Paul, Apostle of the Resurrection
“..Ye be risen with Christ” (Colossians 3:1)
From Gregorios, servant of Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem ,
To their excellencies, the bishops, members of the venerable Holy Synod, and to our sons and daughters in Jesus Christ, clergy and people, called holy, and to all those who are called by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their and our God, “grace be unto you and peace from our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:3)
“..Ye be risen with Christ.”
That is the great announcement of Christianity, for it is the confirmation of Jesus’ resurrection and our own resurrection with him. The most beautiful chant, the finest acclamation, that rings out from our most enthusiastic voices as we are caught up in the loud cry, is indeed the hymn of the glorious resurrection, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs he has given life.”
That is why we decided to dedicate our Letter of the holy, glorious Resurrection for this year to meditating on the teaching of Saint Paul on the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and our own resurrection with him.
Resurrection: the Subject of Paul’s “Gospel”
Paul is the great preacher of Christ’s resurrection: he really is the apostle of the resurrection. He affirms that we are not only celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that we are also risen with him. We too celebrate our own resurrection and Saint Paul exhorts us, saying, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4)
These words are not simple spiritual exhortations, but are the result of Paul’s personal experience on the road to Damascus . In fact, we cannot understand Paul’s teachings in his epistles without always returning to his vision on the Damascus road, just as we did in our 2008 Christmas Letter.
Resurrection is the subject of Paul’s “gospel” as we find in the discourse that he addressed to the faithful of Corinth in his First Letter, saying, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel, which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless y have believed in vain. I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (I Corinthians 15:1-4)
We know that the vision happened at the gates of Damascus and we consider it to be not only the place of Saint Paul ‘s conversion and vision, but also the place of the appearance of Jesus, risen from the dead, to Paul and to Ananias, first Bishop of Damascus. So Tel Kawkab near Damascus is the only place outside Palestine , where Christ appeared after his resurrection from the dead.
Paul, Apostle of the Resurrection in the Acts of the Apostles
So, Paul lived the mystery and reality of the resurrection, becoming, thereafter, the great preacher of the resurrection. Moreover, the resurrection became his gospel, as we said above.
Resurrection is the subject of Paul’s preaching in Antioch of Pisidia. (Acts 13:32)
In the city of Thessalonica , Paul preaches in the Jewish synagogue on three consecutive Sabbaths, “opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered and risen from the dead; and that ‘this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.'” (Acts 17:2-3) In Athens , both in the synagogue and the market place or agora, Paul disputes with the Greek philosophers, preaching Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:18) “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) “He hath given assurance unto all, in that he hath raised Jesus from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)
That was also the subject of Paul’s preaching at Corinth . (Acts 18)
Paul is tried because of his teaching about the resurrection of the dead. “..Of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” (Acts 23:6) Later, he declares before the Governor, Felix that he is brought to trial for “preaching the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 24:21) King Agrippa understood the content of the accusations against Paul as follows: it concerned “one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” (Acts 25:19)
Paul conducts his own defense before King Agrippa, concentrating his case on the resurrection, which he considers the substance of God’s promise to the ancestors of the Old Testament and to the twelve tribes of Israel , to the whole people and to all humanity. He also considers resurrection as the great hope in the life of the Jewish people. He says to King Agrippa, “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” (Acts 26:6-8)
After that, in the same speech for the defense, Paul recounts in detail what happened to him on the Damascus road, considering that Jesus’ appearance to him there and his speaking with him are proof that Jesus is alive. Paul affirms that Jesus spoke to him plainly, asking him to be witness to his resurrection, saying to him, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.” (Acts 26:15)
The mission that Jesus confides to Paul is clear: that he be witness to the resurrection. That is what he proclaims in his defence before King Agrippa and all the Jews, saying, “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22, 23)
This speech for the defense sums up all the teachings of the Old Testament that confirm that the Messiah, Christ Jesus’ resurrection is salvation for all humanity.
The book of Acts of the Apostles recounts the lives of the apostles, especially Peter’s and Paul’s, and through this we clearly see that the resurrection of Jesus was the great event in the life of Saint Paul and that the living Jesus, risen from the dead, wished Paul to be apostle, witness and great master of Christ’s holy resurrection.
