Pascha, 1999


By the grace of God Archbishop of Australia
To all the Clergy and devout faithful of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese

Brother concelebrants and beloved children in our Risen Lord,

By the grace of God, the most sacred cycle of the ecclesiastical year which includes Great Lent, Great and Holy Week, and "Great Easter, Easter of the Faithful" has come to a close once again this year.

As we consider these three distinguished periods of the undivided ecclesiastical cycle (namely the Lenten period of spiritual struggle, the Week of Passion and the Anthem of Easter, as a way out "from death to life"), we should pay attention in particular to the fact that these three events are characterised with the same adjective "Great" (Meyas in Greek) -- Great Lent, Great and Holy Week, Great Easter.

Certainly this is not, it could not be, a simple rhetorical figure. Since, neither are the faithful satisfied with such empty rhetoric, nor did the God-inspired Hymnographers of the Church ever condescend to present their devotional and divine experience in "forms" and "guises" of worldly aestheticism.

Therefore, something deeper is hidden here in the adjective "great". In this adjective the simple piety of our faithful coincides with the deep theological vision of St Paul in an entirely wondrous and unexpected way. One can see this from the relevant passage of St Paul, which was chanted most likely as a liturgical hymn in the early Church:

Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)

In carefully analysing the truths which are included in this dense verse of St Paul - who was the first and more profound theologian of the Church - we see that he points out not simply the magnitude, but primarily the infinite, the incomprehensible and mysterious nature, of divine love. It is precisely for this reason that this Christological verse becomes so relevant and opportune on the occasion of Easter.

According to the sacred coherence which St Paul sets out, the kenosis and the Cross of Christ does not begin with the venerable Passion and horrifying Calvary.

Already in the stable where "God appeared in the flesh", divine love has reached the "ultimate humility" from ultimate loving kindness.

In exactly this way the great Fathers of our Church saw the relationship of God and humanity, namely, from the ineffable mystery of the "hypostatic union". St Athanasius the Great for example writes: "He became a human being so that Humanity might be deified". That is to say they did not see separately the event of the Resurrection as one extraordinary gift of the love of God. Rather they saw the Resurrection as a direct consequence and "reward" of His obedience to the will of the Father.

The climax and the glory of the Resurrection does not come mechanically from outside, that is to say without pain, but is the result of a hidden logic through all the stages of suffering in the world when the faithful experience them according to the example of the God-man.

It was only from this perspective that St Paul could guarantee the joy and glory of the Resurrection, not only for us, but also for Christ Himself. It is for this reason that he explicitly wrote that the Lord,

"who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil. 2:6-10)

If God the Word who is of "one essence with the Father" and became human had to deify human nature through death and "obedient unto death", how much more are we obliged to journey that same way, we who are worthless and fallen human beings.

Hence, only a Resurrection which comes from above, as a crowning achievement of obedience to the will of God, can give meaning to the daily struggle of all faithful transforming any kind of deprivation into a "Great Lent", transforming their passions and anguish, into a "Great and Holy Week", transforming their justification and purification into "a Great Easter", that is to say a passing over from their daily mortality into immortality in God.

In such a perspective, the Apostolic confession, "for your sake we are being killed all day long" (Rom, 8:36) is no lonelier heard as a complaint but rather as a "new song".

However humanity cannot comprehend this "song of praise". Since human logic is not able to accept that death can be conquered only by death.

It is precisely for this reason that this mystery is called "great". This is why Easter is "Great" but only if it is "The Easter of the Faithful".

Besides, this is the uniqueness which the "great mystery of piety" has, it is nothing but the manifestation of the all mighty power and ultimate loving kindness of "our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ".

This is the same truth that the whole celebrating Church sings at the Vespers of the Resurrection with the characteristic,

"Which God is as great as our God, You are our God who alone does wondrous works"

Hence for our Lord who suffered and rose, to Him be glory, honour and worship to the ages of ages. Amen.

With fervent prayers for all of you.

Archbishop STYLIANOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

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