His Eminence - Paschal Message 2006

Christ is Risen. Truly He is Risen

Part 1

Once more the Christian world is celebrating the joy of their risen Lord.

Every year, the religious celebration is taking a new meaning. The war by atheistic secularism,  with its serious attempts to eliminate the Christian Church through print, theatre, arts, commercial items etc, is getting stronger everyday, under the guise of 'freedom of speech'.

Atheistic Secularism is ridiculing the symbols of the Faith and denigrating them. The selling of sandals with the sign of the cross on them, underwear with the picture of Jesus Christ, and lately the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, are but a few examples of the many attempts by which atheistic secularism is trying to kill the spirit and the joy, the peacefulness and moral foundations, of the religious.

What is required from each and every believer is to take his/her faith seriously. First, to practice the Faith in their every day life, and second to learn as much as possible about their Faith.

Then, and only then, we and our faith will be able to face the attack against our faith and will witness to the saying of Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17. 'Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.'  And in Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (6:4) 'That like as Christ was raised up from the dead…even so we also should walk in newness of life, that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.' (Romans 7:6)

Metropolitan Archbishop Paul Saliba

Part 2

Saturday, the day preceding Palm Sunday, and the Holy Week both share in the mourning of the Holy Week and in the joy of Easter. The Church partly turns our attention towards the risen Jesus.

On Holy Saturday, the Church expresses the waiting and sorrow of Jesus' friends, whose attention is now concentrated on the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where the Body of the Lord has been laid. At the same time it anticipates the events of Easter Sunday, and brings to us the first message of the Resurrection.

Easter is The Holy Day, King and Lord of Days, Feast of Feasts, Solemnity of Solemnities. Easter is the centre, the heart, of the Christian year. It is on the date of Easter that the whole liturgical cycle depends. Easter determines the movable feasts of the church calendar.

Before the Matins service starts, the priest carries the Epitaphion from the middle of the Church, where it has lain since Thursday, and places it on the altar. Then the celebrant appears at the Royal Doors of the Icon Screen, holding a lighted candle. He proclaims: 'come, take light that has no evening, and glorify Christ, risen from the dead'.

Here again, the Orthodox Church represents the Christian mystery as a mystery of Light. That Light has been shining in the hearts of all believers, and the darkness of Golgotha could not extinguish it. Now it appears again, and all the candles which the people hold, are now lighted, proclaiming the triumph of the Light.

Here, the spiritual meaning of Easter is indicated. The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ would be without value if the divine light did not shine at the same time among us, and within us. Our celebration of Easter would be worthless if the light that is brought by the Resurrected One, has not overcome the darkness of sin in our soul.

At the end of the service, the sermon of Saint John Chrysostom is read: 'If any have worked from the first hour, let him receive his just reward ... If any held back even until the eleventh hour, let him also, be not alarmed at his lateness. The Lord, who guards His honor, will accept the last as the first... Therefore, all of you enter into the joy of the Lord... Let no one weep for his sins, for pardon has shone forth from the grave'.

We know, that only those who have carried the Cross and have died with Christ, can share in the grace of His Resurrection. The grief of Holy Friday is a necessary condition for the joy of Easter. But our Lord in his mercy, reserves to himself the right to invert the order of these two terms. It is not that the economy of salvation has altered. Without the Cross, the glory of the Risen One cannot become ours to share. But the Lord deals gently with the weakness of His creation. He acts in the same way with us.

Many of us have not drunk of the chalice of His passion. We have not helped Jesus to carry His Cross. We have not died with Him. We have slept during his agony and abandoned Him. We have denied Him by our many sins. And yet, Jesus invites us to enter into the Paschal joy. If we truly open our heart to the forgiveness which flows from the empty tomb, if we allow ourselves to be penetrated by the light of Easter, if we adore the presence of the risen Lord, we too will receive the Power of the Resurrection, which the gift of Pentecost makes perfect.

Then, and only then, will we understand the significance of the Cross and will we be able to enter, to our limited capacity, into the mystery of Christ's passion.

In the Greek Church, Easter week is called 'the week of renewal. In fact this name suits the whole period of Paschal time.

The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that we can be changed. We need to allow the light of His Paschal season to lighten our minds and hearts.

Amen.

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