That is what we shall show in our resurrection itinerary through the letters of Saint Paul , apostle of the resurrection.
Resurrection in the Letters of Saint Paul
Epistle to the Romans
At the outset of this letter, Paul sums up the Old Testament as being a preparation for Christ’s advent and the great event of his resurrection. (Romans 1:4) Paul affirms that he is “called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,” (Romans 1:1) which is the great announcement of the joyful resurrection and the basis of humans’ justification by faith. All are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)
“But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:24-25) “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Romans 5:8-9)
Paul explains that as sin and death entered into the world through just one person, “much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” (Romans 5:15)
Later, Paul endeavors to explain the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and baptism in the life of the faithful, and their liberation from slavery to sin through the resurrection. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:3-11)
By the resurrection, we become one with Christ. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” (Romans 7: 4)
Through the resurrection, we obtain spiritual, divine life. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Romans 8:11)
The resurrection awakens in the hearts of the faithful an assurance of hope of salvation. “What shall we say then, to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?…Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8: 31, 34) He continues, “..if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10: 9)
Besides, our life and death are linked to Jesus’ life and death, “for none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” (Romans 14:7-9)
First Epistle to the Corinthians
The appearance of the risen Jesus to Paul on the Damascus road is the great proof, assurance and choice guarantee that Paul’s teaching is genuine and based on a sure foundation. He says, “Am I am not an apostle? … Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” (I Corinthians 9: 1)
Paul the apostle dedicates the fifteenth chapter of this First Epistle to the Corinthians to confirming the truth and modality of the resurrection. He concludes the fifteenth chapter by a hymn of victory over death.
I would like to quote a substantial part of this chapter, for it is a beautifully simple, real explanation of the manner of the resurrection. It is most profitable for the faithful, dissipating many of their doubts and answering many of their questions:-
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God .
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
…If the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
But some man will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?’ Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam was made a living soul;’ the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God ; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:1-9, 12-23, 32b, 35-57)
Second Epistle to the Corinthians
Saint Paul senses a sweet savor of the resurrection in his apostolic journeying, which is victorious thanks to God, “which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.” (II Corinthians 2:14-16)
The apostle is strengthened in his difficulties by faith in Jesus’ resurrection, for he resembles him, both in his death and his resurrection. “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” (II Corinthians 4: 10-12)
Paul’s faith in the resurrection gives him a warranty, as he says: “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you,” (II Corinthians 4: 14) and at last that “mortality might be swallowed up of life.” (ibid. 5: 4b)
Resurrection is linked to love (charity). “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (II Corinthians 5: 14-15) By the resurrection, the believer becomes “a new creature.” (ibid. 5: 17)
Epistle to the Galatians
The letter begins by affirming that Paul’s mission is based on “Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” (Galatians 1: 1)
Besides, the life of Paul becomes the life of Christ. “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)
Epistle to the Ephesians
We note here how the life of the Church and of Christian faithful, whether individuals or communities, focuses on the event of the resurrection. They discover in the resurrection of Jesus “… what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” (Ephesians 1: 19-23)
Jesus’ resurrection is the sign of God’s love towards us, for “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2: 4-6)
Epistle to the Philippians
Jesus, risen from the dead, is glorified in us, so that “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1: 20-21)
The Christian hymns that spread during the first generations of Christianity, some of which are cited in Paul’s epistles, are centered on the event of the resurrection. So, the hymns referred to in this epistle describe Jesus as risen and in the image of God: “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2: 6, 8, 9)
Paul considers that his life is a participation in Jesus’ resurrection. “(My desire is) that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) It is also the goal of every faithful person, “for our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” (ibid. 3:20-21)
Epistle to the Colossians
In the Letter to the Colossians, we find another hymn, one of those spread among the early Christian community, in which we see the centrality of the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection. “.. He is the head of the body, the Church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.” (Colossians 1:18-19)
Resurrection is the seed of life in Jesus Christ. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” (Colossians 2:12-13)
Living the resurrection on earth is a call to meeting him in heaven. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)
First Epistle to the Thessalonians
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians has to do with waiting for the coming of the living Jesus. “And (ye) wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (I Thessalonians 1:10)
Those who have died, rest in the hope of life in Jesus Christ. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him.” (I Thessalonians 4:14)
We live and die in Jesus Christ, “who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” (I Thessalonians 5:10)
Second Epistle to Timothy
The gospel is the gospel of the resurrection, the proclamation of life. “But (God’s grace in Jesus) is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” (II Timothy 1: 10-11)
Paul reminds his disciple, Timothy, of the resurrection. “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.” (II Timothy 2: 8) He continues, “It is a faithful saying: for if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him.” (ibid. 2:11)
Summary of Paul’s Teachings on the Resurrection
We can highlight the main ideas in Paul’s theology on the subject of resurrection, thus: in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul affirms the following:-
Resurrection is the gospel’s subject and proclamation, its essence and sum. Man is called to participate in Jesus’ life through resurrection. There is a very profound and necessary link between cross and resurrection. Resurrection is the sum of the hopes of the ancestors in the Old Testament; Paul’s vocation is to be witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his Master. Besides, every believer is called to witness in his life to Jesus’ resurrection.
We can sum up Paul’s teaching on the resurrection in his Epistles as follows:-
Paul is witness to the resurrection of Jesus, whom he saw on the Damascus road. He was commissioned to carry out the resurrection mission. Salvation is through the resurrection. Baptism is dying and rising with Christ. Union with Christ is union with his resurrection. Through resurrection we obtain spiritual life. Through resurrection we become a sweet-smelling savior of life for animating our society, for we believe in and work for life. Resurrection strengthens us whenever we are faced with difficulties and confirms hope in our hearts. There is a strong link between love and resurrection. That is what we explained in our Paschal Letter of 2007. That is why resurrection is central to the life and faith of the Christian community. The goal of Christian love is participation in Jesus’ resurrection. Paul’s desire is to participate in Jesus through his resurrection. Similarly, the goal of every believer’s life is to participate, especially through baptism, in Jesus’ resurrection.
So the whole of Christian life is linked to the resurrection. That is why Saint Paul always reminds the faithful of the resurrection in every epistle. The Christian lives in continual expectation of the resurrection and as Christ is raised, we too shall be raised. Christ is glorified by our resurrection. So the core of the gospel is resurrection and the love of God for mankind has appeared towards us through Jesus Christ’s resurrection. We are called to participate in that resurrection by living it in this life, so as to share in it eternally.
The First Christian Community a Resurrection Community
This journey with Paul through his epistles has demonstrated clearly that he is indeed the great apostle, or teacher, of the resurrection. Our Church services spread the events of the resurrection related in the Holy Gospel across eleven pericopes, read during the service of Sunday Matins throughout the year.
Paul, however, analyses the resurrection experience primarily through his own encounter on the road to Damascus , in which Christ appeared to him personally, after having appeared to all the apostles, as we described above. After that, he experiences the resurrection in his life as an apostle, translating it all into spiritual teachings and guidance to confirm the faith of the first Christian community that had lived the mystery of the resurrection. Furthermore, the life of the first Christian communities founded by Saint Paul and other apostles in the East and in the West was always centered on the event of the resurrection. Saint Paul speaks of those meetings on the Lord’s Day, (Sunday) and gives the requisite guidance on the matter. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians, he says, “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper…Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (I Corinthians 11:20, 27) Such guidance is also mentioned several times in the Acts of the Apostles, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
Justin of Nablus, the first Christian philosopher, alludes to this, when he speaks of the celebration of the mystery of the Eucharist, which is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Sunday.
The first Christian community celebrated the greatest mystery of Christianity, sacred baptism, in the framework of the Sunday celebration of the Divine Liturgy. That is what is reported in the first Christian writings, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didachē. Besides, all the sacraments or sacred mysteries are centered on the subject of the mystery of the resurrection: Christ lives the resurrection mystery through the sacraments, the Church’s mysteries, through the Sunday Liturgy, so the first day of the week has become the day of resurrection. The whole Christian life is focused on Sunday, the Lord’s Day.
The Liturgy: Celebration of the Resurrection
The Church lives daily the mystery of the resurrection, through the celebration of the great dominical feasts of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints and especially through the Divine Liturgy, which is the celebration of the mystery of the resurrection. In it we find several mentions of the resurrection. At the end of the proskomedia, or preparation of the gifts, the priest prays thus during the censing, “In the tomb with thy body, but in Hades with the soul, in that thou art God; in Paradise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, wast thou, O Christ…” and further, in the hymn to the Word of God, we pray, “Thou… wast crucified for us, O Christ our God, trampling down death by death …” On Sundays, we sing, “O Son of God, risen from the dead, save us…” Similarly, we sing, “We venerate thy cross, O Master, and glorify thy holy resurrection.” After the procession with the gifts, the priest prays in a low voice, “Noble Joseph, taking down thy most pure body from the tree…” Similarly, the hymns inscribed on the antimension are concerned with the resurrection, for the holy table or altar, represents the Holy Sepulchre or sacred tomb, place of the event of the resurrection. In fact, we read on the antimension, “In the tomb with thy body, but in Hades with the soul, in that thou art God; in Paradise with the thief,” and “On the throne with the Father and the Spirit, wast thou, O Christ, filling all things, since thou art uncircumscribed,” and further, “Thy tomb, O Christ, has been declared bearer of life, lovelier than Paradise, brighter than any kingly bridal chamber, the source of our resurrection.”
The Proclamation of Faith (Creed) is a proclamation of resurrection. “I believe …in ..Christ, who was crucified …for us, suffered and was buried. And the third day he rose again… I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen.”
In the anaphora, or eucharistic prayer, we thank the Lord because he has “raised us to heaven and given us (his) kingdom that is to come.” In the prayer of the anamnesis, we recall the events of the economy of salvation: “Remembering therefore this saving commandment and all those things which came to pass for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day…” and later, we make mention of the departed, in hope of the resurrection to eternal life. We give communion to the faithful, saying, “The precious and holy body and blood of our Lord, and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and life everlasting,” as a token of the resurrection. The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom finishes on Sunday with this doxology: “Glory to thee, O Christ God, risen from the dead.”
In the thanksgiving prayers after communion, there is mention of the resurrection, as fruit of communion in the body and blood of Christ.
The mention of resurrection is also repeated in the prayers of the Liturgy of Saint Basil, where we read in the prayer of the anaphora, “they who were dead in Adam (are) made alive in thy Christ… (He became incarnate) being conformed to the fashion of our lowliness, that he might make us conformable to the image of his glory (that is, the resurrection)… He loosed the pains of death, and rose again from the dead on the third day, making a way for all flesh through the resurrection from the dead…. that he might be… the first-born of the dead.” The prayer continues, “Do this in remembrance of me, for as often as you shall eat this bread and drink of this cup, ye do proclaim my death and confess my resurrection.” We recall his redeeming passion and life-giving cross, his three days’ burial and his resurrection from the dead and then the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil ends with this splendid, beautiful prayer. “Completed and perfected, so far as is in our power, O Christ our God, is all the mystery of thine economy, for we have had the memorial of thy death, we have seen the type of thy resurrection, we have been filled with thine unending life, we have enjoyed thine inexhaustible bounty, which in the age to come be also pleased to vouchsafe us all….”
In the same way, the mention of the resurrection is repeated in the Presanctified Liturgy, “O God, who art great and to be praised, who hast brought us from corruption to incorruption by the life-giving death of thy Christ…”
In the final prayer of the Presanctified, we read, “Master almighty, who … hast brought us to these most holy days … for hope of resurrection; … grant us also, good Master, to fight the good fight, to finish the course of the fast, to keep the faith intact, to crush the heads of invisible serpents and without condemnation to attain and to venerate thy holy resurrection.”
What shall we say about the continual, unwearied, repeated mention of the resurrection in our liturgical services, such as the feasts of Christ, the Mother of God and the saints, when describing their struggles and singing their praises? It suffices to mention the Book of the Paraklitikē, or the Octoechos, (the Book of Eight Tones), where we find the resurrection services and prayers for every Sunday, comprising hundreds, or rather thousands of hymns all recounting the event, significance, effects and spirituality of the resurrection, whence it becomes apparent, that every Sunday throughout the whole year is truly resurrection Sunday, or as we call it, Little Pascha, while Easter Sunday or the Feast of the Resurrection is Great Pascha.
The first church in the history of Christianity, which Helena, mother of Constantine the Great had built in Jerusalem in 335 AD, is called the Church of the Resurrection (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher according to Western tradition.) The early Christians, especially in Syria , had the appellation, “children of the resurrection.” How beautiful it is to hear the faithful in Jerusalem saying, “I’m going to the Resurrection,” rather than, “I’m going to the Church of the Resurrection.” How beautiful if all of us are always walking along the way to the resurrection!
No Cross without Resurrection: no Resurrection without Cross
For every Cross a Resurrection: for every Resurrection a Cross
The fact of linking resurrection to cross and cross to resurrection, cross-resurrection and resurrection preceded by cross, is not simply a ritual gesture and not an ingenious liturgical genre, but rather the highest expression of life’s reality and the longings of mankind.
We say to each and every human being, find in every cross the seeds of the beginning of the resurrection, as you find in every shadow of a very dark night, the first glimmerings of dawn. In the depths of your suffering, trust that the resurrection is for you, your suffering and cross.
So it becomes evident again that liturgical prayers and services are not marginal to the lives of the faithful, but go to the very depths of their lives. The liturgy and liturgical prayers, through their meanings, teachings, spirituality and symbols, express our reality and illuminate our way. The saying is still true, “Whosoever prays is saved:” (cf. Romans 10:13) so, whosoever does not pray is not saved.
That deep relationship between cross and resurrection in the Liturgy is the expression of their relationship, or spiritual correlation, in our life and evidence that one cannot subsist without the other. No cross without resurrection to follow the cross and save us from the cross: no resurrection without cross in the reality of our life. Resurrection takes us down from the cross.
Just as cross and resurrection are intimately linked in Jesus and in the life of Paul and the other saints, so it is too with our reality, as Saint Paul testifies, saying, “…If Christ be not raised (after his passion and cross) your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15:17)
Besides, refusing to link cross to resurrection and resurrection to cross is the cause of many dangers, including despair, suicide, atheism, darkness, sin and crimes.
Linking cross to resurrection and resurrection to cross goes to the heart of our Christian faith and doctrine and is essential in the lives of the faithful and in Christian philosophy. Both of them sum up the meaning of the incarnation and redemption, as they do the relationship between man and God. “For he created us, yet did not cease to do everything to raise us up to heaven..” (that is, to bring us to resurrection life.) (Prayer of the anaphora from the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom)
Besides, this relationship sums up the economy of salvation. It is the best response to our human condition and the longings of our soul for immortality, for, on the one hand, we live the reality of the cross, but we hope to have done with it and, on the other hand, we aspire to immortality and resurrection. That is the meaning of being taken down from the cross and resurrection; that is the experience of Paul on the road to Damascus ; that is the journey of the saints and martyrs. It is Jesus’ mission to save us from the cross and grant us the gift of resurrection.
Jesus has abased himself for us, to death, death on the cross. He came down to our human reality and rose again to fulfill our longings for resurrection. As we read in the Kneeling Prayers on the Monday of Pentecost, Jesus gives life “with the hope of resurrection to those who were smitten with the sting of death,” and announces to us the great “hopes of resurrection and of life immortal.” He is the “Chieftain of our resurrection,” who has “become a partaker, on equal terms, of our flesh and blood, because of (his) exceeding great condescension.” Of his own will, he “took upon (himself) our passions,” and “led us to apatheia,” (or passionlessness: that is, to resurrection.) (Kneeling Prayers)
That is also what appears very clearly and splendidly in the prayer of consecration of light on the morning of Great and Holy Saturday (the Saturday of Light) where we find a very beautiful description of the whole economy of salvation and the linkage between sin, incarnation, cross, death, resurrection and return to paradise. Here is an extract from this prayer, to be found in the Triodion: “Thou, Saviour, didst set the law before the first man, while he was in the state of light, to guide him towards the new world and give him the desire to grow towards eternal life, but by transgressing thy commandment, he fell from that great glory which was his. And he disgraced himself by his fall and became exiled from thee, thou glorious Light. But thou, O Lord, Lover of mankind, by thy death and the abundance of thy goodness and limitless compassion, hast condescended to the lowliness of us abandoned sinners, so as to restore us to that glory and first light whence we fell. And thou didst will to dwell in the tomb for the sake of us, who transgressed thy divine commandments. Thou didst descend to Hades and to the bowels of the earth and hast destroyed the everlasting doors and saved those who were in the darkness of death and raised them. Thou hast illumined the human race by thy resurrection on the third day and hast granted the world new life, illumining the whole world more brightly than the sun and hast restored our nature, by thy compassion, to its first rank and to the glorious light, whence we were exiled. As thou hast raised us up and restored us to life from the abyss of sin and hast delivered us from the shadows of our crimes, make us worthy, by thy rich compassion, to light our own lamps from the light of this day, symbol of thy glorious, radiant resurrection and grant to thy holy catholic and apostolic Church that perfect light.”
The meaning of that prayer is that Jesus condescended to our condition (reality of the cross). He was crucified so as to participate in our condition and he rose up to the level of our aspirations and hopes for immortality. In other words, man wished to become God and was disappointed: so “God became man that man might become god.“
Let All People be Raised with Christ
In my Lent Letter, “I am crucified with Christ,” there is a passage entitled; Let us take the poor down from the cross. Today, the day of the glorious, radiant resurrection, I say, Let us raise the poor with Christ. Instead of raising the cross with the poor man on it, let us raise him to the height of joy in the resurrection. For when we have pity on the poor and take them down from the cross, whatever their cross may be, it is not enough to improve their social conditions, or health, or life. One should rather do everything to satisfy their hunger and thirst for God and enable them to participate in the divine life. That is what Jesus said, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.” (John 6:27)
The action and mission of priest, apostle and true faithful should be to enable others to participate in the divine life. That is what we read in Matins of Great and Holy Wednesday, “Let the believer enable the ignorant to share in the Word.”
So the relationship between Christ’s resurrection and our own becomes evident and whenever we celebrate the resurrection on the Great Feast Day of Pascha, or participate in the Divine Liturgy on Sunday and commemorate Christ’s resurrection, we charge our souls with a new store of hope and optimism. We could say the same about the effects of personal prayer at home and lectio divina (or spiritual reading of the Holy Gospel and Saint Paul ‘s Epistles) in stimulating one’s spiritual life. They are equally effective opportunities or factors for charging our souls with the power of the resurrection. Thanks to them, the resurrection becomes ours and not just a remembrance of Christ’s resurrection: so we infuse our souls with real optimism.
The cross is a reality of our weakness and resurrection is our divine calling, realizing our longings for immortality. Indeed, we all want to be immortal, to be immortalized by our children, by the success of our projects, by our excellence, but the highest expression of great immortality is resurrection – immortality with Jesus and by Jesus, who raises us by his resurrection.
Everyone aspires to and wishes to participate in divine life and immortality, so that the sequence of life, death and resurrection is the true reality that awaits us all. Death is not a definitive state, but a stage. Death is the passing over from earthly to heavenly life, the other life. Death remains a surprise, either by the moment of its happening or through what awaits us thereafter. As Saint Paul says, “…Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (I Corinthians 2: 9)
The Christian not only believes in Christ’s resurrection, but is proud of it and defends its reality, believing that he or she is in turn a child of the resurrection, agent of the resurrection of others, family – companions, fellow-citizens and wider society – so that Jesus Christ’s words be realized, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Our daily work for daily resurrection in our everyday life involves trying to actualize the reality of resurrection through our faith in it. That is why the early Christians, especially those of Syria , were given the extraordinary title, “children of the resurrection.” Thus resurrection became their surname, their Christian tribe’s name and an inseparable part of their personality and identity.
Resurrection begins with Christ, here in our earthly life, but is realized definitively and completely in heaven. That is how we build the civilization of love, life and resurrection. Resurrection is not only the foundation of our faith and Christian belief, but also of our way of life and involvement in the Church, society and country, work and profession so that we become agents of resurrection and servants of life.
Without resurrection and hope of resurrection, without daily life in the resurrection, there is only disenchantment, despair, futility, suicide, violence, terrorism, breakdown of marital and family life and social relations and a shriveling up in death.
On the other hand, the doctrine and reality of resurrection gives a meaning and goal to our life. It gives an awareness of generosity, devotion and service and supports our projects for progress and prosperity, our concerns to help the poor and for scientific inventions and developments to fight illnesses that attack millions of people due to lack of doctors and effective medicines to combat different maladies.
For people to be raised with Christ means that they must be taken down from the cross, enabling the poor, weak, discredited and suffering to share in Christ’s resurrection. That means that we have to convert the deprived sufferer’s cross into resurrection. It means too that we must take down the poor person from the cross, enabling him to share in the resurrection: life, well-being and reintegration into his nation. This way we can do much to collaborate and help in working to combat terrorism, violence and fundamentalism. Enable people to share in the resurrection – in a worthy, noble life. Give them their rights. Thus you will be able to eliminate a large part of the social disasters that most threaten our society. Without that, there is cold war, social chaos, in which there are no winners and we cannot tell whence that chaos comes, whither it tends or who will be its next victim. Often we notice that injustice in all its forms is the cause of violence, terrorism and fundamentalism. Those who are religious are very distant from all that and absolutely innocent. However, religion is used as a cover for it all. Religions and faith values are exploited for illegal and destructive goals.
That is the resurrection that Saint Paul speaks of in his epistles and that is the vision of the risen and living Jesus that is the basis for his conversion, mission and gospel. He lived the mystery of the resurrection in all its dimensions, through his apostolic journeys and continual, lifelong struggle to be able to proclaim the gospel of resurrection. He is truly the apostle of resurrection, explaining it marvelously, through his epistles, as we have shown above. Thus he reunited in an extraordinary way by his life, teachings and gospel, the cross and resurrection.
“..Ye be risen with Christ.”
“I am crucified with Christ.” But I am not crucified alone. That is what Saint Paul said. That is what we have explained in greater detail in the Lent Letter. This expression is couched in the present, of reality. It is completed by another expression of Saint Paul , a verse in which he describes himself as nailed to the cross. But immediately, he continues, further, “..Ye be risen with Christ,” again in the present tense, and in the future. He continues, “…Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3: 3-4) That means that there is no cross without Jesus, and neither is there any resurrection without him.
That is the great Christian hope and that is the Great Feast. That hope, in all its earthly and divine dimensions, closes our Christian Creed, where we proclaim, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen.”
In order to strengthen this hope in the hearts, souls and minds of our children, we would like to highlight some verses of Saint Paul in slogan-form:
For I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ.
Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
So shall we ever be with the Lord.
We look for a city which hath foundations.
The body is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory;
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption,
And this mortal must put on immortality.
He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves,
But unto him which died for them, and rose again.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain.
The Lord Jesus Christ shall change our vile body,
That it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.
He died for us, that we should live together with him.
Earth and Heaven
Animating our life on earth are hopes of resurrection after death and an afterlife in heaven. We are sure that we are born to die, but we are equally certain that we shall die to live and be resurrected. That is what the Arab poet said, “How narrow is life if there is no room for hope.”
Through Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ there appears that profound relationship linking earth and heaven: Saint Paul expressed that, saying, “. . . O ur conversation is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
In fact the Christian is exposed all the time to a double temptation: not to link earth and heaven; not to link reality with his longings, meaning that either he contents himself with this earth and only works for earthly life, or perhaps he contents himself with heaven, living as an exile in beatific isolation and leaving earthly things to this world, ashes to ashes and dust to dust, no longer actively building and participating in society, but existing in a withered state, deadly for him and for others.
Christian faith in Jesus Christ’s resurrection helps the faithful to link earth and heaven. There is a well-known Arab saying, “Work for this world as though you were going to live for ever and work for eternity as though you were going to die tomorrow.” Not linking these two elements – life in this present world and the life to come – can lead to suicide, which is denial of life both here and hereafter and failure to understand its meaning and goal. It can also lead to atheism in which all convictions are destroyed. Suicide and atheism are two stances with the same false basis. On the former topic, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “There is no antithesis between hope for heaven and loyalty to the earth, since this hope is also hope for the earth. While we hope for something greater and definitive, we Christians may and must bring hope to that which is transitory, into the world of our states.” (See Cardinal J. Ratzinger, “Values in a Time of Upheaval” p.72, Ignatius Press 2006)
The history of the Church is witness to the fact that the Church Fathers and saints were not strangers to the earth or to the concerns of their fellow-citizens. We gave evidence of that in our Christmas Letter of 2003 entitled “Poverty and Development.” We explained how the Church worked through its saints and its welfare, cultural and health foundations and institutions to develop facilities and improve human living conditions. On the contrary, the true Christian who believes in resurrection and the life to come is most involved in social affairs and is at the service of his or her people. It is to that that Vatican II called us in the Preface of one its most important documents, “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” published in 1965:
1. The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.
Saint Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, wonders, “But some man will say, ‘How are the dead raised up?'” (I Corinthians 15:35) We have tried to explain this question through Saint Paul ‘s teaching. We should also like to answer this question, which is not peculiar to one or two individuals, but is everyone’s, through the story of two monks who were meditating together in Latin on this very question put by Saint Paul, “How will the dead be raised and how will our own body be raised? How will our body here differ from the one to come? Is the heavenly state what we imagine it to be or different from what we imagine? Is it a difference of modality (qualiter) or something else entirely (aliter)?” They agreed that whoever died first would try from heaven to answer the question for his friend. The first to die did indeed send a short, succinct message to his friend, “It is completely different. (Totaliter Aliter.)”
The Feast of the Resurrection in a Communist Prison
At the end of this Resurrection Letter, I would like to mention an event that I shall never forget and that expresses the power of faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
During the period of the Communist regime, a strange thing happened in one of the big Moscow prisons, during the Paschal Vigil of the glorious Resurrection. The meal had been served to the prisoners, as usual at five in the evening and they were locked into their big, cold, common dormitory. They tried to go to sleep, but to no avail. Warders were posted at the doors of the dormitory. Towards midnight, the time when the resurrection is usually proclaimed in churches, they had in their hearts a strong impression of sharing in that joy in the churches and with their families. In the middle of that dread night, in total darkness, one of the prisoners raised his voice and shouted as loud as he could, proclaiming, as does the Patriarch of Moscow, “Christ is risen!” (In Slavonic, “Khristos voskrese!”) At that, hundreds of prisoners got up on their beds and sang all together at the tops of their voices, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs he has given life.” The “Communist” warders, fellow Orthodox, joined with the prisoners to continue the whole resurrection service and celebrate the resurrection together in prison.
Our world has need of this shout, conviction and longing for resurrection. We pray for our sad world to be filled with yearnings for resurrection and for all people to sing together of their hopes for resurrection, life, peace, redemption and salvation.
A Bouquet for a Happy Feast
We offer these resurrection and Pauline meditations as a spiritual bouquet for the Day of the Glorious Resurrection to all our venerable brother bishops, to all our beloved priests, deacons, consecrated monks and nuns, seminarists, aspirants to the religious life, faithful Christian men and women dedicated outside religious life, to all our sons and daughters in all our eparchies, parishes, religious orders, convents and monasteries in Arab countries and throughout the world and we ask the Lord for them to remain faithful to their baptismal promises, which are resurrection promises, faithful to their historic title of children of the resurrection, living out the resurrection in all areas of their life, causing aspirations for resurrection to grow in their society.
Together we shall sing, without lukewarmness or weariness, proclaiming throughout the world, the good news of the glorious, radiant resurrection, “Christ is risen!” He is risen indeed, granting life to the world.
With my love and apostolic blessing,
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Damascus 25 March 2009
Feast of the Annunciation of the Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary
Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain