Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for Holy Pascha 2006
Apr 12, 2006
Holy Pascha 2006
The Feast of Feasts
"Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
I Corinthians 15:57
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this great and glorious day of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Feast of Feasts of our Holy Orthodox Church, I greet you with our time-honored exclamation of truth and victory: Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen! On this day of the Resurrection, the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, "Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:57), resound with great clarity, for today the Risen Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin, evil, and death.
Our expression of thanksgiving to God for His greatness is a defining hallmark of Pascha. One such expression of our thanks for His greatness is revealed in the service of the Agape Vespers of Pascha, when we joyously sing the words of the Psalmist, "Who is so great a God as our God? For You are the God, Who alone works wonders" (Psalm 77:13-14). The wonder worked by God which we celebrate with joy and awe on this day of Pascha is one of ultimate victory; namely, the total reversal of the devil’s power upon the fate of human beings, which was secured by the descent of Christ into Hades and His Resurrection from the dead. Through His own death and descent into Hades, Christ conquered death and gave life to those in the tombs. A vibrant depiction of this victory is the Holy Icon of the Anastasis (Resurrection) displayed throughout the Paschal period in our churches. This Holy Icon depicts the Risen Christ raising Adam and Eve from the grave, a symbolic image of Christ’s liberation of the entirety of humanity, who had once been held captive by the power of death, but who are now saved by Christ and live eternally with Him.
It should be emphasized that the victory that has been given to us by God through Jesus Christ was in essence in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. God declared through the prophet Hosea: "I will redeem them from death. Where is your victory, death? Where is your sting, Hades?" (Hosea 13:14). Also, the prophet Isaiah speaks the same way (Isaiah 25:8). St. Paul clearly alludes to these prophesies when he addresses the Corinthians: "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?'" (I Corinthians 15:54-55). St. John Chrysostom too deliberately uses these words in his celebrated Paschal homily, which is read in triumphant fashion on this day in our churches. He does this to affirm the continuity of this triumph and truth, and to categorically declare the determinative nature of Christ’s victory over death.
The significance of the Old Testament prophecy in foretelling the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is its affirmation to us that our merciful God has continually loved us from the dawn of our existence; that it had always been His will to restore humanity from its fallen condition to a condition of everlasting communion with Him; and that the extraordinary means by which He chose to accomplish this was to condescend to enter our world as a human being and to suffer unto death, even to death on a Cross. As a result, our sins have been remitted, and we have been granted eternal life with Him, Who is Risen from the dead.
My beloved Christians,
Through Christ, the sting of death has been rendered venomless! As the prophets foretold, the claim of the devil upon our fate has been rendered forever void! As the Psalmist declared, God alone has worked a great wonder that surpasses the limits of our human comprehension! On this glorious day of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, let us be mindful of the greatness of God, and let us be attuned to the natural yearning of our souls to offer Him unceasing praise for the victory that He has given us through Jesus Christ on this day. As we are mindful of this great victory throughout this Paschal season, may we come closer to appreciating and comprehending the full import of the triumphant words of St. Paul when he speaks to the Corinthians about the Resurrection: "Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:57).
Christos Anesti! Truly the Lord is Risen!
With my warmest Paschal wishes
and love in the Risen Christ,
Archbishop of America