The Paschal Epistle to the God-loving Flock
of the North American Diocese
Christ is Risen!
Yesterday I was crucified with Thee: Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ; today I rise with Thine arising! Yesterday, the Church remembered with trembling the redemptive feat of Christ, Who gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. But today the spirit within us all gratefully rejoiced in our Savior God. Our souls magnify Christ the Life-giver, arisen on the third day from the grave.
The cause of our triumphal celebration is that through the great service of Christ Our God, heaven has been opened unto us! This day was only the beginning of our joy, “the beginning of eternal life”. But originally no one, not even the disciples of Christ, understood the essence of this redemptive mystery. And this is not surprising, for not having yet been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they could not grasp that which surpassed “every mind”, all of human wisdom. This was even “a mystery unknown to the Angels”. Nonetheless, the disciples and those faithful to Christ, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, foretasted this eternal joy. “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.” (Luke 24: 45-46).
Here it is important to pay particular attention to the following: having accomplished His earthly feat, our Lord Jesus Christ no longer appeared to mankind. He was seen in His resurrected glorified body during the course of His last forty days on earth only by the faithful. “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” (John 14:19), said the Lord to His disciples during their farewell conversation. Evidently surprised by these words, one of the disciples, Judas (not Iscariot) asks Christ: “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” The Lord answered him saying: If a man love me, he will keep my words.” (John 14:23).
One must not only contemplate this, but one should shudder realizing that only those who keep the Words of the Lord will be vouchsafed worthy to behold the Glorified Christ in His Kingdom without end. It is very sad for those who, having tasted Paschal joy here on our sinful earth, would turn out to be unfaithful to the Words of the Lord, having succumbed to false words and distorted teaching, and sold this priceless pearl – the One, True Church of Christ for the sake of worldly glory or happiness.
Is it surprising for us that our brethren of yesteryear sold “that which they held”? Let us consider the Roman soldiers who were ordered to guard the dead body and tomb of the King of Glory. They became witnesses of a most astounding event – a strong earthquake occurred, for the Angel of the Lord had descended from the heavens in all his glory, had pushed aside the rock from the entrance of the tomb and was sitting upon it. “His countenance was like lightning”, writes the Evangelist Matthew, “And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead.” (Matt: 28:4). Having regained consciousness, the soldiers became convinced that this was not a vision but a real occurrence – the tomb had been opened and the Angel remains seated on the rock. In fear they ran and told the chief priests all that had happened. They were among the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ! They saw something which must have become indelibly imprinted in their minds and no force on earth could persuade them that what had occurred was something insignificant. Yet, what actually happened? For the sake of silver pieces, they unabashedly proceeded to attempt to slander Christ’s resurrection. One asks, what was it that these unfortunate soldiers acquired with this money? Was it glory? Happiness?
But the chief priests, elders and custodian soldiers were unsuccessful in slandering the resurrection of Christ. It never happens, that slander or falsehood could replace truth forever. This faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ is that faith which has conquered the world. And we, His inheritance through His Holy Church, continue to confess our crucified and resurrected Savior.
For us there is no earthly glory which could compare to the glory which we lift up to the One, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship – our Savior Christ. There is no earthly happiness which could compare with the happiness which our Redeemer brought to earth. There is a custom on New Year’s eve to say “Greetings on the New Year, wishing you new happiness”. We do not need, nor do we expect any “new” happiness. The happiness which knows no bounds is the one we acquired once and for all on that luminescent “day which the Lord has made”, on the day of Holy Pascha. Where is your victory, o hades? Christ is risen and you have been overthrown. Christ is risen, and life perpetuates!
May the peace of God and joy in the Lord rest upon you, dear brethren and sisters in Christ, on this appointed and holy day of Pascha.
†Bishop Stefan of Trenton and North America