Patriarch’s Pascha Letter 2008 – Christ the New Passover


Patriarch Gregory sitting in a chair on a porchPatriarchal Letter 2008 of

His Beatitude Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem

“May divine grace and apostolic blessing fill our brother bishops, members of the Holy Synod, and all faithful clergy and laity of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church.”

Contents

Christ the New Passover

Christ the New Passover is the beginning of the New Testament, the dawn of the Day of the glorious Resurrection. It is the day of joy that knows no evening: on this day of gladness I am sending fatherly, brotherly and friendly greetings to all my brother bishops, members of our beloved Holy Synod, to all priests, monks and nuns and all brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church. I am speaking to them with a brotherly paschal greeting and cordial, fragrant good wishes for a happy feast, asking Jesus, risen from the dead, he who is the great, most noble Passover, to grant that the Feast of the Resurrection may be really Passover, passing over, joy, gladness and very great exultation, filling their hearts, souls and minds and permeating their and our homes, institutions and society, in Arab countries and countries of emigration and everywhere that there are Greek Catholics.

Passover is the Mystical Supper

In the Holy Gospels, the evangelists tell us the story of the celebration of Jewish Passover according to the Law by our Lord Jesus Christ with his apostles in the Cenacle of Sion, the so-called Upper Room in Jerusalem . Jesus fulfilled the rite of Passover according to the Jewish tradition, through which the Jewish people, the Hebrews, celebrate the memory of their Pesach or historic passing over (for that is what the name means in Arabic and in Hebrew) from Egypt to the Sinai desert, by crossing the Red Sea . From that comes the name of the Hebrews – “those who pass through.” Hence we see that the Feast of Passover is closely linked to the name of the Hebrews[1] and to that most important moment in their history.

Passover is the symbol of God’s providence for his people, his vigilance for their salvation and his will to walk with them, by means of Moses who met God, and make them pass from the hard labor of slavery to freedom.

“Christ, the New Passover,” that hymn that we sing with so much joy, gives us that true sense of the Hebrews’ Passover of old. In fact, in Christianity, Christ himself has become the Passover. So that liturgical hymn, “Christ, the New Passover” expresses the depth and height of Christian theology. In our Christian faith, Passover is no longer an historical event, limited to a particular place and people, but it is Christ himself who is our Passover or resurrection, and his resurrection is ours: our passing over is not with Moses or another prophet, but with Jesus himself. That is why we sing, “This is the Day of Resurrection: let us be filled with light, O ye people. Passover, Passover of the Lord! From death to life and from earth to heaven, Christ our God hath made us pass over (Pesach/Passover) from death to life, from earth to heaven, singing a triumphal song (the song of Passover.)” (Paschal Canon, First Canticle, Irmos.)

Through these paschal thoughts we wish to assert the meaning of the Christian Passover, in which Christ himself is the “mighty and most holy Passover … Wisdom and Word and Power of God.” (Paschal Canon, Ninth Canticle, Troparion.)

So the old Passover, limited to a specific time, place and people, evolves into Christ himself: he is the New Passover, liberation and resurrection, opening up new horizons of new life for every person that believes in him and participates in his suffering, death and resurrection, indeed in his whole life, thus experiencing every day a New Passover and becoming transformed through the holy sacraments, especially baptism, holy myron and eucharist. The believer changes as he passes from the Old to the New Testament, from the Law (Torah) to grace and truth, putting off the old man to be clothed afresh and recreated in the image and likeness of God, as God created him at the beginning in Paradise.

That is why, in the East, Jesus Christ’s celebration of Passover is not called the Last Supper, but the Mystical Supper, or rather, Jesus celebrated Jewish Passover for the last time according to the traditional Jewish meaning, transforming it into a Mystical Supper. So he celebrated with his apostles the mystery of his love, which would guide him to his passion and death and beyond, to his resurrection, when he said to his disciples, “Take, eat, this is my body… Drink; for this cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you … for the remission of sins.” (cf. Matthew 26:26, 28 and Luke 22:20.)

So the Passover that Jesus celebrated is the last Jewish Passover and the first Mystical Supper. It is the last of the Old Testament and the first in the New Testament. For it is the beginning and foundation of the sacraments (mysteries) of the New Testament and of our Christian faith. For Jesus Christ, who is Passover, resurrection, the great mystery (sacrament) is the foundation of the seven sacraments or mysteries of the Church that accompany the Christian’s life from birth to death. So, by the sacraments, our Lord Jesus Christ gives to all the stages of our earthly life a mystical and spiritual meaning and a dimension that both contains the bodily human aspect and divinizes it, so that the progress of human life on this earth becomes a real Passover, a true passing over and participation in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, his passion, death and resurrection and more, into eternal life through death, or koimesis, falling asleep, which is for the Christian, his last transition, his last Passover, his last passing over to the Father, so that in him, in his mortal body, there may be raised up the old man that was created in the beauty of the image of God.

So the Jewish Passover is the event and principal Feast in the Old Testament, while for us, Pascha, or the Feast of the Resurrection is the passing over that happens every day. It is the Feast of Feasts, the Season of Seasons; it is the Feast of Christianity – annual, monthly, weekly, daily: it is the Great Feast.

New Passover and New Testament

Passover in Christianity is a new kind of passing over. Indeed the name Passover in Hebrew means passage. And it is the beginning of the New Testament. The expression “new” that is most used in the Greek language in which the Holy Gospel was written is kainos, different from the word for new most used in modern Greek, which is neos.

The “new” in Holy Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments, is an expression which has several, various dimensions of newness. It means a prodigious event, an extraordinary thing, a reality surpassing our senses and sensory phenomena, a divine reality confounding our ordinary senses and predicates. Passover is the renewal of creation and its institutions: it is a complete, universal newness that affects all the details of life in society. It is a “new” which is proper to mystery, linked to God, in whom everything becomes new. “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) Christ is laid in a new tomb. (Matthew 27:60) The whole of the Old Testament is an expectation of the new Messianic times.

God himself announces that he will do something new. “I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19) “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.”(Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22) The song of thanksgiving for all that should also be new. (Psalm 149:1) The earth is new, the temple is new, Jerusalem is new. The expectation of the New Covenant is continuously repeated in the prophecies of the Prophets. One must be governed by a new law. (Psalm 111:9) “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27 and various)

The teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospel come to realize that expectation of the new in the books of the Old Testament. The people who listen to Jesus are astonished at his teachings (Mark 1:27), for he gives a new meaning to the teachings, practices and ordinances of the Law. He wishes to fulfill (complete) it and himself compares the Old to the New Testament by saying, “No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment… Neither do men put new wine into old bottles… but they put new wine into new bottles…” (Matthew 9:16, 17)

The disciples who believed in Jesus are compared to “a householder who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matthew 13:52) The great commandment of Jesus is the commandment of love (John15:12) and it is a “new commandment” (John 13:34) for this love is after the example of Jesus loving, the Father loving, and the Holy Spirit that is love from the Father and the Son. This love is the cup of the New Testament in the blood of Jesus Christ, which is offered to the faithful in Holy Communion. (Luke 22:20, I Corinthians 11:25)

Saint Paul the Apostle exults in the description of the New Testament, which the prophets of the Old Testament had already expressed beautifully. “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant… I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts…In that he saith a new covenant, he hath made the first old.” (Hebrews 8:8b, 10b, 13a.)

Hence the gift of new tongues granted to the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon them. (Acts 2:4 and Mark 16:17b) It was given to enable the apostles to spread the new message to the peoples of the whole world, in the diversity of their languages, cultures and civilizations.

Christ is the New Passover because he is the new man. He is the last or new Adam. (I Corinthians 15:45) “Whosoever believes in Jesus Christ and is baptized in his name is a new creature. The old things are past: behold, I make all things new.” (II Corinthians 5:17) Besides, Jesus Christ himself is the New Passover and calls all peoples to become “one new man, so making peace.” (Ephesians 2:15)

A new birth is brought about “by the washing of regeneration.” (Titus 3:5) Thereby “the inward man is renewed day by day.” (II Corinthians 4:16) The faithful must “purge out therefore the old leaven that (they) may be a new lump.” (I Corinthians 5:7) They must “put off the old man…and put on the new man” (Colossians 3:9b, 10a) “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24) “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… knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him.” (Romans 6:4, 6a)

The work of the incarnation and redemption is the work of a great, universal renewal, the renewal of man, society and the whole universe, “for the whole creation groaneth and travaileth until now”… awaiting the new birth realized in the “manifestation of the sons of God” who believe in Jesus Christ and are renewed by baptism and called to renew creation. (Romans 8:22, 19) However, the renewal of man in society and in the whole of creation will only be realized in the last times, in the kingdom. That is what we read in Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, namely, that salvation starts with the birth of Jesus Christ, a new Child, God before the ages, but culminates in the resurrection, which is a call to renewal in Jesus Christ, the New Passover. But the definitive, complete and final renewal will only be realized at the end of time. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth… new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven….Behold, I make all things new… I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:1, 2, 5, 6)

The Old Testament and the New Testament

Jesus is the New Testament. He is the New Passover and the New Covenant. “Jesus was made a surety of a better testament.” (Hebrews 7:22) “He is the mediator of a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6) and “he is the mediator of the New Testament.” (Hebrews 9:15) So the books of the Holy Gospel and the other books are called the New Testament. In the same way, the chapters that are read at the beginning of Great and Holy Thursday’s Passion Service and prior to the resurrection of Jesus Christ are from the Gospel of John, which is called “the Gospel of the Testament.” So the Christian is called to live within the New Testament. Besides, Saint Paul calls upon the Christian, he who is minister of the New Testament, “Ye are …the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart… (and God) hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.” (II Corinthians 3:3, 6)

The “new” in Jesus Christ is different from the usual new in our material, earthly language. The new in Jesus Christ is the passing over from the Old to the New Testament. It is putting off the old and moving forward towards the new, for in God all is new and always new: the New Testament, the new Gospel, the new man, the new created order, even the external things in the church – and especially for Pascha – must be new: the new tomb, the new hangings, new liturgical instruments, new hymns, new chairs and benches: they must be constantly renewed.

However, there is a very profound dialectical reasoning, a discrepancy, shall we say, between the Old and the New Testaments. That is what we see, even within the holy books of the Old Testament and we all know about the murmurs of the Hebrews after their exodus from Egypt , as they asked Moses to take them back there again. The prophets were striking voices that sought to purge the conscience of the people from the old leaven and from the old pagan customs. Christ himself reprimanded the apostles for their old mindset and for their prosaic way of thinking about the business of precedence, supremacy and authority, and about the problem of retaliation. In fact they replied to Jesus after his sermon on the bread of life, “This is an hard saying: who can hear it?” (John 6:60)

We too fall into this contrast, or dialectic. In fact, how many times do we do the same thing as those disciples, of whom, as Saint John recounts, “from that time, many…went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:66) Even Peter, who had said to Jesus, “To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68) said to Jesus in another place, when he was speaking about his Passion, “Be it far from thee Lord!” (Matthew 16:22) and Jesus had to reply to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” (Mark 8:33)

During holy baptism, the priest addresses the person to be baptized, or his godparent, “Dost thou renounce Satan?” and the reply is, “I do.” And, “Dost thou unite thyself unto Christ?” to which the reply must be, “I do.”

Unfortunately, very often, we still turn back towards the Old Covenant, rejecting the words of Jesus and accepting the words of the evil one. We are drawn back into an outmoded mindset and an antique way of thinking. The temptation is ever-present of returning to the Old Testament and repudiating the New Testament and the spirituality of the Gospel and doing just the opposite of what Saint Paul says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) And he says again, “We have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:16)

“Put on the new man[2]

Christ is the New Passover. You, too, who believe in Jesus Christ, are called to be a new man. Christ, the New Passover, the new resurrection, is a call to spiritual renewal. The new is not a fashion, the latest “in” things being advertised, or a brilliant veneer, for the beauty of a right way of life lies within. The Feast of Glorious Pascha, baptism, Christ the New Passover are a call to a New Testament, to a demanding renewal, to an inner renewal, in thought, in one’s heart, attitude, conduct, private life, family life and social life. It is a contagious renewal, one that is truly a new beginning.

The Church helps us with renewal, for it twice celebrates an encaenia – on 13 September, is the Dedication and Encaenia of the Temple or Church of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem in 335. The other feast is on 9 December[3], called the Feast of Encaeniae: this is the Feast of the Dedications or Encaeniae of churches throughout the world, and above all the Church of the Resurrection, which in the mother of all churches. On the Sunday after Easter, the Sunday of Saint Thomas is called New Sunday.

The hymns of these feasts are urgent, unceasing calls to renovation and renewal of beauty and splendor, purity and holiness. Here are some extracts, which exhort us to renewal in the Holy Spirit and to make new the church of stone and the church of flesh. Here is the kontakion of 9 December, “O Christ our God, renew hearts with spiritual renewal and grant enlightenment to those who celebrate this Feast of Encaeniae of thy house.” From the Matins of 13 September, “Renew thyself, renew, O new Jerusalem, for thy light hath shone forth and the glory of God hath illumined thee. This house hath been built by the Father, this house is strengthened by the Son, this house is renewed by the Holy Spirit that illumines, strengthens and sanctifies our souls.” Again, on 13 September, in Matins, “Come back to thyself, O man and change from old to new and celebrate the Feast of Encaenia with the renewal of thy soul. While thou hast time, renew thy life and whole conduct. The old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. May the fruit of this feast be for thee to change with a praiseworthy alteration. Thus is man made new and the Feasts of Encaeniae are venerated.”

Further, “Dear brethren, lo, come, let us rejoice in the Lord and in this feast; let us celebrate together a spiritual feast, illuminating our souls with the lamp of compassion. Thus we shall be able to celebrate the Feast of Encaenia. So, God the Creator will be glorified, who wishes to renew completely the souls of all in heavenly splendor.” (Vespers of 9 December.)

On the Sunday of Saint Thomas, we thank Christ, risen from the dead, “for (he hath) renewed for us, through the apostles, (his) right Spirit.” (Kontakion of Thomas Sunday) That is why that Sunday, as we have said, is called New Sunday, for the whole of the created order is renewed by the resurrection of Christ and because the neophytes, the newly baptized, the catechumens who had received the sacrament of holy baptism on the night of Pascha, remained wearing their white clothes until the following Sunday, representing indeed the new created order, which had entered again upon its first beauty through the sacrament of baptism. Moreover, the sacrament of baptism is itself called the sacrament of renewal.(John 3:5) In fact we see in the baptismal rite symbols and signs of renewal: turning towards the East, removing one’s old clothes, the threefold immersion under water, symbolizing death and resurrection and new life in Jesus Christ, the new name, that of a saint, given to the newly baptized, the baptismal candle, which invites him to be the light of the world, the new clothes, symbolizing being clothed with holiness and purity and new Christian morals. “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.[4]” This is the hymn we sing during the whole paschal-tide. After baptism, there is aghion myron (chrismation) composed of a great number of aromatic medical plants, symbolizing the multitude of gifts of the Holy Spirit and their diversity in the Church for the renewal of the faithful.

The Church: the New Passover

Baptism is the personal Passover of the Christian. As we say at the Feast of Theophany, recalling the passing over, the Passover, one may say, of Elisha in the river Jordan[5]: “The stream became a dry path before him, forming a true figure of the baptism whereby we pass over (Pesach) the changeful course of life.[6]” (Hymn from the First Hour – Royal Hours of the Eve of Theophany)

The Christian is called to live this passing over or Passover in a continuous way and to be continually renewed. The place of perpetual renewal is the Church, which is the place of the celebration of Passover and the resurrection, not only on the day of Pascha, but every Sunday and even every day and time that we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, we celebrate Passover, the resurrection and new life in Christ.

The Church is called to continuous, daily renewal: it is called to live Pascha every day. The Church as an institution, both groups and individuals, its Patriarch, bishops, priests, monks, nuns and faithful men and women, all have need of this continual Passover. Jesus himself, instead of Moses, is the one who walks ahead of our passing over (Pesach) and in place of Moses’ staff, we have the cross of Jesus Christ. The river is everyday life.

So the Paschal passing over is resurrection. Passover is continual and every day and a fact of life. The Church must always be the place of continual passing over, from the old (which remains always a daily temptation) to the new (an imperative, continual daily call.) What is required is continual passing over, being renewed, from the old to the new. Unfortunately the danger is still present every day of returning to the mindset of the Old Testament and of repudiating the mindset of the Gospel, that we find heavy, too idealistic, rather like the Beatitudes, difficult and not practical. That is why Jesus, the Master, always insists on our passing over to his Gospel, passing over to his thinking, his mindset, his newness, which he came to bring to our world, saying this very well known adage of his, “Ye have heard that it was said (in the Old Testament), but I say unto you (in the New Testament.)” (Matthew 5) and again, “Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead (the Old Testament). I am the living bread which came down from heaven (the New Testament.)” (John 6: 58, 51)

Ministers of the New Testament

Saint Paul, as we recalled above, brings to bear on each faithful believer in Jesus Christ, the New Passover of the New Testament, a serious responsibility. He reminds them, “He hath made us …ministers of the New Testament.” (II Corinthians 3: 6)

It is really a very serious responsibility. In my turn, I am speaking to my brother bishops, priests, monks and nuns and the faithful of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church wherever they may be: indeed, I am speaking to all who will read this Paschal Letter, calling them all, beginning with myself, to examine our conscience and seriously and frankly ask ourselves the question, of how we stand with regard to our responsibility towards Jesus Christ, the New Passover and New Testament, meaning, “Where am I with regard to my baptism, my passing over, my new passover?”

We are ministers of the New Testament, the New Passover, the Gospel and its values, teachings and lifestyle, both in ourselves and in our society. A believer is never alone. He is with God and God with him. He is also with and in society and his responsibility as a believer goes beyond himself, his personal perfection, holiness, purity of life and fidelity to Jesus Christ, the New Passover. The believer, who is renewed as a son of the resurrection and New Testament, continually renews not only his own life, but also that of his society through his participation in its development. He enters into it, becoming socially, culturally, nationally, politically and economically incarnate there. A Christian must not think of himself without consideration of his place in political, social and economic life. Lacordaire used to say, “Every soul that rises above itself raises up the world.” So the Christian is never for himself alone. He is minister of a mission and in his heart and conscience he has a talent or talents. He is not allowed to hide these talents in his heart, but he must allow others to share in them.

Yes, the New Testament for which we are ministers explains and renews and traces for us our role in society, especially in the Arab world and in the Middle East . It is a role of one Christian to another, from Christian to Muslim and Jew, from Christian to non-believer. It is the role of wheat in the field of this world[7] where there are both wheat and tares still growing together. It has always been thus, it is and will be.

Hence the obligation to renew it in ourselves, in the Church, Christian societies, brotherhoods, apostolic movements, youth groups, the new generation, the family, the male and female religious communities, at the level of the Church as institution, in the pastoral councils, welfare societies, the Holy Synod, Episcopal College and in the parishes and diocesan organizations.

That is why Congresses or sessions of the Synod at different levels are held and that is why we have also held in September 2007 the Patriarchal Assembly, which had as its core subject “Sacramental Pastoral Care and Pastoral Care of Youth” and it is obligatory upon each eparchy to hold its eparchial assembly on this same basis as canon law requires.

This is absolutely necessary, for renewal (aggiornamento) within the Church and its institutions, helps greatly to reinforce the inner depth of the Church, giving it a new vitality and supporting the efforts of its children, especially its young people, and all those in positions of responsibility. Thus it becomes capable of renewing society around it. So the Church remains in an ever-new, continual Passover, after the example of Jesus, the New Passover. It remains young, speaking to the young. It incorporates and loves them, in solidarity with them. It gives them a sense of direction and provides guidance and supports them when they make mistakes, lifting them out of their mistakes, understanding their mindset, directing them to Christ, the Gospel. It gives a new impetus to their efforts, so that they are able to fulfill their role in society. It educates them to be faithful and inwardly linked to their faith and to itself, their Church, so that they enroll in the varied activities that their parishes offer. So they will live out their faith inside the parish in a brotherly, healthy, pure, family atmosphere of pastoral care. So they will get ready to venture into society and found a believing Christian family that will be involved in the Church, society and the home country.

Yes, the Church must remain young. The young constitute a very important element in enabling the Church to stay young, in harmony and symphony with the great hopes of different groups of faithful within the Church. As Patriarch, I would like to be always close to young people and participate in different youth activities, either in my Patriarchal eparchy in Damascus , or in Egypt or Jerusalem or in other eparchies. Besides, I would like to be the Patriarch of young people, for they are a very important constituent for the renewal of the Church and we must do everything in our power to see that they stay in and with the Church, alongside their pastors, that they love the Church, so that through the Church they may become builders of a new world and that the Church, through them, may remain present in today’s world and tomorrow’s too.

I have called especially upon priests, monks and nuns for renewal in their faith, belief and ways of working. They must renew themselves in their sacramental, pastoral work, in preaching, spiritual guidance, and new, modern, advanced methods and broaden their outlook and make a serious effort to make continual progress spiritually, above all, through study, reading, and prayer, in the internal administration of parish business, using “the techniques and the technologies of contemporary communications,” being always watchful about different aspects of the parish, its heritage, parish property, furniture, various parish archives, so that the parish remains always alive, a building site of activities, on all levels. Here I would like to refer them to the Apostolic Letter published by the Blessed Pope John Paul II, entitled, “The Rapid Development.” (24 January 2005)

So it is important that the Paschal renewal and resurrection may reach individuals, families, institutions, outlooks, convictions and all sectors of the parish, Church and society.

Spiritual, Liturgical and Sacramental Renewal

It pleases me however to say a word about renewal in the liturgical, devotional and sacramental sector. Indeed the Liturgical Commission, under my presidency since 1986 has published, one after the other, all the prayer books of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of all the services and Divine Liturgies in a new, very attractive presentation. As a Commission, we have incessantly repeated and recalled to mind the means of liturgical animation and the importance of using new liturgical texts and also of unifying, as far as possible, the most common hymns. Our saying is well known, “One Melkite Greek Catholic Church: unified liturgical texts, unified liturgical books and unified popular hymns.”

We would also like to point out a contradictory phenomenon. We notice that on the one hand there is among some a great indulgence, a great and ever-growing care to adorn and renew churches, painting them with beautiful, ecclesiastical icons, acquiring new ornaments and church utensils, but we notice on the other hand with a lot of sorrow, that many forget, or appear to forget, or neglect the old, sacred customs of the Church, especially in fidelity to the daily prayers, as the Church’s rules and regulations demand, the daily Divine Liturgy, fasts and abstinence, continual lectio divina, working to educate oneself continually, progressing, preparing sermons with care and also, always finding new methods of pastoral care, adapted to new generations, visiting homes, evangelical evenings and so forth. Those things constitute a very important field and represent very useful and effective means for the Paschal renewal or resurrection, for pastors and parishes.

A Mistaken Way of Thinking: Rejecting the Old Testament

Finally, I should like to draw to your attention a mistaken and even contradictory way of thinking. In fact, many faithful, both men and women, even among priests and monks and teachers of catechism, criticize the Old Testament and what is recounted therein of crimes and murders, violence, revenge, lies, adultery, usury, discriminatory injustice on the part of individuals and groups. So, many wish to distance themselves from the Old Testament and do not wish to listen to it or even hear it read during liturgical prayers.

I hope to give a reply in extenso to that objection and viewpoint in one of my letters, but today, I would like to recall the well-known saying, adapted from Augustine,[8] “The New in the Old lies concealed: the Old in the New is revealed. Novum in Vetere latet: Vetus in Novo patet.” But I would like all the same today to reply briefly to that objection, which is becoming more and more widespread, for we can yet see evidence of it in ideas that are being spread on radio and television and in the press. I regret to say that many of those who criticize the accounts brought to us in the books of the Old Testament, descriptive of the unhallowed popular customs of the period, unfortunately themselves live in that selfsame popular mindset, behave likewise and exemplify the very customs that they criticize.

To all that and to every person baptized into Christ, the New Passover, I say, the passing over from the Old to the New Testament is an obligatory directive and not a free choice. We have to examine our conscience continually: are we still in the Old Testament, or have we crossed over towards the New Testament? And if we are truly “new,” we shall renew the world, but if we are “old,” the world remains fallen and old because of us. We should have the courage to make the passage, Passover, Pesach, from the Old to the New. For renewal and the new, individual, personal and communal moral courage is required.

For a real spiritual renewal, we must have a program comprising devotional practice and a program for life: this would include deepening one’s faith, becoming informed about it, reading Holy Scripture, especially the New Testament, making efforts to practice and progress in the virtues, renewing spiritual life in the family, concerning oneself with real, spiritual life, practicing the Church’s sacraments, being faithful in participating in the Divine Liturgy, liturgical prayers and parish life in all its different aspects.

These basic means help us to be really children of the New Testament, disciples of Jesus Christ, the New Passover and children of the resurrection.

Conclusion

In the icon of the resurrection, we see Jesus, risen from the dead, stretching out his hand to Adam and Eve. He raises them from their tombs and darkness towards the light of day. This icon is a very beautiful, splendid, Paschal one: indeed, Christ himself, the New Passover, stretches out his hand to guide us to the joys, glories and horizons of the New Passover, to resurrection and new life.

We discover in the very beautiful Paschal hymns the joy of the Church, its gladness, jubilation and happiness in Jesus Christ, the New Passover, as if the Church were spiritually blossoming with the Lord’s Passover. I close this Paschal Letter and my spiritual meditation by quoting some sacred hymns of Pascha:

“This is the Day of Resurrection: let us be filled with light, O ye people. Passover, Passover of the Lord! From death to life and from earth to heaven, Christ our God hath brought us over, singing a triumphal song.” (First Canticle, Irmos)

“Christ has appeared as male when he opened the womb that remained virginal: and as our food, he is called the Lamb. He is our Passover without blemish as he tasted not corruption, and as true God, he hath been declared perfect.” (Fourth Canticle, Troparion.)

“When they saw thy boundless compassion, O Christ, those who were captive and bound by the chains of hell, ran forward with joyful steps towards the daylight, applauding the eternal Passover.” (Fifth Canticle, troparion.)

“Christ the New Passover, the living sacrifice, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” (Ninth Canticle, third verse.)

“After sleeping in the flesh, as mortal, O Master and King, on the third day thou art risen, raising up Adam from decay and abolishing death: O Passover of incorruption, salvation of the world.” (Exapostilarion of the Feast.)

“Sacred Pascha, hath today been shown forth unto us, new and holy Passover, mystic Passover! Pascha, full of exceeding majesty! Passover that is Christ the Redeemer, unblemished Passover, glorious Passover, Passover of the faithful! Pascha that hath opened to us the gates of Paradise : Pascha that sanctifies all the faithful.” (Aposticha, first verse.)

“Pascha the beautiful, Pascha, Passover of the Lord: Pascha, full of exceeding majesty, that hath risen and shines for us, Pascha! Let us embrace one another with joy! O Pascha, deliverance from sorrow, for from the tomb today as from a bridal chamber, Christ hath shone forth and filled with joy the women, by saying to them, ‘Proclaim the message to the apostles.’ Glory…both now…

“The Day of Resurrection falls today. Let us shine with the light of the Feast and embrace one another. Even to them that hate us, let us say, ‘brethren.’ Let us forgive all in the resurrection and so let us cry aloud, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs he hath given life.'” (Aposticha, final verse)

So the Church enters upon a spiritual intoxication during the Feast of Pascha and in the Holy Resurrection of Christ. Today more than ever, we need that joy of the Feast, the joy of Passover, the great joy of the Great Feast and Great Day.

Our world has need of this shout of Passover and the resurrection, “Christ is risen!” The world is ahungered for true joy and blessedness, which springs from the tomb of Christ, by which we are strengthened and conquer life’s difficulties, calamities, wars, killings, devastation, terrorism, violence, persecution, fundamentalism and various crises.

Our Eastern countries, which are the lands of the resurrection, are suffering in many of their members that are members of the Arab League and our brothers, being hungry, distressed and dying, or deprived of their rights, especially in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. We are talking to them with sincere feeling and raising our fervent prayers, asking all our children to show solidarity with all who suffer and with their real causes. Let us all be workers for peace, pontifices, (bridge-builders) and peace-makers and let us beseech the Lord, that the local and regional leaders of our society and throughout the world may be real builders of peace. We pray above all that there may soon arise the dawn of the resurrection of worthy life, peace, security and prosperity and together, with a heart full of hope, faith and charity, we say, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.” With my affection, esteem and apostolic blessing,

Damascus

Issued on 15 March 2008

Gregorios III

Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain