Paschal Homily of +Bishop Nikon, Bishop Of Florida

Reprinted from Orthodox Life - Vol. 1 No. 2 March - April 1950

"We are celebrating the putting to death of death, the destruction of hell, and of eternal life the beginning"'. (From the 7th hymn of the Pascha Canon)

"Let no one be afraid of death, for we are made free by the death of the Saviour." (From the sermon of Saint John Chrysostom)

During this most festive and brilliant night of our salvation, we constantly sing the holy hymn to God, Who has risen from the dead, our Saviour: "Christ has Risen from the dead, by death conquering death, and to those who are in the graves granting life."

And truly, this night contains salvation for all faithful children of the Church of Christ, and especially for those who sing this holy song not only with their lips, but likewise with their spirits, having a firm confidence in the victory of life over death.

"Christ has Risen from the dead...," this is a historical reality, a fact which we know to be absolutely true, from the four Gospels, from the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles, from the lives of Saints and, in short, from the history of the entire Christian Church, which clearly testifies that 2000 years ago, Christ the Saviour indeed rose from the dead. This testimony is supported, likewise, by the negative scientific criticism, inasmuch as we see that scientific criticism has been trying hard for 2 thousand years, with the full force of its knowledge, to disprove the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and has had no success whatsoever.

Nevertheless, the historical fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is accepted by our mind only if it has been received beforehand by the highest faculty of our spirit-faith; And, if our faith has died, then the mind too, in spite of reality, will reject this fact, and will assume that it does not exist.

Furthermore, our holy hymn is not limited merely to giving testimony regarding the past, but extends its thought upon the present and into the future. "By death conquering death" Not for Himself did the Saviour, Who has Risen from the dead, conquer death, but likewise for me and for all who are living on earth today.

Before the coming of Christ the Saviour, death had been, for everybody, a descent into hell. But after Christ the Saviour "has shattered the eternal door-posts, holding the bound ones," by His Rising from the dead, - "there is no death, therefore, for Thy servants, O Lord, for those of us who leave the body, and who; come to Thee, our God, but a change from the most sad to the most useful and most sweet, and unto peace, repose and joy." (From the prayers during the week of Pentecost)

This great truth appears to contradict facts. For I know that I have to die, and probably, before my death, I shall suffer the agonies which we notice in most of those who are dying. At the same time, the holy hymn testifies that after the Rising from the dead of Jesus Christ, death does not exist for me any longer, and the Holy Church insists on supporting the same fact with force and assurance, in the words: "We are celebrating the putting to death of death, and the beginning of a different and eternal life." The same thought is forcefully expressed by Saint John Chrysostomos in his Pascha sermon, which comprises an integral part of the Pascha services: "Let no one be afraid of death, for we are liberated by the death of the Saviour, and death is extinguished by The One held by death." The holy hymn, furthermore, does not limit itself to the fate of the living, but extends its promises toward all the dead, beginning with the first man... and to those who are in the graves granting life." To the lone human intellect, standing by itself, there are apparently even more contradictions in this assertion. Where are these, "who are in the graves?" Is it not true that their bodies have long ago turned into dust, and have been mixed up, many times, with all of the elements of the world? So, how was life granted to them? It is plain that this truth is inaccessible to our intellect which literally crawls on the ground as long as it has torn itself away from the highest faculty of our spirit - faith. At the same time, this truth can be explained so clearly that it will become obvious, if only our intellect has been enlightened by beneficial faith.

It should be noted that, in general, the whole life of intelligent and free beings is based on faith, and is impossible without it. But, in different spheres of life, we find different shades and aspects of faith. Men are frequently satisfied with faith which is distorted and even false, as for instance in communism, whose adherents believe in various phantoms, thinking them realities and accepting lies in place of truth. Some are satisfied with a faith which is conditional and limited, as for instance faith in arts and sciences, and others are satisfied with a faith taken in small doses, as in human relations, but wherever there is life, there must in variably be faith. In our religion, faith must be the true, beneficial kind which is called the faith which saves, without which faith it is impossible to please God.

How can we apply, by faith, the reality of the victory over death to the living and the dead, through the Rising from the dead of Jesus Christ?

The fact itself, of the Rising from the dead of Jesus Christ, refers to the past, and our faith must extend itself into the future. In another hymn of the Pascha canon we hear that this holy and most festive night of salvation is truly a herald of the brilliant day of the Resurrection (2 hymn, 7 song) The physical law of death, so far, has not been abolished, and it still works in the world. I know that I have to die, but being united, through His Holy Church, with Christ, Who has Risen from the dead, I know also that the death which I must face is not the final end of life, but only a temporary phenomenon, which transfers me into the highest province of life which has been opened by Christ God for all who believe in Him, and which grants me hope of complete resurrection - not only of my spirit, but likewise of the body.

The Day of Resurrection:

Earth! tell it out abroad! The Passover of gladness! The Passover of God! From Death to Life Eternal, From this world to the sky, Our Christ that brought us over, With hymns of victory. (1 hymn, 1 song)

I am so sure of myself because I have many proven facts, the most true in the world, and more certain than death itself, and they are the reason why death is conquered. Our Lord Jesus Christ, before His suffering on the Cross and Rising from the dead, spoke to His disciples, and in detail what significance His death and rising from the dead would have to us. He supported His words with deeds. The Lord showed that He truly rules over the laws of existence and can command them at will, an act which is impossible to us mortal men. He made a promise, that He would rise from the dead, would ascend to heaven, and would send to His disciples a Comforter, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who would instruct them in every truth, and would establish His Church on earth so that She will exist until the end of time, firm in truth and faith, - a link connecting us with Him. All of this has been fulfilled and is being fulfilled. Furthermore, He promised that at the end of a period of time, He will come again to earth, as an all-righteous judge. Then,by the power of His divinity, He will abolish the physical law of death, and will introduce a new law of life, by which all of the bodies of those who have previously died will rise from the dead. The good and the bad, who are mixed together at present, will be divided, and will come forth: "those who have done good into the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil into the resurrection of judgment." (John 5, 29). All of this will be accomplished not by the forces of nature and not by conquests of the human mind, but by the power of the omnipotent God.

Something similar to that which will happen then, we find both in nature and in our spirit, when it is enlightened by faith. In nature, we have the coming of spring, when under the action of life-giving rays of the sun, we witness the revival of life. The natural elements of the world are opening their treasures. The elements of the earth, of oceans, of rivers and of the air, combine themselves and grow sweet smelling flowers, fragrant fruit, grass and leaves, and arises. All of this happens each year in accordance with the laws, as is said, of nature. What can prevent the All-powerful Creator of the ages to illuminate the world with a new brilliancy of His divinity, and to command the elements of the world to return the particles of my body, which may be located somewhere in the deep recesses of the earth, or on the bottom of the oceans, or floating somewhere in the inter-planetary spaces, - to command them to become united with their root - my immortal soul, in order that I should come forth before Him, my Creator and Saviour, freed from the laws of death which have been acting in me?

Christ God is the "High Priest of future blessings" (Heb. 9, 11), and our Pascha joy, - joy about the future. This joy about the future, if only we do not doubt that it will come, even in our private life is just as vivid and bright as rejoicing about the present. Let us picture in our mind a very poor man, wasting away from starvation and a m6ther who is deep in sorrow because her son has disappeared without a trace. And suddenly they receive the glad tidings that the poor man is going to receive riches, while the son has been located. Let us suppose that both still must wait for a long time, before their hardships will end physically:

But how they will rejoice! How delighted they will be! The poor man will become rich in his mind, and all other people about him will be of the same opinion, even though, so far, he still remains a poor man. The mother, in her mind, will be a possessor of her son, and her companions will rejoice with her, even though, so far, she is alone in the same way as before.

The Holy Church of Christ gives Her children not only the assurance that the blessings which are promised them will come without fail, but also, during this brilliant night of our salvation, She makes it possible for Her children, in a certain initial degree, and in a spirit of sweet and touching feeling, to experience that happiness which has been promised by Christ God in His ever lasting kingdom. "Let us unite with Thee more fully and perfectly in the night-less day of Thy kingdom," - so ends the Pascha canon.

There, under the new conditions of existence, we shall receive from Thee, our Saviour and God, the full and perfect joy. But here too, among earthly sorrows, while Thou sendest us, through Thy Church, the rays of Thy grace, Thou givest spirit to our wretched life, and dost transform it; Arid we, who believe in Thy Rising from the dead, and who are perfectly sure that all of Thy promises are true, rejoice and are delighted in Thy Church, and with faith and exclaim:

"Christ has Risen from the dead, by death conquering death, and to those who are in the graves granting life."

Bishop NIKON

Text edited from http://www.holycross-hermitage.com/pages/Orthodox_Life/bishop_nickon.htm





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