Archpastoral Letter for Pascha 2001
"Christ is risen from the dead; He has become the first.fruits of them that slept!" (I Corinthians 15:20)
To the Very Reverend Protopresbyters, the Very Reverend Fathers, Monastics, and the Pious Faithful of our Diocese:
CHRISTOS VOSKRESE! VOISTINNU VOSKRESE!
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!
Dear Fathers and Faithful:
Truly He is risen from the dead, Beloved! He has become the first-fruits of them that slept. He has burst apart the gates of Hades -the cruel gates of Hell -and from the moment of His glorious Resurrection, they can no longer prevail against us, Who are the Church and the New Israel of God.
He is risen from the dead, and He has granted life -eternal life, to those who sleep in the graves. And not only to our beloved family and friends who sleep in the grave under the gentle blanket of earth, He gives life to us who slumber in self-made mausoleums, of misery, vaults of vanity, pits of self-pity, charnel houses of strife, jealousy and hatred.
The angels cry out to us as we survey the empty shell of the grave: "He is not here! He is Risen! See the place where they laid Him!" And they cry out to us: Your life is not here! If you have been buried with Him, you are risen with Him! Behold the place where you used to dwell -a twilight world of self-love and self- obsession."
They call to us with the hymn of the Apostle: " Arise, O Sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and Christ shall shine on you!" The night is more than far spent. The night is over. The darkness has passed. And the unending and infinite Eighth Day of the Resurrection has dawned upon the world. The light has shone forth, just as God commanded when He created the universe: " Let there be light!" This Light of Christ burns most brightly -not in the taper we hold, nor the candles we light, nor even on the Holy Altar -but in the human heart, on the Altar of the Holy Spirit Who infuses our bodies and souls with the healing light of God. Let this altar of our hearts be surrounded, be enveloped with the incense of prayer, the sweet savor of thanksgiving, gratitude and praise.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this Pascha, this Holy and Great Feast of the Resurrection, let us leap up from the lethargy that sin instills in us, and put off the unprofitable works of the dream [or nightmare]] worlds that we may have created for ourselves, when we turned from the Light of life to the darkness of death.
It is enough for us to know that one day, we shall all sleep under the earth. But what of all that we have accomplished, all that has been wrought, all that has been achieved? Shall it be subject to rust and moth and thieves, even as the Lord said? Not if we have stored our true treasure in Heaven. If that sleep is to be a blessed repose worthy of eternal memory, let us awaken now to the life that God has called us to. Let us begin again to store up for ourselves treasures in the Heavenly places - through mercy, love, forgiveness, patience, forbearance, charity, benevolence, kindness and goodness.
For Christ has seated us in the Heavenly places. He has become the First-fruits of them that slept. He has already made it possible for us to live our lives -even though we are persons of the flesh and dwellers of this world -in ways beyond the expectations of the world. Where the world hates -by Christ - we can love. Where the world condemns, we can forgive. Where the world deprives, we can bestow. Where the world envies, we can be generous. Where the world injures, we can heal.
For Christ is the First -and I emphasize the First-fruits of them that slept. We have also slumbered, but we have done so like the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, out of our own bodily and spiritual weakness. Our eyelids became heavy, because we thought that the burdens we carried were the most grievous. But as the Apostle Paul says, "While we were yet weak, Christ died for us.',
Christ went to sleep on the Bed of the Cross, not from weakness, but from strength, from the power of love! He gave Himself up willingly and from no necessity whatsoever unto death. For, being sinless in every way, He was not subject to death. And He died for us not only to forgive us what was wrong in our lives -our sins, but so that we might be buried with Him through the Baptism into death. Then, as He arose from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life.
Newness of life! The New and Eternal Life! This is the promise that has been even fulfilled for us by His Glorious Resurrection. The Lord of Glory has become the First-fruits of us, the sleepers. What fruits shall we offer in this life, that we may be presented to God the Father in the next life with Him Who is the First-fruits of the dead?
Such is the paradox of the Resurrection, Beloved. We, who think we are awake and are alive, are in reality asleep. Unless the light of Christ's love has dawned in our hearts, then the night rules our minds and we wander through the world as in a dream.
Let us run from the sleep of darkness in our souls and embrace the rising Sun of Righteousness. Let us run forth from the tomb -even our own sepulcher of selfishness -and proclaim to our brothers and sisters the wonders and the glories of the Living God. Let us offer the fruits of righteousness, fruits of love, of peace, of mercy, of grace, of forgiveness, and of every Christian good that we can imagine and employ in our lives.
Thus, we shall become ourselves part of the harvest of the Resurrection, sweet and precious fruits in the eyes of God, to be garnered into His Heavenly Kingdom on the Day of Judgment.
With the spiritual gladness of the AII-Holy and Life-giving Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, I bestow my Archpastoral and paternal blessing on you and your families, praying that the light of the Resurrection may illumine your hearts, your minds, your souls and your bodies.
Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!
Most sincerely yours in Christ,