† N I C O L A E
by the Grace of God
Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada
To our Beloved Clergy and Right-Believing Christians,
Peace and Holy Joy from our Lord Jesus Christ,
And from us Hierarchal Blessings.
Most Reverend Fathers,
Christ is Risen!
For two thousand years we have been greeting one another on this holy morning with these words which tell of a great miracle, the victory of life over death, the victory of the light of God over the powers of darkness. And through this greeting we also receive power, together with the Apostles and the Myrrh-bearing Women, to declare that if Christ has risen then we too will rise from the dead. This is the foundation of Christian teaching.
St. Paul the Apostle tells the Corinthians that this is the message of the Gospel preached by him and the other Apostles: Now I made known to you, brethren, the Gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4). This Gospel is the not the result of some opinions or of some teaching dreamed up by the human mind, but is the fruit of the encounter of men with the Risen Christ; it is the witness of those encounters, verified many times over. For, St. Paul tells us, Christ appeared to Cephas and the other Apostles, later to over five hundred brethren, then to James and again to the Apostles, and last of all to himself, Paul, the least among the Apostles (1 Cor. 15:5-9). This appearance of the Risen Lord is described in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 22:6-8: "as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? And I answered, Who art Thou, Lord? And He said to me, I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting. And later on in this same chapter we are told the result of that encounter through the words of the Righteous Ananias: The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard (Act 22:14-15).
This is the calling of St. Paul to spread the good news of the Gospel of the Resurrection of Christ. But this is also the model of the calling of each of us to be eyewitnesses and messengers of the Resurrection of Christ. For each one of us is traveling on this road of life just like Paul the Apostle on the road to Damascus, seeking a purpose and fulfillment. Paul had wandered off track and was seeking a Christ who was dead and had been hidden by the Apostles. But he encountered the living Christ, the Risen One, the one who had defeated death. In a similar manner we too often wander, not knowing how to find God and to fulfill His will. He is the One, the Conqueror of Death and Giver of Life, who seeks for us, finds us, and reveals Himself to us as a light. It is the light of creation which we discover as a work of God, but which is also the light given to each one of us, which guides us in this life. But, just as in the case of Paul, this revelation is about a calling to be witnesses of the Resurrection: of our own resurrection to another life, the life of the love of God which results from the supreme sacrifice on the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ.
This great miracle of the Resurrection of Christ is thus the beginning of our own resurrection also. St. Paul chides the Corinthians who doubted the resurrection of the dead: Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain (1 Cor. 15:12-14). Our faith is grounded in the Resurrection of Christ and it is fulfilled through belief in our own resurrection. Christ is called the first fruits of those who are asleep (1 Cor. 15:20) and the first-born from the dead (Col. 1:18). Through His Resurrection, Christ has opened for us too the way to resurrection: For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:21). This means it is not enough to speak about faith in the Resurrection of Christ as an historical fact, but we must also affirm and live a faith in our own resurrection. This faith can change our lives; this faith moves from history, which is sometimes impersonal, to the personal experience of true life. For to believe that we will be resurrected, just as Christ was raised, does not mean merely a hope in a future event at the end of the ages, when we will all be resurrected at the second coming of Christ, but it means that we are resurrected already from this earthly life. It means our awakening to the life in communion with God.
On this holy day I desire that you all discover the meaning of having faith in our resurrection, built on our faith in the Resurrection of Christ. Let us all receive this revelation, let us rejoice in the light of the Resurrection, and let us forgive all for the sake of this Good News.
I pray that God will make us all partakers in the joy that St. Paul the Apostle had when he met the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, and that He will make us all worthy witnesses of that miracle. At the same time I would like to invite you all to participate in a great joy of our Archdiocese, the ordination of Archimandrite Ioan Casian Turnaru as Vicar Bishop, during our Archdiocesan Congress in Chicago from June 29 - July 2, 2006. We have great hope that this event will be an important step in our efforts to organize our Archdiocese and our parishes on the American continent.
I give you a brotherly embrace in Christ the Risen Lord, and I wish you all Joyous Holidays!
Christ is risen!
Your Brother in Prayer Toward God,
Chicago, the Feast of the Lord's Resurrection, 2006