.[3] When we speak of God's memory, then, what do we mean? Lawrence Hoffmann, a noted Jewish scholar, asserts that God's memory is "covenantal memory."[4] God's memory evokes the energies of God in which we can participate. It is a mutual concept that can involve both God and us. Fr. Morrill asserts, the "act of remembrance on the parts of both God and the people brings about a real meeting and exchange between them."[5] It is our task to keep this covenantal relationship alive and renewed.

Memory and Faith

Memory is at the center of the practice of faith. In order to understand the place of memory in the practice of faith, it is important to first clarify what is meant by "faith." We often tend to objectify faith or think of it as something magical as if it has no context. But faith implies trust, trust within the context of an experiential relationship-our relationship with God. We do not know God generally. We know God particularly, by what God has done for us, both individually and collectively. In a relationship there is something in our past experience that leads us to believe in an expected outcome. Our memory of the past gives us hope for both the present and the future. The future also is based on memory. When we pray to God we do so within an experiential context. It is, as Paul Bradshaw says, "...[the] remembrance of God's past goodness [that] constitut[es] the ground on which he [is] asked to continue his gracious activity among his people..."[6]

The memory of what God has done for us compels us to want to know God more deeply. Furthermore, the desire to know God more deeply can lead to further acts of remembrance. It is a never-ending spiral, with God as the center axis, around which we revolve. In relationship with God, we grow in knowledge of God. Our encounter with God allows us to gradually move from cognitive knowledge to knowledge of the heart, from gathering information to formation. We can begin to see the world as God sees it. As a result of our relationship with God, we become different. It can spur us to action. It can compel us to share our experience with others and to invite all into relationship with God. It is not merely an individual matter, but a collective one. The story of our encounter provides a concrete way to share our experience. In fact Fr. Morrill insists, "only by virtue of narrative form can memory and anticipation acquire definite content and thereby have a transformative impact in the present."[7]

Ritual action is the context for transmitting our story. In particular, it tells us who we are and informs our relationship with God. Ritual speaks to the unconscious aspect of existence while giving a sense of value and meaning to our lives, a sense of orientation to why and where we are.[8] Our understanding of God and the memory of what has been done for us are invoked through symbolic use of words, objects, and gestures. These symbols are not mere illustration, devoid of meaning. They are grounded in the history and life of the community. They form a consistent vision.

We tell our story through the use of symbols. However each time we do so, we are adding to our story with the experiences of our own time, place, and culture. Over the years, our memory of an encounter is filled with new content. New content may help us understand more deeply and more fully the original meaning of the event. It may also alter some of the meaning of the event. Nevertheless, the original event remains the basis for our understanding.


We understand our memory of an event as anamnesis. Our recollection of the past (and, in some contexts, the future) informs the present. This is especially true in the worship context of our Church.[9] As Schaeffler asserts,

Everything that is said and done in worship celebrations receives its content from memory, expressed in praise, of that which God has already said and done. Therefore, memory provides the content of religious celebration. is only in the celebration that this content of memory first attains effective presence.[10]

Celebrating an event does not mean mere replication or re-enactment of the event. We can never fully recreate it in our own milieu. We experience events in our time, place, and culture, and yet we have the possibility of transcending these constructs. For us, the past remains the past, but the memory of it can have a powerful, ongoing effect in the present. We can experience time as both continuous (chronos) and as moments (kairos).

