Easter Encyclical 2018
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
We wholeheartedly address you from the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the joyous greeting “Christ is risen!” The resurrection of Christ is the center of our Orthodox faith. Without the resurrection, our faith is “in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Through His resurrection, the divine Word rendered humanity – created in the image of God but wounded and stained by sin – incorrupt and deified, granting us once again the possibility of achieving divine likeness, of which we were deprived through disobedience.
However, what does the feast of Pascha signify as the victory of life over death in a world of violence and war, especially in the name of religion and God?
Many philosophers endeavored to find a solution to the problem of death and to overcome death with various theories. We Orthodox Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead and boldly declare the destruction of death. We know that it is the Word of God who bestows life and in whom “was life” (John 1:4). We have the joyful experience of the Church, that death was conquered through the resurrection of Christ. “All things have been filled with joy, having received the experience of resurrection.” This faith brightens all expressions of church life and culminates in the divine Eucharist. The fact that, in the Christian world, it is especially the Orthodox Church that preserved the divine Eucharist as the center of its life and spirituality is inseparably related to the fact that the resurrection is the nucleus of our faith, worship and ecclesiastical ethos. For this reason, the Eucharistic liturgy is always festive, joyous, and primarily linked with the Lord’s day as the day of the resurrection.
The most striking expression and interpretation of the resurrection as well as of its regenerative power is the image of the descent of our Lord Jesus Christ to Hades, as this is wonderfully depicted at the Chora Monastery in Constantinople. The Lord of glory descends to the depths of Hades, destroying its gates, arising victorious and resurrecting Adam and Eve in Himself, and in so doing resurrects the entire human race from beginning to end. “Now, all things have been filled with light, heaven and earth and all things beneath the earth.” Creation rises from the dark realm of death to the heavenly kingdom, whose light has no evening. The faithful, as participants in the resurrection, are called to declare the Gospel of freedom in Christ “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Mother Church, which lives the mystery of the cross and the resurrection simultaneously, today invites us “to approach with lit candles” “and together to celebrate the salvific Pascha of God.”
Through the resurrection of our Savior, all of humanity has become one people, united in one body. Through His cross and resurrection, Christ definitively destroyed all existing hatred. Thus, the Orthodox Church, as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, is the Church of the reconciliation of all, the Church of love toward all, friends and enemies. Reconciled, filled with new life, filled with true life, we all become fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (cf Eph. 2:15-20).
Unfortunately terrorism, war, and bloodshed continue to this day. The lament and agony of victims, particularly as these are rapidly disseminated through modern technological means, tear the world apart and break our heart. This is why the world’s leaders – political, religious and church – are obliged and compelled by love to do everything that is possible to avoid such unacceptable conditions.
In the midst of this modern “irrational world,” we Orthodox Christians are called to offer a positive witness of love and sacrifice to our fellow human beings.
For us as Orthodox faithful, Pascha is not a fleeting moment of escape from the ugly reality of evil in the world; it is the unwavering conviction that Christ, who trampled down death by death and rose from the dead, is with us “always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Beloved brothers and sisters, such is once again this year the message of the resurrection from the most holy Apostolic and Patriarchal Ecumenical Throne, the sacred center of Orthodoxy, to all people: that Christ has risen and the power of death was abolished; the authority of the powerful over the weak has been destroyed. “Life reigns” and the nurturing love, profound mercy, and endless grace of the risen Christ cover the whole world, from one end to the other. It is sufficient for us to realize that Jesus Christ is the true light, that in Him is life, and that this life is the light of all people (cf John 1:3-4). This is our message to all political and religious leaders of the world.
Therefore, approach and receive the light from the unfading light of the Phanar, which as the light of Christ and the light of love shines upon all; in Him “there is no darkness” (cf 1 John 1:5). Let us hear this Gospel of joy and light; and let us Orthodox alleviate the pain of today’s world with our own love and sacrifice.
