Patriarch’s 2017 Paschal Letter

His Beatitude Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

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 Graces, the Bishops, members of the Holy Synod,
to our sons and daughters in Jesus Christ,
clergy and people, called holy, and to all those 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)

Children of the Resurrection

“Children of the Resurrection” is a beautiful title first used by Our Lord Jesus Christ in his discussion with a group of Sadducean Jews, who denied the resurrection of the dead. Christ countered their argument by saying that human beings after death “are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:36) He added, “Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” (Luke 20: 37-38; cf. Matthew 22: 31-32)

For each of you, this means that because you have been created in the image and likeness of God, you are a child of God, life and resurrection.

“Children of the Resurrection” is the splendid title given in the first centuries to Christians in the East. They are children of life since they participate in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I have great pleasure in addressing you, my dear friends, by this most noble and deathless title. You are children of the resurrection. You are children of Him who said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” (John 11: 25) You are children of Him who rose from the dead: like the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7: 11-15) and Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John 11: 1-43). You are children of the resurrection, children of life.

This expression was widely used to designate the monastics of Palestine and elsewhere. This group of Christian monastics and hermits, bound by the vow of chastity and dedicated to the service of the Church, were Children of the Resurrection. Evidently, the basic condition for membership of this group was holy baptism.

Baptism and the Resurrection

Baptism is closely bound up with the Resurrection. It used to be conferred only on the day of Pascha. As Saint Paul says, “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.” (Romans 6: 3-5)

This is also the chapter we read for the sacrament of baptism, since baptism is a covenant with the risen and ever-living Christ. Baptism is a call to new life in Christ.

That is why the early Christians postponed receiving baptism until the time when they felt able to be faithful to the baptismal promises, especially the rejection of the devil and sin, putting on the life of grace in Christ, thus becoming children of the resurrection.
The community of those baptized into Christ is a living community, a resurrection community, comprising children of the Resurrection. The baptized children of the Church are children of the Resurrection, children of a New Covenant with the living Christ. This means that the children of the Church, children of the Resurrection, baptized into the living Christ, must be elect saints and children of life.

Baptized Christians, recognize your nobility as children of the resurrection, children of a city rightly known as City of the Resurrection! Resurrection is a summons to a fervent, serious and committed Christian life. We are all resurrectionists; and, what is more, everyone called to life is a resurrectionist.

Can we forget that Damascus and its surroundings are the place of the appearance of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, to his persecutor, Saul, who had come to Damascus to destroy fledgling Christianity and slaughter the children of the Resurrection? Saul was converted by the light of Christ risen from the dead, and was himself transformed from persecutor of the children of the Resurrection into a child and apostle of the Resurrection. He continually speaks and teaches about the topic of the Resurrection in his Epistles. (See our 2009 Letter for the Year of Saint Paul, entitled, “Paul, Apostle of the Resurrection.”)

Jesus Christ founded a community that believed in resurrection, new life and a new world. Peter, through love that is stronger than death, steers the ship of the Children of the Resurrection.

Jerusalem, City of the Resurrection

The ecclesial rite that is richest in resurrection hymns is the Byzantine Greek rite. Furthermore, the Eastern Churches are Churches of the Resurrection as they all originate in Jerusalem, home of the Church of the Resurrection (called Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Western Christians).

Jerusalem is the Mother of all Churches throughout the world because it is the City of the Resurrection. That is commemorated during Paschal Vespers, “Rejoice, holy Sion, thou Mother of the Churches, and dwelling place of God: for thou wast first to receive remission of sins through the Resurrection.” (Octoechos, Tone 8, Sunday Vespers)

Furthermore, it is recognized that all rites centre on the Church of the Resurrection and the Holy Places. The pilgrim, Egeria, describes all the solemnities and processions that took place in Jerusalem and its environs, with their starting points, and routes all ending in the Church of the Resurrection. Thus, if the procession started in Bethlehem, it would end in the Church of the Resurrection. Similarly, if it started in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives or on the Mount of the Ascension, or at any other place around Jerusalem, it would always end at the Church of the Resurrection.

The Church of the Resurrection is the great symbol of Christianity. How beautiful it is to hear Jerusalem’s Christians, when asked where they are going, replying, “I’m going to the Resurrection” (and not just “to the Church of the Resurrection)!” They are going towards the Resurrection.

The Church of the Resurrection is also called “the navel of the world.” Medieval cartographers liked to place Jerusalem at the centre of their maps. Similarly, Christian pilgrimages always culminated in the Church of the Resurrection, because they were all focused on the Resurrection.

Indeed, all churches throughout the world are considered to be churches of the Resurrection, because, everywhere, they have the cross and representation of Golgotha and the Resurrection. That is especially evident in Orthodox and Catholic churches of the Byzantine rite, where the representation of Golgotha may be found high up on the iconostasis, while below, the Holy Table is the place of the Tomb and Resurrection in the Byzantine tradition.

In the Eastern tradition too, there is usually on the Holy Table the antimension, depicting Christ being prepared for burial by the Mother of God and Saint John at the foot of the cross. Thus, in the Eastern tradition, every church is the church of the Resurrection.

Resurrection in liturgical services

In the Octoechos, we have thousands of Resurrection hymns in the liturgical services for Sundays, as well as in those for Wednesday and Friday every week.

The first tone

For Sunday in the first tone we find these beautiful themes: the whole universe (heavens, foundations of the earth, mountains and valleys) is called to participate in the resurrection; the resurrection is for the whole world; Jesus himself wants to call everyone to life and resurrection; heavenly Resurrection is present among the souls of the faithful departed; Adam and Eve are children of the Resurrection.

In icons, as in hymns, Jesus holds the hands of Adam and Eve and calls them, as he does all nations, to resurrection. Jesus descends towards man in order to raise him, donning mortal human nature in order to clothe it in immortality.

The second tone

We find in this tone the following themes: Resurrection is a power stronger than “the enemy’s swords”; the risen Christ “leads us out of darkness” and “brings together that which was separated.”

The third tone

Christ is “the first-born of the dead” and of all creation, through his Resurrection. Death does not reign over man, for he is called to be the child of life. Peter being saved from drowning is mentioned in the context of our resurrection. The Chief Shepherd calls his flock to resurrection and life.

The fourth tone

Christ’s tomb has “been revealed as the life-bearing source of our resurrection; more lovely than Paradise.” Jesus is the One who “joins together the separated natures.”

The fifth tone

The faithful are called to walk towards resurrection and light. Resurrection is for everyone. Jesus shows the light of the resurrection to all. Jesus stoops down towards man, without falling; he bore “my foul-smelling corruption unsullied, and hath made me sweet-smelling with the myrrh of [his] divine nature” and Resurrection.

The sixth tone

The faithful is called to the true glory of the Resurrection. Christ “sets us free from the passions” by his Passion and Resurrection.

The seventh tone

Resurrection is the focus of glory for everyone. The faithful are called to “come out to adore the Resurrection.”

The eighth tone

Resurrection is compassion. The Church of the Resurrection is the “Mother of the Churches,” because it is the place of the Resurrection. The hymnographer, Saint Jean Damascene, addresses Christ in these terms, “O Jesus, who came down from heaven, thou didst ascend the Cross and didst come to death, O immortal Life; true Light for those sitting in darkness and Resurrection for all the fallen. Our Saviour, who enlightens us, glory to thee!” (Saturday Vespers, Aposticha)

Resurrection Sunday

The hymns of Paschal Sunday are a spiritual and literary masterpiece. They describe the Resurrection and its relationship with risen humanity. I will quote just this verse, “Yesterday, I was buried with thee, O Christ, today I arise with thee in thy Resurrection; yesterday I was crucified with thee. Glorify me with thee, O Saviour, in thy kingdom.” (Ode 3 of Matins)

The children of the Resurrection, around Christ, are his Apostles Peter, Thomas and John with Luke, Cleopas, Mary and Mary Magdalene. The Gospel chapters recount their spiritual experience of the Resurrection. These stories are read in Sunday Matins in the cycle of eleven Sundays.

Besides, every Sunday of the year is a Sunday of Resurrection. The faithful renew their resurrectional strength by taking part in the Divine Liturgy every Sunday, and singing the hymns of the Resurrection in the eight different tones. Thus the children of the Resurrection celebrate the Resurrection together every Sunday.

They celebrate the feast of their risen family, and every Sunday becomes a Paschal Feast and meeting of the children of the Resurrection around the risen Christ. That is what we feel as we sing the hymns of Sunday Matins.

My experience of the Resurrection in Jerusalem

I should like to speak of my personal experience of resurrection during the twenty-six years that I spent as patriarchal vicar in Jerusalem, City of the Resurrection. The patriarchate is situated some three hundred yards from the Church of the Resurrection.