Memory helps to form Tradition, a continuum of past, present, and future. Eastern Christian thought is process oriented. Similarly, events are process oriented. In the consciousness of adherents to our faith tradition, they are seen both from the perspective of the past as well as the future. For us, God's future reign is already accessible. When we celebrate the memory of an event, we do not just recall it, but we enter into that event. We become part of the narrative, the story. The question remains, "how?" Do we become a contemporary of the past event? Or does the past event become present, albeit within the confines of the present milieu? (Does it matter?) In referencing the thinking of Gregg, Fr. Morrill asserts that the principle of actualization is

as a narrative and ritual performance whereby the participants are as if there, that is present to the salvific event. This means that the past event is neither brought forward to the present, as in the sacred drama of a myth, nor is the historical event so static by nature as to be only capable of eliciting mere recollection. Rather, a "real event" occurs in the commemorative celebrations, in its present contextual import, whereby a redemptive event of the past enables a "genuine encounter" in the present.[11]

For the Orthodox Christian, the celebration of the event allows us to become one with the event. We experience that "genuine encounter" to which Gregg refers and are transformed as a result.

Orthodox Christian Pascha


The Orthodox Christian Pascha celebrates the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our tradition these are historical events that occurred in the past. However, they are not fully complete in the past. In a sense, they remain unfinished. They are kept alive and anew by the celebration of the memory of the event. Technically, the Paschal event is celebrated at every Eucharistic liturgy. However at Pascha, it is celebrated more specifically and fully.[12]

Memory plays a pivotal role in the celebration of this feast. It can function liturgically to define a community, to allow for redemption, reconciliation and healing; and to aid in our salvation. These are not mutually exclusive areas of focus. In fact, they are intrinsically related to one another. This talk will focus primarily on the role of memory in identity formation in this feast.

Community Identification

Identity can be characterized by self-sameness to or distinction from the other. It is formed by our own personal experience as well as shared experiences with others. It grounds us. Our story is shaped by the lives of those who have gone before us as well as by events and the memories of these events in our own life. They inform who we are and form the basis for how we live. They help us to understand our place in the world and our relationships with others.

Our identity is not just a cognitive construct based on the Descartian philosophy, "I think, therefore I am." It is one that is formed through relationship, "I am, therefore I think." We are persons in relation with one another. Our relationships shape our understanding of ourselves as well as others. It is through relationships that we become a community. However, as Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Anglican Communion), emphasizes,

Our identity is not just about relations with other human beings... but our relation to God, and the 'work' of expressing that relation in our words and acts.[13]

Our relationship with others and God can be expressed through ritual. It is identity of the body, not just the mind. We can gain an understanding about ourselves and our community through instruction, but we can only gain real knowledge by active participation. Knowledge implies participation, a participation in liturgy. We understand ourselves and others by participating in relationship with them through ritual. As Bruce Kapferer, a scholar of ritual studies, suggests, " ritual makes some form of relationship present to us."[14]

It is also through ritual that we can participate in the communal memory of an event. By doing so we not only learn about the event, but we internalize it. It becomes part of our story. Through ritual expression of the event, or liturgy, Fr. Schmemann says, "a group of people become something corporately."[15] They become a community. Moreover, by recounting the memory of the event to subsequent generations, they can experience the event as well. It becomes part of their story. They become part of the community as well. This communal identification is particularly strong in faith traditions where people are participating in similar rituals whose antecedents go back many generations.

Orthodox Christian Identity

Orthodox Christian identity is understood within a three-dimensional paradigm-our relationship with God and the community, both present and throughout time.[16] Specifically, our relationship with God is understood from a Trinitarian perspective. From the Hebrew Scriptures, we know that humans are made in the image and likeness of God. Sister Nonna Harrison, a noted Orthodox Christian scholar, explains what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God from an Orthodox perspective. She writes, be made in the image of God is to be made in the image of the Holy Trinity; like Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, human beings are persons [emphasis mine]. This means that we are free and are able to know and love others, but it also means that our belonging to the community of humankind, our relatedness to other people is at the very root of who we are.[17]

Metropolitan John Zizioulas explains that we actualize our identity through love and freedom "not from [emphasis in original] but for [emphasis in original] someone or something other than ourselves. This makes the person ek-static, that is, going outside and beyond the boundaries of the 'self.'"[18] It is a movement of love and self-offering to God, other human persons, as well as the created world. Orthodox Christian identity is formed and understood through a network of interconnectedness with the other.

In Orthodox thought, identity is often understood from a Christological perspective. Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is the One who unites the created with the uncreated. It is through Him that we have the possibility to be united with the God-head. It is also through Him that we have the possibility of being united with all others, including those that have come before us, those with us now, and those who will come after us. This will only happened fully in the Eschaton, but we have the possibility of experiencing this communion while in the present through participation in the Eucharistic celebration.

The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, also plays a role in identity formation. The Spirit opens up the past as well as the future to the present. It reminds Christians of the foundation of their being and continually points them in that direction. It plays a vital role in, as John McKenna says, "moving people to a 'memory of the heart' that responds to God's call to conform to the image in which we were made."[19] This image is a communal one. Christians are called to be theanthropic (divine-human) beings, a communion of persons in interrelationship and shared love. The Holy Spirit establishes the community, the ecclesia. It renders it a body, a living organism, and helps to build up this body-the Church. It is through the Church that Christians form their identity. It is through the living Tradition of the Church that the community understands itself.

The Tradition of the Church is not something static or ossified. It represents a continuum of knowledge and experience passed down and enlarged from one generation to the next and reinterpreted for each. It is the participation of the Church in the life of the Spirit, in the memory of a people. As Vladimir Lossky, a well-respected Orthodox theologian, explains,

The horizontal line of "traditions" received from the mouth of the Lord and transmitted by the apostles and their successors [the z-axis] crosses the vertical [y-axis], with Tradition-the communication of the Holy Spirit, which opens to members of the Church [x-axis] an infinite perspective of mystery in each word of the revealed truth.[20]

Tradition in Orthodox Christianity, it is a historical and ongoing relationship with God and the community through Christ. One is incorporated into the mystical "Body of Christ" through initiation in baptism and the partaking of the mystical body and blood of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration.


According to Fr. Schmemann, "the Church becomes what She is through Her worship."[21] She prays as She believes, and believes as She prays (i.e. lex orandi, lex credendi). Liturgy is the ritual act of worship of the Church. It is the public work of a people. The people of God for the world. It is not just a performance of ritual for our entertainment. Our participation is required in order to enter into the event of the celebration. Fr. Schmemann explains what our participation in the liturgical life of the Church means. He says,

Genuine participation in liturgy entails the people's entrance into the very memory and life of Christ, a recollection of "both the past and future as living in us, as given to us, as transformed into our life and making it life in God."[22]

This implies not only a vertical understanding of our relationship with Christ but a horizontal one as well. Life in Christ is not an individual experience but one that is shared by members of the community-past, present, and future.

Orthodox Christian Pascha

The life, death, and resurrection of Christ are the defining events in the history of the Christian people. From the very beginning of the Christian movement, the memory of these events was formative to the identity of Christians. This memory was not static but, as Fr. Schmemann emphasizes, "memory restored to its life-creating essence."[23] The memory of these events is at the heart of our celebration of Pascha.

The celebration of Pascha is not a mere repetition of a past event, but one that continues in the present. It is one in which each generation participates. The first part of the Vesperal Liturgy of Basil has a formation and an initiation focus.[24] It is the last step in preparation for those preparing to enter into the life of the Church through baptism. The future new members will learn what it means to be a Christian, to become part of the community. They will experience the story of Jesus Christ as seen through the resurrection event.

During the first part of the service, fifteen passages from the Hebrew Scriptures are read.[25] These recall the creation of the world (Gen. 1:1-13) and the acknowledgement of the Lord as the One who saves and redeems, " shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty one of Israel" (Isa. 60:1-6).[26] These passages also relay the Jewish Passover story, an event that is recognized as formative to the Jewish identity, and one that is adopted now as part of the story of those preparing to enter the Church. These readings include Exodus 12:1-11 (Reading 3) referring to the lamb and the traditional Seder foods of unleavened bread and bitter herbs, Joshua 5:10-15 (Reading 4) which refers to the unleavened cakes, and Exodus 12:20-15:1 (Reading 6) which tells the story of the pillar of fire, the parting of the Red Sea, and including the Song of Moses.