Glory be to Him who bestows life, who has shown the light and love and peace to the world as well as to each one of us. Glory to Jesus Christ, the king of glory, the conqueror of death and champion of life.
At the Phanar, Holy Pascha 2016
Your fervent supplicant before the risen Christ,
Brother concelebrants and beloved children in the Lord,
Christ is Risen!
All Orthodox Christians once again this year joyously celebrate The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and chant: “We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of Hades, and the beginning of another, eternal way of living. And so we jubilantly praise the Cause.” (Troparion from the Paschal Canon).
Yet, while we gladly celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection as the reality of life and hope, all around us in the world, we can hear the cries and threats of death launched in many parts of the planet by those who believe that they can resolve human conflicts by destroying their enemies, which in itself constitutes the greatest proof of their weakness. For, by causing the death of another, by taking revenge on our neighbor, on whosoever differs from us, neither is the world improved nor are our problems solved. After all, as everyone – especially the intellectual people of all periods – admits and recognizes, evil is never overcome by evil, but always by good.
Problems are genuinely resolved when we acknowledge and acclaim the value of every human person and when we respect their rights. By contrast, all kinds of problems are created and exacerbated when we despise human beings and violate their rights, especially when it comes to the vulnerable, who must feel secure, while the powerful must be just in order for peace to exist.
Therefore, Christ arose from the dead and demonstrated in this way as well the inability of death to prevail and bring about any stable change in the world. The various situations caused by death can be reversed because, despite how things appear, they are always temporary, having no root or vitality, whereas Christ, who has forever conquered death, is invisibly always present.
We, who have our hope in Him, believe that the right of life belongs to all people. Life and Resurrection are only offered by Jesus Christ, who has trodden on death and on its power over people; this is why we should only hope in Him and His teaching. Faith in Christ leads to Resurrection, to the Resurrection of all of us, while our faith and application of His teaching lead to the salvation of all, as well as to the confrontation of every challenge in our world.
Beloved brothers and children, the message of the Resurrection, this transcendence of human weakness, is the message of life over the world’s corruption and humanity’s adventure. It is to this message that we invite all people – from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, where by God’s mercy we serve as Primate of Orthodox love in truth – so that they may come to knowledge and experience, convinced that only in this way will they also rediscover our true hope, and the hope of the whole world, which was stolen from us in the turmoil of confusion.
May the light of the Resurrection illumine the hearts of all of you so that you may rejoice with all people in love, peace and concord through the Son and Word of God, who is the Light of the world, the Truth and the Life.
To Him alone, who arose from the dead, the Lord of glory, “who lords over life and rules over death,” who lives to the ages and “grants life to those in the tombs,” belong glory, honour and thanksgiving. Amen.
Phanar, Holy Pascha 2015
Christ is Risen!
Come, brethren and children in the Lord, receive the light from the unwaning Light of the Phanar, the Holy Center of the Orthodox, and let us all together and jointly glorify “Christ, Who is risen from the dead.”
The emotional state of the Lord’s disciples was grim after His Crucifixion, because by the Lord’s death on the Cross the hopes of His disciples were dispersed that He and they would one day prevail as political power. They had perceived the triumphant entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, following the resurrection of Lazarus and the miraculous feeding of five thousand men, with additional women and children, by five loaves of bread and two fish, as a prelude of their conquering of secular authority. The mother of two of them moreover requested that her two sons sit by each side of the Lord, when He came to power. All these, however, dissipated as childish imaginations on account of the awful execution of Jesus Christ.
But, one Saturday morning, the Myrrh Bearers found the tomb empty and heard from an Angel that Jesus was risen from the dead. Shortly after, they saw Him in a different state not allowing the Myrrh Bearers to touch Him. This unexpected development of the situation caused the people close to Jesus to wonder about what was to happen next. They did not receive the answer right away. They were told to wait with patience and endurance until they received strength from above. Obeying the command, they waited until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down and revealed to them, in fullness, their new mission. This mission did not call for the liberation of one nation from its slavery bondages by another nation; instead it called for the liberation of all humanity from its enslavement by the master of evil and evil itself. This was another great mission and different from the one they had dreamt about.
