“How can I describe the beauty of Christ’s Pascha,
how can I tell of its brightness,
how shall I declare the joy, brought by the Cross,
how can I explain the greatness of the kingdom,
opened to us by the Resurrection…”
(St. Hesychius of Jerusalem)
Dearly Beloved in Christ, Right Reverend Archpastors, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, most honorable Monastics,
and all loyal children of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church,
Christ is risen!
At this moment, the believing heart of every Orthodox Christian is filled with ineffable joy, for the most festive day of Christ’s resurrection has arrived! Outside my window it is now night, but this night, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, is brighter than any day, and no more does any grieve at his poverty, “for the universal kingdom has been revealed.” (Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom). “As the sun outshines the stars, so also does holy Pascha outshine all other church feasts,” wrote St. Gregory of Nyssa.
In what does the magnificence of Pascha consist? Why is this day considered the central feast, the epicenter of the life of the entire Church? It is because, my dearly beloved, in the light-bearing day of the resurrection, through the eyes of faith, we see the great mystery of our salvation. And we do not merely see it, but we also take part in it, and eat of its divine fruits. “Yesterday I was crucified with Thee, O Christ, and today I arise with Thee,” as we sing in the paschal canon.
And in what does the great mystery of our salvation consist? In this, my dear friends, as the Apostle Paul incomparably wrote in his epistle to the Christians of Corinth, that today, “our last enemy, death, has been destroyed!” (1Cor. 15:26). Yes, death is no more, and will never be again! Death’s merciless sword will never again pierce humankind; never again will the Christian soul tremble before the coldness of the grave and the darkness of non-existence, as if it were an unavoidable absolute. Death, the cessation of life, the departure into the abyss of nothingness, – the results of the first people falling away from God – are no more. If the first man, Adam, attempted to find another foundation for his life, other than God, but found death instead, then the New Man, the Second Adam, our risen Lord Jesus Christ, did not only restore to human nature its immortal condition, but opened to us all the path to theosis (deification), i. e. our complete unification with God. The Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, made His creation, man, equal to Himself. He opened to mankind all of His treasures, gave him His authority, and sat him upon His divine throne.
Now, we human beings, rescued and united with God, will reign in eternal glory with our Heavenly Father. Such a thing was unimaginable for the great prophets of the Old Testament, who lived before Christ’s coming! Only the Prophet and King David, in holy ecstasy, who neither himself was able to understand the greatness of the revelation, exclaimed in the name of God, “I said, ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High!” (Ps. 81:6). And now, with these words, triumphantly pronounced during the Liturgy of Holy and Great Saturday, when the vestments of the altar, the whole church, and the clergy are changed from the black coverings of sorrow and repentance to the white vestments of joy and victory over death, does the feast of the resurrection of Christ begin.
Do you understand the meaning of this mystery, my dearly beloved brothers and sisters? By our sins we have fallen away from our very human dignity and have become “like unto beasts which have no understanding,” and have come to a point where we behave even worse than them, for there is no limit to the depth of our sinful fall. However, our Lord, in His meekness, came Himself into this abyss of darkness and sin, lived upon the earth among sinful men, humbly bore insults, animosity, beatings, and finally, died upon the Cross in the most shameful and demeaning way. It would seem that evil, sin and death had had the final victory, for it was not simply a good man, a righteous man, and a preacher of the truth that was crucified, but the Source of goodness, Truth, and Life Himself.
But is it possible for Life to be killed, or for Truth to be changed into a lie? No! If such things were possible, then nothing in the world would make any sense. We Christians know that everything in the world does make sense, that there is the Logos, Who is our Lord Jesus Christ. That which was done to Him by the “obstinate race of the Jews,” was turned around and used for the shame and destruction of evil and sin. For the Source of Life can never fall victim to death, and the Truth will never be conquered by lies. By His resurrection, our meek Lord, raised human nature, which He had taken upon Himself through His incarnation, up to such a dignity, to such a degree of perfection, that the first Adam, before his fall into sin, never had, nor could have had. By His resurrection, the Lord did not simply restore our original sinless nature, but forever joined it to Himself in a most intimate manner. The present state of human nature now exists inside the life of the Divinity, and has enterd into the supernatural and ineffable life of the Holy Trinity. In truth, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1Cor. 2:9).