These passages also emphasize the theme of forgiveness found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and one that will continue to be constitutive in the catechumen's new life in Christ. They include passages from Jonah (1:1-17, 2:1-10, 3:1-10, 4:1-11, Reading 4) where the king of Nineveh turned from his worldly ways back to God; Zephaniah 3:8-15 (Reading 7) which relays that it is the Lord who forgives, "...The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, He has cast our your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall see evil no more;"[27] and Isaiah 61:1-19 (Reading 11) which introduces the Spirit of the Lord as the one who frees and comforts,

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; comfort all who mourn...[28]

Moreover, reading 14 (Jeremiah 31:31-34) relays the completeness of God's forgiveness, "...for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.[29]

Lastly, these passages emphasize the theme of salvation as manifest throughout history. God works through His prophets. In Reading 8 (III Kings (LXX) 17:8-24) a child is brought back from the dead through the intercession of Elijah, "And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again."[30] Reading 9 (Isa. 61:10-62:5) relays that it is the Lord who saves, "My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation."[31] Reading 12 (IV Kings (LXX) 4:8-27) relays the story of the raising of the Shunamite woman's son through the intercession of Elisha and the last reading (Daniel 3:1-57) relays the salvation of the three youths who pray to God in the Song of Azariah (LXX) or Abednego. It provides a vivid memory of what the Lord has done for those who call on His name.

Having heard the formative stories of God's work in the Hebrew Scriptures, the catechumen is ready to join that story through the life of the One they perceive to fulfill those Scriptures, the One who they perceive to be the Messiah, Jesus Christ. They are ready to be baptized into Christ, to be made contemporaries of Christ. They are ready to be clothed in Christ, to be identified with Christ. (Although current liturgical practice varies, it is at this point that any un-baptized adults entering the Church would be baptized.) As the participates of the liturgy sing, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia,"[32] the newly baptized are brought into the assembly of the faithful. They have been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They have been immersed in water, the same water that has the power of death as well as purification and life. Chauvet emphasizes that this ritual makes this experience known to them, "the ritual memory of Christ's dying and rising [is] verified in the believers' bodies."[33] Romans 6:3-11, explaining baptism as entry into the death and resurrection of Christ, is now read.

Christians celebrate the memory of Jesus Christ. He has already defeated death. The participants of the liturgy proclaim this in the first part of the service, "...for [You] alone [have] manifested the resurrection to the world."[34] Moreover, those who believe in Him have already been made whole again by His Resurrection, "We have been delivered from corruption by Your resurrection..."[35] In Christ, these events are not just in the past, but are in the present. Schafer explains,

For the risen Christ, the events of his life are not simply past, but are a living present. Whoever joins in the community with Christ encounters those saving events that mark the existence of the transfigured Christ.[36]

As biological beings we are separated by space and time, but in baptism Christians take on a new identity. We become ecclesial beings. Our personhood-our relationship with God-begins to develop. We become theanthropic beings. The notion of space and time is overcome. As we enter this new reality, we begin to perceive the world as God created it, outside the dimension of time. Our life in Christ allows the present to join the past. It is because of our identity in Christ that we can go with the Myrrhbearers to the empty tomb, as is sung at Paschal Matins, "Let us [emphasis mine] arise at the rising of the sun and bring to the Master a hymn instead of myrrh and we [emphasis mine] shall see Christ, the sun of righteousness, who causes life to dawn for all."[37] Our life in Christ also allows the past to be brought into the present. It is because of our identity in Christ that "the prophet Habakkuk now stands with us [emphasis mine] in vigil," proclaiming, "Today [emphasis mine] salvation has come into the world."[38] Moreover, our life in Christ allows the future to be brought into the present. As is said in the Anaphora [offering] section of the vesperal liturgy as well as at every Eucharistic celebration, "...remembering His saving Passion and life-creating Cross, His three-day Burial and Resurrection from the dead, His Ascension into heaven... and His glorious and awesome Second Coming [emphasis mine]."[39]

The Resurrection event affects all who have gone before us, allowing them to participate in the event of the assembly. All [emphasis mine] are raised from the dead today. As we say in the vesperal liturgy, "Today [emphasis mine] hell cries out groaning... As God, He raised the souls that I [Satan] had held captive."[40] In Christ, all of time is collapsed into the present. In fact, the tense of the entire Paschal Matins service is in the present. We sing in Ode VIII, "This [emphasis mine] is the chosen and holy day....[41]" And we sing in Ode 1, "This [emphasis mine] is the day of resurrection. Let us [emphasis mine] be illumined, O people... From death to life and from earth to heaven has Christ led us [emphasis mine] as we sing the song of victory."[42]

However, although the life in Christ is accessible to us now, we do not yet live in the eschaton. As humans, we live in history. The Christian life in Christ is a tension of the eschaton within history, experiencing the now and not yet. Life in Christ is a process. Baptism is only initiation into that life. The life in Christ is not just limited to the experience of initiation. We are given the opportunity to re-actualize our baptism at every Eucharistic gathering. At each liturgy, we recite the baptismal creed. In it, we are reminded of Triune God and all that has been done for the salvation of humanity. Christ has risen from the dead. He is with us and yet will come in glory. The faithful affirm this. Moreover, we "acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins..." and "look for the resurrection of the dead [for all] and the life of the world [age] to come."[43]

Each time we say the creed we are reminded of our own baptism. The memory of what Christ has done for us is renewed again and again. It is a spiral process. We believe that Christ is omnipresent and yet our encounter and connection with Him is made in those kairos moments when we are open to His presence. Each time it is different because we are different. Each time we have the opportunity to grow in our knowledge of the mystery of God. As Fr. Morrill says,

Christian memory, then, functions not only for the purpose of correcting believers in their lapses in remembering the content of the faith, but also as the means whereby communities and individuals receive further riches of the mystery of redemption.[44]

Membership in the communion of believers is further signified by the Kiss of Peace that we share at the Eucharistic gathering. Furthermore, almost all the prayers of the liturgy are in the first person plural. They are the prayers of the people to God. While Christ is the only true celebrant-He is the One offering and offered-by baptism into the life of Christ, we have all been elevated as celebrants.

However, membership in the community is not solely expressed through baptism but through the partaking of the Eucharist-the body and blood of Christ. Orthodox Christianity emphasizes this Eucharistic ecclesiology. It grounds one in both the horizontal and vertical understandings of Church. We are not only members of the "invisible" Church but of a concrete community. Just as we do not know God generally, only particularly, we don't know the Church generally. We know the Church particularly. The Church is a concrete reality, not just an idea.[45] Although connected through time, we are a part of a historical, living community.

The unity of the community is manifest in the communal partaking of the Eucharist. Fr. Morrill suggests that this communal emphasis has its antecedents in the Jewish Passover meal. He says, "Particularly influential to the Christian Eucharist is the Passover's role in the establishment of the covenant community..."[46] The memory of the Passover celebration is kept in the Church, albeit with a different understanding. From the Christian perspective, Christ is the Paschal lamb that has been sacrificed. He is the food for the faithful. As we sing at Paschal Matins in Ode IV, "the Lamb as one destined to be our food..."[47] All who partake of the Eucharistic meal are united to one another, as it says in the Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, "and unite all of us to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit."[48]

The experience of this (or any) Eucharistic celebration is not limited to food. We experience the similar smells of incense and sights of icons that we smell and see at every assembly of the faithful. We sing special festal melodies, many of which embody the cultural tradition of our ancestors. In addition, we may share local or family traditions that have been handed down from past generations.[49] Although usually part of the Resurrection Service itself, each year we hear the sermon attributed to St. John Chrysostom, a fourth century father of the Church. To summarize, it encourages

whoever is a devout lover of God [to] enjoy this beautiful bright Festival.... Let all enter into the joy of our Lord.... The table is richly laden. All of you, fare sumptuously on it.... Let no one grieve over sins; for forgiveness has dawned from the tomb. Let no one fear death; for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.... Christ is risen.... [50]

Each year we hear the same words and yet, because we have changed in the interim, each year the words take on a new meaning. They not only have the potential to deepen our understanding of the feast, but of our relationship with the mystery of God.

At the end of the meal we give thanks. Psalm 136 is often sung, "O give thanks to the Lord..." Moreover, the service ends with a verse from Psalm 113, "Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forever." In the consciousness of the Church, "name" refers to the spiritual essence of a person. We exclaim that the LORD lives forever. As such, our encounter with Him is embedded in God's memory forever-Memory eternal.

The memory of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ forms the identity of the Christian. Although Orthodox Christianity gives pre-eminence to the eschatological experience, we are still beings who live in this world and in history. In the Patristic tradition every human person is a miniature of the world. We are fully integrated with the world. Through us the entire creation has the possibility of being sanctified and related to God. Life in Christ is not merely a set of moral standards, but is a way of life. The Christian's way of life should reflect our identification with Christ. As we read in the thirteenth reading from the Hebrew Scriptures at the vesperal liturgy (Isa. 63:11-64:5), "You [God] meet [the one] that joyfully works righteousness, those that remember You in Your ways."[51]

Although a fuller investigation into the ethical implications of Christian identification is beyond the scope of this talk, I will mention it briefly. In the liturgy, we pray for the peace of the world, for the unity of all, the sick and suffering, etc. and ask God to remember them. This implies that the Christian, both individually and collectively as Church, has a transformative role to play in history. The Christian must "protest life as it is." Theology should be connected to ethical behavior. The celebration of the Eucharist should compel us to live the life of Christ in our everyday lives. It is only by doing so that we can then experience the full transformative value of the Eucharistic celebration. As Fr. Morrill says, the "...linking of the cultic with the prophetic is of great importance for the transformative capacity of the Eucharistic celebration in the lives of believers..."[52]

We who identify with Christ take part in the events of His life. We participate in the life of Christ through baptism but are constantly nourishing that life, especially within the Eucharistic celebration. By encountering God through Christ, we remember God, and God remembers us. From an Orthodox Christian perspective, through this encounter, we have been saved, are in the process of being saved, and hope to be saved in the future age. We proclaim at the Paschal Matins service,

Yesterday I [emphasis mine] was buried with You, O Christ, Today I [emphasis mine] arise with You in Your resurrection. Yesterday I was crucified with You. Glorify me with You [emphasis mine], O Savior, in Your kingdom.[53]

It is through doxology that remembrance is fulfilled. Remembrance and doxology are the essence of the Church's existence. As Fr. Schmemann says, "...the prayer that God would 'remember,' constitutes the heartbeat of all the Church's worship, her entire life."[54]


The memory of what God has done for us is formative to our understanding of ourselves. We celebrate this memory in the feast of Christian Pascha. In celebrating the feast, we enter into the event of the celebration. We become one with those who have participated in the event historically and as such, share in its blessings. Participating in the event is constitutive of what it means to be identified as a member. We pray as we believe and believe as we pray. We do not merely witness to the past event, but are continuously rediscovering its message. To summarize, I quote a noted Orthodox Christian scholar, Fr. John McGuckin,

...this message is ever re-enacted in the life of the Church... Salvation is not only announced or proclaimed in the Church, but precisely enacted. The Sacred History is still continued... The ultimate end of revelation, its teleos, has not yet come... The sacred history of redemption is still ongoing.[55]


Liturgical Texts:

Lazor, P., text preparation, Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, Syosett, New York: OCA Department of Religious Education, 1976.

