The Serbian Orthodox Church to her spiritual children at Pascha, 2016
By the Grace of God
Orthodox Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch,
with all the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church to all the clergy, monastics,
and all the sons and daughters of our Holy Church:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, with the joyous Paschal greeting:
Christ is Risen!
“Christ is risen, trampling down death and raising the dead. Rejoice, all you people!”
(Paschal Canon, Ode 9)
Let us celebrate today, dear brothers and sisters, our Lord God, “For He has visited and redeemed His people” (St. Luke 1:68) and with the light of His Resurrection He enlightens the entire universe! Let us glorify our Lord “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised for our justification”. (Romans 4:25) Let us glorify our Lord Who, having become a man for us, has died so that by His Resurrection he could open to us doors of new life! For all of us who have been baptized into Christ, in Christ we have died to the old man, so that resurrected, reborn, renewed in Him, we can live with Him forever. (cf. Romans 6:8) Christ is risen from the dead and has become the Firstborn of the dead (cf. I Corinthians 15:20), so that we too who have died in Adam, may be made alive in Christ, becoming a new creation.
That is why we, on this bright Day, sing the song of victory to Him Who has conquered the power of death, to Him Who has conquered the seeming wisdom of the wise men of this world and by His Resurrection has saved those who believe in Him. (cf. I Corinthians 1:21) We have seen the fulfillment of the words of the prophets and together with the Apostle Paul we say: “We have come to know the love of Christ which surpasses understanding and have been filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19) For just as the power of death, after the Fall of the first parents of mankind into sin, entered into this world, so likewise Christ the Lord, as the New Adam, has received the wounds of sin upon Himself, voluntarily, and died for us and destroyed the power of death and has returned man to his original glory. That is why we through the Resurrection learn the meaning and goal of God’s creation, for the Lord has brought everything from non-existence into existence so that it could eternally and without corruption live in Christ, His Only-begotten Son. Saint Maxim the Confessor being inspired by God teaches that we are born into the body, by baptism we are reborn, and by the Resurrection we are eternally born in Christ Who, as the First-Born of the dead, renews the entire creation and bestows upon it immortality. By His Resurrection Christ unites this world with paradise, and in paradise He receives before everyone else the repentant thief, giving us all hope that our living in repentance is not in vain. In celebrating the resurrection of Christ, we are celebrating and singing the miraculous Mystery of God Who created us to be eternal partakers of the Divine nature, that is, of Divine life, in His Son, the Incarnate, Crucified and Resurrected Christ the Lord. (cf. II Peter 1:4)
Before Christ’s Resurrection, all went after death into the dark regions of hades, where there is no one to glorify God, and in that way the senselessness of death kept all of creation in chains. (cf. Psalm 6:6; Isaiah 38:18) Christ God descends into the lower regions of hades and destroys the eternal chains that kept everything locked up. (Paschal Canon, Ode 6) Hades was emptied, and our Lord brings our forebears and the righteous ones out into the light of new life. Since then death is only a dream. It no longer signifies the end, but rather the door into eternal life in Christ. That is why the Apostle Paul boldly exclaims: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Having purified all our senses with fasting, let us look at the unapproachable light of the Resurrection; let us look at Christ Who shines in our hearts! Forgiving each other of everything, let us be renewed by the Resurrection into the new life! Let us live with the Resurrected Christ so that we already in this life may experience others and ourselves as One Body, One Church of God! Even though we live in a difficult time, full of unforeseen events and tragedies, we must not, following the example of the ancient Christians, stop rejoicing, and with Christ’s love we must love not only each other, but our enemies also, so that nothing separates us from the way of life which was granted to us by Christ Himself. Our Lord teaches us that if we do not forgive each other, we will not be forgiven, and if we judge, we are already judged. Without forgiving and without seeing our own transgressions towards our neighbors, friends and enemies, we will not be able to receive the light of the Resurrection, nor will we become the recipients of the hope of eternal life where there is no fear, sighing nor sadness. Let us not fear this world, brothers and sisters, for Christ has conquered this world! Let us fear only leaving the light for darkness, and leaving the joy of God’s Kingdom, by which we should live here and now, for the maze of worldly ideologies, bitterness, disunity, hatred and violence! We Christians are not afraid of death; rather we bless those who persecute us. We deeply believe that we are not of this world even though we live in it. Christ, the Eternal Pascha, has opened to us the doors of God’s Kingdom, which is our true fatherland, and we in this world are only passengers who are traveling through time and space, witnessing to Christ with our life. Let us, therefore, never forget in Whom we are baptized and for Whom we live, so that our life’s race is not futile and that our hope is not placed in empty and vain idols of this world and age. (cf. Galatians 2:2)
Our dear spiritual children let us not neglect love! For precisely according to our mutual love everyone will recognize us as Christ’s disciples. (cf. St. John 13:35) Let us be co-sufferers with those who suffer, let us weep with those who are weeping and let us comfort them with hope in the Lord! Let not our service to God be as a new edition of pharisaic external faith in God! For what reward will we receive? Let us sacrifice for our neighbor! Let us give to those in need! Let us glorify God with humility and with the words of the repentant publican who was forgiven and justified! The people of God today are dispersed throughout the world, but that which unites us and makes us One Church is not a transient ideology of this world, but a deep consciousness that we are united in Christ, in Whom we are baptized and of Whom we partake in the Eucharist, Holy Communion. Let us therefore make every effort that those who have not come to know the light of Christ’s teaching may see in us the way and recognize in us true successors of the apostles and saints of Christ! The entire Serbian people looks in this spirit to St. Sava, who unmistakably has shown us the way of Christ as the only way of life. The shrines of the Nemanjic’s have shone for centuries as lighthouses in the fog of our history, directing us to the all-encompassing spiritual horizons of God’s Kingdom, which is not of this world. That is why no suffering and no injustice of this world’s mighty ones can or should disunite us or set us against each other.
On this bright Feast Day, with our prayers we most especially remember all persecuted Serbs, who already for two decades have not been able to go back to their homes, but also those who remain living on their ancestral homesteads, who together with their shepherds are enduring threats and pressure just because they are Serbs.
We are especially concerned about our brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija. They live and glorify God on Serbian land, from time immemorial, and continue to witness the mystery of Christ’s suffering and Resurrection. How many times have our people suffered, but again with God’s power, have risen and renewed, continuing to walk on the path of Christ! Our holy shrines, and in particular our Kosovo-Metohija shrines, where the holy relics of many of our God pleasing saints rest and upon which is imprinted the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, indeed teach us this the best. Throughout the centuries our churches, monasteries, villages and cities have suffered, but we have rebuilt them again, having rebuilt ourselves as the living Church of God. That is why instead of crying and sobbing, let us sing the song of victory, for in the light of the Resurrection the cross that we bear is not a symbol of humiliation and shame but a symbol of new dignity and glory. Kosovo and Metohija for us Serbs and for all Orthodox Christians is not only a geographical territory, but above all, it is a spiritual territory that connects us all regardless of where we might be living. Following the Kosovo testament of the Holy Prince Lazar, we cannot forget that the heavenly Kingdom is our ultimate ideal and eternal goal, while everything earthly is perishable and temporary.
Christians today suffer throughout the world, especially those in the Near East and Ukraine. May the example of their faith and their suffering be an encouragement and testimony for us that the Lord will never leave His Church and that the grace of God multiplies where suffering has increased! We cannot forget that the Lord Christ Himself together with the Most Holy Virgin and the Righteous Joseph fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s violence and in this way showed us that we are strangers in this world which lies in evil.
There is, dear brothers and sisters, much bitterness and sadness among our people after all those difficult years of temptation through which we have gone and through which we are going now. But, we in no way should fall into despair. For when he suffers the Christian repents even more before God, and at the same time he rejoices for he knows that the Lord will not overlook a heart filled with hope. That is why we pray to God, our dear spiritual children, that He save us from hatred and evil deeds, and that He may teach us to love with the love with which he has loved this world. If we are able to recognize the pain and suffering of our neighbors and repent of our sins, our efforts will not be in vain, but will be unto our salvation and eternal life.
With prayers we greet our brothers and sisters who live around the world and we call them to turn to each other, gathered under the wings of our Church and in that way to continue worthily to witness to who they are and to what faith and what people they belong.
Let us safeguard the holiness of marriage and family, raising our children in faith and fear of God and purity, without forgetting that the family is a “domestic Church” and a foundation of Christian community! Let us regularly participate in the Eucharistic gatherings, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ and in this way becoming One Body of Christ, a chosen People, the Church of the Living God! Let us not forget that it is our calling after the Holy Liturgy to witness in word and in deed to this miraculous Mystery which continues with faith and love, before all those who love us as well as before those who hate us, in short in every time and place. For the Christian our whole life is a continuing liturgical paschal joy. He who lives by it will not see in another person a stranger; instead, he will recognize in every person the image of our Lord, Who wants all to be saved. Bearing witness to the joyous news that Christ is truly risen is our daily duty for the Lord calls us by His Holy Spirit not to close ourselves in, but rather to bring others into that joy, and to show them the only way to salvation. The Risen Christ calls us not to be a scandal but a light to the world. When we are ready to admit our sins and to correct ourselves in humility we are not being humiliated but we are showing that the Spirit of God dwells in us.
We especially wish to convey to you that on the feast day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the completion of Christ’s economy of salvation of the world and mankind, in June of this year, on the Apostolic island of Crete, a Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church will be convened. It is the duty of all of us to pray that this spiritually exceptional event of the Holy Spirit will be a verbal confirmation of the unshakable unity of the Holy Orthodox Church in the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (cf. Hebrew 3), which means to all true Christians, that it may be a call to all who in believe in Christ to again be one in the only Savior and our Lord, in fulfillment of His prayer “that all may be one,” in accordance with the example of the unity of the Holy Trinity, the One and Only God, that the world may believe (cf. St. John 17:18-24), that they may be witnesses to the joy of salvation through the Cross and Resurrection, the greatest gift of the God of love, before all people, all nations and every created thing, but above all that this great pan-Orthodox Council be a part of the eternal Good News of the Church about the Kingdom of God as the meaning of everything that exists – in one word, that it be to the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Living and True God.
Let us not forget, dear brothers and sisters, that we are called, wherever we may be and whatever we are doing, to be peacemakers and in so doing to witness to God Who grants us peace and is our Peace. Even though we are distinct from each other, we can never overlook the fact that we are all created in the image of God and that we are called to be one in Christ. That is why it is necessary to give a hand to him who stumbles instead of pushing him into a deeper perdition. Likewise, we should visit the sick and care for them and to those that are lost we need to show the right path. In doing so, we will have the Lord manifested in our works, Who Himself told us to be the light of the world. But above all else our spiritual children, may our life be a constant thanksgiving to God for everything and for all! For what else and what greater offering can we offer to the Resurrected Christ, Who brings us from darkness to the light of knowledge and from death into life eternal? Therefore, together with the angels and with all the saints in heaven, and together with our brothers and sisters on earth, let us sing the victorious song and in festal joy greet each other with the greeting:
Christ is Risen!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Pascha, 2016.
Your intercessors before the Resurrected Christ:
Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
Serbian Patriarch IRINEJ