By His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain
Dear brothers and sisters and children in the Lord,
“For as yet they did not know the scripture,
that he (Jesus Christ) must rise from the dead” (John 20.9).
We celebrate once again the Holy Passion and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the course of Holy Week we commemorate the story of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ as these are described in the written tradition of the Church, preserved for us by the Holy Evangelists and the other authors of the New Testament. These events, of course, were prophesied by the holy men of ancient Israel and written down in the books of the Old Testament, which, together with the New Testament, forms the Sacred Scripture not only of our Church, but of Christendom as a whole. These texts, along with oral tradition, have preserved the memory of the events we celebrate with so much reverence, faith and devout concentration at this time.
These events then the Orthodox Church re-enacts in a dramatic and very human way in order to move, instruct and guide her children. This is because these events, as well as everything else connected with Christ, are of basic existential and eternal significance for us Christians. They refer to the love of God who sent down His only Son to save the world from sin, death, corruption and eternal annihilation. For the plain truth is that Christ’s presence in the world constitutes the highest, most perfect and final decision of God to share the human tragedy. This tragedy began with the fall of the first human beings Adam and Eve, heir expulsion from Paradise where they enjoyed a life of ease, joy and peace, and the subsequent wandering of the human race in the paths of deception, faithlessness, superstition, paganism and moral degeneracy so vividly describe by the divine Paul in his epistle to the Romans.
The love of God knows no limits or bias. Thus “He sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4. 4-5). The outcome of the incarnation of Christ, of His assumption, in other words, of our human nature and personality, becoming in this way perfect God and perfect man, was His participation in, and sharing of, our tragic fallen state. His subsequent sacrifice, His death on the cross, constituted the very corner stone of His work whereby we are ransomed, sanctified, redeemed and restored, by the love of Christ, to our ancient state of bliss. Very much to this purpose the divine Paul writes with boldness and clarity to the Jewish Christians:
“For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ‘... Here am I and the children God has given me.’ Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” (Hebrews 2. 11-15).
It was to save us from this fear and from our fallen state that our Lord Christ came to the world. He was taken willingly to the cross “as a sheep to the slaughter”, drinking the cup of death in order to vanquish the sting and power of death which preoccupies and distracts humanity, from the time of the death of the righteous Abel to the present day. The God-Man Christ suffered for our redemption and salvation. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (Luke 24.26). The passion and the death of Christ are His glory, which reached its zenith with His resurrection and victory over death, as the hymnist of the Church characteristically proclaims:
“Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death through death, and to those in the tombs he has given life.”
This constitutes our own glory and saving hope and joy also.
It is these wonderful events that we celebrate, brothers and sisters. Last week they were celebrated by the western Christians and this week it is the turn of Orthodox Christians everywhere to celebrate. On Easter this year, however, falls the shadow of the war fought in Iraq. But we should not allow these sad events and the ugly side of life in general, such as sin, war, famine, social and other injustices, disease and death, to disillusion us, or hinder us, or sully our joy at the resurrection, or the hope for immortality and the victory of good over evil, which constantly lies in wait for us, poisoning our lives and upsetting our daily endeavours. We are called upon to remain faithful to the Gospel of the Resurrection, basing ourselves on God’s love for humanity, so richly bestowed on us by Christ’s presence among us, and affirmed by His sacrifice and victory over death and evil.
We are justified therefore in seeing Holy Week as full of joy, hope and holy certainty in God’s providence for His creatures. The God-Man Christ, being the Great and eternal High Priest, offered Himself as a bloody sacrifice on Golgotha, thereby cleansing through His sacrifice all of humanity from every form of filth and guilt. Because of this we regard life in anew way, with new thoughts and expectations, confidently and with perfect assurance, having before our eyes the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, who as a living Bridegroom, glorified and resurrected, rose from the tomb in order to declare to the world:
“Behold, I am with you always, until the close of the age.” (Matthew 28. 20). Thus he guides us back to the lost paradise, to joy, peace and immortality.
With these things in mind, brothers and sisters, let us celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul. Let us attend the Church services to be initiated into the spirit and the letter of these holy days, and with contrite hearts let us forgive ourselves and each other, “in the spirit of the Resurrection”. Let us communicate of the most pure Mysteries “with fear of God, faith and love” so that we become true worshippers and participants in the joy of the Resurrection. Thus renewed and bathed in the light, the joy and the power of the Resurrected Christ, let us carry on with our lives, with Him always before our eyes, who is true God, “risen from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures,” for our own salvation and resurrection.
With the poet of the Church let us repeat:
“Glorifying your godlike condescension, we praise You, O Christ. You were born of a Virgin, but you were inseparable from the Father. You suffered as a man, willingly enduring the cross. You rose from the tomb as from a bridal chamber, so as to save the world. Lord, glory to You.”
To the resurrected Christ belongs the glory, the kingdom and the power, for ever and ever. Amen.
+Gregorios, Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain