Homily of the Most Reverend Archimandrite Parthenius on Holy Pascha, Easter
While we were walking, my dear ones, in the procession with the Holy Light around the church, I saw many bright faces which truly radiate the light of Resurrection, deeply feel the Paschal joy. I rejoiced too because of that and thought to myself: Really tonight God is sending us the full measure of his heavenly joy. And we, as children of the faith in the Resurrection, receive this Paschal joy and share the love in Christ with all of our neighbors, even with those spiritually distant from us. Because that’s what the Christian should be like: a messenger of this glorious joy of our Saviour, which is fully given to us through His Cross and Resurrection. And in what way? With the immense mercy and love that God endows us with, with the forgiveness of our sins and the fulfilling of all justice, and finally, the most important – with the victory over the enemy of our salvation and the solving of the greatest problem for humanity – death. After Christ even death is no longer a problem for the one who believes in Him.
This evening, on the Matins that follows next, as well as during the Divine Liturgy afterwards, everything will radiate with the inexplicable Paschal joy from the victory over death and the reunion of man with God. Therefore let us also wish to be with Him, just as He is giving Himself to us. And the best way to do that is through our love for Him, through our repentance, through the mercy we should have for one another, and especially through forgiving our neighbors. Only If we constantly apply in real life all of this, we could really consider ourselves Christians and our joy in Christ will be complete.
Man has essential need of Divine mercy, the mercy of our Lord Resurrected, Who is the only hope and delight to every soul. You probably remember the Evangelical event when our Lord after the Resurrection joined the two apostles Luke and Cleopas, who travelled from Jerusalem to Emmaus. (Luke 24, 13-34). Although they didn’t recognize Christ, because He had an appearance of a passenger, still they felt the immense grace which emanated from this mysterious Stranger. Seeing their confusion and fear, he reproached them for the lack of faith and directed them to the prophecies in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself. The sweetness of His words had such an impact on the souls of the apostles that they didn’t want to part with Him, although they still didn’t know who He really was. So when they were to separate, instead they invited Him to stay overnight: Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Actually, it was their souls that spoke, because they felt the grace.
Let us be like these two blessed apostles, and tell Christ with our souls: “Lord, our life without You, without Your life giving light, without Your merciful support, without Your sweetest love which You poured on the world, is night, darkness, death. Therefore stay with us! Don’t leave us!”
Because, what is the world without Christ, if not the ultimate and blackest night and unsolvable dead-end? Look, everywhere you can hear news about terror, about wars; our modern society is facing two great evils: the first one is the islamic fundamentalism and religious radicalism; and the second, although no lesser – the aggressive atheism. Both of these evils, whether consciously or unconsciously, directly degrade the human personality by diminishing or totally ignoring his God given freedom and right to choose: the first one, through the inclination to violently impose its chauvinistic ideology, and the second, through its unreasonable and absurd struggle against God and the faithful in the name of democracy, while ignoring the fact that just as not believing in God is a democratic right, it’s equally democratic to believe in Him. However there is no reasoning and logic when it comes to evil. So, as the opposite sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees united in their evil and struggle against Christ, the same way these two, seemingly incompatible movements today join in coalition when it comes to fighting Christ and Christianity.
However, my dear ones, we shouldn’t despair, because the Church of Christ went through many societies in this world, societies cruel and inhuman, which ruled their subjects through fear and terror. Such were for example: the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union and many others, which in spite of their power in this world, still couldn’t conquer the Holy Church. But we should never forget that the struggle for the Truth started with the twelve apostles and their followers, which had been mercilessly killed for whole three centuries. Everyone who would have killed a Christian in the Roman Empire, thought that in this way he was actually glorifying God. And in the end the Christian faith reached a glorious victory! But can you imagine that these real Christian preachers never took weapon in their arms, in order to preach the Gospel of Christ with it! Quite the opposite, sent by their Saviour as if lambs for slaughter, they only had the love and wisdom of God as their weapon and peacefully conquered the world. The power they were armed with was the one of the Cross and the Resurrection.
Do you see just how much our Lord endowed us with kindness, with love; he wanted to put us on the right of God, to make us commune with Him! In His prayer as a High Priest to God the Father, before His crucifixion, Christ said this: My Father… Can’t you see the kind of community and dignity God has invited the man for! And all that He had to do: the incomprehensible incarnation in the poor cave, the humble taking of insults and blasphemies and the enduring patience in the suffering on the Cross, and finally the glorious Resurrection – He did all this so that He could give us that huge gift of adoption.
So now, my dear Christians, let us ask ourselves just how big our responsibility is, having all that immense love of God? Huge! Cannot be measured. Because we are the ones who could change this world. Our Lord Jesus told the apostles: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (John 15, 19). But as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you (John 20, 21). As if He told them: “I’m sending you in the world not in order for you to become like it, but for you to change it with My love.” So if we are to change something, we should first rise above it. I will quote again the Holy Gospel, mentioning the words that Christ spoke in His farewell sermon to His disciples before the crucifixion: Arise, let us go hence! (John 14, 31). In the spiritual sense this means that the Christians should elevate their mind above all that’s from this world, all that is corruptible, decaying, temporary, in order to unite with Christ, and mutually, with each other.
This night, maybe there’s no need of words, because the grace of Resurrection itself is a great preacher. But still, my heart feels the need to say these things. Whether they would reach your souls or not – I don’t know… Maybe not even my heart is touched deeply enough… But what’s most important is to repent sincerely. Then we would surely come close to God. If the penitent thief on the cross could in the last hour become a citizen of Heaven through repentance, so can we, my dear ones, if we but cry from the depth of our being to the Most Kind and Merciful Saviour, Who is the only hope of this world:
“Dear Christ come to my heart! I give myself to You, my Resurrected Christ, my Light, my love and joy! Come and enlighten my heart, make me shining light!”
Tonight we all hold burning candles in our hands. Their symbolism is that every Christian should be a reflection of the light of Christ. Some might say: “That’s impossible, because we are filled with sins, passions, weaknesses…” Yes, but that’s what our Lord crucified Himself for. That’s why He became a Man, above all; to carry upon Himself all our weaknesses and to heal the sinful wounds, presenting His repentance for the sinners. Through repentance we cleanse ourselves and become holy. Here I will quote again the often quoted St. John Chrysostom, who says: “God will not judge us for our sins but for our lack of repentance”.
Seeing you in such a great number tonight, my heart simply dances with joy. So I would like to send a message to those who intend to leave after twelve, at midnight. Please don’t do that, but rather stay with us in this most beautiful and brightest night of the year, a night when we rise up to the greatest heights with our souls. What you saw is just a beginning of the amazing Divine service which follows. Really it’s so unreasonable to leave at the very beginning of the Resurrection celebration. Unfortunately, although we as a nation are known for the testimony of our faith, don’t even know what that faith is like. And we are especially unreasonable during great holidays such as this one, Easter – when after midnight and the egg breaking many of you go to coffee bars and inns. But you should know that we are being ridiculed for it by the other Orthodox nations. Once at Easter a foreigner came to our Archbishop. He attended the Paschal service in the main church. After the service our people asked him: “What are your impression of the service? Did you like it? Did you see how many people were present, the entire Partizanska Street was filled with people…” And he replied: “There were really a lot of people, but only in the beginning. It was very strange and even a bit funny that the majority of people left at the beginning of the service.”
What I’ve just said doesn’t refer to you, at least not to the majority of you, since most of you are spiritual children of our Monastery and I know you well and rejoice with you… Still I would like all the others to stay too and feel the unearthly joy of this most radiant night.
In the end I would like to greet you with the words St. Seraphim of Sarov always used to greet the people that came to him in and out of the Paschal period:
MY JOY, MY MANY JOYS, CHRIST HAS RISEN!