Lazor, P., text preparation, The Paschal Service. Syosett, New York: OCA Department of Religious Education, 1986.

Papadeas, G., trans., Holy Week and Easter. S. Daytona. Florida: Patmos Press, 2003.

Vaporis, Nomikos M., The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints Basil the Great, Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1988.

Books and Articles:

Anderson, Byron E., Worship and Christian Identity, Don E. Saliers, ed. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2003.

Bradshaw, Paul, "Anamnesis in Modern Eucharistic Debate," in Michal Signer, ed., Memory and History in Christianity and Judaism. Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame Press, 2001.

Bradshaw, Paul F., The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Chauvet, Louis-Marie Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, trans. P. Madigan and M. Beaumont, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995.

Erickson, John H., "The Formation of Orthodox Ecclesial Identity," in St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 3-4, 1998.

FitzGerald, Thomas, "The Orthodox Rites of Christian Initiation," in St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 32. no. 4, 1988.

Harrison, Verna Nonna, "The Holy Trinity as a Model for Human Community," The St. Nina Quarterly, vol. 3 no. 3, 1999.

Harrison, Verna Nonna, "Zizioulas on Communion and Otherness," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 3-4, 1998.

Häussling, Angelus A., "Liturgy: Memorial of the Past and Liberation in the Present," The Meaning of the Liturgy, Angelus Häussling, ed., Linda Maloney, trans. Collegeville, Minn,: The Liturgical Press, 1944.

Hoffman, Lawrence A., "Does God Remember? A Liturgical Theology of Memory" in Michal Signer, ed., Memory and History in Christianity and Judaism. Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame Press, 2001.

Johnson, Luke Timothy, "Jesus in the Memory of the Church," Great Books Lecture Series.

Lossky, Vladimir, In the Image and Likeness of God, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Press, 1974.

Matthey, Jacques, "Come, Holy Spirit, heal and reconcile: Towards mission as reconciliation" Preparatory Paper for Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, 2005. Access via on 10/31/2005.

McGuckin, John A., "Eschaton and Kerygma: The Future of the Past in the Present," in St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 42, No. 3-4, 1998.

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[1] Bruce T. Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue, (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 2000), p. 143. Henceforth: Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory.

[2] Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist, (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1988), p. 125. Henceforth: Schmemann, The Eucharist.

[3] Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory, p. 176.

[4] Lawrence A. Hoffmann, "Does God Remember? A Liturgical Theology of Memory," in Michael Signer, ed. Memory and History in Christianity and Judaism, (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame Press, 2001), p. 43.

[5] Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory, p. 178.

[6] Paul F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, Second Edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 43.

[7] Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory, p. 194.

[8] Byron E. Anderson, Worship and Christian Identity, Don E. Saliers, ed. (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2003), p. 63. Henceforth: Anderson, Worship and Christian Identity.

[9] It is also true within other Christian traditions, notably Roman Catholicism.

[10] Richard Schaeffler, "Therefore we remember..." in The Meaning of the Liturgy, Angelus Häussling, ed., Linda Maloney, trans. (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1944), p. 16. Henceforth: Schaeffler, "Therefore we remember..."

[11] Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory, p. 177.

[12] Caveat: A study of memory in the worship celebration of Orthodox Christianity is a broad undertaking. For the purpose of this paper, I have had to limit the scope of this study. I have chosen to focus on the services that most closely reflect the Paschal celebration within the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the Vesperal Liturgy of Basil celebrated on Holy Saturday and the Pachal Matins service of Sunday. Of all the services throughout the week of preparation (i.e. "Holy Week"), these are the services that are most unique to the celebration of the resurrection. However, these services are not unique to this time of year, nor are they unique in form. Vespers and Matins (i.e. "Orthros") are services that can be celebrated daily, in the evening and morning respectively. In the received tradition, the liturgy of Basil is celebrated ten times a year. It is the variable parts of the service that reflect the unique aspects of the feast.

