Archpastoral Letter for Pascha 2003
Prot. N. 156 - April 27, 2003
Who will roll the stone away for us from the entrance of the tomb? (St Mark 16:3)
To the Pious and Devout Clergy , Monastics and Faithful of our God-saved Diocese:
CHRIST IS RISEN! CHRISTOS VOSKRESE!
CHRIST IS RISEN!
Dear Fathers and Faithful:
As we come yet again to the Resurrection of the Lord, to this holiest of seasons, Queen of Feasts, the Feast of Feasts, and the Great Day, the question of the Myrrh-bearing Women challenges all of us:
Who will roll the stone away for us from the entrance of the tomb?
Indeed,who will roll away the hardness of our own hearts and allow the light of Christ to penetrate to the innermost recesses of our minds, our imaginations, our thoughts? It is a question whose answer helps us to understand the mystery of the Resurrection of our Lord, and the mystery of our own Baptismal promise.
For why was the stone rolled away, and by whom, and for whom? Was the stone rolled away to allow the body of the Risen Lord out into the world again? Remember how Lazarus, dead for four days, was released from his grave by the command of the Lord:
Jesus rent the air with a strong and mighty cry, "Lazarusl Come forth! And Lazarus, who was to that very moment dead, emerged with his hands and feet bound together by the many bandages of the funeral shroud, His face tightly wrapped and covered by the face-shroud. (John 11:41-44)
Only the command of the Lord could loose Lazarus from his tomb, and when his stone was rolled away, the body of the one four days dead came forth wrapped in the veils of death. Many witnesses beheld this miracle, and the crowds were astounded at this prefiguring of our own resurrection.
But when the One Who slept for Three Days in the Flesh came forth from the Tomb, there were no witnesses. The stone lay in its place, but it could not prevent the Resurrection of the Captain of our faith. The guards slept, struck down by the Angel who rolled away the stone -but it revealed only an empty Tomb with the grave-wrappings set aside, as well as the face-shroud that had covered His head folded up and set apart elsewhere (John 20:7).
Indeed, my beloved, the stone was rolled away not for the Prince of Life to come forth, but for us to enter in. Our faith in the Resurrection must be rooted and grounded in our own witness of the Risen Lord, not in the witness of any other! How can this be? Are we like the Magdalene who heard the Lord cry "Rejoice!" and fell down at His feet? Or like Cleopas and Luke on the road to Emmaus? Or like the Disciples in the shuttered Upper Room, which Christ entered in the same way He exited the Tomb? Or like Thomas, eight days later when the Lord commanded him to probe the wounds by which we are healed? No, our witness is not of the senses, but is more blessed, even as the Lord Himself said:
Happy and blessed are those who have seen nothing, and yet believe!
Our witness Is the Holy Spirit, who was also a witness to the Resurrection (Acts 5:32) and dwells within our hearts through the great grace of Baptism. This is how we believe without seeingl This is how the blind gain their sight!
So, let us look for the heavy stone within our hearts, and with the pure sincerity of the Myrrh-bearers look for the hope that comes from above. Let us await the joyful presence of the Angel who will strengthen us and move that stone, that we enter deep into the fullness of our Baptismal mystery -which is the mystery of death, even as St. Paul attests:
Do you not understand that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus, have been baptized into His death? Consequently,We were buried with Him through the Baptism into death, so that as Christ arose from the dead through the glory of the Father, so also, we might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
And finally, who will roll away the stone of our sins, which cover us and harbor darkness within our hearts and souls, just as the darkness of the tomb once covered by the Body of our Lord? The heavy burden we bear, the sins of pride and arrogance, anger and resentment, jealousy and envy, discord and strife, and so many others, which can and do bring about our spiritual death, is rolled away from the tombs that we have constructed by our words, deeds, and thoughts. ONLY CHRIST THE LORD has the power and authority to roll them away from our souls. And He has chosen to accomplish this re-creation of our nature through His Passion, Death, and this Glorious Resurrection, which we celebrate today! This Mystery also continues each and every time that we partake of Holy Confession and Communion as we did most recently in preparation for this Feast of Feasts. It is at this time of year that we are most intensely aware of this fact of forgiveness and our reconciliation with God.
Let each of you go in spirit on this great day to the Tomb of our Lord as did the Holy Myrrh-bearers; enter in and see His Glory and Light, witness His awesome Resurrection, grasp the hope which is the promise of our own personal resurrection, and offer gratitude to Him Who has rolled away the stone and the stench of our personal sins, faults, and shortcomings.
In that newness of life that is the glory of the Pascha, let us ever walk in the knowledge of the Resurrection, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
CHRIST IS RISEN! CHRISTOS VOSKRESE! CHRIST IS RISEN!
With love and joy in the Risen Christ,
Most sincerely yours in the Risen 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 27, 2003