Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Χριστός Ανέστη to all of you. Throughout the world, hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians are celebrating that which not only distinguishes Christianity as a whole from every other religion but which for Christians at least, is the greatest event in history – the Resurrection of Christ. What in fact is celebrated by the Resurrection of Christ, is the renewal of human nature and the recreation of the human race. If Adam’s expulsion from Eden marks the fall of mankind from its original state, then by His Resurrection, Christ returns man back to that original state. If we consider the word revolution to mean returning to a former position, then there is scope enough to claim that the ultimate, most significant revolution in the history of mankind took place through the Resurrection of Christ. That this singular event is of the utmost significance for the orthodox faith is evidenced in the words of the Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile.”
The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated by the Church from the moment of His descent into Hell, where He freed the souls of the righteous of the Old Testament from the power of death, this forming the basis of the Resurrection troparion where we sing: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…” Thus we celebrate the ultimate freedom, our liberation from death, when Christ’s soul, united with divinity, smashed the power of Satan over mankind. If in accordance with Christian teaching, the fall of the human race and its demise is attributable to Adam, then its apokatastasis comes because of the sacrifice of the second Adam, Christ. By the power of His death, he conquered death, made it completely powerless and weak, and gave every person the possibility, by His power and authority, to escape the dominion, the authority and power of death and the devil. The rich poetry of the Orthodox liturgical tradition is unparalleled in the triumphant Easter troparia that give voice to the devil’s lament at his impotence: “my dominion has been swallowed up; the Shepherd has been crucified and He has raised Adam. I am deprived of those whom once I ruled, in my strength I devoured them but now I have cast them forth. He who was crucified has emptied the tombs, the power of death has no more strength.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Christian scriptural tradition is the vast array of parallel motifs and prophesies spanning both testaments. Thus the three day sojourn of the Old Testament prophet Jonah in the belly of the whale is seen as an interesting precursor and symbol of Christ’s three day sojourn in Hell and his resurrection. St John of Damascus puts it most eloquently when he writes: “Thou didst descend into the nethermost parts of the earth, O Christ and didst shatter the bonds eternal which held the prisoners in captivity and after three days thou didst rise again from the grave, like Jonah from the whale.” Similarly, Christ’s preaching on the Earth is immediately paralleled by his descent into Hell, were he gave the dead the same benefit of his redemptive message. Again as St John of Damascus says: “Just as the sun of righteousness had risen on the dwellers of the earth, so also the light of God had to shine on those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow if death.”
Christ’s Resurrection differs clearly from other resurrections that took place in the Old and New Testaments, in that Christ as true God, not only exercised extreme humility in offering Himself on the Cross for mankind but also raised Himself. This goes to the core of Christian belief in Christ being both human and divine. In the Resurrection, His human nature was raised with the divine nature by the power of the hypostatic union of god-man. Though the Apostle Peter, referring to Christ in his homily on the day of Pentecost said: “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death,” this means that when God the Father raised Christ, this refers to the Trinitarian God. The divinity, which is an aspect of its nature, raised up the human nature.
It is often overlooked that the first people to see the risen Christ were women who had come bringing myrrh to anoint His corpse. The Apostles, frightened by the events which took place were enclosed in the upper room, while the women, with love and courage went to the tomb, afraid neither of darkness or persecution. This is a poignant symbol of the fact that in order to have a vision of the Risen Christ, one most have love and courage. The first manifestation of the risen Christ to the women is given an extremely deep meaning by the great theologian St Gregory Palamas. The saint teaches that the Resurrection of Christ is a reformation and return to the immortal life of the first Adam. After his creation, the woman Eve was the first to see Adam, because at that time, there was no one else to see him. So in parallel the new Adam was seen by no one when he first emerged from the tomb, though later the myrrh bearing women were the first to see him. Quite distinct form the often misogynistic views of various sects, the Orthodox teaching considers the place of women to be paramount in the Resurrection and Christianity in general. By their vigilance, the Myrrh-bearing women were evangelists of the Evangelists and apostle to the Apostles. This also has a parallel meaning. It was Eve who brought the message of Adam’s fall, now it is women are the ones who bring the message of Christ’s Resurrection to the apostles. In this way the restoration of humanity is complete, for no one can blame women for the transgression and fall of Adam.
Christ’s Resurrection is inextricably enmeshed within the psyche of the Greek people. The triumphal hymn that escaped everyone’s lips spontaneously during the crucial moments of the War of Independence, or Greece’s liberation from the Germans in 1944 was not a patriotic jingle but the grand, heartfelt Resurrection hymn. There is magic in the Anastasis, the greatest event in history. Through it life and death acquire another meaning. Life is not regarded as the whole of the events of history but communion with God. And the Church does not regard death as the end of the present life but our withdrawal from Christ, while separation of the soul from the body is not death, but a temporary sleep. Soon, we will be granted the extreme privilege of being raised, just like our Maker.
As we spare a thought of the multitude of the destitute worldwide who await in Easter renewed hope in the alleviation of their plight, it is worthwhile to consider the words of St John Chrysostom who says that through Christ’s Resurrection all human problems have been overcome: “No one should weep about poverty and in general about deprivation of necessary material goods, because the common Kingdom has arrived. No one should bewail the sins he has committed, because forgiveness has arisen from the tomb. No one should fear death as the death of the Saviour has freed us.” It is this absoluteness of ‘no one’ that causes millions to riposte firmly and in hope to the commencing phrase of this diatribe: «Αληθώς ο Κύριος.»

First published in NKEE on 3 May 2005