[13] Rowan Williams, "Christian Identity and Religious Plurality," accessed via p. 2.

[14] Kapferer as referenced in Anderson, Worship and Christian Identity, p. 93.

[15] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, (Crestwood, NewYork: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1973), p. 25. Henceforth: Schmemann, For the Life of the World.

[16] I have confined my remarks on identity formation to an Orthodox Christian understanding. Other Christians may also share the same understanding to varying degrees.

[17] Sister Nonna Harrison, "The Holy Trinity as a Model for Human Community," The St. Nina Quarterly, vol. 3 no. 3, 1999, p. 1.

[18] John Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, (New York: T&T Clark, 2006), p. 10.

[19] John McKenna, "Eucharist and Memorial," in Worship, vol. 79, no. 6, November 2005, p. 519.

[20] Vladimir Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Press, 1974), p. 147.

[21] Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 125.

[22] Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 130.

[23] Schmemann, The Eucharist, p.129.

[24] Traditionally, this service includes the formal reception of those adults entering the community of the Church either through baptism and/or chrismation. (This does not include those baptized as infants, now the normal practice of the Church.) Today, the text and rubrics of these sacraments are not included in the text of the vesperal liturgy. If a baptism is to be performed, it is often done so after the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and prior to the Trisagion, "As many as have been baptized into Christ has put on Christ."

[25] All passages from the Hebrew Scriptures that are referenced within the liturgical context use Septuigent (LXX) numbering. In contemporary Greek/Byzantine practice, only three passages are read.

[26] Paul Lazor, text preparation, Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, (Syosett, New York: OCA Department of Religious Education, 1976), pp. 19-22. Henceforth: Vesperal Liturgy of Basil.

[27] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 37.

[28] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 42.

[29] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 48.

[30] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 39. Reading 8 of the Vesperal Liturgy of Basil (III Kings (LXX) 17:8-24) tells of Elijah extolling the LORD to raise the child. In this story, the son does live. As a result, Elijah is recognized as a man of God. He is seen as a figure of the Messianic age. (Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, pp. 22-23, 28-39.)

[31] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 39.

[32] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 58.

[33] Louis-Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, trans. P. Madigan and M. Beaumont, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995), p. 260-261.

[34] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 14.

[35] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil. p. 15.

[36] Philipp Schafer, "Eucharist: Memorial of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus," in The Meaning of the Liturgy, Angelus Häussling, ed., Linda Maloney, trans. (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1944), p. 74.

[37] Paul Lazor, text preparation, The Paschal Service, (Sysosett, New York: OCA Department of Religious Education, 1986), p. 33. Henceforth: Paschal Matins.

[38] Paschal Matins. p. 32.

[39] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 78.

[40] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 16.

[41] Paschal Matins, Ode VIII, p. 36.

[42] Paschal Matins, p. 30.

[43] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 73.

[44] Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory, p. 161.

[45] Teva Regule, Interview with Fr. Nick Apostola, held on 3/28/06.

[46] Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory, p. 168.

[47] Paschal Matins, Ode IV, p. 32.

[48] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 79.

[49] In its present expression, the connection with one's ancestors and one's ancestral heritage is stronger in Orthodox Christianity than in most Christian churches as it is either expressed as a national church or in the West, as a mostly immigrant church.

[50] George Papadeas, Holy Week and Easter, (S. Daytona, Florida: Patmos Press, 2003), pp. 481-2.

[51] Vesperal Liturgy of Basil, p. 48.

[52] Morrill, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory, p. 170.

[53] Paschal Matins, Ode III, p. 31. I have updated the translation to use the modern English "You/Your" instead of the older English "Thee/Thine" for readability.

[54] Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 123.

[55] John McGuckin, "Eschaton and Kerygma: The Future of the Past in the Present," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 3­-4, 1998, p. 265-6.