PASCHAL PASTORAL LETTER 2000
"In all truth I tell you - the hour is coming - indeed it is already here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live." Gospel of St John 5:24
Dearly Beloved: Christ is risen!
Truly, He is risen!
Over the past decades, archeologists have uncovered evidence of the burial traditions of many and various peoples. There is general consensus that human remains were respected and buried in an honorable manner. In most cases, various articles were interred with the dead as "provisions" needed for another life. Humans and animals were often sacrificed to accompany a dead person of rank. There was, therefore, on the part of some peoples, a sort of desire, if not belief, in an afterlife. This is, at the most, a belief in the continuation of the spirit but not in the belief in a resurrection of the body with the spirit.
In the Old Testament, the most obvious statement of belief in or the hope that there is an after life is found in the Second Book of Maccabees, 7:22 about 134 B.C., when the unnamed mother of seven sons, after the first six have been killed, encourages her last son with the words: "...the Creator of the world who made everyone and ordained the origin of all things, will in his mercy give you back breath and life since for the sake of his laws you have no concern for yourselves." In other words, obedience to God assures a present good life, and those who are righteous before God can expect to live again. In this statement, however, there is no belief in a universal resurrection of all mortals, just those who are righteous according to the Law of Moses.
Following the birth of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, almost two centuries after the exhortation of that mother, Jesus stated that it is not in keeping the Law of Moses that one will live again but through faith in him. "I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25) As followers of Christ, as those who have "put on Christ" in holy baptism, we believe "...the testimony God has given about his Son. This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, and whoever has not the Son of God has not life." (I John 5:11-12).
Death comes as a result of our fallen human experience: "We all die in Adam, but we are all brought to life in Christ." (I Corinthians 15:22) St. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-17) warns the faithful to balance their grief over their dead with the truth that death is not final. "We want you to be quite certain about those who are fallen asleep, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, God will bring them with him." These few words, "Jesus died and rose again," are the heart of the Gospel, the "Good News."
Saint John Chrysostom chides us: "What is death at most? It is a journey for a seasons a sleep longer than usual. If you fear death, you should also fear sleep." We do not fear sleep nor do we fear death, for through Christ we have overcome the fear of death, live a new life free of this fear and look forward to the life which is to come. This is why the Paschal Tropar, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, bestowing life on those in the tombs," is repeated over and over today and throughout the forty-days before his Ascension. It is both a hymn of praise to him who conquered death and gives eternal life, the beginning of which is now in the sacramental life in the Church and, it is a theme-song, a battle-cry for us to strengthen our faith in Christ, the "Prince of life" (Acts 3:15).
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, (On the Holy Pascha, Ser. 2) states: "This is the Day of Resurrection. Let us offer to God a sacrifice, which is ourselves. Let us, as his most precious acquisition, give to the Image (God) that which was created in his image. Let us acknowledge our worth. " This statement, "to acknowledge our worth," is of the utmost importance in our day. Human life is portrayed as expendable, because its value is only the here and now. We confess that Christ came to "reclaim" us for God to live a new life on earth and prepare us for eternal life. As Son of God, he reminds us of our worth as children of the Most High. We are of such worth that God sent his Only-begotten Son to save us both in this life and for the life to come.
Our lives, our goals, our very existence have meaning only when we appreciate and acknowledge the sacrifice on the cross and the despoiling of death by Christ's own death and our call to eternal existence. We will be resurrected and not die again, instructs Saint Gregory Palamas.
There is a difference between those who like Lazarus, and others who were temporarily brought back to life, and the resurrection of Christ himself. The final and universal resurrection will come at the end of time. "I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen." In this way can Christ be called the "first born of the dead," for unlike those who were temporarily raised and died again, he will not die again. Saint Paul is adamant: "We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and will never die again, he is the first fruit. Death has no power over him any more. For by dying, he is dead to sin once and for all, and now the life that he lives is life with God. In the same way, you must see yourselves as being dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:9-11)
Let us share with the world this knowledge of our worth as children of God, saved by his Son, sealed by the Holy Spirit and call others to the joy of this day and to a new life in Jesus. Let us awaken from apathy and from complacency to renewal in our risen Lord. Let the fervor of the women disciples who told the apostles that "He is risen!", the fervor which carried this news far and wide to this very moment in time, let it be enkindled in our hearts--- the joy of this evangelical proclamation that, "Christ is risen! Truly, he is risen! And with him all of mankind from the beginning of time.
+ NATHANIEL, Archbishop