The inconceivable commandment calling for the preaching of the message of man’s deliverance from the slavery of death took them by surprise; nevertheless they undertook it with zeal and preached the message everywhere and saved and continue to save many from death. There is the first among the dead, the risen Jesus, Who offers to all the gift of resurrection and eternal life, a life that is not subjected any longer to corruptibility, because man in the resurrected state is like an angel of God in heaven who no longer has a fleshly body but a spiritual one.
We experience already the foretaste of this blessed resurrected state when we carry our fleshly garment in a way by which we do not taste the substance of death, that is the distancing from God’s love, but feel that we transition from the natural death of our fleshly body to the higher life of our spiritual body through the loving knowledge of the Person of the Lord, a knowledge which equals towards eternal life.
Therefore, we are not simply in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead as an event that will take place in the distant future, but we partake in it now, and are jubilant and cry out along with Saint John Chrysostom: Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory? We were resurrected alongside Jesus Christ and experience the end of times as present reality and present reality as the end of times. The resurrection permeates our being and fills us with joy. Exactly like the joy the disciples felt when they were saying that the Lord was risen.
We continue the work of the Apostles. We convey to the world the message of the resurrection. We preach knowingly that death must not have a place in our life for it offers no benefit to humanity. The ones who seek to improve social life by killing fellow humans do not offer good service to the living. They rather serve the proliferation of death and prepare their own devouring by death.
In our times, the drums of death and darkness beat frantically. Some fellow men believe that the eradication of other fellow men is a praiseworthy and beneficial act, but they are seriously mistaken. Unfortunately, the annihilation and suppression of the weakest by the strongest dominates in the secular pyramid of today’s reality. Often we are shocked by the cruelty and lack of compassion exhibited by the powerful that hold the reins of the world, believing that they are actually the ones ruling it.
However, Christ, by His death on the Cross, reversed this secular pyramid and placed on top of it His Cross. He sits atop, because He suffered most than any man. There was no man in the world who suffered as much as God-Man Christ did: And being founding appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the Cross. Therefore God, the Father, also has given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth (Philippians 2:8-11).
Oftentimes in the history of humanity we see as prevailing forces the darkness of death, injustice over justice, hatred and envy over love, and we see that man chooses the infernal hatred over the light of the Resurrection. Despite the apparent technological progress of human societies, despite the declarations of human rights and religious freedom, racial and religious hatred swells universally and causes dangerous tensions, which exacerbate the dominion of the kingdom of death, Hades, and evil. Unfortunately, people can not tolerate diversity in their fellow human beings. They can not tolerate the different racial origin of other men, the different perceptions and beliefs of them, be it political, religious or social.
History, though, has proven that real progress can not exist without God. Not one society can be truly progressive and happy if there is no freedom. True freedom though is acquired only with our staying close to God. The history of the 20th C. tragically confirms this truth. Humanity experienced a horror that originated from Central Europe and produced millions of victims during WWII and racial persecutions. At the same time, it also experienced the horror that was sown by these so called progressive forces, which committed crimes of equal magnitude and cruelty in Eastern Europe in the name of freedom. Therefore, totalitarianism as an offspring of a humanity without Christ, does not recognize political parties and its natural conclusion becomes destruction and death. All of the above confirm that every attempt to reach freedom without God shall be doomed to tragedy.
To this dominance of the forces of darkness, the Church responds with the grace and power of the Risen Christ. He, Who took upon Himself the afflictions and infirmities of each man, offers to the world through His Resurrection also the certainty that death is vexed.
Resurrection and life are the gifts and the light of Jesus Christ, which “shines upon all.” Let us all honor thisgift. Let us all thank the Giver Who by His flesh shone in the world like in a mirror, and has presented the light of the resurrection to the world. Let us then receive the light from the unwaning Light of Life. Let us receive and welcome the gift of the resurrection and cry out from the bottom of our hearts:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death, and to those in the grave bestowing Life! Rejoice nations and be happy!
Holy Pascha 2014
Beloved concelebrants and devout, god-loving children of the Church,
Christ is Risen!
The proclamation of the Resurrection by the myrrh-bearing women to the disciples of Christ was considered delirious. Yet, the word, formerly conceived as delirious, was confirmed as Truth. The risen Lord appeared to His disciples on several occasions.
In our time, the proclamation of the Resurrection is again considered delirious by rationalists. Nonetheless, we faithful not only believe in but also experience the Resurrection as a profoundly truthful fact. Indeed, if necessary, we seal our testimony with self-sacrifice because in the risen Christ we transcend death and are liberated from its fear. Our hearts are filled with joy when we repeat: The Lord has risen. Our saints, who have died according to the world, continue to live among us, responding to our petitions. The world that follows death is truer than the world that precedes death. Christ has risen and dwells among us. He has promised to be with us to the end of the world. And so He is – as our friend, brother, healer, who bestows all good things.
Blessed is our God, who has risen from the dead, granting eternal life to all people. O death, where is your sting? Christ has risen, revealing and ridiculing the one who formerly boasted without end to be a mockery. (See the Canon of St. John Damascene, 4th tone, 9th ode) Everything is filled with light and our hearts are replete with limitless joy.
And more than joy, they are filled with strength. For whoever believes in the Resurrection is unafraid of death; and whoever is unafraid of death is spiritually unyielding and unbending inasmuch as what may be the most terrible threat for the majority and for the disbelievers is of little significance to the Christian; for it is theentrance to life itself. The faithful Christian lives the Resurrection even prior to his or her natural death.
The consequence of experiencing the Resurrection is the transformation of the world. It inspires the soul. And an inspired soul also attracts other souls to its ways, when these souls are moved by the genuine joyous experience of immortality. Christ’s Resurrection and our own resurrection are not simply an abstract truth. They are a dogmaof faith. They are a tangible reality. They are a force that overcomes the world despite the extremely harsh persecutions waged against it. “This is the victory, which has conquered the world, namely our faith” (1 John 5.4) in His Resurrection. Through the Resurrection, humanity is called to divinity through grace. Through the victory of the light of Resurrection over the impure passions, divine eros and a strange love, which surpasses human boundaries, are established in our souls.
Therefore, Christ is Risen! Our hearts are filled with the light and joy of the Resurrection. We approach the Risen Lord with authenticity and simplicity. For, as the royal Prophet David says, our God, who supervises our hearts from above, “will not despise a broken and contrite heart.” (Psalm 50.19)
The Resurrection is our strength, hope, joy, and delight. Through the Resurrection, we transcend pain and sorrow for all the evils of this natural, worldly life. The Resurrection is God’s response to the helplessness of wounded humanity before the suffering of worldly humanity.
We do not surrender to the difficulties and challenges of the modern world. The gathering of the Lord’s fearful disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem encourages us. We are not afraid because we love everyone, even as He loved us and gave His life for our sake. Mysteriously and invisibly, the Lord accompanies us. We only need to have – and we do have – love. For though love, we understand the power of the Mystery; we know the Mystery itself.
If others hesitate, “garnering their actions in thick sheaves” (Vespers of the Prodigal Son), yet we boast. And if we do not “winnow the chaff of our [sinful and passionate] actions with the wind of His loving-kindness or on the threshing floor of repentance,” the Risen Lord is Love and disperses all forms of darkness and fear that surrounds us, entering our hearts and our world, even when the doors are closed. He “remains with us” permanently through the cross of love. His calling is peace, and He grants us His peace. The powerful of this world pledge and promise peace, but can never produce or realize it. Whereas the power of divine Love, Peace and Wisdom remains beyond all human panic. It is not found on the margins of reality or the surface of human convictions. Instead, it is theheart of humanity, the center of life, the lord of life and death. It is Truth.
The incontestable transcendence of Power invisibly controls the reigns and directs all things, especially at a time when “the minds of so many lie in darkness.”
At this time of widespread dissolution throughout the world, the hope of all throughout the universe, the Wisdom of God, is the presence of the heavenly solution and harmony. At a time of collapse and anticipated death, we have the reality of Resurrection and the strength of our conviction in Christ.
The peace that derives from Him who trampled down death by death through his self-emptying, together with the joy of love, flow and heal our contemporary humanity that sighs and suffers as well as all of creation that groans and laments with us, who “await adoption and redemption” as well as “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8.20-23)
Truly the Lord is Risen, beloved fathers, brothers and sisters!
Holy Pascha 2013
He became the first-born among the dead.
(Easter Apolytikion, 3rd tone)
Beloved children in the Lord,
If Christ’s Resurrection referred to Himself, then its significance for us would be negligible. The Church proclaims, however, that, the Lord did not arise alone. Together with Himself, He also resurrected all people. This is how our predecessor, St. John Chrysostom, proclaims this great truth in thunderous language: “Christ is risen, and none are left dead in the grave; for in being raised from the dead, he became the first-fruits of all who were asleep.” This means that Christ became the first-fruits of the resurrection of all who have fallen asleep and who will fall asleep in the future, as well as of their transition from death to life. The message is a joyful one for us all because, with His Resurrection Christ abolished the power of death. Those who believe in Him await the resurrection of the dead and are accordingly baptized in His death, rise with Him and live on in life eternal.
The world that is alienated from Christ endeavors to amass material goods because it bases its hopes for survival on them. It unwisely imagines that it will escape death through wealth. Deceived in this way to amass wealth, supposedly to extend their present life, human beings disperse death among others, too. They deny others the financial possibility of survival, often even violently depriving others of life, in the hope of preserving their own life.
How tragic! What a huge deception. For life is only acquired through faith in Christ and incorporation in His body.
The experience of the Orthodox Church assures us that those united with Christ live even after death, coexist with the living, are in dialogue with them, can hear them and are often even capable of miraculously fulfilling their requests.
This means that it is no longer necessary to search for the “fountain of immortality.” Immortality exists in Christ and is offered by Him to all.
There is no need for some nations to be destroyed in order for other nations to survive. Nor is there any need to destroy defenseless human lives so that other human beings may live in greater comfort. Christ offers life to all people, on earth as in heaven. He is risen, and all those who so desire life may follow Him on the way of Resurrection. By contrast, all those who bring about death, whether indirectly or directly, believing that in this way they are prolonging or enhancing their own life, condemn themselves to eternal death.
Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ came into the world in order that all people “may have life and life in abundance” (John 10:10). We deceive ourselves if we believe that prosperity in the world can come from destroying one another. Christ raises the dead and invalidates their killing. Christ has the power to transcend death. Moreover, the fact that he conquered death confirms His contempt of death. Christ leads to life; He re-bestows life, which happens to be interrupted, because He is “our life and our resurrection.” This is why we, the faithful, do not fear death. Our strength lies not in the invulnerability of our existence but in its possibility for resurrection.
Christ is Risen! We, too, shall arise!
Therefore, beloved brethren and children in the Lord, let us follow the Risen Christ in all His works. Let us come to the assistance of those deprived of the means for survival so that their life may be preserved. Let us proclaim to all those who are ignorant of Christ’s Resurrection that, through this, death was abolished and, as a result, they too may share in His Resurrection by believing in Him and following His way. Our own resurrection is only possible when it is offered for the resurrection of others, of our brothers and sisters. Then alone will the triumphant proclamation that “Christ is Risen!” refer to the salvation for all of humanity. Let it be so!
Holy Pascha 2012