Very Rev. Dr. John Behr of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, accomplished author and skillful teacher, was the speaker at the 20th annual Ss. Cyril and Methodius Lecture of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary on May 7, 2020. The lecture was live-streamed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fr. Behr spoke on “The Gospel of St. John as a Paschal Gospel.” The entire lecture can be viewed through the Seminary’s website or it can also be accessed through the Seminary’s YouTube channel.
The lecture was attended live by over 120 viewers, and hundreds more have had a chance to benefit from Fr. Behr’s expertise in this topic, first demonstrated in his work, John the Theologian and His Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology (Oxford University Press 2019).
Fr. John lost no time in leading his audience along an ever-heightening path of appreciating why it is not accidental for the Byzantine Tradition to read the Gospel of John during the Paschal liturgical season. Of particular interest was the painting of a many-faceted picture of John the Theologian not simply standing under the cross as a witness to the crucifixion, but who is presiding as the new high priest over the sacrifice of the new paschal lamb. But this lamb is not just any human being. It is the perfect human being.
By reference to the Pentateuch, the Apocalypse, Church Fathers, Byzantine liturgy, as well other scholars, especially John Ashton, Fr. Behr showed how the perfect human being, necessary for this sacrifice, was actually co-present and yet being fashioned in the entire history of salvation, culminating in the Incarnation of Christ as but one of the rays of a larger single ‘happening’ or ‘light.’ “Think of Easter or Pascha this way, think of it as being a pure, white light,” Father Behr said. Although over time we have come to celebrate them as separate events, the Incarnation, along with the Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection, Ascension, and Sending of the Holy Spirit, forms the single bright light of this Paschal Lamb. In a similar way, the Genesis project of “Let us make man in our image” is not simply a divine light but involves the light of our affirmative responses, so that the perfect human being was first fashioned in Christ, but it is also being fashioned by each of the members of His Body.
It was on many levels that Christ was able to say “It is finished.” While noting that the usual synoptic meaning is that of “my work is done, it is finished,” the Greek word tetelestai used by the Theologian has the much broader meaning of “it is perfected, it is completed”, where ‘it’ refers to the fashioning of the human being. Fr. John ended, “Indeed, John is the Paschal Gospel. Those who first celebrated the Feast in the second century look back to him as being the high priest of this mystery and when read in this way, it opens up, as I hope I have shown, a far more expansive vision…”
BCS Website: https://www.byzantinecs.org/annual-lecture-series/
BCS YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8w2XLuUIYQ