Archpastoral Letter for Pascha 2007
Prot. N. 182-April 8, 2007
Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers and faithful of our God-saved Diocese:
CHRIST IS RISEN! CHRISTOS VOSKRES!
"And they said among themselves, 'Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?'"
On that Resurrection morning, while it was still dark, this was the question and the problem that perplexed those myrrh-bearing women disciples of the Lord. We know that the stone was "very large" and cumbersome according to the Gospel account. From historical and cultural knowledge of the times, we know that it was a massive stone disk that was rolled into a groove in the ground before the entrance of the tomb. Once it was set in place, it was not meant to be moved. It certainly could not be rolled up and out of that groove easily. It would take several strong men to accomplish the task. How then could this small group of fragile, tired, and aging women do it? They were worn out from the tragic events of the past few days and were still in the throes of grief at the death of their Master and their Friend. And now they were even more troubled and plagued by the thought that they might not be able to complete the traditional burial ritual of their people upon their beloved Lord. The stone barred their way! You can imagine, then, what joy and excitement filled their hearts and minds as they approached the tomb, looked up, and found the stone ALREADY rolled back. And then news rang out in their ears, "He is not here; He is risen as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay!" (Matthew 28:6)
That stone, that boulder, sealed the Tomb most tightly, sealing within it a crucified corpse and all the characteristics that accompanied It: darkness, despair, decay, sorrow, loneliness, sin, and death. These same attributes have haunted mankind since the beginning, since the very fall of our first father and mother, Adam and Eve. Our Lord shared in, experienced, and was subjected to every one of these "mysteries" of life. He endured all of these evils, all of these negative aspects of our earthly existence because He became one of us! Every enemy that has terrified and threatened humanity has our Lord also encountered and done battle with! These enemies of mankind are still at work today, but they no longer have the same power and effect that they once held over us!
We, also, as did the myrrh-bearers, may ask when these troubles attack us, "Who will roll away the stone from the tomb for us? Who will remove the stone of the tomb from my life, from my body, and from my soul? As Christians, we ought to aware of the answers, but sometimes we need to be reminded of them. This present GLORIOUS and JOYOUS FEAST OF FEASTS affords us the opportunity to recall to our minds the answers that we so desperately need when we are faced with the difficulties of this earthly life. In this confused, perverted, faithless and fallen world, we struggle to overcome our common enemies, but WE DO NOT DO IT ALONE!
WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THE STONE OF DARKNESS FROM MY LIFE?
CHRIST, of course. CHRIST the LIGHT! He Himself testified, "I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me, shall NOT WALK IN DARKNESS, but have the LIGHT OF LIFE!" (John 8:12) The radiant burst of the light of the Resurrection comes forth from the tomb and fills us and the world. Even in the extreme darkness of a room totally cut off from any light source, it takes only a single candle flame to penetrate every corner of it. How much more, then, can the Light of Christ extinguish the darkness!
WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THE STONE OF DESPAIR FROM MY LIFE?
CHRIST our HOPE! The Holy Apostle Paul begins his first epistle to Timothy, "by the commandment of God our Saviour and the Lord Jesus Christ, our HOPE..." While the world challenges each one of us with fears, anxieties, trials,
tribulations, temptations, doubts, and more, Jesus Christ told us that this would happen, "In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world." Again we hear from Paul, this time to the Romans, "Now may the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)
WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THE STONE OF SADNESS FROM MY LIFE?
CHRIST our JOY! Christ says, "Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:24) From the very night that our Saviour was born, the angels announced tidings of great joy, that the Messiah was born. Simply being in the presence of the One Who loves us and Whom we love in return is an occasion for great joy! In His High Priestly Prayer on the night before He died on the Cross, Jesus informs us, "These things I have spoken to you, that My JOY may remain in you, and that your JOY may be full." (John 15:11)
WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THE STONE OF LONELINESS FROM MY LIFE?
CHRIST our FRIEND. In the garden of Gethsemane, on the night before His Crucifixion, our Lord said to His disciples, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command You." (John 15: 14) "I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father, I have made known to you." (John 15: 15) We, too, are His disciples and He confides the truth in us and offers to us all that is necessary for salvation, to be with Him for all eternity!
WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THE STONE OF SIN FROM MY LIFE?
CHRIST the SINLESS ONE; our SAVIOUR. He Who bore our sins on the Cross removes them from us! St. Andrew of Crete in his Great Canon of Repentance eloquently sums it up: "We have sinned greatly; we have transgressed; we have done evil in Your sight; we have not kept or followed Your commandments; but reject us not utterly, O God of our Fathers." (Ode 7) But on Great Friday, we hear once again the Prophet Isaiah's message of the Suffering Servant, the Christ, in these words, "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)
He has given us His very Body and Blood; first upon the Cross, and then for all time to eat and to drink "for the remission of sins." Our sins were buried with Him in the Tomb, and He rolls away the stone from the tomb of sin, and it is wiped away!
WHO WILL ROLL AWAY THE STONE FROM THE TOMB OF DEATH?
CHRIST our LIFE! The final indignity for mankind is death itself. Yet Christ, in His extreme love, even overcame that for us! Shortly before the Nativity celebration on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, we hear the words of St. Paul to the Colossians, "When Christ WHO IS OUR LIFE appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory." (Colossians 3:4) He died, but HE LIVES! Jesus announces to each of us, "I am the way, the Truth, and the LIFE. (John 14:6) And to His followers, to those who have obeyed His commandments, even when we are in the graves, we "will hear His voice and come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of LIFE!" (John 5:28-29) That is why we sing repeatedly during this season: "CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD, TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH, AND TO THOSE IN THE TOMBS, BESTOWING LIFE!" to which we in our Slavic tradition, when we sing it for the final time at the end of each service, add the phrase: "And to us He granted life eternal; let us glorify His third-day Resurrection!" so that, not only those in the graves, but also we who are still alive, remember that glorious fact!
Christ, then, has become all things for all people: our LIGHT, our HOPE, our JOY, our FRIEND, our SAVIOUR, and our LIFE! May you experience every Divine aspect in your renewed life in Him!
On your behalf, I send PASCHAL greetings to His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne, all of our Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Deacons, Monastics, Seminarians, and the beloved Faithful, one to another, of our God-saved Diocese.
With my Episcopal blessing, I remain
Most sincerely yours in our Risen Lord,
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in all Diocesan Parishes in lieu of the regular Sermon at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, April 8, 2007