Nevertheless, I perceive that there might be some confusion among some of us. For we say that death is no more, that evil has been conquered, once and for all, and that man has been joined to the Life of the Divinity. In the very beginning of the Paschal services, we sing, “Now all things are filled with light: heaven and earth, and the nethermost regions.” So why is it, that in the world around us, in our everyday life, we continue to see the same evil, blood, and murder? Why is there no visible sign of the change that human nature has undergone? Where is that Light, with which the resurrection of Christ has filled the whole world? Christ rose from the dead nearly two thousand years ago, and yet sin has not only ceased to exist, but has grown with even greater force. In the last century, wars, hatred and divisions between people reached such proportions as had never before been seen in history. Can it be that all of these wonderful words about the victory of life over death, of truth over falsehood, of good over evil, about the unification of humankind with God, are spoken only according to tradition, for the sake of making a beautiful sound, or as some kind of beautiful idealistic dream, but not about reality?
And here we come upon yet another mystery, revealed to us by the resurrection of Christ. This mystery can be understood and accepted only by a Christian, by a Christian heart, which hungers and thirts for the Truth. This mystery is Love. The contemporary world, which reposeth in evil, has perverted this sacred word to the lowest and most sinful significance possible. But for us Christians, this word has rather the highest and holiest meaning. For, “God is Love,” we are told by the holy Apostle John the Theologian. What else, if not love, could explain the incarnation of the Savior and His sufferings for us? Could it be His desire to offer a “peace offering” to the Father, in order to “assuage Adam’s violation of His justice,” as the Latin heretics, known as “Catholics,” say? Let us not even entertain such blasphemous thoughts! The entire earthly life of the Savior, from His incarnation to His death upon the Cross, to His resurrection, to His ascension, to His present service to the Church as the High Priest of the New Testament, and as Head of the Body of Christ; all of this, is love.
We human beings have the possibility to unite ourselves to God, to obtain holiness, immortality and perfection in Him through love, as well. God does not bring anyone to Himself by force, or by necessity, as many of the Pharisees and scribes of the various religions of the world try to do, including our contemporaries, who are trying to force everyone into the fold of their “official church,” and chasing true Christians out of their churches. No; union with God, man’s choice of God, must be made freely, out of love. Not by necessity, nor because of “circumstances beyond one’s control,” nor out of a self-serving calculation to receive a reward in the next life and enjoy a certain sensual bliss. Such desires are motivations not worthy of a Christian, and offend God. But the first commandment, which gives menaing to and incorporates all of the other commandments, is the commandment of love. Moses, in ancient times, in the Old Testament, heard this commandment on Mount Sinai, where God appeared to him. The Lord Jesus Christ placed this commandment as the foundation of His New Testament, “The first of all the commandments [is,] Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” (Mark 12:29-30) Do you understand? The Lord does not say that you must submit to Him, or offer Him some kind of sacrifice, or “please” Him in some way. He gives us the commandment to love Him! But love cannot be a formality, or be something done outwardly, or by necessity. Love must be free, voluntary, involving our entire human nature. Otherwise, it is not love, but only hypocrisy, or a cold calculation.
The Lord imparts His resurrection, His eternal Divine life, which consists of the fulness of happiness, goodness and the meaning of existence, not to robots, which mechanically do His will. The kingdom of truth can be imparted only to those who are – like God Himself – free. In order to inherit eternal life, you cannot perform the holy Mysteries and rituals with a cold heart, but rather you must love God with “all of your heart, and with all of your mind,” and your neighbor, i. e. anyone who needs your help, “as yourself.” “God stood in the congregation of the gods,” exclaims the psalmist, describing the life of saved humanity in the kingdom of heaven. Not in the congregation of creatures or even of people, but of the gods! In order to rise to that level of existence, to become deified, one must be free, and not a slave who has been forced into this condition.
