St. Philaret the Confessor
Paschal Epistle - 1984
OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OUTSIDE OF RUSSIA
Christ is risen! “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (Jn. 11:25).
The Holy Church teaches us that man is the most exalted of God’s creations in the world, and was created immortal. “God made not death,” the Holy Bible tells us [Wis. Sol. 1:13]. And in the beginning of the book of Genesis it recounts in detail how the Lord gradually created the world, the land and all that live thereon, in all the richness and variety of creation. But only of man is it said that God, having fashioned his body from the dust of the earth, breathed into his person the breath of life, and man became a living soul (Gen. 3: 19).’ And likewise it says that God created man in His image and in His likeness; male and female He created them. And as God alone is possessed of immortality, in the words of the Apostle, so He created man, His image and likeness, immortal, but warned him that if he violated the commandment of His Creator, “he would surely die;” that is, he would lose immortality and, instead of being immortal, would become mortal.
We know from the Holy Bible how the dreadful event took place in the Garden of Paradise, when the first-created people, man and woman, broke the commandment of the Lord and tasted of the fruit which God had forbidden to them. And they heard the dread pronouncement of God: “Dust thou art, and unto dust wilt thou return” (Gen. 3: 18).
The awful sentence was implemented. Adam died and returned to the earth from which he had been taken. And it is still being fulfilled today, and will continue to be fulfilled as before on the sinful descendants of Adam. However long man may live, however rich and varied his life, death has the final say; it wipes man from the face of the earth and “whets the edge of its scythe,” eying those who remain alive, in the words of the poet.
Death stands as an ominous, terrifying specter before sinful humanity. “I weep and lament when I think of death,” says the Church, sending up prayer in behalf of a dead person and accompanying him to the grave. When confronted by the gloom and coldness of the grave, the horror of corruption and the disintegration of the human body, philosophy is powerless, and all attempts to reconcile oneself to the fact of death are in vain. Man turns from it in terror and tries not to think of it, strives to forget it, despite its horrible inevitability. And no one can give man comfort until there appears on earth He Who uttered the wondrous words: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live....”
With what righteous, what boundless spiritual power and what infinite love these hallowed words are filled! The world has seen and listened to many who are “wise and knowledgeable"; it has seen many “leaders” and “teachers” of mankind. Each of them has put forth his own prescription for a happy life. Yet harsh reality has borne witness that, instead of the promised happiness, instead of “heaven on earth”, life according to their prescriptions soon arrived at the very threshold of hell. Yet with all their self-assurance, none of them ever dared utter the words which our Saviour pronounced! For had any of them done so, they would have considered him half-witted and would have laughed at him. But when Christ said this, His words brought joy and comfort to man, for righteousness and spiritual power shines forth in them.
Man is weak, feeble and of little faith. In all of the events of life he seeks proofs and confirmations when something new and unprecedented is proclaimed to him. The words of the Gospel and the promises of the Saviour concerning the resurrection and life everlasting are so great, so splendid and wondrous, that the weakness of our understanding and our faith seeks proofs and confirmation thereof. In these words men are promised freedom from the fear of death and its dominion, the triumph of life over death is promised! And, behold! He Who gave these promises has sealed their truth by the fact that He Himself rose from the dead. If in promising men resurrection and life everlasting He Himself had remained in the grave and had not risen, who would have believed His words? But He did arise, and thereby showed that He really has within Himself resurrection and life, and, as almighty Master and Lord, has the power to bestow this resurrection and life upon the human race which He created.
The resurrection of Christ is the victory of life over death; the triumph of good over evil; the victory of light over darkness, the triumph of righteousness over falsehood. And however weak, infirm and sinful a man may be, he cannot but rejoice in this victory. Therein he sees the triumph of higher justice, the victory of the best aspirations and hopes of his soul; he sees the victory of the heavenly law of love over human vanity and errors. Only he who has already given himself utterly over to evil and falsehood, like the devil, the father of lies, does not sense the joy of the radiant resurrection of Christ. And the soul, even if sinful and flawed, yet which still has not completely extinguished good principles and impulses within itself, joyfully responds to the splendid news of the resurrection, for it senses how the best expectations and beliefs of Christianity quicken within it....
How splendid, how magnificent is the feast of the resurrection of Christ! How joyously and solemnly the Church celebrates it! Can any other celebration in the world compare with the magnificence of the paschal service? The divine services of paschal night are sheer ecstasy and exultation! Then truly the soul of the believer, emulating the most blessed Virgin Mary, can cry out: “My soul magnifieth the Lord and my spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour!” And as a leit-motif, as the foundation of the paschal service, there sounds within it, continuously intoned, the paschal troparion, the greatest of Christian hymns: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” The Church cannot tear itself away from this hymn of victory, cannot see enough of, cannot but gaze to its heart’s content upon the countenance of its Master and Lord, shining with the glory and splendor of the resurrection; and the magnificent troparion of Pascha permeates the whole paschal service from its beginning to its very end.
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Anthony, in agreement with the holy Fathers and teachers of the Church of old, points out that the special and particular joy of Pascha, which the soul of the believer experiences on the radiant night of Pascha, is, as it were, a foretaste of that everlasting, unfading joy which will form the basis of the life of paradise, the blessedness of paradise of which the final words of the Symbol of Faith speak: “the life of the age to come”... Would that all children of the Orthodox Church might enter into that joy of the age to come, that everlasting blessedness, of which the eternal and just Judge will speak to His faithful: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...” (Mt. 25: 34). CHRIST IS RISEN!!
PASCHA, 1984 +Metropolitan Philaret
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