I used to go to “the Resurrection” every Sunday at quarter to eight in the morning. There I would visit Golgotha, the Stone of Anointing and the Holy Tomb. Then I would go to pray and listen to the singing and prayers of the Resurrection in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Arabic. I shared in the prayers of my brethren of the various venerable communities that celebrate liturgies day and night in this Church of the Resurrection.

How beautiful were the ceremonies of Holy Saturday connected with the bringing out of the Holy Fire, and the Hajme or race to the Resurrection! Then walking with Jerusalem’s faithful of all communities on the night of Pascha, in the streets of the Holy City, towards the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, Christ’s prison and the Garden of Gethsemane …

Could I forget the hundreds, or rather thousands of talks, given in various languages to pilgrims from around the world, to explain the importance of the Church of Jerusalem and of the presence of Christians as Resurrection witnesses, just like the apostles and the first Christians?

Jesus: Resurrection and Life

Jesus promised resurrection to his disciples (John 6: 39-40) and also told them, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” (John 6: 51) In Bethany, where he raised Lazarus from the dead, Christ said to Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11: 25) All the miracles of Jesus are miracles of life, since he restores man to life, by opening ears and eyes, restoring strength to withered hands, enabling the lame and paralytics to walk with head held high, and recalling the dead to life.

Jesus is the Master of life and the guide of the progress of the children of the Resurrection, as he walked on the roads of the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, Galilee, Nazareth, beside the Lake of Tiberias and on the road to Emmaus with his disciples Luke and Cleopas… He continues to walk with the Church, with the sons and daughters of the Resurrection and the Church.

Your responsibility as a child of the Resurrection

Noblesse oblige! The children of the Resurrection are witnesses of the Resurrection (Acts of the Apostles 1: 22). If you are the child of the Resurrection, it means that you are the child of hope, love, devotion, forgiveness, tolerance and giving without counting the cost!

Being a child of the Resurrection means being the child of life, not death. You accept and preserve life, in yourself and with others. You act as Jesus did, that all might have a better, more beautiful, worthy and elevated life and have it more abundantly. (cf. John 10: 10)

Being the child of the Resurrection means being available to serve, help and commit yourself to the welfare of your Church, parish, society and family. You will work hard for and build a better world. You share with others the good things of this earth. You arouse hope for life and happiness, and optimism in others.

Joint Feast of the Resurrection

This year, all Christians of every community, all children of the Resurrection celebrate the great Feast of the Resurrection on the same date.

We offer our good wishes to each and all, hoping that all efforts may combine for the great project: that the day may dawn when the Feast will be joint and fixed. Indeed, we know that efforts have been made towards this objective of fixing the Feast for a Sunday between the 9 and 15 April, but that there are also impediments.

Similarly, we pray, with our children in our Arab Eastern world, for peace to return to our suffering countries, especially Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

We invite everyone to hope, especially in the face of scenes of death, violence, explosions, terrorism, criminal killing and burning…

Despite all these tragic circumstances, let us renew our faith in life, in hopes of the Resurrection, in Jesus Christ who has conquered death and given life and who calls us to be sons and daughters of the Resurrection and life, bearers of the message of life, working for the victory of life over death, love over hatred and bitterness, forgiveness and reconciliation over vengeance.

The children of the Resurrection are builders of Syria of the future. The children of our churches and institutions are builders of love and peace.

Resurrection behaviour

The words of the well-known French Abbé Pierre (1912-2007), one of the first worker-priests, who are worthy to inspire children of the Resurrection, invite us to this:

I shall continue to believe, even if everyone loses hope.
I’ll continue to love, even if others distil hatred.
I’ll continue to build, even if others destroy.
I’ll continue to talk peace even in the midst of a war.
I’ll continue to spread light, even in the midst of darkness.
I’ll continue to sow, even if others trample the harvest.
And I will continue to shout, even if others are silent.
And I shall draw smiles on faces in tears.
And I’ll bring relief, when we see the pain.
And I’ll offer reasons for joy, where there is only sadness.
I will encourage the one who decided to stop to keep walking …
And I’ll stretch out my arms to those who feel exhausted.”

With these feelings, and in hopes of the Resurrection, all we Christians, celebrating Pascha on the same day, proclaim together with but one heart, soul and common hope, and with the joy of Christ risen from the dead, exchange greetings for the Feast: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and Jerusalem