May 4, 2016

The Orthodox Church as the Church of the Resurrection

Pastoral Encyclical - Pascha 2005

Beloved brethren,

In the season of spring we celebrate the spring of life, which is associated with the Resurrection of Christ, and is the precursor of our own resurrection. The Resurrection of Christ is the sweetest milestone in the history of mankind, as well as the faith and life of true Christians.

The Orthodox Church is and is called the Church of the Resurrection. This is important because in the West, Christians honor the Birth and Crucifixion of Christ more, while the Orthodox Church, without underestimating these two great Despotic feasts, gives great importance to the Resurrection of Christ, since Christ by His Resurrection conquered death and gave all of us the certainty that we also will conquer death in Christ and taste of the first and second resurrection. Important are the words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth: "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:14, 17).

Even foreign scholars call the Orthodox Church the Church of the Resurrection for many reasons. We will mention some of these reasons.

It is the Church of the Resurrection because it remains more stable in the Resurrection of Christ, which is a continuation of His sacrifice on the Cross. All religions have people as leaders who died. But the head of the Church is the risen Christ, who by His Resurrection conquered the dominion of death. Thus, without the Resurrection of Christ the preaching of the Church is futile. The Church is the risen Body of Christ. Just as a swimmer has his head above the water and thus keeps his body alive, in the same way our head, Christ, is outside the dominion of death and therefore people who are associated with Him breath the life of the Resurrection.

It is the Church of the Resurrection because the Apostles saw the risen Christ, touched His risen body, tasted of the gifts of the Resurrection. It is significant that the key element of the apostolic life is the vision of the risen Christ. They all saw the risen Christ and received His blessing. And when they had to replenish the place of Judas who had betrayed Christ and committed suicide, then the Disciples chose Matthias who had the merit of being a witness of the Resurrection of Christ. The Apostle Peter, speaking of the qualifications which one must have to be numbered among the Disciples and Apostles, mentioned this qualification: "For one of these must become a witness with us of His Resurrection" (Acts 1:22). And the Apostle Paul, to show that he himself was an Apostle of Christ, referred to his vision of the risen Christ: "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1).

It is the Church of the Resurrection because her incessant proclamation is the mystery of the Resurrection, namely the resurrection of the soul, with its dying to sin and freedom from the passions, and the resurrection of the body in the future resurrection of bodies. The Apostle Paul expresses his great desire to constantly know Christ and the mystery of His Resurrection. "I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of His Resurrection" (Philip. 3:10). Anyone who knows the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ in their existence, becomes His messenger, a preacher of this mystery. In one hymn it says: "Preach the word of the Resurrection." The words of the true Disciples of Christ are not anthropocentric, moralistic, political or social words, but are resurrectional, they are words through which we can resurrect from our passions.

It is the Church of the Resurrection because all her members are actually members of the risen Body of Christ, who previously passed through the cross, namely they crucified their passions, and they conquered the dominion of death in their existence. This takes place through Baptism and the ecclesiastical life, through the mystery of the Divine Eucharist. In his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul closely associates Baptism with the death and resurrection of the believer (Rom. 6:1-14). By entering into the font we show that we have put to death and buried the old man, the man of the passions, and by coming up out of the font we show the resurrection of the new man, the man who is associated with the risen Christ. This takes place through catechism, which precedes Baptism, in which is learned to convert the power of the Grace of Christ, from self-love to divine love and philanthropy.

It is the Church of the Resurrection because it brilliantly celebrates the feast of the Resurrection of Christ, which is the greatest feast of the Orthodox Church. For forty days we prepare to existentially celebrate it, and when the feast of Pascha comes we celebrate brilliantly, with lit lamps, with "Christ is Risen", with the Resurrection Divine Liturgy, with the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, with external joy and the whole festive atmosphere. We celebrate the advent of the new life that was given to the world through Christ. And we celebrate this every Sunday in what is called the weekly Pascha. All the hymns of each Sunday that were composed by Saint John of Damascus are resurrectional in tone and call Christians to chant and experience the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ.

Beloved brethren,

The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Resurrection for all the reasons mentioned above, because the head of the Church is the risen Christ, because the Apostles saw the risen Christ and preached Him, because all her true members who are the saints of all ages are children of the Resurrection of Christ and shine with the light of the Resurrection, and because we await the future coming of Christ and the resurrection of all the reposed that we may experience the mystery of the second Resurrection.

Thus, the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Resurrection, in which the victory of Christ over death is repeated in the life of each believer. And when we see in the Church schisms and divisions, passionate situations and a variety of problems, we should know that these are not manifestations of the real Orthodox Church and the children of the Resurrection, but manifestations of the sick members of the Church who still have the old man within them, with its passions and desires, and have not resurrected from the acts of sin, and have not even come to know the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ, and the words of John the Evangelist applies to them: "For everything in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--comes not from the Father but from the world" (1 Jn. 2:16).

May the Risen Christ, the head of our Church, illumine us all, clergy and laity, that we may acquire the knowledge of the mystery of the Resurrection and put to death daily the old man so that the new man may rise within us. That we may perceive the Church as the risen Body of Christ and that our preaching will be a preaching of life, of the brightness of the Resurrection. People today do not need ideas and words, but they want to learn the way to conquer death and experience the resurrection of the soul and body.

I pray that you all have a good Pascha, a good Resurrection.

With my fervent prayers,

Your Metropolitan,

† Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Ecclesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ποιμαντορικὴ Ἐγκύκλιος - Πάσχα 2005", April 2005. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.