Beloved brothers and sisters in Our Risen Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen! Χριστός Ανέστη! Αληθώς Ανέστη!
THE HOLY RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
[source:Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos]
The Resurrection of Christ is the greatest event in history. It is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion. The other religions have mortal leaders, while the Head of the Church is the Risen Christ. The Resurrection of Christ is the renewal of human nature, the re-creation of the human race, the living of eschatological reality. When we speak of the Resurrection, we do not separate it from the Cross, for the Cross and the Resurrection are the two poles of the redemptive experience, just as we pray in the Church, "through the Cross is joy come into all the world." Ever blessing the Lord, let us sing His Resurrection", or just as we sing "we venerate Thy Cross, O Master and we glorify Thy Holy Resurrection."
In the Church we constantly speak of Christ's Resurrection, which has great significance for the life of the believer. We do not believe in social revolutions, because the greatest good in the world came from the Resurrection and not from any human social revolution. Even if we correlate the Resurrection with true revolution, we find ourselves in the truth, from the point of view that through Christ's Resurrection man returned to his original position and rose still higher. The word revolution is derived from a verb which means to come back to the former position. This rectification, the restoration of man took place through the Resurrection of Christ.
The Apostle Paul clearly proclaimed: "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile" (1 Corinthians 15:17). The truth and power of the faith is due to the shining fact of the Resurrection of Christ. Without this the Christians are "of all man the most pitiable" (1 Cor. 15:19).
The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated by the Church from the moment of His descent into Hell, where He freed the souls of the righteous of Old Testament from the power of death and the devil. It is in this way that our Church celebrates it. In the liturgical texts it is seen clearly that the celebration of the Resurrection begins from Holy and Great Friday, as we see in the Great and Holy Saturday services of Matins, in which the funeral procession [Epitaphios Threnos] takes place. And the homilies of the holy Fathers on Holy and Great Friday are actually homilies of Resurrection and victory.
This is also seen in the holy iconography of the Resurrection. The Church decided to regard the descent into Hell as a true icon of the Resurrection. To be sure, there are also icons which depict Christ's appearing to the Myrrh-bearing women and the Disciples, but the icon par excellence of the Resurrection is the shattering of death, which took place at Christ's descent into hell when His soul with its divinity descended into hell and freed the souls of the righteous people of the Old Covenant (Testament), where they were waiting for Him as their deliverer.
The portrayal of the Resurrection by the descent of Christ into Hell is done for many and serious theological reasons. First, because, no one saw Christ at the moment when He rose, because He came out of the tomb of the sepulchre, "of a sealed tomb." The earthquake which happened and the descent of the Angel that lifted the tombstone took place in order for the Myrrh-bearing women to be assured that Christ had risen. Secondly, because when Christ's soul with its divinity descended into hell, it crusth the power of death and the devil, because by His death He conquered death. It can be seen clearly in the Orthodox Tradition that by Christ's death the power of death was completely destroyed. Moreover, in the Church we chant: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…" His triumphal victory over death took place precisely at the moment when Christ's soul, united with divinity, abolished death. Thirdly, by His descent into Hell Christ released Adam and Eve from death. Thus, just as by Adam came the fall of the whole human race, because his is our ancestor, so through the raising of Adam we taste the fruits of the Resurrection and salvation. Because of the unity of human nature, what happened to the forefather happened to the whole of human nature.
For these reasons the most characteristic image of the Resurrection of Christ is considered to be His descent into Hell, because furthermore, as we shall also see in what follows, the essence of the Feast of the Resurrection is the death and destruction of the devil: "We celebrate the death of death, the annihilation of hell," we chant in the Church. The destruction of Hell and the death of death is the deepest meaning of the feast of the Resurrection.
The question is what exactly do we mean when we speak about hell and the descent of Christ into it. There are many passages in both the Old and New Testaments which refer to Hell. I shall not quote them all here, because the purpose is to present the teaching about the deadening and destruction of Hell.
One passage which presents Christ's words is characteristic: "And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades" (St. Matthew 11:23). Here clearly Christ is using the image of Hades in opposition to heaven, which is identified with the glory of Capernaum, which was granted to see the God-man Christ, while Hades means its utmost humility and downfall, because it did not prove worthy of this great gift.
The word 'Hades' in the New Testament corresponds to the Hebrew word 'Scheol', which is interpreted as a cave, a chasm, an abyss, and points to the dark and boundless kingdom of the dead, that is to say, the place of the spirits of the dead.
The word 'Hades' comes from Greek mythology. He is "Aides and Aidoneus, the son of Cronos and Rhea, brother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia and Demeter." Hades took part in the fight against the Titans, wearing a helmet made of a dog's skin which made him invisible to the other gods, and this contributed to the victory of the gods. At the apportioning of shares in the world, Hades received dominion over the lower world, the world of the dead, where there is thick darkness. Hades remained there, he never went out, except once to abduct the Maiden, a daughter of Demeter, and there he receives the dead, whom he governs and dominates.
Of course, neither the Old nor the New Testaments accepts these views about Hades. They do not believe that it is a god who rules over the spirits of the dead, who, as they believed in ancient Greece, was sometimes good, but they believe that it is the power and authority of death and the devil. To be sure, in the Old Testament it is considered as a place in the lowest part of earth, but this must be understood symbolically, in accordance with the concepts of that time, that the earth is in the middle, heaven above the earth and Hades in the subterranean regions or under the earth. Given that the souls are not material, but immaterial, we cannot regard Hades as a particular place.
So the image of Hades is used symbolically by Holy Scripture to point to the power of death and the devil. The Apostle Paul's words are characteristic: "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shares in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil" (Hebrews 2:14-15). The power of death, that is, is identified with the devil's sway.
Therefore in the Orthodox Tradition Hades is not simply a particular place, but the dominion of death and the devil. We say that the souls of those people who are in the power of the devil and death are in Hades. It is in this sense that we must regard the Church's teaching about the descent of Christ into Hell, that is, that Christ entered into the realm of death, accepted to die, whereupon by the power of His death He conquered death, made it completely powerless and weak, and gave every person the possibility, by His power and authority to escape the dominion, the authority and power of death and the devil.
Christ once referred parabolically to His Resurrection from the dead after three days, when He said: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up". The Jews thought that He was speaking of Solomon's temple which took forty-six years to build. But "He was speaking of the temple of His body". Indeed even the Disciples themselves only understood it after His Resurrection (St. John 2:19-22).
And at other times Christ spoke clearly about His Resurrection after three days: "And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (St. Mark 8:31). This teaching had been spread around so much that those present at the Sacrifice on the Cross on Golgotha blasphemed Him, saying: "You Who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!" (St. Matthew 27:40). Also the chief priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to seal the tomb, because they remembered that while Christ was still alive He said: "After three days I will rise" (St. Matthew 27:63).
Christ's Resurrection differs clearly from other resurrections which took place in the Old and the New Testaments, in that Christ, as true God, raised Himself, that is to say that His human nature was raised by the divine nature, by the power of the hypostatic union, while the other resurrections happened by the power and energy of God.
In the troparia (hymns) of the Church it is said that the Angel of the Lord brought to the Panagia and Ever-Virgin Mary the Theotokos the message that Christ had Risen. "The Angel cried unto her that is full of grace: O Pure Virgin, rejoice, and again I say rejoice; for thy Son has arisen from the grave on the third day".
To be sure, in the Gospel it is not said in words that the Panagia (All-Holy Mother of God) saw the Risen Christ. However, there are phrases which refer to the "other Mary". The Evangelist Matthew writes: "Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb" (St. Matthew 28:1). Likewise, in another place there are words about "James's (mother) Mary" (St. Luke 24:10). Saint Gregory Palamas, interpreting these cases, says that it is a question of the Panagia, who came to the tomb first and was the first to learn from the Archangel Gabriel that her Son had risen, and then she saw Him, and she alone was granted to clasp His feet with her hands.
As Saint Gregory says, the Panagia was surely and rightly the first to be told the good news of the Resurrection and the first to see the Risen Christ. This is surely connected with the fact that the Panagia had attained great purity, since she had experienced deification from the time she was a small child. The fact that the Evangelists avoided saying clearly that the Panagia was the first to see Christ has great significance, according to Saint Gregory Palamas, because they did not want to give the unbelievers occasion to doubt the fact of the Resurrection, because it was His Mother who bore witness to it.
Just as she remained at the Cross up to the last moment, so the Mother of God was the first to go to the tomb for the anointment of Christ's Body with perfumes. This was not only because she was His Mother, but because of her lofty spiritual state, because those who have a high degree of spiritual vision of God have the greatest knowledge and the most perfect love.
According to Saint Gregory the Theologian, the Greek word for Easter, 'Pascha', derives from the Hebrew word 'Phaska', which means 'crossing'. It is well known that the Hebrews' feast of 'Pacha' celebrates the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. To be sure, as Saint Gregory the Theologian says, there are some who think that the word 'Pascha' comes from 'to suffer', that is to say, from Christ's suffering for us. However, the former interpretation is better. Just as the Israelite people celebrated the crossing of the Red Sea and the gaining of their freedom, so too the New Israel of grace (the Christian Church) celebrates the new crossing from death to life. This interpretation is given by Saint Gregory the Theologian in his homily on Pascha. Saint John of Damaskos, taking almost identical texts from Saint Gregory the Theologian, writes: "The Day of Resurrection! Let us be illumined, O ye people! The Passover, the Passover of the Lord! From death unto life, and from earth unto heaven hath Christ our God brought us over, singing a song of victory!"
Christ's Resurrection should not be celebrated as a historical or social event, but as existential, which means that it should be a participation in the grace of the Resurrection. The fasting which precedes the feast during the whole of Lent, the ascetic struggle, aims at the best participation in the mystery of the Resurrection. In order, to be successful, however, this requires, as all the holy Fathers of the Church teach, purification of the senses of both body and soul. Saint John of Damaskos sings: "Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with the Light Ineffable of the Resurrection, and shall hear Him say, in accents clear: Rejoice! as we sing the song of victory." Thus purification is a necessary precondition for vision of God and communion with God. Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "Therefore first one must be purified, then one must converse in purity."
The purpose of the spiritual life is for one to be united with the Risen Christ, to see Him in one's heart. Christ is risen in our heart, mortifying the passionate thoughts which are present there under the influence of the demons and overcoming the impassionate representations and preoccupations of sin, just as then He overcame the seals of the tomb (Saint Maximos the Confessor). Therefore it is not a question of an outward symbolic celebration, but of an inner and existential one. In this light Saint Gregory the Theologian recommends that we should not celebrate in a festive and worldly manner, but in a Godly and Heavenly manner.
Christ's Resurrection is the greatest event in history. It is a matter of deification (Theosis) and resurrection of the human nature and of a hope for deification and resurrection of our own person. Since the medicine has been found, there is hope of life. Through Christ's Resurrection both life and death acquire another meaning. We do not regard as life the whole of the events of history, but communion with God. And we do not regard as death the end of the present life, but man's withdrawal from Christ, while separation of the soul from the body is not death, but a temporary sleep. The Apostle Paul, precisely because he feels united with the Risen Christ, can confess: "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor Angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God