Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

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An Easter Greeting from

Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

April 24, 2011

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It gives me great joy to greet all of you, Reverend Clergy and lay faithful, on this holy and glorious Pascha of the Lord, the Feast of Feasts! I rejoice with you, echoing the clarion call of St. John Chrysostom in his beautiful Paschal homily: "Let all pious men and woman and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast…Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord!"

Our rejoicing is this world, seemingly in the thrall of death, is not simply foolish optimism. It is founded on our faith in Christ who conquers death. "If Christ has not risen, vain then is our preaching, and vain too is your faith" (1 Cor.15:14). For Christ is truly risen! Indeed, this astonishing reality of the glorious Resurrection of the Lord is the fount and foundation of our holy faith and the cause of our rejoicing. Life Itself has trampled down Death by His death and given life to all who are in their tombs! Neither our preaching, nor our rejoicing is in vain, for Christ, Who was slain for our sins, "rose again on the third day…and appeared to Cephas, and after that to the Eleven. Then, He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at one time…After that He was seen by James, and then by all the disciples" (1 Cor. 15:4-8).

Hardly could the Myrrh-bearing Women have believed this astounding news, had they not seen the Crucified One Himself—alive—with their own eyes! And so they went in haste rejoicing and proclaiming this great Good News. And all the witnesses of the Lord's Resurrection continued in haste to preach this joyous news until, in only a few short years, the entire world had heard their proclamation. For two thousand years, the Church has not ceased to bear witness to the reality of Christ's Resurrection and to proclaim to the world that, in Christ, sin and death are defeated and that God's love reigns supreme.

Still, in our modern world there remain many forces of death, both those which beset us personally and those which continue their arrogant assault into the very structure and functioning of our society. These dark forces attack goodness, truth, and beauty in every way: the plague of abortion continues to destroy the lives of countless innocents in their mothers' wombs; the rampant promotion of promiscuity and perversity, even to our children, threatens the moral compass of our nation; the efforts of homosexuals to pervert the sacred bond of marriage and claim it as a "right" threatens the very foundation of human civilization, the family; and wars and bloody conflicts throughout the world, especially in the ancient lands of our own Church, sacrifice human lives and cause untold suffering. Indeed, Satan is raging even in his efforts to silence the Church and its message of Resurrection and new life, while martyrs for the Faith are again being added to the roles of the Saints. "Hades is angered because it is frustrated…It is angered because it is now captive… Christ is risen and the demons are cast down!"

It is not foolish optimism that causes our rejoicing at holy Pascha. It is our firm belief in the sublime truth of Christ's Resurrection. For it is exactly in times such as these that we need to hear proclaimed with full voice and vigor: Christ is risen, and has trampled down Death by His death! And this proclamation must not be mere words or custom, but the catalyst for the renewal of our life of faith and our witness to the world. For, indeed, we proclaim, Christ IS risen, not Christ was risen. Christ is risen and alive now in our midst. He lives and is present in His mystical Body, the Church. He lives in the hearts of all who truly seek Him and believe in Him. The Resurrection is an ever-present reality to be grasped and experienced in the life of every believer.

The message of Christ's Resurrection not only gives us hope of everlasting life after death, but really calls us to experience this new life of the Resurrection now: resurrection from the life of sin. For we experience this new life only when we die to ourselves and rise from our sins. Jesus bore our sins to the Cross. Fulfilling the ancient Jewish rite of sin offering, He is the true lamb who was slain with our sins on his back. "Upon Him was the chastisement of us all" (Is 53:5). He offered His body and blood on the Cross to take away our sins, giving us, in return, His slain Body and Blood as the source and sustenance of our new life, risen from sin.

Jesus has already given His life for us: now, He continues to give His life to us. His Divine Body is the sustenance of our life and He purifies us of our sins in Confession. He joins together man and women in love in holy Matrimony and heals our body and soul in holy Anointing. He speaks to our hearts in the words of Sacred Scripture. As He descended into Hades, casting out the darkness by His brilliant light, and He drew forth Adam and Eve from the chains of death, so too, He desires to release us from the shackles of our sins and selfishness and pride and to draw us forth to live the new life of resurrection, a life risen from sin.

May you and your loved ones live the new life in Christ and, thus living, may you know the joy that overcomes all sadness and the tranquility that banishes all anxiety.

Christ is truly risen!

Yours in our Risen Lord,

-|- Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

Eparch of Newton

 
Patriarch Gregorious standing on a green lawn with background of building arches

Happy Feast of Pascha 2011

Way of the Cross: way of Resurrection

Once again this year all our Churches of East and West are together celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour. We shall do all in our power to continue to celebrate together in the years to come as a testimony of our common faith!

Our Arab world is still walking along the way of the cross in several of our countries. We are especially anxious about the situation in Syria, where our patriarchal see is situated.

We are praying and asking all our friends to pray for peace, security, national unity and calming of minds. May our government be able to cope with this situation calmly, firmly and successfully.

Thank you for your good wishes for the feast.

We wish you and all our dear friends an abundance of earthly and heavenly blessings! May Christ arise in our world, our hearts and our societies, and in our Eastern Churches, so we may continue our mission in "Communion and Witness."

Happy and Holy Feast !

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

+ Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

 

The Arab World's Way of the Cross towards Resurrection

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

To all of you, dear brothers and sisters,

your Graces the bishops,

Superiors General, Mothers General,

priests, deacons, monks, nuns

and all the sons and daughters of our Melkite Greek Catholic parishes

in Arab countries, the countries of emigration and throughout the world,

best wishes for

the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ,

who is Hope and bears the hopes of us all.

Patriarch Gregorious standing on a green lawn with background of building arches

This spiritual meditation, entitled The Arab World's Way of the Cross towards Resurrection is for you. Through this letter, I am trying to shed a little light from the Resurrection and awareness of the most sublime Resurrection on the situation of our Arab countries, so that their ways of the cross may lead them to the joys and hopes of the Resurrection.

The Way of the Cross, a way to Resurrection

So we may sum up the time of Great and Holy Lent: that is indicated in our liturgical services as early as the first day of the Fast, called Monday of the Monk, where we read, "Let us begin the all-venerable season of fasting with joy, shining radiantly with the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love, with the splendour of prayer, with the purity of holiness, and with the virtue of courage; so that, clothed in garments of light, we may hasten to the holy and third-day Resurrection, that illumines the world with the glory of eternal life." (Kathisma Tone 2, Orthros of the First Monday in Lent)

The Arab World's Way of the Cross

The Arab world's way of the cross began around the first months of 2011. This is what Jesus Christ told us: "Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars...For nation shall rise against nation and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." (Matthew 24: 6-8)

This is a way of the cross, along which are walking with difficulty over 350 million inhabitants of the Arab world, starting with the Arab Maghreb, across North Africa, Tunisia and Libya, passing through Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, the countries of the Gulf, Bahrain and Yemen to continue the circle towards Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. As in Jerusalem, there is a way of the cross going along different axes from north to east, and east to west of Jerusalem and so our Arab countries are transformed into a great city called Jerusalem, where there is a garden of olive-trees, the place of our Lord Jesus Christ's agony, the way of his Passion, Golgotha and Resurrection. Moreover, this way of the cross of Jerusalem is stretching out, so that the roads of the Arab world and a large number of these very beautiful and elegant places, have become a great way of the cross, of suffering, a bloody, sad Golgotha, where very many victims can be seen, weeping before or groaning under the cross, wounded, widows, orphans, wandering folk, each of whom is wounded in the heart, conscience and body. And voices are being raised, that are quite revolutionary and threatening. There are hands raised, not for prayer, but for vengeance, brandishing weapons for reprisal, revenge and destruction. People are afraid, they are leaving their country, their home: they are fleeing, frightened, wandering without shelter and without any way out, from one country to another that accepts or rejects them, spending the night in the open air on the borders of neighbouring countries.

That is the spectacle that hundreds of television crews are striving to film, magnifying and exploiting it. Millions of people are glued to their screens – men and women both young and old, teenage boys and girls, and little children - and learning these revolutionary shouts from television and enthusiastically and cheerfully repeating them.

We have been talking of Palestine's cross, Jerusalem, Golgotha and passion for over sixty years now. Today, the whole Arab world is walking along this way of the cross that is much bloodier than Palestine's and the Palestinians' way of the cross: blood is flowing, folk are dying, hungry. The Arab world, this world, so rich in resources, especially oil, is hungry, hungry for the bread of freedom and dignity and for the bread of a worthy life; folk are adrift in their own homeland. In the face of a revolution that is leaving in its wake chaos, looting, theft, fear and loss, God alone knows whither this revolution will lead our Arab world that is wandering without knowing what the eventual outcome will be.

On television screens, many politicians, sociologists, trade experts, are trying to analyse, endeavouring to explain these revolutions invading our region and find out the reasons for them. Are they instigated abroad, at home, from Israel, or America, from colonisation or occupation, through political, commercial or economic ambitions or interests?

Human dignity

Faced with these attempts to analyse the reality of the Arab revolution and the reasons for it, I remember a phrase of the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, in his message for the World Day of Peace 2009, in which he said, "Every form of externally imposed poverty has at its root a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of the human person. When man is not considered within the total context of his vocation, and when the demands of a true ‘human ecology' are not respected, the cruel forces of poverty are unleashed." (Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 2009, N°. 2)

In this sense, I gave a sermon on the Feast of the Annunciation on 24 March, 2011, in the Convent of the Soarite nuns, wishing to show the greatness of the Incarnation of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary. For, when he took a body just like ours, he wished thereby to show the dignity of the human body, and bear the dignity of man, whom God created in his image and likeness, as we read in Genesis, concerning man's creation by God.

What great need our world has of understanding the dignity of the body and the dignity of God! Man's dignity, as God respected it and created him in his image and likeness, with his freedom, value, development and education.

Our world today, the Arab world in particular since the beginning of this year is in revolution for human dignity, the dignity of man, his freedom and value.

God's dignity, respect for him and respect for his divine image are linked to respect for the image of man. There can be no respect for God without respect for man, as Saint John said, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4: 20) That is one of the reasons for wars and revolutions throughout the whole world.

The Feast of the Annunciation is the Feast of the Entry of God into human history and life through Mary and her blood. He is called Emmanuel, God with us, and when man rejects God, or distances Him from his life, man's whole life is degraded, shaken and disfigured. An Arab proverb says, "Be with God and be not afraid," and on the other hand, when man removes God from his thoughts, conduct, ethics, politics, economics, social life, family, job, work, he lands in trouble, loss, error, anxiety, despair, and allows jealousy, dictatorship, violence, terrorism and fundamentalism into his heart. Those things become his programme instead of the commandments of God, his principles of faith, and his religious values, and that is the tragedy of our world. This tragedy invades with a destructive power like a tsunami, due to the fact of the removal of God from man's life.

Let us take down poor people from the cross and let the Arab world be taken down from the cross

In my letter for Lent, 2009, I wrote:

With trust and humility, I would like in this Lenten Letter to launch the slogan, "No more poor people after today in the Arab world," and call upon everyone to work to realise, at least in part, this motto in our Melkite Greek Catholic Church1 – everyone contributing according to his ability and circumstances. I am calling for us to realise this through sustained solidarity and mutual help in our Arab world, where there are plentiful resources, such as oil. Let oil be a weapon against poverty, sickness and disasters! May it accompany the way of the cross in our Arab world and take down poor, sick, suffering and disappointed Arab people from their cross - and lead them to the heights of resurrection.

This is an appeal that I am making to my Church and launching in the Arab world, which I love. I would like to be the apostle and servant of this motto, so as to bring this appeal to fruition. I am calling upon each Arab governor and every wealthy businessman or woman, hoping that my call will be heard.

I am also ready to be the itinerant apostle of that motto, making my way through the Arab world and spreading that slogan, "No more poverty, no more poor folk in the Arab world."

Besides, I think there is a divine call for us Christians and Muslims to draw upon our common faith values: we find an echo of it in our holy books. It is a call that unites us all around "a common word" (Aal ‘Imran 3:64) 2and a common action, so that God may walk with us and we may walk together with our peoples, our citizens, along the way of their cross and Golgotha, and help to take them down from their cross. ("I am crucified with Christ,"Letter for Great and Holy Lent 2009)

Man's true bread

Man is hungry and thirsty for God. He needs the values of holy faith, of the word of God, as Scripture says, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4: 4; Deuteronomy 8: 3)

What our society needs to repair, heal, rebuild, renew, develop and raise it from its fallen state to real resurrection, beauty, transfiguration, radiance and purity, is God.

Man feeds first on the word of God, but he also needs material bread, just as he needs the bread of life. That means, being taught (in schools and universities), medicine, a job, a profession, health insurance, and social security for life, for the future, for old age or disability. People need a good environment that is healthy and clean in beautiful, natural surroundings, if they are to feel at ease socially, relax and enjoy themselves.

That is man's true bread. These are conditions indispensible to his dignity. Opportunities also have to be found for people to rise, excel, specialise, give, be productive and serve their country. They must also be able to be in relation with their fellow-citizens, in fellowship with them, understand them and co-operate with them for a better world. So they will be able to enjoy freedom, dignity, security, assurance and stability. They will look towards broad horizons of hope, love, universal brotherhood, freedom of conscience, faith and specific identity.

It is really to resurrection from the dead that the Arab world's way of the cross, the way of these demonstrations and displays, must lead. Resurrection must be the fruit of its sufferings, blood, thirst, hunger, wounds and many victims.

The Church's role

Our Churches and religious congregations must continue their way of ecclesial and national faith, developing their worship, and educational, cultural, health, youth and social services. Churches ought to take part in the resurrection of Arab countries and contribute to the social, national, political and economic project in all our homelands, where we have among our faithful, businessmen, politicians and economists.

We must redouble our efforts, beginning with the propositions and conclusion of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome in October, 2010.

I have circulated to everyone a five-year plan, containing a bunch of thoughts, projects, works and initiatives that can help our churches participate in the service of development of our societies and homelands. We exhort everyone to study this five-year plan and put forward suitable proposals for furthering it. We hope to be able to deal with this five-year plan in our synod to be held at our patriarchal residence at Ain Traz in June 2011. We are counting very much on this work in order to accompany the development of our countries and further support our presence, communion, witness and mission to our countries and to all our citizens whom we love.

With His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 2009, (cited above) we say that the Christian community is "faithful to this summons from the Lord," and "will never fail, then, to assure the entire human family of her support through gestures of creative solidarity, not only by giving from one's surplus, but above all by a change of life-styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies." (N°. 15)

Unity of the Arab world

We should like the League of Arab States and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to be able really to deal with this state of revolution in the Arab world by developing together a new programme for a new Arab Middle East: a really new programme, that we, not others, will set out, containing the conditions for a worthy life for all Arab citizens, Christian and Muslim, in this Middle East, cradle of religions, cultures and civilisations.

The unity of the Arab world is an important condition for coping with the serious development of these popular revolutions, or intifada.

If Arab countries do not manage to resolve together, univocally, these tragic, bloody developments, with wisdom, prudence, sense of responsibility, openness and a really clear plan that is transparent and sincere, the future of the Arab world looks very dark for all of us. No Arab country can be outside the evolution of this revolution.

Today more than ever, and not tomorrow, we need a sense of awakening, counsel, and a joint Arab social plan. Today, more than ever, we need a vision of an Arab Muslim-Christian future with immense horizons. Otherwise, our Arab world, with its various denominations of Muslim and Christian citizens, is liable to dislocation and division. This Arab world will crumble into isolated confessional statelets, fighting and hating one another.

Peace: the key to the future

On the other hand, it should be said that there exists a very significant element for realising all these hopes: peace. The Arab world cannot realise the hopes of Arab nations, especially those of young people, for freedom and democracy, if it does not work very seriously, with the mutual help of the West, to bring about just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, Palestine. Strength is needed for victory and that comes from unity and love among Arab countries. Unity will never be defeated and love will never fail or be disappointed.

A dream: an Arab Muslim-Christian spiritual summit

Perhaps I am being naive, a dreamer or idealist, if I dare to put forward an idea or project for holding an Arab Muslim-Christian spiritual summit? This is a call for a joint plan, for our Arab world to be enriched and inspired by the values of our Islamic and Christian faith, so that life can be better for all our citizens. I place this thought and dream in the hearts, minds, prayers and dreams of all the men and women who read this letter. God will grant our dreams to bear fruits of faith, love and hope.

Call to prayer

Dear brothers and sisters,

This year the Christian world of East and West, all our Churches are celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection together on the same day. We hope to be able to continue to celebrate together the greatest feast of the Christian faith.

We are living through difficult times, walking together with our Arab brothers and sisters along the way of the cross and passion, such as the Arab world has never known in its history. We call upon you to raise fervent prayers, especially during Holy Week, that we call Passion Week, for all those who have fallen, the victims of these bloody revolutions, for the afflicted, bereaved, injured in hospital, refugees, those who have fled the horrors of revolution; for children, students who cannot continue their university studies and even perhaps who are losing their future, those who are living in a climate of fear, violence, revenge, revolution, hatred and aggression. All that will surely have a great influence on their manners, characters, personalities, and their lives of faith and citizenship, and their social, political and environmental life.

We shall pray in our churches, monasteries, parishes, homes and in the intimacy of our families for our dear, suffering Arab world and for the whole world, for more fellowship, love and unity. We shall pray for the army, the security services, and the police that God may give them wisdom, prudence and sagacity to take suitable steps in these tragic situations. We shall pray especially for our governments, kings, presidents and all those who bear responsibility in our countries. We shall also pray that they respond to the demands, requests, hopes, sufferings, longings and needs of all their citizens; that they endeavour to establish a social and political programme, and so contribute to ensuring a worthy life for all citizens of their countries.

Our Arab world! You have a resurrection

Saint John the Evangelist brings us the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus, friend of Jesus. Jesus speaks to Martha, Lazarus' sister, saying, "Thy brother shall rise again." (John 11: 23)

We say the same to every faithful person, to everyone, "You have a resurrection!" We tell our dear Arab world, "You have a resurrection too." We call on our governments in our dear Arab countries to work seriously, with dedication, sincerity, veracity and without delay on a clear plan to build a better future for their peoples, so that they will be able to say to their nations, "You have a resurrection. You, citizen, will arise. You will hold your head high. You are worthy in the Lord's eyes and in your homeland. You have a resurrection."

We hope that the joys of the Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, will invade our Arab world and that all our dear citizens, both Christian and Muslim, will then be able to rejoice together, as we suffer together! And as we walk together on the way of the passion and cross, we shall walk together on the roads of the joyful resurrection.

Resurrection Hymns!

In the cadences of the Resurrection hymns, we should like to bring this joy, hope, gladness, to the hearts of all men and women, driving out from among us fear, distress and anxiety! And with the hymns of the Paschal Canon of Saint John of Damascus, son of Syria, we continue to sing throughout the whole world,

This is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O ye peoples: Pascha, the Lord's Pascha; for Christ God hath brought us from death to life, and from earth unto Heaven as we sing the triumphal hymn. (First Ode)

We also sing:

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. (Third Ode)

We turn to our Mother, the Mother of God who accompanied her Son on the way of the cross, the Via Dolorosa! She accompanies us on the way of the cross and passion! With her, we rejoice on the day of her Son's Resurrection, which is our resurrection and that of our homelands and all our fellow-citizens.

We shall sing with faith, hope, love, trust, strengthening one another, in fellowship with one another, loving each other, in our Churches, homelands, and societies, with all our fellow-citizens (Christian and Muslim, men and women) where we shall be able to sing the hymn of the Resurrection and Life,

"Christ is risen from the dead! trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs he has given life."

With my affection and blessing,

Gregorios III

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

Translation from French: V. Chamberlain

1 Cf. Patriarchal Christmas Letter Poverty and Development XII 2003

2 See the website http://www.acommonword.com/index.php?lang=en

3http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/2001/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010507_prayer-peace_en.html

 
Updated: Images of the Pascha Liturgy Continued

On this glorious and holy day, the whole Church celebrates with joy the final triumph and life-giving resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. After the long period of darkness brought about by original sin, after the seemingly endless expectation of the prophets, after the glad tidings of the nativity that came to pass, when the time had come, after the thirty hidden years and the three years of public life, after the frightful passion which had seemed to be the end of all hope, after the two days in the depth of the tomb, behold: CHRIST IS RISEN !

Indeed, indeed, He is risen, all is true, every promise of God has been fulfilled; the Savior has come, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed to take away the sins of the world, and supremely triumphant in his apparent defeat, He has crushed death by his death and restored everlasting life through his resurrection!

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Faithful Proclaim the Resurrection!

Christ is Risen!!

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Rapping on the doors symbolizing
Christ's Descent into Hades

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Entering the Church for Orthros

and Divine Liturgy

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Distributing Pascha eggs

A sign of Christ's Resurrection

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Breaking the Pascha eggs

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Greeting, "Christ is Risen!"

Response, "He is Truly Risen"

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Glorious Tomb of the Risen Christ

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Celebrating the Good News

 
Updated: Images of Pascha

Glorious and Holy Easter Sunday

The word Easter refers to the season of the rising sun, to new life of spring. The same feast is called Passover, or Pascha by many nations. The Hebrew Passover (Pasach) was instituted to commemorate the deliverance of the people of Israel the night before their departure from Egypt. The angel of God destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians, but "passed over" the houses of the Israelites.

By God's command, communicated by Moses, each Hebrew family was to slay a lamb without blemish and sprinkle its blood on the door frame. The lamb was to be roasted in the evening. No bones were to be broken, and it was to be eaten with unleavened bread. The same rite was to be repeated every year in a solemn ceremony on the eve of the feast, as it is still being done by Jewish people everywhere. Jesus observed it on the night before He died.

There is a significant link between the Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover since Christ died on Passover Day. The Jewish custom is also symbolic of Christ, "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John, 1:29). Hence the name and signification of the Hebrew Pasch was devoutly accepted and used by the Church.

Invitation to Take light from the Light

Invitation to "Take light from the Light

that never Fades"

Procession outside begins

Procession outside begins

Approaching the altar outside of the church

Approaching the altar outside of the church

Litany of Peace

Litany of Peace

"O Christ Our Savior, the angels in heaven sing a hymn of praise to your resurrection. As for us who dwell on earth, make us worthy to glorify You with pure hearts."

Proclaiming the Resurrection

Proclaiming the Resurrection

Christ Is Risen!!!

The Easter Service Continues . . .

 
Patriarch Gregorious standing on a green lawn with background of building arches

Good Wishes for a Happy Common Feast of Pascha 2010

Great joy fills the Christian world, East and West! We are celebrating Pascha together, the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. We shall be celebrating together in the same way in 2011.

May we continue to celebrate together, as a symbol of our Christian unity, witness and presence in our society!

May the fact of celebrating together be a stimulus to us for more Christian unity, firmness in faith and preservation of our Christian identity, and for spiritual strength to help us confront the challenges, difficulties, sufferings, tribulations and impediments that may obstruct the road of our faith!

We celebrate together, witnessing together to our holy faith, so as to be salt, light and leaven for goodness and peace in our society, our homelands the Arab countries, and wherever God has planted us.

We have published our Paschal Letter, in which we have launched an appeal, inviting all Christians of East and West, to work together to unify the date of Easter, so that it may become a single, fixed, feast common to all Christians, enabling us to sing together,

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed.

Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

 
Patriarch Gregorious standing on a green lawn with background of building arches

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.[1]"

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[2]." 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,

Gregorios III

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


 
Patriarch Gregorious standing on a green lawn with background of building arches

Letter of His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III for Pascha 2010

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

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, to our sons, the priests, and to all our sons and daughters in Jesus Christ

Celebrating Pascha together!

What joy fills the Christian world, East and West! Yes, we rejoice at celebrating the glorious Feast of Pascha together, the holy Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ! Yes, East and West! All Christians, both those who follow the Julian calendar and those who follow the Gregorian calendar, are all celebrating together! What is more, we shall celebrate together in the same way in the year 2011! We thank the Lord for this gift.

This fact is the result of the ecclesiastical calendar that governs the annual celebration of the Feast of Pascha. We published a brief summative study on the topic in the third volume of liturgical books that we compiled, revised and published between 1992 and 2000, as requested by our predecessor of blessed memory, Patriarch Maximos V, after our election by the Holy Synod as president of the liturgical commission in 1986.

We should like to take advantage of this opportunity to provide some background on this matter. In fact the liturgical commission, made up of fifteen members, representing the eparchies and the masculine and feminine religious orders, were faced with a gigantic task. The whole collection of liturgical service books eventually appeared in four volumes. To do this, we had adopted a pilot method, never used in any other Church of Byzantine Greek tradition. Indeed, normally, monastics, especially in their monasteries, and parishes need for the celebration of the daily office the following books: the Horologion (the common of the divine office), the Menaion (offices of the immovable feasts by month), the Paraklitike (in sections corresponding to the eight tones), the Triodion (for Lent), the Pentekostarion (Paschal season) and the Prophetologion. Besides (apart from the Horologion) these were few in number, even in monasteries and big churches, where there might be just two or three copies.

The liturgical commission then adopted a new method under our presidency and at our proposal and that is how the whole divine office could be contained in just four volumes[1].

So the liturgical books of all the services are within the reach of all: bishops, priests, monks, nuns and lay-persons. The books are in two formats, large and small, destined either for church or for personal use.

Patriarch Maximos V wrote in his patriarchal decree, "We hope very much that these books, in their new form, may be a substantial contribution towards reviving the original liturgical tradition and making Eastern spirituality better understood and more deeply appreciated."

Calendar: explanation about the Julian and Gregorian reckonings

We deem it useful to our faithful to present this explanation about both Julian and Gregorian calendars.

The solar or astronomical year is the time the sun takes in its movement from the vernal equinox until its return to the same point in its revolution: a length of exactly 365 days, five hours and approximately forty-six seconds.

The ancient Egyptians reckoned the year as consisting only of 360 days, to which they later added five epagomenal days. Therefore the vernal equinox occurred in its astronomical course later by about five and three-quarter hours every year, so that spring fell progressively earlier through the calendar months, rather similar to what happens with the reckoning of the Hegira, the Ramadan fast and all feasts of the Muslim faith.

In the reign of Julius Caesar (obit 44 B.C.), at his request, the Alexandrian astrologer Sosigenes corrected the Egyptian astronomical reckoning, by increasing each year by six hours. From this annual increase there was created a whole day every four years, which was added at the end of the month of February. So February would have in that year twenty-nine days and that year was called a leap year, since it was increased by a day.

This system, which is still followed by some Eastern Churches, is called the Julian calendar, after Julius Caesar and is popularly known as the Old calendar.

So according to the Julian reckoning, the year is 365 and a quarter days, exceeding the true solar year by eleven minutes and fourteen seconds. Over a century this amounts to eighteen hours thirty-five minutes and over a millennium to seven days, seventeen hours, fifty minutes.

By 1582, this discrepancy amounted to over ten days' difference between the true astronomical reckoning and the Old or Julian calendar. Pope Gregory XIII ordered this fault to be corrected, on the basis of this astronomical data, by moving directly from 4 to 15 October. (So 5 October became 15 October in Catholic countries.) He also ordered one whole day to be added every four years in leap years. However, a year is a leap year either if it is divisible by 4 but not by 100 or if it is divisible by 400. In other words, a year which is divisible by 4 is a leap year unless it is divisible by 100 but not by 400 (in which case it is not a leap year.) Thus the years 1600 and 2000 are leap years, but 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2100 are not.

Despite this correction, there remains a difference of about twenty-six seconds over the year between the astronomical year and the Gregorian reckoning. So the Old or Julian reckoning is now running some thirteen days behind the reformed Gregorian calendar of 1582, because it fell back one day in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It will next drop back by one day in 2100, as the Julian reckoning has a different method from the Gregorian for calculating leap years.

A great number of Churches of Byzantine Greek rite have progressively adopted the Gregorian calendar, except with regard to the reckoning of Pascha. Our Melkite Greek Catholic Church started using the Gregorian calendar first in 1857, in the time of Patriarch Clement (Bahhouth.)

The reason for the different dates of Pascha by the Julian and Gregorian reckonings

One may well wonder what the reason is for the difference in the date of the Feast of Pascha between the Julian and Gregorian reckonings.

We have an answer to this question from Mr. Pierre Sollogoub, an Orthodox engineer and member and treasurer of the Fraternité Orthodoxe in Paris:

In the year 325, the First Ecumenical Council, otherwise known as the First Nicene Council, was held at Nicaea. Its aim was to define the Orthodox Christian faith as opposed to Arianism. The Fathers of the Council also dealt with the question of the date of Pascha, which was the subject of dispute. This Council decided that Pascha, the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, should be celebrated on the same date, the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox, which falls on 21 March. This decree had deep import, because of the relationship with Jewish Passover and with the death and resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Fathers of the Council of Nicaea fixed the Paschal lists or tables on the basis of the Julian reckoning and ancient astronomical data known in the period, especially the Metonic cycle named after the astronomer Meton of Athens (fifth century B.C.) This astronomer worked out that in the course of nineteen years, there are two hundred and thirty-five lunar cycles and that the moon, after that period, begins to appear on the same dates again. On that basis, or according to that astronomical calculation, and following the decree of the Council of Nicaea, the Orthodox Church calculates the Feast of Pascha.

However, there are two reasons why that calculation is incorrect:

  1. The Julian reckoning, the basis for calculating the Feast of Pascha, moves a full day ahead of the solar year every 128 years. As a result, since the Council of Nicaea's decree in 325, the reckoning has been slower by thirteen days (or fourteen in 2100) compared with the solar calculation. The vernal equinox no longer falls on 21 March when reckoned by the Julian calendar, but on 8 March.
  2. In the calculation of the lunar cycle by Meton, there is an inaccuracy[2], which means that the Paschal lists or tables based on it are by now some four or five days later in the Julian calendar when compared with the Gregorian.

In 1582, the New or Gregorian reckoning corrected these faults, so as to remain faithful to the ruling of the Council of Nicaea. So the two methods of reckoning, both Julian and Gregorian, are very careful to keep to the Nicene ruling. The difference between the two methods comes from the difference in determining the date of the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Because of the difference in calendars and formulas, Western Easter and Orthodox Pascha do not often coincide. Under current rules, they can differ from each other by 0, 1, 4, or 5 weeks. They are in separate lunations (meaning that they are 4 or 5 weeks apart because their respective cycles identify different ecclesiastical lunar months as the Paschal lunar month) in years 3, 8, 11, 14, and 19 of the 19-year cycle, and in the same lunation (0 or 1 week apart) in the other years.

This is why, for example, in 1983 Western Christians celebrated Easter on April 3, following the Gregorian tables for calculating the first full moon after the vernal equinox. However, Eastern Christians, following tabulations of the moon based on the Julian calendar, identified the first full moon after the equinox as the one after that identified under the Gregorian tabulations. So Orthodox celebrated Pascha that year on 25 April by the Julian calendar, but 8 May in the Gregorian.

Supplementary research and studies were carried out during the two congresses held at Chambésy in 1977 and 1982 in preparation for the Pan-Orthodox General Synod. The general result confirmed the inadequacy of the Old style reckoning and the need for rectifying it in accordance with the Gregorian calendar.

However, no decision has been taken, partly for pastoral reasons, of which the main one is that the Orthodox faithful are not prepared to take this step. On the other hand, any change to the ruling of Ecumenical Councils must proceed from another Ecumenical Council.

The situation causes inconvenience in practical life: the school year, holidays and official leave, commerce, travel, tourism, flights...Most of all, it is the cause of deep sorrow in the hearts of the faithful, who wish to express their great desire for Christian unity by celebrating every year together the greatest Christian feast, the Feast of Pascha and the Resurrection.

The date of Pascha in documents of the Catholic Church

The Second Vatican Council discussed the problem of the date of Easter in two documents. In the document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (4 December 1963), there can be found towards the end a Declaration on Revision of the Calendar. This declaration relates to the question of determining the date of the Paschal Feast. The text is as follows:

The Second ... Sacred Council of the Vatican, recognizing the importance of the wishes expressed by many concerning the assignment of the feast of Easter to a fixed Sunday and concerning an unchanging calendar, having carefully considered the effects which could result from the introduction of a new calendar, declares as follows:

  1. The Sacred Council would not object if the Feast of Easter were assigned to a particular Sunday of the Gregorian Calendar, provided that those whom it may concern, especially the brethren who are not in communion with the Apostolic See, give their assent.
  2. The Sacred Council likewise declares that it does not oppose efforts designed to introduce a perpetual calendar into civil society.

But among the various systems which are being suggested to stabilize a perpetual calendar and to introduce it into civil life, the Church has no objection only in the case of those systems which retain and safeguard a seven-day week with Sunday, without the introduction of any days outside the week, so that the succession of weeks may be left intact, unless there is question of the most serious reasons. Concerning these the Apostolic See shall judge.[3]

In the decree on the subject of The Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite (November 21 1964) the Council recommends in No. 20 to celebrate on the same day and to work to attain the objective so as to intensify Christian unity. There follows the conciliar text:

20. Until such time as all Christians are agreed on a fixed day for the celebration of Easter, with a view meantime to promoting unity among the Christians of the same area or nation, it is left to the patriarchs or supreme authorities of a place to come to an agreement by the unanimous consent and combined counsel of those affected to celebrate the Feast of Easter on the same Sunday.

The third document is one proceeding from the Congregation for the Oriental Churches (1996) and entitled Instruction for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. Here is the text, taken from Chapter VI, No. 36:

Until the time in which all Christians reach the desired agreement of fixing one day for the common celebration of the Easter Feast, the practice, already in use among some Catholic communities living in countries of Orthodox majority, will be encouraged to celebrate Easter on the day in which it is celebrated by the Orthodox, in conformity with the indications formulated by Vatican Council II in the appendix of the "Sacrosanctum Concilium" and in "Orientalium Ecclesiarum" No. 20. In addition to being a sign of ecumenical fraternity, this practice allows the Catholic faithful to enter harmoniously into the common spiritual climate, which often also marks civilian life, avoiding inappropriate dissonance.

That text is an invitation addressed to all from the supreme authority of the Church: Patriarchs, bishops, priests, vicars, pastors and faithful to intensify their efforts to satisfy this popular desire for celebrating the Great Feast together. It invites Catholics to celebrate according to the Julian calendar in regions where the majority is Orthodox. That is the case in Syria and in general in the Arab world, where there are some fifteen million Arab Christians, the great majority of whom are Coptic Orthodox, then Greek Orthodox, then Greek Catholics and other Catholic Churches (Armenian, Maronite, Syriac etc.) The text goes beyond the logic of preference between the two calendars, Julian and Gregorian, on the basis of a religious, theological or scientific computus. In fact the calendars have no doctrinal content: they are two astronomical reckonings, one of which is of pagan Roman origin, named after Julius Caesar (c. 100-44B.C.) The Feast of Pascha was fixed on the basis of this pagan method of reckoning by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The second is still Julian, but corrected in the reign of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85) and by his order.

Efforts for celebrating Pascha together

Christian unity is a value surpassing every astronomical calculation. Celebrating the feast together has been one of the most important elements of Christian unity down the centuries.

The blessed Pope John XXIII said, "What unites us (Christians) is much greater than what divides us." What unites us is especially our common Creed, which all Christians in both East and West recite every day, despite the diversity of their Churches. That is why we rejoice at everything that unites us in this same faith and long for and work for more unity. In fact, since Vatican II, ecumenical efforts have developed among Christians, to smooth out difficulties that still hamper the almost complete unity of Christians. We all know that the basic obstacle is the concept of unity with regard to the practice of authority in the Church, especially the authority of the Pope of Rome in history and today, in theory, doctrine and practice. This is not the place to go into this question.

Yet the celebration of Pascha, the Holy Resurrection, is a purely astronomical question, as we have shown above. Nevertheless, it is also a common popular wish.

Our Melkite Greek Catholic Church has always been very flexible on the matter. That is what Patriarch Maximos IV expressed in his 1967 decree on the subject of adopting the Julian calendar in Egypt:

The general interest of Christians and the desire to foster unity between Churches require Catholic and evangelical Christians to give up celebrating the Feast of Pascha according to their reformed calendar and provisionally adopt for the celebration of this feast the old calendar, still observed by the majority of Christians [that is, Coptic Orthodox] in this country... That is why, after consultation with the parties whom it seemed appropriate to consult, our community in Egypt, belonging to our Patriarchate in Alexandria, should from this year 1967 henceforth celebrate the Feast of Pascha according to the unreformed Julian calendar[4].

The Julian calendar for Pascha was adopted in Jordan for Easter 1972. Moved by the same attitude of ecumenical openness of mind, we accepted in 1995, during our ministry as Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, that some of our faithful (from Ramallah, Nablus and the northern West Bank) who requested it, should celebrate Pascha according to the Julian calendar, while other of our faithful (from Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Jerusalem) should continue to celebrate according to the Gregorian calendar.

This arrangement or decision created no schism or disagreement in our Church. The same decision was taken by the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, and by the Anglicans and other Protestants. That caused no schism between the different communities!

I wanted to take the same step after my election as Patriarch and on the occasion of the visit of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, to Syria in May, 2001. In fact I discovered in the archives of the Patriarchate in Damascus a great number of documents requesting the unification of the feast over a period of more than twenty years. But unfortunately I have been unable to convince my beloved colleagues of the other Catholic Churches to take this step and come to a common decision, so as to gladden the hearts of our faithful who wish most ardently to unify the feast!

This has been a cause of great disappointment to the majority of our parishes throughout Syria and in all Catholic Churches. A great number of faithful, both individuals and confraternities, have made great strides in this respect among ecclesiastical authorities. Young people, especially, have expressed their desire for unifying the date for Pascha. Talks have been given on the subject, with a view to fulfilling this desire and popular wish. Yet we do not lose hope.

Appeal

On the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2005, I wrote a letter to their Beatitudes the Patriarchs. It was a long letter from which the following is an extract:

In all the efforts for the unification of the celebration of Pascha in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, flexibility was the golden rule, the goal being to celebrate together.

On that basis, I am re-launching my appeal to my brother Patriarchs and the bishops in Lebanon and Syria, begging them to hear the urgent and repeated appeal of the faithful. In the majority, they consider the unity of the feast to be the symbol and expression of their Christian unity, their Christian presence and their Christian witness in their society. We have all heard these appeals; we all know the immense desire of our faithful to see realised their dearest wish of celebrating together the One Great Feast (according to the popular expression) before their non-Christian fellow-citizens.

Is it permissible to turn a deaf ear to the voice of our sons and daughters?

Let us really hear the call of Vatican II, and that of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in the documents adduced above. His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has often recalled them. Can we forget the voice of John Paul II often emphasising the importance of celebrating together?

I am convinced that the decision to celebrate together in Syria and Lebanon greatly serves the cause of our Christian presence and witness, especially after the events of September 11, 2001 and the following tendency to provoke a clash between Christianity and Islam.

Today more than ever, we need to recognize the signs of the times, the outstanding initiatives to which our people aspire, athirst for Christian unity and for making progress in realising it, whatever the measures, great or small, needful to bring it about.

I beg my brothers in Christ to respect each other's freedom. If a Church wishes to take this step by itself, this should not be considered as a break in Catholic ranks at global level.

The logic of the faithful is the following: I prefer to celebrate with my close neighbour, even if I am not in agreement with the faithful of my own Church in other regions.[5]

The Arabic proverb says: Thy close neighbour rather than thy distant brother. That is the people's logic – and the voice of the people is the voice of God! Vox populi, vox Dei.

Common efforts towards a single, fixed, common Feast of Pascha

I should like to summarize the explanation about the topic of the common Feast of Pascha, which has a great importance in the history of the Church.

  • 1. The date of Pascha was determined by the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea on the basis of the Julian calendar. In the East, we call it the Eastern calendar, and in Europe and the West, the Old calendar.

  • 2. Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar, whence the term the Gregorian calendar, or the Western calendar, as we say in the East.

  • 3. The Gregorian calendar has been observed by the Roman Catholic Church and, at different dates, by Anglicans and other Protestants and the Eastern Catholic Churches of the Middle East.

  • 4. The Gregorian calendar is currently followed (except for the Paschal cycle) by most Orthodox Churches.

  • 5. The Orthodox Churches of the Middle East, with the exception of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Palestine and Jordan, follow the Gregorian calendar, except for the Paschal cycle which is determined on the basis of the Julian calendar.

  • 6. The Second Vatican Council made two proposals:
    • i. to work together at the level of Churches and world level, to fix the date of Easter, on the Sunday that falls between 9 and 15 April, without debating the question of the Julian and Gregorian calendars
    • ii. the Council and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches invited the Eastern Catholic Churches to adopt the Julian calendar in regions where the majority of Christians is Orthodox. This would be a temporary but beautiful solution, both useful and important, for promoting Christian unity. This was carried out in Egypt (1967), Jordan (1972) and in some districts of Palestine (from 1995) and in some villages of Lebanon and Syria.
  • 7. However, the ideal solution is the adoption of a common, fixed date, such as the Sunday which falls between 9 and 15 April. This solution should be worked out in collaboration between East and West, especially between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek and Slav Orthodox Churches. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, there is currently a stalemate.
  • 8. For my part, I wish to become an apostle of unity of the feast. I shall present this study and letter to the Special Synod on the Catholic Church in the Middle East, proposing to the Pope and to the Fathers of the Synod, both Eastern and Western, the adoption of a resolution to resume the efforts to celebrate Pascha on a common, fixed date.
  • 9. I would like to propose to the Fathers of this Synod the adoption of a resolution exhorting Christians, pastors and people, especially in Syria and Lebanon to observe the Julian calendar for Pascha, as a temporary solution, whilst awaiting a definitive resolution: this with a view to showing visibly the aim of the Synod, whose motto is: Communion and Witness.
  • 10. I should like to contact a number of Orthodox and Catholic Churches throughout the world, requesting urgently, with humility and trust, for us to work to realize this holy cause.

Finally, I call upon all the faithful, all those men and women who love Christian unity, to accompany these efforts through their prayer and their own efforts. May the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, our Mother, Lady of unity, intercede with her Son and our God, that he may bless the efforts of all of us his children, that we may all together realize his prayer, "that all may be one."

Call for unity

Setting aside the question of unifying the feast and a unified date according to a common calendar, what matters is Christian unity. That is why I am making a heartfelt plea to all the faithful, the sons and daughters of our eparchies, especially young people, who are the future of our countries and of the Church, and all the Christians who this year are celebrating together the Feast of Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ. I am calling them to unity, solidarity, love and to good relations between families and the inhabitants of the same district, village and parish. I call all, great and small, men and women, poor and rich, young people especially, to remain firm in their holy faith, to preserve their Christian identity, to practise solidarity and mutual help, and to be proud of their faith, confessing it openly, with humility and nobility. I call upon them to walk together (not just to celebrate together) along the road of faith, despite challenges, difficulties, sufferings, obstacles and vexations. May they be capable of giving common witness together, in secret and even in public, to their beautiful faith, to Gospel values and to their love for Jesus Christ, living in their hearts, minds and lives! So may they be in their countries and their Arab societies and everywhere in the world, in all areas of their social life and life of faith, their cultural, societal, medical, political life, what Jesus commanded us to be – salt, light and leaven to ferment the whole lump, the whole of society.

The Special Synod for Eastern Catholic Churches which will take place between 10 and 24 October next (2010) calls us to that. I believe that if this Synod could take the decision to unify the celebration of Pascha, it would be the most significant result and decree expected by our faithful.

