The Gospel on the Victor over Death
O risen Lord, Thou hast, by Thy Resurrection, become all things to all men! O most rich King, Thou hast, with one gift, filled all the empty hands stretched heavenward! Rejoice, O ye heavens and, O ye earth, rejoice! Rejoice O ye heavens, as a mother rejoices when she feeds her hungry children; rejoice O ye earth, as children rejoice on receiving nourishment from their mother’s hand!
Christ’s victory is the only victory in which all humanity can rejoice, from the first created to the last. When a man is victorious over his neighbour, there is singing under one roof and weeping under the other.
A generous victory, you will say? It is, and more than generous. Is not a mother more than generous when she, not just once or twice, saves her children from snakes but, in order to save them for all time, goes bravely into the snakes’ very nest and burns them out?
Earthly victories look better when viewed from afar, but uglier and more repulsive when seen close at hand; while, as for Christ’s victory, one could not say whence it looks better, from afar or from close at hand. Looking at this victory from afar, we marvel at it as unique in its brightness, purity and saving grace. Looking at it from close at hand, we marvel at it because of the terrible enemies who are overcome by it, and also because of the vast numbers of slaves who have been freed by it.
Let us, then, draw near to our risen and victorious Lord, and ask ourselves:
Firstly: Over whom was He victorious by His Resurrection?
Secondly: Whom has He freed by His victory?
By His Resurrection, the Lord overcame the two fiercest enemies of human life and dignity: death and sin. Cleaving to the living God, man could know nothing of death, and, living in perfect obedience to God, could know nothing of sin. Where death is unknown, there is no fear; and where sin is unknown, there is no shame born of sin. As soon as man sinned against his saving obedience to God, both fear and shame came with the sin: man left himself infinitely far from God, and had a premonition of death’s sickle over him. Up till then, Adam knew himself to be clad in the immortal vesture of the angels. So, my brethren, you see how terrible is the least sin of disobedience to God. Becoming afraid of God, Adam hid himself amongst the trees of the garden, like a domestic cat that, when it goes wild, makes for the hills and begins to hide from its owner and the hand that fed it! The sinful path on which Adam set out led him to the earth and into it. And so God said: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”(Genesis 3:19), expressing not only God’s judgement but also a further process in man’s earth-boundness and fragmentation, only just begun but making quick progress.
Adam’s descendants, generation after generation, became more and more earthbound and fragmented, sinning with shame and dying with fear and horror. Men hid from God amongst trees, rocks, gold and dust; but the more they hid themselves, the more separated they became from the true God, and the more they forgot Him. The terrible path that mankind was following was the path of sin; and this disastrous path led unrelentingly to one gloomy city, and one alone: the city of the dead. Kings of the earth ruled over men; sin and death ruled over both men and kings. The further it went, the greater the burden of sin grew, like a snowball when it rolls downhill. The human race had reached the depths of despair when the heavenly Hero appeared to save it.
Blessed a hundredfold be that grave from which a river of immortality for the whole human race burst forth! The Hero went down beneath the grave to Hades, where He toppled Satan’s throne and destroyed the breeding-ground of all the wicked plots against the human race. From this grave the Hero rose to the highest heavens, opening up a new path, to the city of the living. He destroyed hell in His might and, in His might, glorified His body and rose from the grave. In His own might, that is indivisible from that of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Meek as a lamb, the gentle Lord went to suffering and death, and mighty as God He endured the suffering and conquered death. His Resurrection is a real event, and is at the same time the prophecy and the image of our resurrection, for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:52).
The grave is, for us, no longer an eternal darkness but a gateway at which God’s resplendent angels await us. And so the glorious Apostle Paul cries: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). How has the Lord not conquered death, when death is no more visible in His presence? The grave is no more a deep abyss, because He has filled it with Himself; neither is the grave dark anymore, because He has illumined it; neither is it fear and horror any more, for it marks, not the end but the beginning; neither is it our eternal homeland, but only the door to that homeland.
We ask ourselves now: whom has the risen Lord freed by His victory over sin and death? The Lord is called the “Lover of Mankind”. He intended His victory to be for all men, with no consideration of the differences that men make among themselves.
Come, all of you who seek health, strength, beauty and joy. Lo, the risen Christ is the rich Source of them all. He awaits you with compassion and yearning, desiring that no-one be lost. Bow down before Him, in body and soul. Unite yourself with Him with all your mind and thoughts. Embrace Him with all your heart. Do not worship the enslaver, but the Liberator; do not unite yourself to the destroyer but to the Saviour; do not embrace the stranger but your closest Kinsman and your dearest Friend.
The risen Lord has torn the curtain that divided true Godhead from true humanity, and has shown us in Himself the greatness and beauty of the one and the other. No man can know the true God except through the risen Lord Jesus; neither can any man know true man except through Him alone. By His Resurrection, Christ conquered sin and death, destroyed Satan’s dark kingdom, freed the enslaved human race and broke the seal on the greatest mysteries of God and man. To Him be glory and praise, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity consubstantial and undivided, now and forever, through all time and all eternity.
His Eminence Metropolitan Paul Saliba
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines