click here to go to our main website

Pascha, 2000


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

 Brother Concelebrants and children in the Lord,

"We celebrate the death of death,
the destruction of Hades, the beginning of an everlasting life,
and with leaps of joy we praise Him
Who is the cause thereof..." (Easter hymn).

If this doxological cry of the Church, which has mocked death for so many centuries, still expresses our true faith, rather than simply being a blind reverberation of outmoded ‘structures’. Then we should also express today - yet more extensively and more plainly - our unwavering faith in the immortality of life, while at the same time touching upon the mortality of death.

However, it is not an easy matter to make a strong ‘confession’ today about what ‘life’ is and about what ‘death’ is. This cannot happen in a neutral manner, through the apparently pious repetition of stereotypical expressions taken from the language of worship.

Such a ‘conventional’ confession may of course be less painful, as it does not bring with it the dangers of gross misinterpretation, so often reprehended by malevolent people as being ‘heresy’. Yet it nevertheless remains unconvincing. It is not vibrant. It is, not a ‘witness of faith’ in our own words, capable of consoling the ‘age-old dead ends’ of the human person, and of leading us from death to life.

This transition from death to life, this ‘passage’, is, as we know, precisely and literally what ‘Pascha’ is. Christ stated this directly when saying: "he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgement, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24).

However, we must risk our ‘comfort’ and our ‘good name’ in order to speak responsibly today about ‘life’ and ‘death’, after 2000 years of preaching and witness - which were unfortunately unable to ‘pacify’ Christians collectively, and to attract non-Christians with the powerful words ‘come and see’. In other words, we must walk ‘on a high wire’. This at any rate was always the opinion of the Fathers who said ’to be Orthodox is to walk on a tightrope’.

The first thing we should say very clearly in relation to life and death is that, neither does the one signify an isolated positive value (life), nor does the other signify an equally isolated negative value (death). They do not refer to individual realities having only one dimension, as many others do, such as, for example, ‘light’, ‘darkness’, ‘oxygen’, and ‘nitrogen’.

Rather, ‘life’ and ‘death’ are a whole way of viewing and experiencing all beings and all happenings. A multidimensional fact, then, with many meanings, which you either enjoy within an increasing scale of ‘blessedness’- which is ‘life’- or else you are deprived of it in a corresponding scale of ‘pain’- which is ‘death’.

Just as when we speak of ‘life’, we mean various levels of experiencing the light, in the same way, when we speak of ‘death’, we are also expressing a scale of trials of darkness. We therefore have biological, social, cultural and spiritual life, just as we have biological and spiritual death.

This is why it would be naive and blasphemous to understand ‘life’ as only meaning the biological commotion of chemical actions and reactions in the physical body. It would be equally naive and blasphemous to identify the notion of death only with the ‘disintegration’ and ‘breaking down’ of the material ’workshop’ which medicine calls the human ‘organism’.

It is therefore clear that the ‘resurrection’ that Christ safeguards for us, through His voluntary bodily death, does not mean the abolishment of biological death. Otherwise, how could we explain until this day the need for Cemeteries and Hospitals? On the contrary, the Resurrection of Christ marks the final victory over spiritual death, namely sin, which had separated us from God.

Following that victory, biological death no longer presents itself as a threat of final bankruptcy, an abominable ‘Minus’ of nihilism. Biological death is now revealed as being a blessed and unexpected ‘Plus’, a provision of the boundless love of God "so that what is evil does not become immortal".

This is the meaning of the words "by death trampling upon death", despite all worldly ‘logic’.

Consequently, when we confess together with the Apostle Paul and all other faithful that "He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:14), we are not thereby expressing an expectation that we will return to biological life. Let us not forget that St. Paul who preached that the ‘Resurrection’ is the cornerstone of our faith - declaring that "if Christ is not risen, then your faith is in vain" (1 Cor. 15:17) - also stated equally categorically concerning the ‘stomach’ and ‘foods’ that God "will destroy both it and them" (1 Cor. 6:13).

Our bodies, therefore, will be resurrected. But they will no longer be the fleshes of decay and sin. They will be almost bodiless bodies, something like the ‘bodiless’ angels. For they will be ‘spiritual’ bodies. ‘Deified’ bodies.

According to all of the above, the Resurrection of Christ signifies a radical and universal restoration of all human relationships, not only with God, but also with the entire Creation. For, the obedience and love exercised by the God-Man in becoming "obedient unto death" (Phil. 2:8) opened wide for all time the channels of divine Grace also for those "who sat in darkness and the shadow of death" (Is. 9:2).

It now depends purely upon the type of vessel we use to ‘draw the water’, namely how much humility we have in light of the longsuffering of God.

The greatest perplexity, the most bitter disappointment, and the deepest pain in history, is whether Christians still behave - after 2000 years - as if we understood nothing of this resurrectional transmutation to which God has called us.

For this, may God and the rest of humanity forgive us. Amen.

With fervent prayers for you all in the Risen Christ.

Archbishop STYLIANOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

Return to homepage (framed) | Return to homepage (no frames) | Return to home page