Dearly beloved! In order to arise with Christ, to become one with Him, to enter into that joy, which He gave us through His resurrection, we must choose to live in accordance with the Gospels, and we must come to love Him. Even God Himself cannot force those people who do not want Him or know Him, to choose Him. Our Lord, in His meekness, humbled Himself before human kind; humbled Himself “even unto death upon the Cross.” Once, a certain wise man was asked a trick question: “If God can do anything, is it possible that He could create such a large stone that even He Himself could not lift it?” The wise man, was not at all confounded by the question, but answered immediately, “Yes. And this stone – is humanity.” The humility and love of God towards us is revealed in that He not only made us as His most perfect creation, but in His own image and likeness to the degree that He does not have control over our free will. In like manner as to Him, we must make our own choices for ourselves. Our choice is as follows: are we ready to love God, to obey His commandments, to partake of His Divine Life in holiness? Or do we prefer to seek another reason for our life, chasing our passions, seeking out entertainments, sensual pleasures, vain riches and glory? This is the choice that the serpent placed before Adam. We know what choice Adam made, and we know what its consequences are.
Each one of us has made the incorrect choice thousands of times in his life. There is not one among us who has not indulged his passions, who has not sought after sensual pleasures, and has not dreamed of riches “not in God.” Two days ago, seeing the Lord’s sufferings on the Cross, we experienced the result of our incorrect choices in an especially painful manner; for He suffered for our incorrect choices, He “bore our sins,” not His own! Sin, evil, wars, every injustice, every extreme indulgence, continue to exist for no other reason than that millions of people, from generation to generation, over and over, make the wrong choices, and opt to live according to the dictates of their passions, and for their sinful “pleasures.” Does the Lord incinerate them in anger for this? No, our Lord, in His meekness, over the course of the centuries, continues to humbly call out to people, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:21) Those who do not hear this knocking, and do not open the door, are loved by God too. He weeps for them, as He did for his dead friend, Lazarus. But He cannot and will not impel them by force. Sometimes, He sends them a revelation, or touches their nearly stone-hard hearts by His grace. Some He helps find their way to Him, but others prefer to serve their passions and their false idols of riches and glory to the end. This is what hell is. Hell is life without God; the vain pursuit for another reason for existence, which will never be satisfactory for anyone.
In our much-suffering homeland of Russia today, we see an especially large number of corrupt officials, oligarchs, who have unjustly impoverished the people. There are also many such persons among the so-called hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate. They have concstructed for themselves hundreds of magnificent palaces, they ride in luxurious limousines, they ski the slopes of Switzerland, and sail the seven seas in their yachts. They are never satisfied with what they already have, but are ever looking for newer and newer pleasures, and run themselves ragged in the rat race of trying to find earthly happiness, which continuously eludes them. Are these people happy? Have they obtained eternal blessedness and the fulness of life? No! These people are, in fact, deeply unhappy. In their lives, filled with earthly luxury, they have tasted the coldness of the non-existence of hell. By contrast, look at the humble monk, living in his modest cell, and constantly repeating the Jesus prayer. How much light and contentment there is in his eyes! How much goodness and meekness emanate from every one of his words! Having no power or riches, this man is close to the fulness of Divine life; he clearly understands the sense and aim of his own existence; he sees God.
And so, the Lord has in reality, and not hypothetically, abolished death and given us eternal life. Now it’s up to each one of us to decide whether we will accept this gift, or whether we will continue to live “every man for himself.” Those who have decided to accept this Divine gift, have a foretaste of paradise while still in this earthly life, because the immaculate Church of Christ is the Kingdom of God, which has come in power to us here on this sinful earth. Today, this spotlessness shines forth with particular brightness from the catacombs, washed by the blood of the New Martyrs, whither the godless authorities are again chasing them, while wearing the Pharasaical mask of the false Orthodoxy of the Moscow Patriarchate. We recall the apocalyptic image of the Bride, which has fled to the desert in order to escape the beast of the Antichrist. The Church can be chased into the catacombs, or into the desert; the Prince of this world has the power to do so until the Second Coming of Christ. But it is impossible to destroy the True Church, for She is the Body of Christ –the Body of the Creator and of the risen Savior of all mankind. When the Lord says that He will come to his faithful disciples and will sup with them, He is literally referring to the Mystical Supper, the Divine Liturgy, at Which we become members of His Body in a mystical way, and receive His Body in Holy Communion, and become one with Him, and with each other. And this is that very paradise, which was inaccessible to all men, until the resurrection of Christ.
