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The Eleventh Hour

“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.”

Those words are from Saint John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily, which Orthodox priests traditionally recite (I think my priest knows it from memory) on Pascha, or Orthodox Easter.

This is the year that I am the tarrier, I am the heedless, I am the last, I am the eleventh hour follower. I told you at the beginning Lent that I couldn’t bear all the must-dos this year. But I thought I’d at least attend a few services here and there, maybe a Friday Akathist or at least some of the services of Holy Week. But here I am, on Orthodox Holy Friday, having attended no services this week. The runners are rounding the last bend of Lent and heading toward the finish line of Pascha. I watch from the stands.

I’ve waited and lingered. I’ve fretted and rebelled. I have not followed the formulas or attended the liturgies and many days, save quiet and quick bedtime prayers with my children, I have not even prayed. I am a deserter, showing up – rather unfairly – at the eleventh hour.

But the beauty of God is that he gives mercy to the deserters, to the ignorers, to the end-of-the-liners. Perhaps I do not deserve to attend Pascha. Perhaps I do not deserve to take the bread and the cup.

Yet St. John Chrysostom’s words tell me: The Lord will accept the last even as the first. The table is open. Even to me. Even to a faithless straggler like me. Even for a heart as scarred with doubts and questions as mine. The table is full laden. The table is ready. And no matter what I have or haven’t done, I am welcome at the feast. 

9 comments

  1. Lisa says:

    Thank you. I needed to hear this today. I crashed and burned sometime in the past 2 weeks or so – I also feel like a faithless straggler. We will get there somehow. Keep moving. Thank you for being honest and sharing this. I believe it helps us to bear one another’s burdens. Then we feel lighter. :)

    Bless all of you,

    Lisa

  2. You know I’ve struggled with many faith issues for the past several years, Karissa. This year I did Lent “lite” (again) and didn’t consider the rules, but just attended when I really wanted to. And it’s been the best Lent ever. Tonight at Holy Friday Lamentations, when the choir led us in the first round of “and the dead shall arise!” I started crying. Something in me clicked, and I believed, really believed, that it was real. That Jesus really is God and Man and rose from the dead. And of course he doesn’t care which hour we arrive. We are all welcome at the Feast. Love to you.

    • That is touching, Susan. Lamentations is my favorite Holy Week service actually. So beautiful. I think I had a moment like that during last year’s Holy Week. It was during the Twelve Gospels when Fr. Stephen nailed Jesus to the cross. I always shed a few tears at that moment, but last year I really just broke down heavily crying. It was almost like I was one of his followers actually watching it from 2000 years ago. I just kept thinking, “This shouldn’t be happening. They shouldn’t be doing this to him. Why is this happening?” Like you said, something “Clicked.” At any rate, I look forward to Pascha tonight!!

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