Easter Pastoral Letter 2002
TO THE CLERGY,†RELIGIOUS & FAITHFUL OF THE UKRAINIAN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE USA - SOBORNOPRAVNA: PEACE, HEALTH AND SALVATION IN THE RISEN CHRIST, WITH OUR ARCHPASTORAL BLESSING:
CHRIST IS RISEN! - INDEED HE IS RISEN!
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"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).
Easter is a time of renewal and for starting over again. Every time we hear the familiar words of both scripture and tradition, which speak about Our Lord's resurrection, our hearts "burn within us" as Jesus "speaks to us" while we "travel on the road" of life (Lk. 24:32). We think about all of the hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, the expectations and the anxieties that fill our lives each passing moment. We cannot help but consider the end of things old and the beginning of things new, as we come again to the pinnacle of our faith - the news that "Christ is risen."
The drama of Passion Week, as we relive once again, the time of Jesus' suffering, trial and death, is all about letting go of that which binds us, which prohibits us from living lives of true freedom, those things which attach us to the temporal world and which keep us from being free disciples of Christ. We have watched the figure of†Our Lord†move from scene to scene as we follow the New Testament accounts of this week, at once, a time of excitement and sympathy, mourning and the expectation of the joy of the resurrection.†It is also a†time to contemplate where we each might fit into the story.
The scenes of this most sacred week of the year are vivid and full of meaning. Jesus is no longer merely a miracle worker, inspired preacher or proclaimer of God's favor and mercy. These things he carried with him throughout his ministry and, while the people recognized that "God's favor was upon him" few, even his closest disciples were†aware of what would be†the cost of this proclamation of the truth. As with anyone who speaks honestly and openly about God's kingdom, Jesus' ministry brought him many enemies. This was to come to a pinnacle during his final visit to Jerusalem. Jesus knew what awaited him in the holy city but this did not deter him from moving forward, to the fulfillment of his purpose, that plan of God the Father, for which Jesus came into the world. Once in Jerusalem, the momentum quickly picked up, and the religious leaders of the day did everything they could, to build their case against him. The triumphant welcome Jesus received upon entering the city on that first Palm Sunday, was the "last straw" in the long brewing opposition that motivated the chief priests and elders of the people to move against Our Lord.
Much different from the cries of "hosanna" that greeted Jesus as he rode humbly on the colt of a donkey, Great and Holy Friday was filled with a much different commotion. From the verdict - "he deserves death" we move on to the somber and muffled voices jeering at Jesus as he made his way along the narrow streets to Calvary, as if it were†set in a modern day aftermath of a†terrorist attack, a scenario of mass confusion, chaos and dismay. The same cheering crowds of five days earlier were there yet again, but this time not to support Our Lord, but to lend their voices†in agreement with†his condemners. The Christian belief†that it was the sins of humankind that put Jesus to death, that nailed him to the cross is made clearer than ever, in this scene from the Passion narratives.
God calls us, in the stories of Passion Week and Easter, to rise above our sinful inclinations, to think deeply about the results that our actions bring about, so that we need not repeat, over and over again, those things which draw us away from being true witnesses to Christ. After the sadness of that dark Good Friday and the feelings of hopelessness that Jesus' friends surely were overcome by on that somber and quiet Sabbath day that we call Holy Saturday, there came the greatest surprise of history: Jesus did not remain lifeless and buried in the tomb. Something had happened that the faithful disciples could not at first ascertain. They expected to provide a ministry of honor and respect to their fallen Lord, but instead, they discovered that soon to be dispelled by the appearance of the Risen Lord. Calling them by name, he revealed to his loyal friends that he had indeed overcome death and had taken on a new and vibrant existence. The overwhelming sorrow of that Passion weekend was now over. As he had promised, Jesus had vanquished evil, sorrow and even death itself.
The paschal mystery, as Jesus suffering, death and resurrection are called by Christians, does not merely bring to the foreground his Passion, but also his glory and triumph - his resurrection to new life. Jesusí sacrifice established a "new covenant" between God and people, a covenant sealed in his own blood and ratified by his risen presence. We know that our relationship with God is ongoing because we experience his working in our lives in so many ways. How many times have we all felt this living presence, this transforming love and life of Jesus. God constantly sends us messages to remind us of this ongoing covenant. We may not always recognize the working of God in our lives, but if we are filled with faith, we will be able to know that ďGod is with usĒ, even in the most difficult of times.
Because Jesus lives, and through the constant renewal of his death and resurrection in the Divine Liturgy, we are strengthened, so as to continue to be people of faith, hope and love, our whole life long. That is why it is so important that we participate frequently in the services of the church, not for the sake of mere ritual or tradition, but because we can meet the risen Lord in a way unlike any other, by partaking of his body and his blood, by communing with Christ risen, just as the first disciples did on that radiant Easter day, when Jesus met them and called them by name. When we receive communion, Jesus, through the ministry of the priest, calls us each by our own names. This is a personal encounter with God, who knows our hearts and our thoughts, our hopes and intentions, and who wants us to know him also, intimately and personally. The great gift of the covenant that Jesus left to us as he went to his Passion, continues now and always, in the reality of his living presence in the resurrection.
Brothers and sisters, as our people have done for centuries, we will once again proclaim the good news that Christ has conquered death by his death and granted new life to those who believe in his name. That is a wonderful proclamation, filled with joy and hope. It brings us, for a moment, directly back to the peace of that first paschal morning. The Easter message does not mean however,†that life will suddenly become easy or without twists and turns in the road. We all wish that would be the case, but, given the fact that our lives of faith are involved at once with both human and divine elements, there will always be those incidents where the "evil one", that perpetual enemy of God and of goodness, will try to influence us away from God and towards a rejection of that which we know to be right and good. We know that the existence of evil is just as certain as the presence of God. We have all seen this very clearly, especially since the last time we celebrated Pascha. There is a strong battle going on all the time, between goodness, lead by God and evil, perpetrated by those who reject God's offer of life. Our duty as believers in the resurrection, is to remain strong in faith and hope and to do whatever we can, to make the part of the world in which we are key characters, be that much more free of anything that will separate ourselves or others from the love of Christ.
We pray that this Pascha will bring renewed faith, hope and love to all of you, in every part of our Metropolia. With encouragement comes much fruitful progress and in the spirit of the risen Jesus, we offer to you the knowledge that we are united together in a community that proclaims constantly the fact that Christ is risen. In all sincerity, we renew the pledge of our support, concern and visible presence, assuring you all that our mission is to reflect that of Jesus - to proclaim freedom and justice to all people, and to make known the ongoing presence of God in a world that can easily forget that "God is with us." It is our sincere hope that all of you will know that our church is a community in which you are all encouraged to be the people that God has called you to be, and that through mutual love and†support, we can all work to lighten each other's burdens, as, like the disciples on Easter evening,†we travel "on the road" of life, with Jesus and with one another. May "our eyes be open" to the understanding of life as we know it and as God has designed for each one of us.
Sincerely in the Love and Peace of the Risen Christ,
Archbishop of New York
Archbishop of Cleveland
Coadjutor to the Primate
Archbishop of Washington
Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland
Archbishop of Toulon
Eparch of Western Europe, Africa & Dependencies
Archbishop of Brandenburg
Exarch of Germany
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