Archpastoral Letter For Pascha 2009
Prot. N. 191- April 19, 2009
To the Very Reverend Protopresbyters, the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Beloved Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Diocese:
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!
CHRISTOS VOSKRESE! VOISTINNU VOSKRESE!
I greet you in the bright morning of the Resurrection of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ!
This is the Morning after the long night and the long journey. For the past forty days and Holy Week, we have journeyed after Jesus in fasting, in confession, in the Liturgies of St. Basil and the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. We have prayed longer prayers and we have sought forgiveness. We have listened to the sweet Gospel words of our Saviour, and faithful songs of the Theotokos at the Cross.
Every word and every song pierced our heart like a sword, because we finally recognized Jesus as both God and Friend, and we were forced to face the fact that this Loving Saviour freely chose to die on the Cross for our sins.
The disciples had an even longer night. Their journey with Jesus lasted for three years, which was much longer than forty days. They walked with Jesus and talked with Him. They listened to the Sermon on the Mount face to face. They witnessed, first hand, His miracles of healing and stilling the storm and walking on water.
They had grown used to walking with Him in the daytime. His words lifted their hearts from the things of this world. His teachings about the Kingdom of God gave them hope and energy. His promise of Heaven filled their hearts with joy.
But that dream was shattered on Golgotha, on the dark afternoon of the Cross. Everything that was hoped for, everything that was promised, seemed to be lost forever.
On Sunday, after that dark Friday, there was a wild report that the Grave of Jesus was empty. But there were so many rumors in those days, and so much confusion. It was hard to hope again, even to consider the possibility that Jesus rose from the dead.
There were two disciples walking on Sunday afternoon, on the seven mile road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were talking about all the things that had happened. While they walked, they were joined by a third person who asked them what they were talking about.
The two disciples, named Luke and Cleopas, could not recognize that this mysterious Person was Jesus Christ Himself, risen from the dead. This failure to recognize their Saviour and Friend is interesting. Jesus did not change His appearance, because even though He had died on the Cross and was buried for three days, He was still the same.
There was something that prevented Luke and Cleopas from recognizing the Risen Christ: and that "something" was their own failure to believe. Their unwillingness to hope in the Resurrection was magnified by their constant conversation and disappointments, dashed hopes, and broken dreams. As they talked and walked together, their unbelief grew in strength. And it grew and grew to the point where they could not recognize the Saviour Whom they grieved.
But Jesus Christ overcomes all doubt and unbelief, if we only put our trust in Him, and if we continue to walk with Him in fellowship - just like Luke and Cleopas. They kept walking and listening to their mysterious Friend talk. He started with the Old Testament books of Moses, and explained to the disciples just why everything that happened in the last three years, and especially in the last three days, just had to be.
Luke and Cleopas and their wise Friend arrived at Emmaus. The two disciples invited the Stranger to stay for the evening, and so the three sat down at a table to eat.
Jesus took the bread, and He blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to Luke and Cleopas to eat. At that very moment their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus their Saviour and Friend, the Risen Christ. He vanished immediately from their midst, and they said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road?" (Luke 24.39).
There is a beautiful pattern of Divine Friendship and human recognition here. Oftentimes, we fail to recognize the reality of the Risen Christ. Our conversation and our culture is so full of doubt and skepticism, full of worries and fears: and these doubts and worries distort our view, and they prevent our recognition of the Resurrection.
But as we listen to the words of Christ, and walk with Him throughout life and especially in the Fellowship of the Church, our hearts begin to burn with the fire of His Grace, His Uncreated Light.
Then, of course, we recognize Him "at the breaking of Bread," which is the Eucharist itself, by which we commune spiritually and physically with the Risen Christ Jesus, our Saviour from the darkness, and our Friend Who fulfills all promise and hope. St. Paul tells us that it is in this act of Communion in Liturgy that we can recognize the Reality of the Resurrection. (1 Corinthians 11.29).
We have a moral choice to make on this great and glorious day. We have a choice of how to walk and talk. If we walk in the world with all its disappointment, then we will think as the world and live as the world. If we talk throughout the day only about impossibilities and worries, worldly priorities and the things on the evening news, then we will give up on eternal life and doubt the Kingdom of God. Jesus will be standing there, but we will fail to see Him, simply because we are squeezing shut our eyes.
Let us open them. Let us see that Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead. Let us recognize our Saviour and Friend who has crushed the power of the devil. Let us hear His mighty Voice, calling us from fear and darkness. Let us run to meet Him in the joy of hope and faith. Let us love our Risen Saviour with all our hearts and our minds, body, and soul. Let us embrace one another and call each other "brother," for our Lord, our Redeemer and Victorious Shepherd has fought the good fight in the grace, He has won the good race at the Whipping Stone and the Cross, and He has been exalted, glorified to the ages and vindicated to the angels:
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.9-11)
Granting you my Archpastoral Blessing on this Greatest of Feasts, this Day of all Days, I remain
Most sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Metropolitan NICHOLAS
This Archpastoral Letter is to be read in all Diocesan Parishes in lieu of the regular Sermon at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, April 19, 2009