Paul calls us to unity

To this unity, shown in common celebration and shared values of our holy faith, the great Apostle Paul invites us, explaining the most sublime significance of unity with God and man, and the manifestation of unity among human beings themselves – that is, both the oneness of God and the unity of people among themselves and with God. This unity is human and divine, cosmic in fact. This unity is assuredly capable of leading all humanity, states, peoples and nations towards common progress in spiritual faith, which is able to unify all Christian believers among themselves and Christians and Muslims living in Arab countries, so as to realize together, in solidarity, in mutual love, the purposes of God for them, for an abundance of development, prosperity, well-being, security and tranquility. So together they can build on this earth of humankind, in their countries, the civilization of God, the civilization of love and peace.

Let us listen to Saint Paul inviting us to unity, which is the highest expression of the resurrection and of life:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.. And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. (Ephesians 4: 1-6, 13; 5: 2)

This last recommendation is the motto of our priestly ordination (1959), of our episcopal consecration (1981) and of our patriarchal service (2000.) [One can also see further in chapters 12 and 13 of the First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, on the subject of unity and varieties of charisms, unity of the body and of the Church, and the attributes of love, or of charity, which is the height of unity.]

Wishes for a Happy Feast

With these spiritual meditations, these hopes for the resurrection, this longing for unity, this ardour of charity, this joy in the glorious Resurrection, that Great Feast common to all Christians, we address you, dear brother bishops of our Holy Synod, and you, our dear priests, to whom is entrusted the deposit of unity in the faith in your parishes, especially in this Year for Priests.

We are also addressing our sons and daughters in our eparchies and parishes, in our beloved Arab countries and throughout the world, especially in our eparchies of Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina, which I shall be visiting in August and September 2010.

We are addressing our dear families and our young people - the special object of love! - all Christians who are celebrating this Great Feast together, and all our dear Muslim citizens, who are witnessing the unity of our feast. And we are sending to them and to all you men and women who are reading this our letter and message, our warmest good wishes and feelings of love, friendship and wishes for a Happy Feast.

May all our peoples in our Arab East, Christians of different Churches and Muslims too, walk forward together in the path of faith, hope and love, of solidarity, compassion and unity; the path of prosperity and peace - which is the great good, especially in Palestine and Iraq - for our peoples and for all the young generations.

And together let us sing, with one heart, one beautiful festive melody, with heroic faith, with a deep sense of strong ecclesial membership, with all the joy of our hearts and souls and with all our feelings, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Happy Feast!

Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Translation from French: V. Chamberlain
 
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."

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

 

An Easter Greeting from

Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Annunciation Cathedral

The Apostles believed in Christ's Resurrection and bore witness to it and preached it as a fundament of their faith in Jesus Christ. What are the theological dimensions and implications of this doctrine of faith? And today when we still teach that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, what do we mean in fact?

1. Christ's Resurrection is the proclamation of God's power.

When we preach that Jesus is risen from the dead, we proclaim that the God in whom we believe is the God of life. God, by raising up Jesus, does not do something opposed to nature's laws, but reveals himself as God, and manifests his loving power. Faith in Christ's Resurrection is not something added to the Christian faith in God and in his Son Jesus Christ, but is the summary and the essence of this faith. God in Christ's Resurrection reveals in a definitive way that he is the God whose power encompasses death and life, this world and the world to come.

2. Christ's Resurrection is the ratification by God of his mission

Christ's death was, in people's understanding, the proof that God has forsaken and rejected him, according to what was written: "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree" (Galatians 3:13). That is why after Jesus' death, the disciples ran away disappointed, and Jesus' prediction was fulfilled: "You will all become deserters; for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee" (Mark 14:27-28).

In Galilee Jesus called his disciples for the first time to follow him and to preach with him God's Kingdom; and in Galilee he appeared to them to tell them that God's Kingdom has come by his Resurrection. By raising up Jesus Christ, God has confirmed that he is the Son of Man, to whom has given "dominion and glory and kingship" (Daniel 7:14). That is why Jesus can order his Apostles to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).

By his Resurrection Jesus was revealed as really the Son of God. God, by raising up Jesus, has answered the questions of the people who, before the cross, were mocking him saying: "let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him" (Matthew 27:42).

By raising up Jesus from the dead, God has ratified all that Jesus has preached during his life on the Kingdom of God. For the Kingdom of God is the life of God itself which enters the world and raises in it a new life, and this new life has arisen from the tomb of Christ. The Kingdom is God's love that shines on the world and dissipates from it the obscurity of hatred and the darkness of sin, and this love has shined in Jesus' Resurrection as it shined in his life. By raising up Jesus, God has shown that all that was preached by Jesus during his life has been preached in his name, and all that was done by Jesus during his life has been done in his name, and that his death on the cross was the utmost manifestation of God's love. Therefore Jesus is himself God's Kingdom: in his life, in his death and in his Resurrection was revealed God's life and God's love and God's power.

3. Christ's Resurrection is the beginning of the new life and the guarantee of our resurrection

Christ's Resurrection unveils also the profound significance of human life. By his Resurrection Jesus entered in God's glory; and since Jesus is the new Adam and the head of the new humanity, we believe that all humanity entered by his head in God's glory. "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6).

Our faith in Christ's Resurrection and in our resurrection with Christ gives our present life a new meaning: "Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with the scripture —‘I believed, and so I spoke'— we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus… So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:14-16).

Our faith in Christ's Resurrection renews our vision of the world: "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creature: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new" (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

Our faith in Christ's Resurrection and in our resurrection with Christ drives us to a new behavior: "So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God… For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory" (Colossians 3:1-4).

He who believes in Christ's Resurrection cannot be driven to despair. He says with St. Paul: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

Our faith in Christ's Resurrection and in our resurrection with Christ gives us confidence that human life does not end with death, and that God who raised up Jesus from the dead will raise us also.

For that reason when the believer has exhausted all human possibilities and sees that all horizons of human hope are blocked in his face, and when he feels as if he is going towards death and the void, then God appears to him in the eternity of his love and the permanence of his presence. He can say with St. Paul: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8: 11). That is what we proclaim in our Byzantine Liturgy: "Christ is risen from the dead, and by his death he has trampled upon death, and has given life to those who were in the tombs."

"Christ is risen – He is truly risen".

+ Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

Eparch of Newton

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