Easter Pastoral Letter
TO OUR DEAR ALTAR BROTHERS, DEACONS, RELIGIOUS AND BELOVED FAITHFUL OF THE UKRAINIAN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: PEACE AND SALVATION IN THE RISEN CHRIST, WITH OUR ARCHPASTORAL BLESSING!
CHRIST IS RISEN! - INDEED HE IS RISEN!
ÕÐÈÑÒÎÑ ÂÎÑÊÐÅÑ! ÂÎ²ÑÒÈÍÓ ÂÎÑÊÐÅÑ!
"Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures . . . And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight, Then they said to each other, "Where not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us? So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem . . . and recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread." (Lk. 24: 26-27; 30-33; 35).
We are happy to greet you at the celebration of this most blessed day upon which Christ, our life, conquering sin and death, overcame the world and rose in glory from the dead. Throughout the world today, bells are ringing and the joyful song is heard, "Christ is risen from the dead, conquering death by death and granting life to all those in the graves."
How many times have we waited in joyful anticipation of these words, knowing the peace and hope that they will instill in our hearts. Our people have always kept with solemnity this "Great Day" as the basis from which every other celebration of the year and of our lives takes its meaning. This is so, not only because of the great importance of Christ's death and resurrection to our salvation, but also because of the deep identity of these days to our own personal lives and to human nature in general.
How relevant is the story of the resurrection to human life. How easy is it for us to find parallels between the feelings of Jesus' friends on that weekend of his passion and death and our own experiences. We must travel in our minds, back to first century Jerusalem and to those events that the disciples went through with Jesus. Every human feeling and emotion is present in these historical moments. The confusion, disappointment, fear and anxiety that troubled Jesus' friends on those days after his burial are felt by all of us during difficult periods of our lives. We all experience worry, disillusionment and fear of the unknown. We must allow ourselves to identify with the disciples of Jesus as they gathered together in the upper room in Jerusalem, afraid to even go out of the house because of the things that had happened over those last several days. How many times do we find ourselves in this situation and pray that God will help us to overcome our fears and make progress?
The story that we quoted above tells of just one instance in which Jesus' disciples found themselves after his death and burial. They now had time to reflect on what had happened and to try to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. How were they to do it, they thought. What sense could be made of the events of Passion Week? They had believed the Jesus was the Messiah. They had great hopes that he would come to power and change the world in which they lived. He worked great miracles and preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. How now, could these things have happened to him, how could it all have come to such a terrible end?
As the two disciples traveled down the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, their hearts weighed heavy and their souls were filled with sadness. But then, something changed. A stranger approached them and spoke with them as they walked on the road. He interpreted the scriptures to them as the pertained to himself. His words spoke directly to their hearts but they did not recognize him at first. They were, in fact, surprised that he seemed oblivious to the events that took place in Jerusalem those past few days. "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days? . . . The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But, we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel" (Lk. 24: 18b-21a).
As they sat down to eat supper, Jesus took the bread and blessed and broke it. What a familiar sign for the disciples. They immediately recognized that it was Jesus who was talking to them. Their hopes returned to them, but in a new and changed way. Yes, Jesus was alive again, but he was also showing to them something new. The resurrection of Jesus changed forever the way that we look at life. It is the ultimate sign that things can and indeed do change from bad into good, from darkness into light and that there is really so much more beyond our physical existence that awaits each and every one of us who believes in God and are followers of his servant and messenger, Jesus.
Brothers and Sisters, the key factor in recognizing Jesus for the disciples was in the breaking of the bread. For us too, this is the way we are to recognize and know Jesus, in the celebration of the Eucharist and the reception of Christ's body and blood. Indeed, it is in the Divine Liturgy that we are brought together with Jesus and with each other, our family, friends and loved ones, both living and those who have gone before us to meet the Lord. Let us take great comfort in this celebration and bring to it our worries and fears, our joys and accomplishments and give everything over to the risen Jesus. He alone can turn our fear into hope and our anxiety into courage. He can do this because he has "overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33 ) and confirmed this fact by his resurrection from the dead.
The time of Pascha is one for forgetting wrongs and concentrating on what is right with the world. By our own actions we can change many things which are lacking and turn them into profitable and life-giving occasions. We can do this because the resurrection of Christ has brought light into all of the world - it has given us a second chance on both eternal life and a good life here and now. Let our deeds be truly ones that are peace-making and life-creating, realizing that God gives us the power to bring about his goodness in the world in which we live.
We wish you all the happiness and joy that Easter brings and assure you that our prayers are offered for you and your loved ones, at this happy time of Pascha.
Sincerely Yours in the Risen Christ,
Archbishop of New York
Archbishop of Cleveland
Coadjutor to the Primate
Archbishop of Washington
Archbishop of Berlin-Brandenburg
Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland
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