Paschal Encyclical 2011

by Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco

Dearly Beloved,

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”(Luke 24:5),

the angel asked the Myrrh-bearing women. These faithful followers of Christ had come to the tomb to complete the Jewish burial rituals for the dead. They expected to find the battered body of their crucified Master. Instead, they met an angel with news beyond comprehension and an empty tomb to prove it. The Son of God has triumphed. The Life-Giver is more powerful than death. The grave could not contain the uncontainable God.

In his Kontakion for the Resurrection, Saint Romanos the Melodist wrote,

“The Lord has been raised. He has smashed the bronze gates of Hell and crushed its iron bars.”

In two short sentences, we proclaim the central message of our faith. In the Resurrection of our Lord, the power of death has been made forever powerless, and the gates of salvation have been opened for us. Our destiny is not the tomb, but communion with the living God. As Saint Epiphanios of Cyprus writes about Christ’s triumph over death,

Christ raises Adam and Eve from their tombs and says to them, ‘Arise! For I did not fashion you to be held in Hades as a captive. Arise from the dead for I am the life of the dead!’”

The Resurrection of Christ heralds the Resurrection of all who believe in the Most High God.

Our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection is that much more joyous, that much sweeter, in the knowledge that all Christians celebrate together this year. Despite the many other differences between us, the belief that unifies all Christians is proclaimed in unison on this day.

Dear brothers and sisters, what can we make of this? In our cynical age, when people of faith are ridiculed rather than respected, we continue to offer an incredulous message, yet one that the world longs to receive. Even Saint Paul knew of this when he wrote,

“we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).

Our message on this Feast of Feasts is that the love of God triumphs over the hatred of humanity. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed about the Messiah, the Christ,

“He was despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

And yet, He still loves us, forgives us and

“gives His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Our Lord endured the cruelty and hatred embodied in the Cross and He defeated them

“so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4).

Tonight, we hold lit candles in our hands reminding us that the Light Who is the Risen Christ has triumphed over darkness. Even in the middle of the night, a single candle can be seen from great distances. But gathered together in congregations of faith, we have hundreds or thousands of lights brightly shining. In their unity they become a beacon of faith and a guide for those who seek to find the love of God in our Orthodox Christian communities, no matter how far they are from us. So as our Lord taught us,

“let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

The first witnesses of the Resurrection were not believed. Peter and the other disciples had to see the empty tomb for themselves. The Gospels report that lies were spread about the Resurrection. Throughout the centuries, people have scoffed at the Christian message of the Resurrection. Yet, we believe. We have the testimony of the Apostles, the Saints and the Martyrs, who offered their entire lives to proclaiming the Resurrected Christ. As we read in the First Epistle of John,

“that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

We have the life of the Church that offers healing and hope because the Resurrection offers a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. In the Church the mission of Christ continues through our ministry to the world. The Truth of the Gospel has triumphed.

With Love in the Risen Lord,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco