A message from Bishop John Elya
Christ is risen! He is truly risen!
“Christ is risen from the dead, and by His death He has trampled upon death and has given life to those who are in the tombs.”
We celebrate, during these forty days of Holy and Glorious Pascha, the victory that our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ won over sin and death. This triumph is a triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil, of truth over lies and falsehood. Saint Paul tells us, “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin … then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men … so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12a, 18, 21) Commenting on these words of St. Paul, Origen, the third century theologian, explains, “Christ chose to empty Himself and take the form of a slave. He submitted to a despot’s rule, and became obedient even to death. By that death He destroyed the lord of death, that is the devil, and set free all those whom death had held captive.” (Origen from a Commentary to the Letter on the Romans)
The glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus is the greatest event in human history. This mystery is beyond words, beyond our ability to comprehend. Saint John Chrysostom preached to the faithful in Antioch: “Just as Christ was born from His mother’s inviolate womb, so too He rose from the closed tomb. As He, the only begotten Son of God, was made the firstborn of His mother, so, by His resurrection, He became the firstborn from the dead. His birth did not break the seal of His mother’s virginal integrity; nor did His rising from the dead break the seals on the sepulcher. And so, just as I cannot fully express His birth in words, neither can I wholly encompass His going forth from the tomb.”
Our response to the glorious victory that Jesus won for us by His life-giving and triumphant Resurrection is one of joy and jubilation and action. If we carry this joy each day, especially for these forty days of the Resurrection, many lives will be touched. Nietzsche, the nineteenth century philosopher of atheism once sneered: “If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then look more redeemed.” As the saying goes, you may be the only Gospel a person will ever read. In our dark culture of despair, a loving smile, a kind word, a generous gesture, a cheerful disposition will allow others to see the glorious light of the risen Lord burning in our hearts. Be for the people you meet the “Good News” of our Lord’s Gospel with radiant joy of Christ’s Resurrection shining through you. I encourage you to strive to do the next good thing. Strive to do the next right action. Love. Be generous. Forgive. “Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor… Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep … Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:10, 15, 16, 21))
The Resurrection of Christ is a spring of mercy and forgiveness for each of us and for our world. For the forty days of Holy Pascha, we stand in church as a reminder that we stand in the unconditional love and boundless mercy of the risen Lord. Then, let us “stand well” by deciding to forgive those who have hurt us and by choosing to let go of all grudges and resentments that we hold. Let us truly make the Resurrection of Christ a new beginning this year. “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
Our holy Christian Faith is more than a doctrinal creed, more than a moral code, more than a means of worship. Above all, our Christian Faith is a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ and our profound and intimate love for Him in the depths of our hearts! Of themselves, creeds, moral teachings, church programs and buildings cannot save or sanctify. It is Christ Jesus alone who restores our fallen nature and lifts us up to become “partakers of the Divine Nature.” His glorious Resurrection is our victory over sin and death, darkness and fear, guilt and shame. Indeed, it is the “down payment” on our own resurrection if we but follow the path that our Lord has trod. It is by the power of His saving death and holy Resurrection that the Sacraments, the teaching, and the good works of our Church become themselves a life-giving spring.
This year we rejoice with even greater joy and enthusiasm as we sing our hymns of the Resurrection, because we celebrate this Holy Pascha with our Orthodox brothers and sisters throughout the world. We pray in a special way, as is our Melkite heritage, that all who sing with one voice of the holy Resurrection of Christ may become united in His one Body by the power of the Holy Spirit unto the glory of God our Heavenly Father.
“May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God, help you to grow in faith and truth, in unfailing gentleness and the avoidance of all anger, in patience and forbearance, and in calmness and purity. To you, and to ourselves as well, and to all those under heaven who shall one day come to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Father who raised Him from the dead, may He grant part and portion among His saints.” (from the second century Letter of Saint Polycarp)
Finally, may Christ our God, who conquered death by His death, grant peace and prosperity to America and to the whole world, especially to our brothers and sister of the Near East who live in the land Christ loved and made holy by His Precious Blood. May His glorious Resurrection flood our lives with radiant joy and holy zeal during these forty days of Pascha and every day of the year.
Christ is risen! He is truly Risen!
+ John A. Elya
Eparch of Newton