The Feast of Feasts
"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, And to those in the tombs granting life."
(Troparion of the Feast of Pascha)
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 Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, 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,
Christ is Risen!
On this most sacred of Feasts in our Church, we gather together in joy and in love, celebrating the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst, and singing with one voice the triumphant hymn "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and to those in the tombs granting life."
This day of the Resurrection marks the beginning of an explosion of joy that comes immediately after the spiritually intense period of Great Lent and Holy Week, and this beautiful hymn captures in three verses the fundamental message of the Feast of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a message of victory, of love, and of hope in life everlasting. On this day, and throughout the Paschal season over the next several weeks, we proclaim this message of victory, love, and hope together in song through this beautiful hymn at the beginning of each divine service in our Church. This hymn, simple in form yet deep in power, is worthy of studying as we seek to fully understand our celebration of Holy Pascha, the Feast of Feasts of our Orthodox Church.
The first verse of this hymn expresses the facticity and reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, "Christ is risen from the dead." The reality of the resurrection has been a distinguishing feature of Christianity from the earliest of times. St. Paul expresses this idea to the Corinthians by a paradoxical statement: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (I Corinthians 15:17). In the same context, St. Paul declares unequivocally that Christ has been raised from the dead, that He appeared after His resurrection to as many as five hundred people at one time, most of whom were still alive when St. Paul was writing. (I Corinthians 15:6). For us today, the assuring words of this Epistle continue to provide us with their intended effect, which is that our faith in Christ is not futile and that, because of the reality of His resurrection, we are no longer held captive to our sins.
The second verse of the Paschal hymn explains to us the extraordinary manner by which Christ conquered death’s dominion over us once and for all: "Trampling death by death." When Jesus was crucified, He took on the sins of all humanity and suffered a death the intensity of which remains truly incomprehensible to us as human beings. This demonstrates the unending love of our God, Who took on human flesh and Who died on a Cross for our salvation. By submitting Himself to death, Christ not only annihilated sin but also death. The final defeat of the archenemy death could not happen but only through death itself, not an ordinary death, however, but the death of God who became man.
The third and final verse of the beautiful hymn of Pascha reveals the very essence of the feast, for it encapsulates the full consequence of Christ’s resurrection from the dead: "And to those in the tombs granting life." To all of us on this day then, this is a day of promise and of hope for life everlasting with Him. This last verse reiterates the message that St. Paul was communicating to the Romans when he wrote that as Christians we are dead to sin but alive in Christ: "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, 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). This is the message of our Orthodox Christian faith which we celebrate on this day, and indeed every day of our earthly lives. It is a message that proclaims our ultimate victory and triumph over all forces of darkness that attempt to impede our progress on the road of salvation toward eternal life with Christ Jesus. This is our destiny as Orthodox Christians, for we have been saved by Christ Who offers us the opportunity to live eternally with Him in the kingdom of God's joy.
It is in this spirit that our repeated chanting of this triumphant hymn will enable us to come closer and closer toward understanding the power of its saving message: Christ is Risen! Truly the Lord is Risen! May the joy and eternal peace of the Risen Christ abide with all of you, and may you walk "in the newness of life" in Christ forever.
With my warmest Paschal wishes
And love in the Risen Christ,
Archbishop of America