Others who (sometimes through our own fault) do not partake of His Body, or who do so unworthily, “not discerning the Body and Blood of Christ,” remain under the authority of sin, and are immersed in non-existence, which is another name for hell.
And so, right up until the dread Second Coming of Christ, heaven and hell will continue to exist side by side upon the earth; the Kingdom of Heaven, i. e. the Church, and the earthly kingdom, i. e. the land of darkness. The Lord literally adjures mankind, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, [that] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life! (Deut. 30:19-20) Listen, O man, to thy Creator! But people, at the instigation of the devil, over and over, choose death. If we, Christians, are the light of this world, if we want to be worthy witnesses of the resurrection, we must tell other people, still walking in darkness, about the Life, about the Light, and call upon them to return to their Creator, and rise from the dead together with Him. This is the apostolic ministry of the Church, to which each one of us is called. We who are in Christ are the Church! It is impossible to love God and not share this love with others. If we do act in this way, then we are hypocrites, and babblers before God.
The unfortunate fruit of this hypocrisy, (which is a shame to mention on this light-bearing day, but nevertheless must be said), is the break up of the so-called “splinter groups” of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, of the Russian True Orthodox tradition. This break up, as a rule, does not have a dogmatic, or catechetical character, but has come about because of the weaknesses of people who have succumbed to the activity of the enemies of the Church from within the Moscow Patriarchate. Now this break up of the so-called jursidictions has reached such a degree, that all of the “splinter groups” have come to understand that it is time to put an end to this unChristian disaster. Because of our human divisions and ambitions, the enemies of the Church have begun to mock the very mention of the words “True Orthodox,” and so lead many trusting souls away into the nets of heresy, and the seduction of the Moscow Patriarchate. We are happy to see that some first timid steps to unite the “splinter groups” have begun to be taken, and we are determined to take a most active part in this process, of course, upon the firm ground of the Canons and adherence to Tradition. But already now, without waiting for administrative unity, we should all, together, witness to our unfortuante fellow man about True Orthodoxy and save them from the disastrous nets of false Orthodoxy.
Beloved Archpastors, Pastors, Brothers and Sisters!
In the words of St. Theodore the Studite, we must always “bear within ourselves the living memory of the sufferings of Christ our Savior, remembering that the Lord of glory was crucified for us, descended into the tomb and arose on the third day, raising us up together with Himself and giving us life, so that we, together with the Apostle, might say, ‘Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.’” (Gal. 2:20)
St. Gregory of Nyssa beautifully expressed the meaning of our feast of Pascha today, “The present day is even more joyful than the coming one; for on that day, by necessity, those whose sins are exposed will weep; but today there is none sad among us. Now, both the righteous man rejoices, as well as he who has not yet cleansed his conscience, for he has yet hope to correct himself through repentance. The present day wipes away every sorrow, and there is nary a man incapable of finding comfort in the triumph of our feast. For the risen Christ bestows upon all men His love, through which He receives them back into unity with Himself, in the Mystery of Holy Communion, unto the remission of sins and unto life everlasting.”
Again, and again, I heartily greet you, the chosen flock of Christ’s sheep, the holy martyric Church, with the great and bright feast of the resurrection of Christ!
They crucified the Lord, and today they will crucify thee, my dear martyric Church, but in the caverns of the catacombs belonging to the Jerusalem hidden from the world, thou hast, unseen by the world, already, mystyically, risen from the dead together with Him, thy Master and King.
May the Lord send down upon us all His great and rich mercies, and make us worthy, with resounding heavenly joy, to hymn the eternal and salvific Pascha of Christ.