Pascha, 2001


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,

"Christ is risen!"

 This is the authentic greeting of the faithful, especially after Holy Week.

Yet, this greeting of the Resurrection would degrade into a 'social pretense' and a 'religious lie' if we allowed it to remain incomplete and suspended in 'mid air'. That is, if we let it go, like a kite, into the air, without any concern about whether it will be torn or whether it will 'fly'!

It would be equally futile and irresponsible to say `Christ is Risen' with the same indifference and boredom with which we sometimes say `Good morning" to a passer by, without even realizing we are giving the most precious wish, namely that the `whole day' may be blessed and joyful!

Let us, then, complete the Easter greeting by making it a confession of Faith. A cry of joy. A statement of gratitude: 

"Christ is Risen from the dead

by death trampling upon death

and to those in the tombs granting eternal life'

In speaking every year about Easter, about life and death, about death and Resurrection, about Hades and eternal life, we are in danger of irreverently sticking to empty stereotypical words. Moreover, because we are

Greeks, we could be considered as being unrepentant idolaters, if we in any way connect the death and Resurrection of Christ with the annual 'dying and rising' of the mythological god Dionysos. Was this not done long ago by several of our poets and philosophizing intellectuals, or plain folk historians and anthropologists?

However, the dying and rising Dionysos, personifying the 'passions' of the entire creation -through the four seasonsand relating these to the decay and death of the human person, has absolutely no relationship with the death which was 'trampled upon' by Christ.

We should remember primarily that there is physical death, which involves all things, both animate and inanimate, and spiritual death, which has to do only with rational beings, such as human beings and angels.

Physical death -from which people are not exemptrelates to the body and to its material parameters.

Spiritual death pertains to the deeper, ie. ethical and spiritual nature of rational creatures, which we either call 'person' or the 'image of God'.

First of all, there can be no doubt that the bodily aspect of the human person, with its biological functions from the moment of conception, moves in the 'constellation' of corruptibility and concludes, just as with all other creatures, in physical death. in other words, a journey is completed from simple inorganic elements to chemical and organic compositions, and it is precisely these 'com-positions' which eventually end in 'de-composition'.

In this regard, the human person indeed follows the rhythm of the whole creation, according to which physical death is nothing other than the final chapter of physical life.

However, there is the eternal fire within each human person, which is the 'image' of God, just as God Himself created it. So long as this sacred flame is nourished from its source -which is divine Love- without hindrance, the human person remains in constant communion with God and with all of His creatures. Thus, the divine image within each person progresses, with the grace of God, to the likeness of God, which is deification. And we have to state that on such a journey, even physical death can in no way be considered as a 'loss' or as an unforeseen calamity. On the contrary, it is a further, and final, means of 'reconciliation' with all other creatures. This is precisely why the Apostle Paul referred to his physical death nostalgically, stating that he desired to `depart and be with Christ' (Phil. 1,23).

If we see true life purely as free communion between persons and mutual love, then the only fearful death and enemy is in fact ethical and spiritual death which separates humankind from God and from each other.

Spiritual and ethical death could only have come about as a result of our denial to stay 'open' to divine Love. That 'disobedience' of the first Adam was what the second Adam, the God-man, came to overturn, 'becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the Cross' (Phil. 2,8).

With His bodily, that is to say His physical death on the Cross, Christ once again opened widely the springs of divine Love. For, the God-man did not undergo this death as a consequence of corruptibility. Rather, He accepted this voluntarily, through the will of the Father, as a sacrifice for the whole human race.

Thus, spiritual death was finally defeated, under the condition that the law of Love -as actually lived out and taught by Christwould find a continuation and a creative imitation in people's lives. Now the curse of the 'lack of communion' between God's creatures, which was created by human "self-love", has been abolished.

Rational human beings who, after the original fall had become closed units within their own asphyxiating loneliness, and presented the abominable phenomenon of parallel deaths, could now feel as though they were "one body and one soul" (Eph. 4,4), with the 'recapitulation' achieved through the life-giving death of Christ.

It is clear that, in such a 'rebirth' of the entire human race, temporal and geographical distances were no longer relevant. Since the original distance or 'apostasy' from the source of life and immortality, who is God, was defeated, now "all things are filled with light, heaven and earth and the region beneath the earth' (Canon of Easter).

This is precisely why the Resurrection of Christ in Orthodox iconography does not depict the Conqueror of death rising from the tomb with an individual banner in his hand, in the way that secular champions appear 'in isolation' after their triumph. On the contrary, the Orthodox icons of the Resurrection show the Lord of glory descending into `the depths of Hades", and coming out of the "descent into Hades', pulling Adam and Eve by the hand, that is to say allof humanity, both before and after Christ.

Therefore, the Resurrection of the 'dead' which we confess in the Creed, and which we 'expect' as 'life in the age to come', has nothing in common with our old and 'worn out' bodies. We shall be clothed in our new incorrupt human nature, saved by the death of the only Sinless One.

By re-examining the great miracle of life in this way, we shall discover that the Resurrection refers primarily to ail of us -who are still mobile and upright, although we are dead - rather than to those who have already been laid to rest in their tombs. Only then shall we realize that indeed `joy has come to the whole world through the Cross"

With warm Paschal greetings and love in Christ

Archbishop STYLIANOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

from Voice of Orthodoxy, v. 23(3), June 2001
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archbiocese of Australia

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