Paschal Epistle of
Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir,
Chief Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church
To Our beloved Brother Archpastors, Reverend Priests and Monastics,
and to the entire God-loving flock of the Russian Orthodox Church
My dearly beloved Archpastors, Pastors, Brothers and Sisters,
Christ is Risen!
“Let us celebrate the demise of death…”
“…the never-ending beginning of another life…”
(from the Paschal Canon)
Tonight, my dearly beloved, on this most radiant of nights, we have come to the “fulness of time.” The centuries pass by, one generation gives way to the next, the elements of the earth rage on in storm after storm, and historic earthquakes come and go, leaving death, destruction, and tears in their wake, but the bright feast of the Christ's Resurrection remains eternally alive. Almost two thousand years have passed since the moment that this central, key event in human history took place. The world has changed completely since that time, but evil and injustice have done nothing but increase. Only the Good News that our Lord has trampled down death and evil, has raised our forefather, Adam, and with him, our common ancestor and progenitor of the human race, gave eternal and blessed life to all of us. Only this Good News shall never grow old and cease to be current.
The carnal man is subject to suffering and death because his physical nature, the result of sin, has lost its life force. Even our very material nature itself, in its outward form, is a result of Adam's having fallen into sin. As it says in one of the prayers of the Lenten Triodion, “Sin has sewn me cloaks of skin.” That which is the fruit of sin cannot have God as the source of its existence, and is therefore doomed to die. God is the only source of life, of being, and so all that is not connected with this Source is doomed to death and non-being. Everything that is outside of God will, sooner or later, cease its transparent, illusive existence. The Lord was speaking about this temporary and crude materialistic body of ours when He said, “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” (cf. Gen. 3:19).
It was not for this that God created man. As He Himself tells us in His Book of Revelation, the Lord created man in order for him to share in the joy and blessedness of His divine life. According to the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, “God became man, so that man might become God.” The triumph of Pascha, the beginning of which is symbolized by the revesting of the church and of the clergy in bright vestments during Vespers on Holy Saturday, was anticipated by the Psalmist when he addressed the New Israel, the Church of Christ, saying, “I said: Ye are gods, and all of you the sons of the Most High.” (Ps.81:6). These are the very words that are read in church while it is being revested into paschal vestments.
Opening up the kingdom of God to us, making us participants in His divine life, in His unfathomable perfection and goodness, the Lord Himself experiences the most extreme measure of suffering that is possible upon the earth. Think about this a little bit, my dears; in order to reestablish our fallen and corrupted nature, which fell not by God's will, but by our own sinful self will, the Lord is crucified upon the cross and undergoes a shameful death. The way to blessedness, for all of us, consists in extreme suffering on the part of God. In order to open paradise to those who have sinned, “This Man Who hath done nothing amiss” (Lk. 23:41) endures a most horrible punishment. Shouldn't this alone be enough to warm our stony hearts and fill us with feelings of fearful love and gratitude for our Creator and Redeemer?
In the magnificent prophecy of Ezekiel about the general resurrection from the dead (Ez. chap. 37), which is read at Vespers on Holy Saturday, it says that at the second coming of Christ, all of the dead will rise bodily in order to stand before the universal last judgment. Our bodies then will not be like our present crude materialistic bodies. After the resurrection, our bodies will have a fine, spiritualized quality, and will not be fettered by the physical laws of nature governing time and space. They will not hinder us from seeing God “face to face” as only great saints are worthy of doing while still on earth. They will truly be bodies of the “age to come;” glorified, incorrupt, and having a share in the divine existence. Let us suppress and limit our present earthly bodies, with their vain and temporal demands, in order that our souls might be better prepared for receiving such new and incorrupt bodies at the general resurrection of the dead.
The bliss of that life in the age to come is given by the Lord without price, in accordance with His graciousness. The joy of Pascha is a prefiguration of this happiness, which the Lord also gives us freely on this radiant night. The more deeply and acutely we experience this joy, the longer it abides within us, the more prepared our souls are to meet God. The Psalmist and King David, in this grace-filled condition, cried out, “Ready is my heart, O God, ready is my heart," (Ps.56:8). This joy is a foretaste of future bliss and must be preserved carefully by guarding one's self from sin, doing deeds of righteousness, holding one's tongue from idle talking, and filling one's mind and heart with unceasing prayer.
True paschal joy cannot be diminished by any adversities arising from earthly circumstances. Nevertheless, we are obligated by love, as Christians, to remember at this triumphant moment, those of our brethren who are presently in need and are undergoing persecution for the name of Christ. Almost ninety years have passed since that terrible day when such horrible persecutions as had never before been seen in the history of Christianity were let loose against the Church of Russia by the godless atheists. Ever since that day, we have not ceased from praying “for all those who are persecuted or who are suffering for the holy Orthodox Faith," and the petition for the most holy Patriarch, whose cathedra has been unoccupied since 1925, was replaced by commemorating “the Orthodox episcopate of the persecuted Russian Church."
Such prayers are far from being outmoded even today. Persecutions and suffering for the holy Orthodox Faith are the reality of our times in Russia, and in several other countries. These persecutions continue in spite of the fact that the official authorities maintain that there is a “spiritual renaissance" taking place amongst the people, and in spite of the fact that they finance the building of churches and support in every possible way the so-called Moscow Patriarchate, which was established during the heyday of atheism in 1943. The more support that is shown to this organization, which grows ever closer and closer to the official authorities, but ever further and further away from true Orthodoxy, the less that there remains of true freedom of conscience and equality of the faithful before the law, the more our true Orthodox Church of Christ is oppressed.
Let us, my dearly beloved, pray doubly hard for our Archpastors, who are oppressed from all sides in their attempts to incorporate dioceses, which in turn means that monasteries and parishes cannot be incorporated either. Let us pray for the God-loving flock of our church's capital city, Suzdal, who for years have been denied the opportunity to legally affirm their rights to the recently built Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, and the chapel in Znamensky Cemetery. Let us pray for our great spiritual treasures: the Church of St. Stephen the First Martyr and Archdeacon which is in the ancient town of Kideksha, the Church of St. John the Baptist in the town of Pavlovsk, the Church of the holy equal-of-the-Apostles Olga in the town of Zheleznovodsk, and many others, which have all been either defiled by the heretics, or are in danger of soon being defiled by them. Tonight, let us remember in our prayers our grieving brethren in the regions of Orenburg, Cheliabinsk, Briansk, Tver, in Latvia, and those in those other regions where the persecution against true Orthodoxy continues.
Let us remember that upon us, as upon children of the true Church, upon this little flock which has not swerved from the truth, notwithstanding our almost complete physical destruction after eighty years of militant atheism, lies a special responsibility. By our virtuous life, by our zeal for steadfastly fulfilling the commandments of God, we are obliged show the world the beauty and truth of true Orthodoxy, so that men may see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven (cf. Matt. 5:16).
Dearly beloved in the risen Jesus Christ!
From the depths of my heart, I greet you all yet again on this radiant night of joy with the Resurrection of Christ! May the risen Lord bless all of us and grant “great joy" to each and every one of your families where the Resurrection is remembered and honored. It is my prayerful desire that the joy of Pascha might remain with you all all the days of your lives! Amen.
With an abundance of joy and love,
Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir