Archpastoral Letter for Pascha 2006
Prot. N. 177
April 23, 2006
To the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, and Beloved Faithful of this God-Saved Diocese:
Christos Voskrese! Voistinnu Voskrese!
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
I greet you in the joy and brightness of this Feast of Feasts! I welcome you to this celebration that is the wellspring of all gladness and delight! I invite you to enter, with faith and with love, into the beauty and peace of this Eternal Dawn!
I bid you to rejoice, sing and exult, for Jesus Christ Who was Crucified, is now Risen from the Dead! Jesus Christ Who bore the weight of sorrows and shame, Who took away the sins of the world, Who was slain in darkness on Friday's Cross ... this same Jesus Who was beaten and pierced in shame is now the Risen Christ, Who shines in splendor, Who reigns in power, Who rejoices in triumph, Who has thrown down the Enemy in defeat forever, Who shouts the exultation of victory and majesty unto the ages of ages!
This Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has brought His divine life for the restoration of humanity. Our human nature had fallen into the darkness of sin, and had become completely polluted by the fear of death. But Christ Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, fully human and fully divine, received into Himself the totality of the consequences of sin. He willingly accepted the accumulated weight of death and despair. And in His life, sin was vanquished by His Divine Innocence, and death was swallowed up by the infinite glory of His Divine Immortality.
Let no one doubt the importance of this Day. Pascha is the foundation of every Feast. Pascha is the source of every Sunday. The fact of the physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis, the very charter, of Christianity. There can be no Christian without the Resurrection. Without belief in the Resurrection, a man cannot be a Christian.
Some people may ask why this is so. Why is the truth of the Paschal story so important? Why is it impossible to be a Christian and not believe in the physical Resurrection?
There are many who want to call themselves Christian, but who cannot bring themselves to believe the Gospel message of the Risen Jesus Christ. For one reason or another, they want a more intellectual, more scientific, more modern sort of Christianity. And for that reason, they exclude the miraculous. They cannot accept the healings as described in the Gospels. They cannot credit the stories of the stilling of the storm, the feeding of the five thousand, or the raising of Lazarus. And they certainly cannot believe that the Crucified Christ rose physically from the dead. They cannot admit the news that early on the first Sunday, the Tomb lost a dead body to Everlasting Life.
There are many reasons why people choose not to believe. For now, none of these reasons matters, for none of them is true. What matters today is the reason why Pascha is the heart of the Christian faith, and why the Resurrection is the dynamo of the Orthodox Church in this world.
The Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is simply this, in every sense of the word, in all its glorious and eternal mystery: the Resurrection is the death of death. It is the removal of doom, dread and despair from the future. From now on, a man may fear death only if he chooses to do so, against all reason. From now on, "death" is called "sleep" or "repose" for a Christian. From now on, death has lost its finality, and has forfeited its terror: "O death," St. Paul said, "where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15.55).
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the gateway to human life set free once again. It empowers the Sacrament of Baptism, from the Kingdom of Heaven, to liberate soul and body from the prison of sin. It communicates the victory and divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist. It transforms fishermen into fishers of men in Ordination. It heals the leprosy of sin in the Mystery of Reconciliation. It elevates human love into an eternal nuptial union in Marriage. It opens the senses to mystical perception in Chrismation. And it transports men and women of this world into the life of angels in Monastic Tonsure.
But if Pascha is the historic and mystical spring of the Sacraments, it is also the morning sunlight of prayer. All true prayer is Paschal. All prayer depends on the Paschal promise that all things are possible. All prayer transforms the expected sorrows of this world into the surprising joy of Divine Love.
Every true prayer, and every single sacrament, and every Orthodox Amen, is a great refusal of death, a fervent denial of sin. Every prayer and every sacrament is a revolution of Paschal grace.
Every breath you take as an Orthodox Christian is a miracle made possible by the Resurrection. Every act of kindness, every appearance of love, every act of forgiveness, every gentleness, every drop of mercy that proceeds from compassion - these are all gleams of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are all stars in the night, that light up the darkness of this age.
We are the Church of the Resurrection. If there were no Resurrection, we would not exist. Our fellowship in this Diocese, and our thriving in this society and in this century, are all evidence that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, just as the Scriptures say.
We are vessels of that light, and we are, as the Body of Christ, the light of the world. So let us shine forth all the more brightly as children of the Resurrection Light. The Resurrection is, after all, the death of death. We need to tell the world this good news.
May this Paschal Light shine so brightly before men, that they may see our good works of joy, peace and courage, and give glory to our Father Who is in heaven (Matthew 5.16).
Yours sincerely in the Paschal Light of Christ,
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in all Diocesan Parishes in lieu of the regular Sermon at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, April 23, 2006