Metropolitan Vitaly's Paschal Epistle


1997


Christ is Risen!

Beloved children of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in the diaspora and throughout the breadth of the Russian land.

Pascha - the Passover of Christ - has always consoled us and will offer us consolation from the waves of God's grace descending through the widely opened gates of the Heavenly Kingdom. All will feel it, it will come to every single one of us and illumine his countenance with pure joy as an oil lamp illumines an icon. It will not overlook anyone, it will pass no one by - the faster or the non-faster, him who prays or even him who does not pray. It will touch everyone. One person's soul will be so filled to overflowing that he will not know whether he is in heaven or on earth, only God will know, to make a bold paraphrase of St. Paul's words, while it will touch another person quietly, as if caressing him with a feather, almost imperceptibly, but from being touched in this way the Divine Paschal grace will pass through him and fill him from head to foot with joyful trembling; he will awaken and the eyes of his soul will open to the light of a new life, and he will never forget it throughout the rest of his life.

So we will not continue to repeat to you the annual good wishes of the Pascha season. It is better that we and you keep silent. It often happens that in such Paschal silence there is more strength and meaning than in our feeble sounds and words. We can recall the words in the Akathist hymn to the Mother of God: "Rejoice, faith of those who pray for silence."

Truly Christ is Risen!

Such is your sacred reply. An ordinary ear will not hear it, but the whole of creation, animate and inanimate, trembles with it, the sun dances with it, and it is borne across fields, forests, tundra, jungles, deserts and seas, so as to envelope the whole inhabited earth. Such is our wondrous and miraculous Pascha!

I have just exchanged the joyous Paschal kiss with you, but my archpastoral conscience and duty force me once again to have recourse to words, exhortations, teaching and warnings. Before our eyes suddenly, quite unexpectedly, we are seeing the mystical revelation of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, the Apocalypse. For a long time we thought of it as a prophecy from a far off time which would assuredly be fulfilled one day in the future. But now, suddenly, not only has it appeared at the doors of our contemporary life, but the sharp, icy blast of the antichrist has begun to howl across the whole of our planet earth. what exactly is the Apocalypse? According to the Holy Fathers who have interpreted this sacred book, the Apocalypse is the book of the last years of the earthly history of the Church of Christ. It shows the inseparably close links between the fate of the Church and the fate of the whole world, the whole human race, and the entire cosmos. This means that the only reason why the world and all that is in it still exist is the fact that the True Church of Christ continues to dwell on it. What is the Church's lot in our days? It is a hard one. The Church displeases most people; it is barely tolerated, people laugh at it and revile it. They have not managed to destroy it, and will not be able to do so. So now all the forces of darkness are trying to squeeze themselves into it and eat it away from inside like termites, leaving behind only an empty wrapping. Evil is laughing in our faces? And we thoughtlessly chase after the shadow of earthly good things and our imaginary good repute, as long as no one inconveniences us or disturbs the tempo of our life of comfort. But a great temptation will come upon us, and come without fail. We will be placed on the knife edge of life.

Nobody will be able to hide anywhere, even in a fissure in the rock. Everyone will be found and face with the fatally tragic question: either you are with "us" or with Christ. Perhaps the question will not be posed quite like that, from fear of scaring the luckless Christian, but he will simply be asked, "are you with 'us'?" What are we to do?

Firstly, we must understand in what a terribly dangerous time we are living. Then, we must force ourselves to follow a disciplined life of prayer: to pray morning and evening and to pray with the Jesus prayer wherever and whenever we can. To receive Holy Communion more often in the True Church, and not in the church of the hollow egg shell, eaten away from within. Nobody will then be saved by theological degrees, or knowledge of the order of church services, or the orders of bishop or priest or any other rank. Only a personal love from the heart for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, will save a human soul, together with faithfulness to Him, even unto death. Did not the Lord Himself prophetically say, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8), while at the same time the Lord promised to preserve His Church invincible even unto the end of this world. This means that by the time of the Second Coming, the Church of Christ will be reduced in size to the utmost degree. There will remain one or two churches in which the True Body of Christ and the True Blood of Christ will be imparted to the faithful. In the remaining churches there will remain only an empty shell, with great outward adornment, but empty. "See then that you walk circumspectlyŠbecause the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15-16). "Even so, come Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).

But still, despite all the outer darkness and horror of antichrist, until the very last earthly Pascha of Christ, the whole inhabited earth will reverberate with the greeting:

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Amen.

Metropolitan Vitaly

Pascha, 1997.





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