Of Metropolitan Valentine of Suzdal and Vladimir
TO THE RIGHT REVEREND ARCHPASTORS, PASTORS, AND FAITHFUL CHILDREN OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX AUTONOMOUS CHURCH
When Thou hadst fallen asleep in flesh as one mortal, O King and Lord, Thou didst rise again on the third day, raising up Adam from corruption, and abolishing death: O Pascha of incorruption! O Salvation of the world! (Exapostilarion of Pascha)
CHRIST IS RISEN!
With such sacred and ever-living words we greet each other, sharing our Christian joy in this "truly sacred and supremely festive night." The risen Christ is the never-fading source of joy for the entire human race. In "this, the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad" in our risen Christ Jesus!
Any Orthodox Christian who has ever experienced the otherworldly joy of Pascha, will agree that the heart of any truly alive Christian soul can never grow tired of hearing the paschal greeting "Christ is Risen!" nor of the short but profound troparion of Pascha, nor of the exalted poetry of the Paschal canon, nor of the triumphant "Catechetical Homily" of St. John Chrysostom, which enjoins us all to taste of the Paschal Lamb at the present Mystical Supper.
To some skeptics it might seem that everything that there is to say about Pascha has already been said, and that it would be impossible to find any new way of expressing the sense and meaning of the present celebration. But this is not so! "Every tongue is at a loss," and human speech is utterly incapable of expressing the full meaning of Pascha. Any word that we might say about Pascha can do nothing more than highlight only one of the many facets of this jewel of a celebration, but to cast light on every facet of it would be impossible. The inexhaustibleness of Pascha is the inexhaustibleness of the Divine Nature Itself, about which St. John the Theologian said, "that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
Those of us unto whom the Lord will vouchsafe the eternal life of bliss in the Kingdom of God, will go from "strength to strength" in the knowledge of this Divine Nature, in becoming one with God, but will never be able to reach the end of this process-for eternity is endless. And in like manner, it is impossible to follow Pascha through to its end. We can only stop dead in our tracks and stand in holy fear before the mystery of the Resurrection which has been opened before us, and out of the surplus of feeling in our hearts, our mouths cannot but repeat, over and over again, "Christ is RISEN from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in their graves bestowing life."
For many, even for many of those who formally belong to the Church, the ineffable joy of Pascha remains unattainable. Of course, the universal rejoicing of the Church of Christ cannot leave them completely indifferent; however, they continue to understand Pascha only as a "Great Feast" with eggs and kulichi, as an "ancient national custom," or as an "historical event from the Gospels." From whence does such a superficial understanding of the mystery of Pascha arise?
The main cause of such an approach to Pascha is insufficient familiarity with the life of the Church, with the events that she relives and in which she takes part during the Great Fast, and especially, during Holy Week. The joy of Pascha is a continuation of the sorrow of Great and Holy Friday and the mystical and universal silence of Holy Saturday. "Yesterday, was I crucified with Thee, O Christ, yesterday I was buried with Thee, and today I arise with Thine arising," as it says in the Paschal canon. Whoever is not crucified together with the Savior, whoever is not sealed in the tomb with Him, cannot possibly rise with Him on the holy day of Pascha.
There is yet one more unfortunate error among many in the Church crowd-and that is their understanding that the events of Holy Week and Pascha are only a "commemoration" of events that happened once upon a time, many hundreds of years ago. No, dear brothers and sisters, it is not only a commemoration, but a participation and an initiation into these events!
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not in an illusory way, not just outwardly, really and completely became man, while yet remaining God, and united with Himself all of our human nature. And so we are called, while yet remaining human, to be united through grace, with God, and to become sharers in His Divine life.
Should we be but bystanders at the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, then we shall be like the mean-spirited crowd of Jews, or at the very most, like the soldiers who guarded His tomb.
No, we must be crucified and rise together with Christ, just as the Church prompts us in the services before Pascha and at Pascha. When we come to church for the services, we leave the world in which we live, we step out of time, and are translated to the place where Christ is all, and in all.
The closest unification with Christ takes place in the Mystery of the Eucharist, through the reception of His Body and Blood. All of our divine services revolve around this communion, initiating us into the divine life of Christ. The paschal service is primarily a Eucharistic one. In the time of the Old Covenant, the sacrificial lamb was immolated at Pascha. This was a prefiguration of the innocent Lamb of God-our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The joy of our present-day Pascha is intensified for us, the true Orthodox Christians of Russia, and for her children of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church abroad, by the news that our persecution in the courts, which has been going on for the last three years in Suzdal, has finally come to an end, although, of course, it is too early for us to speak of a complete cessation of persecution against Holy Orthodoxy in Russia.
In this world, where evil yet reigns, those who desire to live piously, in accordance with God's commandments, with the precepts of the holy Fathers of the Church, and with the canons of the Orthodox Church, will always be persecuted. The holy Apostle Paul warned Christians that even if the Lord does at times send a small respite from troubles on the Church's path of confessing the Faith, we should use this time to prepare for yet greater persecutions, and to strengthen our faith and our resolve. In no way should we allow ourselves to fall into laxness. A Christian must always "keep the divine watch," and "not give sleep to his eyes, nor slumber to his eyelids," but stand spiritually at the ready.
In our stand in the Truth, we must be firmly aware of and reinforce our remembrance of the fact that nothing in this world can withstand the power of Christ. The petty liars who challenge it, who are nothing more than protégés of the new atheists, and hirelings of the Moscow Patriarchate, who send their "documents" with their forged stamps and seals to addresses all over Russia and beyond, seem especially sad and pitiful. They seek to destroy the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, which they once betrayed, receiving in exchange for their treachery their falsely-named awards and temporary "happiness" in this perverted world.
The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, at home and abroad, is a Church, not a human institution, in contrast to all of their "religious organizations, unions, and movements." It is pointless to fight against God. The Church of God has stood forever, and will stand forever, radiating the purity of its confession, no matter how much she is persecuted.
The fate of those who war against God and the Church will be deserving of many tears. For this reason, our goal consists, insofar as we are able, in trying to turn them and their organizations away from such a disastrous, satanic, endeavor, which they have taken up in ignorance.
Most unfortunately, in our human weakness, it sometimes starts to look like our enemies are stronger than we are, and the flock of faithful and loyal Christians is becoming smaller and smaller. It is unbelievably difficult to bear all of the sorrows, the slanders from false brethren, and to be in an absolute minority in this world. But let us not let succumb to despair!
Let us remember how the Myhrr-bearing Women, by their selfless love for the Lord, by their undeterred desire to follow Him on His path of suffering, became the first to hear from the risen Life-giver Christ Himself, the greatly comforting word, "Rejoice!"
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, warned us that we would have sorrow in this world, but that our sorrow would quickly turn into joy. And it is already turning into joy, for our Lord has conquered death! "Hades reigns, but not eternally," but the Truth of Christ is eternal! And if we wish to be together with eternal truth, then we must not betray it by even as much as one iota, turning away from all of the temptations of this contemporary world and from ecumenical, so-called "World Orthodoxy," with the Moscow Patriarchate at its head.
We, the Orthodox, just as our forefathers in the first centuries of Christianity, are called to be lamps of goodness and compassion, sympathy and love, so that the light of our good deeds should glorify our heavenly Father and His Only-begotten Son, the risen Christ.
May this sacred calling be for us ever a living one; and may the Lord Who has called us into His wondrous light, enlighten us by the light of His resurrection; and may the risen Life-giver turn the present Paschal feast into unfading spiritual joy, which no one shall ever be able to take away from us.
TRULY CHRIST IS RISEN!
Metropolitan of Suzdal and of Vladimir.
In the God-preserved city of Suzdal