Jesus Christ - The Conqueror of Death - The Paschal Triumph
by: St. John (Maximovich), the Miracle-Worker, of Shanghai and San Francisco
Today, all of creation rejoices and makes merry, for Christ is Risen! Why such joy from the Resurrection of Christ? Why is it not only with the mind, but more with the heart that we sense the Resurrection of Christ? It was not for Himself, but for us that Christ suffered. He descended from the Divine Heavenly Throne down to earth for our sake. The True God, the Creator of the whole world, came down to mankind, which had fallen away from Him. The source of all life allowed Himself to be put to death in order to give eternal life to mortals. The Pre-Eternal Truth and Righteous Judge of the universe was condemned by the unjust court as a deceiver, though He taught truth and justice. Did it not seem to everyone then that evil was victorious in the world, that the last ember of truth had died, that death conquered life? That the abyssal darkness has come for good, and there would be no more light? Even the Sun darkened when the sinless Saviour hung on the Cross. When after His burial, dark night came, it seemed to those loyal to Him that the end of the Divine world had come. But Christ came to life, and the universe was illuminated.
Truth was victorious, falsehood conquered. Evil was cast down, truth reigned, the bonds of death were torn, the gates of eternal life were thrown open.
As we meet Holy Pascha with faith and piety, inexpressible joy fills our souls, the world of blessedness touches our hearts. All sorrows and troubles are far removed from us now, even suffering and loss do not burden us. The Divine Feast is mysteriously eaten in the eternal, glorious Kingdom of God. One wishes that these blessed hours would never end, that this night and day of Holy Pascha would continue forever. Just as the Apostles on Mount Tabor who exclaimed: "Lord, it is good for us to be here" (Matthew 17:4). But are there not times when all is bliss, when our heart is covered in a cloud of joy, but also when it is filled with sorrow? No matter what they say, whatever excuses might be found, the truth is that our hearts are impure.
If we hesitate in our faith, if our souls bear doubt, if we fell away from or left the Body of Christ (Church), just as the Jewish high priests, we drive out the notion of the Resurrected Christ from our minds, for the Resurrection of Christ is terrifying for us. If we have committed a grave sin and our conscience denounces us for disloyalty to Christ and His commandments, it is a great stone that lies upon our hearts, blocking the passage into it of the light of the Resurrection. If we have immersed ourselves in the cares of this world and given our heart to them, then it will not feel complete happiness. Especially if we bear ill will, or worse, animosity, towards our neighbor, if we condemn them and feel superior to them, we cannot then rejoice at the meeting with the Resurrected Lord. Then, on the Day of Resurrection, we doubt just as the hesitant disciples did, or we disbelieve, like His enemies, or subconsciously do not seek to meet Him.
Let us cast aside all doubt, let us bring repentance! Let us embrace one another, let us forgive those who hate us and joyously exclaim: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"
We first return to life in our soul, so that later we return to bodily life. Just as the life of Adam was darkened by the expectation and knowledge of death after his sin, so after the Resurrection of Christ does the expectation and foretaste of the future Resurrection come to those who believe in Him. Even now, Christ grants for us to sense the joy and sweetness of His blessedness. He strengthens our souls and bodies with His Divine Mysteries, filling us with faith in the prayers we raise to Him, consoling us in our sorrows, filling us from time to time with inexpressible tenderness of the heart and spiritual warmth after communing of His Mysteries or after fervent prayer. All good is granted to us by Him even in life, for He lives, having trampled death, and come back from the dead.
The Lord allows His Church to endure troubles at times, but even then She shines with blessed light! "I am with you always," said the Lord, "even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). For all days until the end of the world, the Resurrected One is with us, more so during the days of Holy Pascha.
Communing of the Body and Blood of Christ is the receiving into oneself of the Resurrected Christ, the Conqueror of death, granting those who are with Him victory over sin and death.
Preserving within ourselves the blessed gift of Communion (the Holy Eucharist), we hold a promise and precursor of eternal, blessed life of the soul and the body.
We pray, only just beginning to prepare for lent and then, more than once during Great Lent, that the Lord enables us to partake of the Holy Gifts on the night of Holy Pascha. The Grace of God will especially then act upon our hearts. We commune of the Resurrected Christ then, we become participants in His Resurrection. Let no one leave the Church prematurely, rushing to eat the meat of beasts instead of partaking of the Most-Holy Body and Blood of Christ.