THE PASCHAL EPISTLE (2003)
Of His Eminence VALENTIN, Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir
To the God-pleasing flock of the Russian Orthodox Church
CHRIST IS RISEN!
It is the Day of Resurrection!
Let us be illumined with the solemn Feast!
Let us embrace one another.
(From the Paschal Stichera)
Beloved fellow-workers - Archpastors and pastors, God loving brothers and sisters!
In these days - the most joyous ones in the life of a Christian - we do not simply remind ourselves of the historical event of the Resurrection of Christ, which happened in Palestine and became a central event in the whole of human history, but rather, thanks to the Church of Christ, which has existed without interruption since the earthly life of the Savior even to this day, we become the witnesses of Christ's Resurrection. We imitate the Apostles, the heralds of the world-wide joy of Holy Pascha. We join the resurrected Savior Himself by consuming the Paschal Lamb of the New Testament - His divine Body, entering His sacramental Divine life in the same manner as He enters the life of every one of us and enlightens it with the "Divine radiance of Resurrection". From this comes our special joy, which is absolutely incomprehensible and unattainable by the godless world that surrounds us.
In the Paschal night, which as the ancient Christians said, is "brighter than the brightest day", we receive the pledge of the future resurrection of every one of us. In re-living the experience of the Resurrection of Christ, renewing the joy of the resurrected Lord, the Giver of Life, we sense that if we will truly live with Christ here, on earth, then we will be resurrected with Him there, in the Heavenly Kingdom.
Christ arose, not simply because God-incarnate can die and be regenerated, but because it was the only way to redeem fallen human nature from the curse of sin and death, only in this manner was it possible to grant it eternal life.
Our Lord rose by the power of His Divinity, but since He is not only True God, but also True Man, in Him arose also human nature, the Bearer of which He became when He became incarnate of the All-Holy Virgin Mary. If prior to the Resurrection of Christ, Old Testament humanity had a very obscure hope for eternal life, was aware of all the horror of death, from which there was no way of escape, then after the Resurrection every man received the certain possibility of eternal life.
The Lord has done everything needed so that we inherit it - He came down to earth, was incarnate, suffered persecution and sacrilege, was crucified on the Cross, arose and ascended to the invisible Divine world, to His Father. Now it is up to us; we have to follow Christ, fulfill His commandments, live according to the Gospel, and through the Mysteries of the Church be united with God. And when we and Christ will become one, then we will rise with Christ into eternal life. But if we do not unite with Christ, all our faith will be in vain and, terrifying to consider, the glorious Resurrection of Christ itself might be to no purpose for us.
In order that this does not happen, the Holy Church of Christ shows us the spiritual path, directed toward union with Christ, our Savior. The basic daily task of this spiritual life is the struggle with sin, with our sinful habits and inclinations, with all that attracts us to the world and distances us from God. The main tools in this struggle, as the Savior Himself said in the Gospels, are prayer and fasting.
The Church lives and breathes prayer "seven times in a day" [Ps. 118], performing magnificent services and during those periods in between them, constantly calling us to unceasing prayer to God with the words of the Jesus Prayer. But in order to strengthen prayer, fasting is necessary - to acquire the habit of abstinence (self-denial).
How wisely the Holy Fathers arranged it, that prior to the worldwide festivity (on Pascha), there be a 7-week long strict Great Fast! Those of us who have observed this Fast according to all the Church regulations, or at least have sincerely sought to do so, have received from the Lord visible spiritual gifts: internal peace of mind, meekness, humility, abstinence, love, charity.
Christ's Pascha is a universal holy day: not only our hearts, but also our minds participate in it, or rather all our (human) nature and, more broadly, all the world, "Heaven and the earth and that which is under the earth", as is sung in the Canon of Pascha. On this day, as we all see, all of nature is renewed (figuratively speaking, "is resurrected") - the trees become green, the birds sing, even the brooks, freed from ice, joyfully murmur.
Our pious ancestors have established a multitude of paschal customs that permeate the national way of life. One of the most ancient customs is the preparation of special paschal foods, colored eggs, kulich, "cheese pascha". The most ancient of these, and filled with a deep significance, is coloring eggs red, the color of the Blood shed by Christ on the Cross. This custom is connected with the Equal to the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, who, according to tradition, stood before the Roman Emperor Tiberius and handed him an egg with the words: "Christ is Risen". The emperor doubted that a mortal could rise from the dead: "It is as difficult to believe in this as to believe that a white egg might become red!" and the white egg immediately (a symbol of the birth of life) became red. In such a way, the customs carefully handed down to us by our fathers and grandfathers connect us with the most ancient periods in the existence of the Church of Christ.
Now, when we rejoice in this beautiful church and with joyful hymns meet "Christ the Life-Giver, coming forth on the third day from the tomb", the world surrounding us is submerged in the darkness of ignorance: it does not know the true God and true Church and cannot participate in our holy joy. When the Lord arose, His enemies, the Scribes, Pharisees, torturers and crucifiers no longer saw Him. Their spiritual descendants - the pseudo-priests and the mistaken souls that follow them - also do not see the risen Christ. Many of our unfortunate contemporaries also do not see Him, not only those who in their insanity call themselves "atheists" ("without God"), but also those who formally call themselves Orthodox, even while they do not know what true Orthodoxy is.
Unfortunately, during recent years in our country the conception of Orthodoxy has become wide-spread that it is a "national-cultural phenomenon" , a matter of folk customs, ancient traditions. Certainly, Orthodoxy permeates our entire national culture, but it is not restricted to that. An Orthodoxy that is not linked with the rejection of the world, with the meek following of Christ and the fulfillment of His commandments - is a lie; it only comforts the weaknesses and supports the sinful inclinations of man. Many people, as the Savior Himself has warned, confess Him with the mouths, but their hearts are far from Him. Let us not be like them!
Among the unfortunate people who do not celebrate Christ's Resurrection now with the Church the enemy of the human race creates his kingdom of hostility, hatred, lies and revenge. But we believe that even into this dead kingdom the ray of glory of the resurrected Christ will penetrate.
From time immemorial the powers of Hell cannot reconcile themselves to the good news of the Resurrection of Christ; they lead an irreconcilable war against It. They imagined that when they killed the confessors of Christ's Resurrection, they could annihilate the preaching itself. But this preaching is impossible to silence! It is not said in vain that "the blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church". Every new martyr is not a defeat, but a victory of the Church, it is a proof that faith in the Resurrection is stronger than life and for this reason it is worth dying in order to rise again and live eternally with the Lord. The example of such a death the Lord Himself has given us! Therefore, let us be ready to be persecuted for the Faith of Christ and God's Truth and let us accept this with joy and gratitude, because Christ from Golgotha is offering us an incorruptible crown.
Beloved in the Lord, co-workers in prayer and in podvig on the fields of Christ!
From the bottom of my heart I congratulate you on the occasion of the bright and joyful feast of Holy Pascha. I pray to the resurrected Christ, the Life-Giver, that He grant to every Orthodox Christian, every suffering family, every one who weeps, the comfort of peace and serenity!
The sorrows will disappear, the wars will stop, the blood will no longer flow, injustice will perish, the slandered will be justified, the offended will forgive and all will be happy. This is the way in which life will be arranged in the "new world" and under the "new heaven" - in the Heavenly Jerusalem, in the Kingdom of God. It will be so arranged because Christ has risen and there is no more death. Just a little longer and there will be no evil and injustice - the insignificant fruits of death. Let us suffer a bit more, let us preserve faithfulness to Christ even unto death and we will be eternally with Him!
Let us, beloved, after returning to our homes from this Paschal feast of faith, to this complicated life, bring into it a particle of the inaccessible light of Christ's Resurrection! Let us be living witnesses that Christ has risen, let all people know of it - those near and those afar off! Let people know of the limitless happiness that the Lord has granted us, so that they will thank their Creator and Redeemer!
Truly Christ is Risen!
May the Lord's blessing remain with all of us!
The President of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church
+VALENTIN, Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir
Christ's Pascha 2003,
in the God-preserved city of Suzdal