Pascha: The Day that the Lord Has Made (Ps. 118:24)
by V. Rev. Joseph Antypas
Christians throughout the world celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. On the day of the Resurrection, we give thanks to God who has granted us victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and put an end to the power of sin, which brought death to our Lord. Jesus Christ is the first who rose from the dead. He destroyed death by His death, and opened unto us the doors of paradise, and bestowed upon us the fullness of life and of great mercy. The power of the Resurrection of Christ transforms our weakness, and releases within us the dynamic of growing into the image and likeness of our Risen Lord.
The Church of the Risen Christ is not an institution with human organization; it is a new life with the Risen Lord. The light of Christ enlightens those who seek their Lord with faithfulness and with love. All faithful believers express the good news of the Resurrection every time they recite the symbol of the faith, the Nicene Creed, which declares that our Lord, Jesus Christ, after his death and burial, “rose again, according to the Scriptures.” This particular expression is taken from 1 Cor. 15:3-4. St. Paul writes: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that He was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”
The prophetic message of Isaiah, Chapter 53, concerning the Suffering Servant who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, who was wounded for our transgressions, and was bruised for our iniquities, summarizes and articulates topologically the scriptural foundation of the passions and death of the Saviour, who “was numbered with the transgressors, yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
In the same manner, we read in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22) that Jesus Christ foretold his disciples and taught them that he would suffer rejection and death, and after three days He would rise again.
Moreover, the Resurrection of Christ stands at the center of all truths, the seal of the Christian faith, and it is the dynamic power behind the emergence of the Church and the very center of all her preaching. Pascha is the cornerstone of Christian proclamation and ministry of the Gospel of Christ. The whole of Christianity is the outcome of the joy of the paschal celebration. St. Paul emphasizes that the denial of the Resurrection of Christ amounts to the denial not of one element of the Christian faith, nor of one truth among others, but of the Christian faith itself. “If Christ has not been raised,” St. Paul writes, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” I Cor. 15:l2ff. For St. Paul, the Resurrection is the evidence of our salvation; it binds and unites the Christian with Christ as the only hope of those who are asleep in him. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep” I Thes. 4:14.
The Fathers of the early Church dealt with certain aspects of this Great Feast. St. Gregory of Nyssa (+394) says that in His glorious Resurrection, Christ has emerged as God, impassable and immortal. He was under no compulsion to suffer or to come down on earth. Orthodox theology affirms this fact by calling Christ “the second Adam,” by whose Resurrection the primal sorrow was absorbed in joy and rejoicing (Matt. 28.8ff.). And so, the discovery of the empty tomb, the different appearances, and the announcements of the women to the Apostles that Christ has risen were not accidents. “For a woman was both the cause of the transgression and the herald of the resurrection. Woman who caused the first Adam to fall testifies that the Second Adam has risen,” writes Basil of Seleucia (+468).
In view of such a great mystery, Byzantine iconography depicts the Resurrection of Christ in such manner that it incorporates heaven, earth, and hell as well. In heaven, the powers cry with joy to the hosts above: “Princes raise your gates, lift up your eternal gates that the King of glory may come in ...“ (Ps. 24, 7ff).
On earth, the Resurrection of Christ proclaims to the earth the Father’s will for the universe. And in hell, the risen Christ stamps out hell, delivers all humanity and extends a liberating hand to Adam and Eve. Hyppolitus of Rome reflects on the whole picture and refers to Pascha as the common feast: invisible feast for angels, immortal life to the entire world, total wound of death, indestructible nourishment of man, sacred feast of heaven and earth, prophet of mysteries old and new, seen by the eyes here on earth and contemplated by the spirit of the heavens.
Because of the Resurrection of Christ, all men become heirs of God and participants in the divine promises, and the history of the people of God finds in Christ a total and final fulfillment. In the realization of the design of salvation in respect to man and the world, the bodily resurrection of Christ initiates a new state of man which makes him participate in the condition of the resurrected Christ. In his sermon on Easter Sunday, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (+390) writes that, “He who today is risen from the dead, will renew me in spirit, and put on me the new man, giving to this new creation (those who are born according to God), a good worker and a good master, eager to die and be resurrected with Christ.” Such an invitation on the part of God means that, first, because of the hope of the Resurrection, virtue is pursued and evil is an object of hatred. “For without the Resurrection,” writes St. Gregory of Nyssa, “one view will be found to prevail over all others, ‘let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’ “ (I Cor. 15:32). Second, the Resurrection of Christ becomes the pledge of our resurrection and regeneration. The Resurrection of Christ frees man from the alienation of sin and of death, and so regenerated man enters a new era, a new existence which enables him in faith and hope to partake in the life of the risen Christ. This “personal” participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ and its utmost and total victory over death is seen by St. John Chrysostom (+407) as a baptismal garment and the gift of new life. On this victory over death, he writes: “Two days ago the Lord died on the cross. Today he has risen from the dead. In the same way two days ago these neophytes (converts) were held in the bondage of sin. But today they rise along with Christ. He died in the flesh and rose in the flesh. They likewise were dead in sin and have risen from sin.
Finally, the Resurrection of Christ introduces a new concept of human relations. It brings about a total transformation, and transfiguration of the whole of man opens for him a new way of life: a life that is genuine, authentic, and full of love, peace, and brotherhood. On the day of the Resurrection of Christ, all faithful believers are called to embrace one another, and because of the life-giving Resurrection of Christ, they are called to forgive one another in all things, so that they can wisely exclaim. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.”
Let us pray that God will generate in us His love; may we ask our Risen Lord to grant us and our loved ones his blessings and many more good years to come.
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!
Fr. Joseph is pastor of St. George, Troy, MI and on the faculty of the Antiochian House of Studies.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America