April 12, 2015

The Underlying Purpose of the Appearances of the Risen Christ

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Christ, beloved brethren, heralded His resurrection to His Disciples, when He told them that the Son of Man must "go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life" (Matt. 16:21). The Disciples were unaware as to what it meant that the Son of Man will be killed and will arise after three days from the dead, and moreover "they were afraid to ask" (Mk. 9:31-32).

The phrases "Son of God" and "Son of Man" denote the two natures of Christ, the divine and human, which acted together in Christ, without either losing its properties.

After His resurrection, Christ appeared first to the Myrrhbearing women who went very early in the morning to the tomb in order to anoint His body with spices, and on the same day He appeared to His Disciples. One would have expected Him to appear to those who crucified Him, to the scribes and pharisees and chief priests, to Herod and Pilate and those who contributed towards His passion and crucifixion, and in this way He would cause them to believe. He did not do this, however, because there are special reasons.

First, Christ does not perform actions simply for social reasons, nor to display His divinity to people who do not believe. Even when He performed wonders and healed people, He did this because He first saw their faith.

Also, the appearance of Christ to each person is an event with eternal proportions and dramatic consequences for humanity. To encounter God is to be convicted if not properly prepared. Just as when one observes the sun without any protection, and the excessive glare of sunlight can destroy the eyesight, the same is true when a person does not have the proper spiritual eyes; they cannot withstand the bright light of the Resurrection of Christ.

Thus, it was out of love and philanthropy that Christ did not appear to those who crucified Him, so that they would not suffer any harm. They would have had to be informed about the resurrection from a third party, and perhaps they would have believed and been saved. There was still time for them to believe from their own free will, to correct themselves, so that at His Second Coming they could finally see Him in His glory and be saved and convicted. However, the encounter with Christ is crucial, as it consists of either eternal life or eternal hell.

Still, Christ after His resurrection appeared to His Disciples, who had prepared, and despite their falls they were appropriately able to see the Light of the Resurrection. The main thing is that Christ appeared to His Disciples after His resurrection, not simply so they could believe, but in order to lead them to theosis. This was the underlying purpose of the appearances of the Risen Christ to His Disciples, who had previously been purified and illumined and they had to thus reach theosis. Certainly, throughout the forty days He properly prepared them, so that on the day of Pentecost they received the Holy Spirit and became members of His Church.

What took place with His Disciples has taken place with many people throughout the centuries. Already, immediately after Pentecost, the Apostle Paul saw the Risen Christ (Acts 9:3-9), the Protomartyr Stephen saw "the glory of God and Jesus seated at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55), and millions of Christians until today have become witnesses of the Resurrection of Christ. This means that the purpose of man is to be properly prepared, through asceticism, the Mysteries, purification and prayer to see the Risen Christ and to be led to theosis.

This is the underlying purpose of the Orthodox theology of the Church. Orthodox theology is not philosophical, reflective or moral, but mysterious and ascetic. And the Church does not aim merely at meeting the social and material needs of people, though it does do this by extension, but its purpose is to sanctify humanity, in order that they may see the Risen Christ and be led to theosis.

Within this perspective we should look at the lives of the saints throughout the centuries, namely the Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Fathers, Ascetics and generally those Christians who are betrothed to Christ. All these are witnesses of the Resurrection of Christ, who will grant to us theosis and sanctification.

We need to look at the purpose of the Church and the meaning of her feasts within this context, so that we do not secularize the work and purpose of ecclesiastical life, and to have a certain hope in our hearts that we do not only live for material goods, but we should feel the power of the resurrection of Christ within us.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Οἱ ἐμφανίσεις τοῦ Ἀναστάντος Χριστοῦ", March 2015. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.