I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, yet shall he live. John 11:25
Our dear spiritual children, people will ask you: why does belief in the Resurrection of Christ, in its irrefutable historical reality, represent the very foundation of the Orthodox Christian faith? Why is the feast of the Resurrection called the Feast of Feasts and Holy Day of Holy Days? Why does this greatest of feasts take the central place in the yearly cycle of church festivals? Why are the paschal liturgical services, culminating in the paschal Divine Liturgy, the most beautiful and radiant of all the Church's services? Answer them simply, but with conviction and convincingly: because Resurrection means rising from the dead, and so is the complete and final victory over the ultimate, final, greatest and, until Christ, unconquerable enemy, death. The crucified Christ breathed His last upon the Cross and so, in His human nature, died a real death; but He also really rose from the tomb, truly "rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures." So the Holy Apostle Paul was completely correct when he declared that the Christian faith and Christian preaching would be empty and in vain if Christ has not risen. (I Corinthians 15:14, 17)
In this regard one of our great spiritual fathers and theologians has written that every philosophy, and especially every religion, must be tested on exactly this question, the central question of human existence and activity, on the question of death. And only Christianity has passed this test before each person and before mankind; it has passed this test and moreover has passed it not with words but through deeds in the actual event of the Resurrection of Christ.... After the Resurrection of Christ everything becomes clear and it is with good reason that the Apostle cries out joyfully, "O death, where is thy sting? O hell, where is thy victory?" (I Corinthians 15:55) The Resurrection of Christ means and witnesses to one single truth, to this good and joyful news: "Death is swallowed up in victory!" (I Cor. 15:54) Hades or hell as the state of death, as the windowless domain of spiritual darkness where neither God nor man can be seen, has received in Christ's Resurrection a fatal blow. It has been embittered with no hope of remedy because, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, by coming face to face with the Risen Lord it has been emptied and mocked, it has been bound with chains, ruined and, moreover, deadened. Truly the event of the Resurrection is the triumph of life, and the very death of death.
If we are children of the Church and Orthodox Christians, that is, "if we believe that Jesus is dead and risen" (I Thessalonians 4:14), then in our words, our deeds and in our entire being we must be witnesses to His Resurrection (see Luke 24:46-48 and Acts 1:22), and so witness of the risen Lord Himself (see Acts 1:8). It is so very important and necessary for us to realize that the Resurrection of Christ is also our resurrection, the resurrection of each of us, personally and individually. Indeed we confess and proclaim this great truth in the words of the Creed: "I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." In his teaching to his disciples and the people during His open ministry, the Savior did not say that only He would be given over to death, and rise again three days later (Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22, 24:6-7 and 46, John 20:9), but rather that all who believe in Him "will arise on the last day" (John 6:39-40, 44, 54). The risen Christ is therefore not alone: He is "the first fruits of the dead" (I Cor. 15:20, 23), or "the firstborn of the dead " (Col. 1:18 and Revelation 1:5), or the "first who should rise from the dead" (Acts 26:23) , and so the "firstborn of many brothers" (Romans 8:29) who belong to "the general assembly and Church of the firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23).
You may be asking yourselves: How can this be? How is such a connection possible? How can we expect to escape death through the general resurrection simply on the basis that a particular historical Person once, nearly two thousand years ago, rose from the dead? This is indeed the case, brothers and sisters, and it is not only possible but actual, because Christ is the God-Man, the one and only Person who is by nature both fully and truly divine and fully and truly human. Joined to the fulness of divinity in Him, inseparably and indivisibly, but without mixture or change, His human nature was without sin. Therefore He did not die on the Cross because He had to die, as must all sinful men who are infected with mortality; sin, after all, is only the breaking of the life-giving union of love with God by man. On the contrary, Christ voluntarily gave Himself over to death, sacrificing Himself "for the life of the world and for its salvation." But in really, painfully dying on the Cross, tasting for Himself all the tragedy of death, He died as a man, and not as God: as God He is the living God and the God of the living, eternally "on the throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit," for "it was not possible that the Lord of Life should be held captive by death" (the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great; see Acts 2:24) . He arises as God, or more precisely as the God-Man, for His human nature is returned from death to life, but not to the passing and corrupt life of this world, but to the life of the age to come, unfallen and indestructible. Still, human nature belongs to His own Person, as well as to every human being.
Therefore, His resurrection is also the resurrection of our nature and through it of each of us as persons: "For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive." (I Cor. 15: 21-22) In these brilliant words we can understand the two-fold nature of the gospel's witness concerning the Resurrection of Christ: while it is said in many places that Christ has risen, in still other places the holy apostles witness about "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God," that God has raised Him up ( Acts 2: 22-24; 2:31-32; 13:30-37, and 17:31), by the Holy Spirit. (see Romans 1:4)
In this way we experience the Resurrection of Christ as the resurrection of life, based on the personal relationship between God and man, and on the mutual love which is the content of that relationship. Believing in Christ's Resurrection and joyously celebrating it, we together express our "hope in God that there will be a resurrection of the dead." (Acts 24:15; 24:21; I Cor. 15:12-13 and 42-57; Hebrews 6:2), a general resurrection "on the last day" (John 11:24). There will be no resurrection for us men at the end of history without Christ's Resurrection in history: "[If Christ is not risen] then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." (I Cor. 15:18) If that is the case then we, instead of the bright joy of Pascha as the passing over from death to eternal life, are left with a mournful respect for the "shades of the dead"; and then we are "the most miserable of all people" for we can "only hope in Christ in this life." (I Cor. 15:19) Of course, we can also then say the reverse: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ risen." (I Cor. 15:13; 15:15-16)
But, brothers and sisters, our faith in Christ's resurrection and in the coming universal resurrection is not unfounded or a delusion of those who believe. It is, on the contrary, our directly experienced spiritual knowledge to the extent that we are true Orthodox Christians, which is to say, to the extent that we live in the Church and experience her as the Union of God and man, the Assembly of the Saints, the People of God, and not as an ideology or, still less, a religion. Already here and now, through our own incorporation into the Body of the Church in Holy Baptism, we can taste the final resurrection through our personal participation in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ (see Romans 6:3-5). In the same way our whole Christian life and effort, through taking part in the sufferings of Christ, can make it possible for us to also take part in advance in the future resurrection of the dead . (see Philippians 3:10-11) We experience the high-point of this participation and the fulness of this foretaste in the Holy Liturgy of the Church, in our eucharistic union with Christ our risen Lord in Holy Communion. We are united with this Lord Who came into the world among us, Who comes to us through the Holy Spirit whenever we "gather together in one place" in His name, around His Holy Banquet Table of life and love. It is He Who "will come again in glory," and to Whom we ceaselessly and unrestrainedly call with the perfect words of the New Testament Scriptures: "Come, Lord Jesus !" (Rev. 22:20) The Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Life and the Drink of Immortality, our true Food and Drink, is the pledge of the resurrection "on the last day" and of eternal life. (see John 6:32-55) Man is not immortal on his own by nature or by the necessity of immortality, but only through Holy Communion in the grace-filled Gifts, which is participation in the Union with the Lifegiver, as the risen Lord Himself teaches us: "As the living Father has sent Me, and as I live by the Father, so whoever eats Me shall also live through Me." (John 6:57)
The Gospel's true message of the Cross and Resurrection points us, our dear spiritual children, to the indispensable foundation of our life and work, which is our hope amid the hopelessness of an anti-spiritual civilization, and our optimism even under the merciless blows of the so-called new order of things in the world - new in name, but old in its inhumanity. Our experience and our truth, our value system and our social order, our sincere witness and our embracing of others as brothers begins today in our gracious paschal experience going back twenty centuries. This means that it begins in the new life which is found in Christ and in the self-sacrificial accomplishment of the Cross, in the most joyous triumph of the Resurrection, in the unity of the Holy Spirit and in the universal unity of the Church as most perfectly proclaimed and realized in the communion we all have with Him. As we pray together in one of our hymns, "O great and most holy Pascha, Christ..., grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the never-ending day of Thy Kingdom!" Therefore we seek, and we offer to our neighbors, a way out of all troubles and an answer to all their questions and to ours, here and now, from the only true Christ, the Lord of Glory, our personal Passover, the Lamb of God who suffered and sacrificed Himself for us (see I Cor. 5:7), but Who will triumph and has already triumphed over the seven-headed dragon of the abyss of the Apocalypse, together with all its servants and allies throughout history. (see Revelation 17:7-14)
Here is the answer to one of the most difficult questions of humanity today- to the question of how to care for the world in which we live, how to save our environment and our common human home. In faithfulness to the Cross, we will preserve it by sacrificing ourselves for the world and not sacrificing the world to us; illuminated by the Resurrection and made worthy by our calling to be kings and priests of God's creation (Rev. 5:10), in the Church we will save and transfigure not only ourselves but also nature, as we come to perceive through faith "the new heaven and new earth." (Rev. 21:1)
Herein is also to be found the way out of the drama of our Kosovo and Metohija, that part of our Fatherland which up until World War II rightfully carried the title "Old Serbia," which represents today and for all time will continue to represent the cradle of Serbia and the spiritual center of all of Orthodox Serbdom. All genuine suggestions and honorable efforts to solve the problems there deserve respect if they contribute to a solution by which the Serbian people can live in Kosovo and Metohija in peace and freedom, together with the Albanians and all other peoples, all equally sharing the same rights. Deserving of every moral condemnation is the brutal attack of the NATO pact on Yugoslavia: NATO has caused terrible suffering and destruction while offering the unsurpassedly cynical explanation that it wishes to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe."
NATO's violent "logic" simply means a tragedy, both for the Serbian people and for all the ethnic communities of Kosovo and Metohija. But, instead of a criminal war of conquest and death, we Orthodox Christians above all must act according to and must offer to the process our experience of the Cross and Resurrection - that is, we must remain faithful to or if necessary return to the ancient Testament of Kosovo, which is the spiritual and historical application of the eternal New Testament of Christ as found in the path and the legacy of the Holy and honorable Prince Lazar, that hero and knight of the freedom to be found not in this world, but in the holiness and justice of the Kingdom of Heaven. There can be no defeat on this path, for it is illumined by the radiance of the Resurrection.
May the torments and the anxieties of our times fade away before the light and the joy of the Resurrection of the Lord! Let us never forget that His Resurrection is the beginning, the sure guarantee and the stable foundation of our resurrection! Let there be death and destruction to no one, but life and salvation to all living things and to everything that exists!
With these thoughts, emotions and prayerful best wishes we once more greet you with the most joyous and oft-repeated of all greetings:
Christ is Risen!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Pascha, 1999.
Your intercessors before the Lord:
Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci
and Serbian Patriarch PAVLE
Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana JOVAN
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Midwestern America CHRISTOPHER
Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ
Bishop of Zica STEFAN
Bishop of Shumadija SAVA
Bishop of Shabac-Valjevo LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Buda DANILO
Bishop of Nish IRINEJ
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
Bishop of Srem VASILIJE
Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM
Bishop of Slavonia LUKIJAN
Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE
Bishop of Gornji Karlovac NIKANOR
Bishop of Dalmatia LONGIN
Bishop of Eastern America MITROPHAN
Bishop of Banat CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ
Bishop of Ras and Prizren ARTEMIJE
Bishop of Zahum and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN
Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Bishop of Western Europe DAMASKIN
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand LUKA
Bishop of Timok JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Western America JOVAN
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand (New Gracanica Metropolitanate) SAVA
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE