ENGLISH VERSION: Paschal Epistle of Bishop Gregory (Lourie) of Petrograd and Gdov, Chairman of the Bishops’ Conference of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church
Christ is Risen!
Dear Orthodox Christians,
Dear everyone who is still only trying on True Orthodoxy,
Christ is Risen!
This night Christ conquers death. This night Christ conquers sin. This night Christ releases us from defilement. This night Christ releases us from the corruption and death of the body. This night Christ saves us from the corruption and death of the soul, the only cause of the corruption and death of the body.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death,” says the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:2), and we say this along with him. Therein lies the joy of our feast, therein lies its meaning. What we could never have achieved on our own has been accomplished.
Today we hear Christ saying: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). Christ has already done everything; all that remains for those who wish is to come. Christ calls everyone, even those who are foolish and lack understanding: “Whoso is foolish, let him turn aside to me: and to them that want understanding she says, Come eat of my bread, and drink wine which I have mingled for you” (Proverbs 9:3-4). Therefore we have no doubt that we are among the invited. Therefore we rejoice. Therefore we have hope. Therefore we are confident.
But it could very well be that this does not seem to be the case. It could very well be that today we will rejoice, but today or tomorrow we will lose this joy and even simply forget about Christ. We will begin to live in a world where there is no Christ, but where there is work, food, sleep, family troubles, worldly pleasures, worldly fears, a vain desire to learn about things that do not concern us, and a laziness to learn about what we need in order to abide with God; trust in our strength and constant fear that this strength is not enough; finally, that which inevitably follows therefrom: sickness and death, and not only temporal death, but eternal death.
There is nothing in such a world that will not be sinful and fatal. Christ tells us about this world: “Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4). This is that spiritual Babylon that each one of us voluntarily constructs for himself. For this, it is entirely unnecessary to commit any crimes or indulge in any gross vices. One can simply lead one’s own life. It is enough that this life be one’s own, without Christ and not in Christ.
Then we will be left without today’s feast day. Even eating tons of kulich and dyed eggs will not help us enter into this celebration. It is frightful to say, but even Communion at the festal Liturgy will not help. So what will help?
All that will help is consciousness of our weakness and inclination towards sin. Right now, while we are still praying, while we have still not forgotten about Christ, let us recall and sense the danger of such a falling away. We were constantly reminded of this during Great Lent, but let us constantly remind ourselves of the same during these festal days. Fasts and feasts support us from two opposite direction to move in one direction only: only towards Christ and only away from the spiritual Babylon.
“The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Feasts turn into occasions for the loss of the memory of God and become days of major spiritual disasters. For some, the fall begins with drunkenness and overeating, but for many it is simply a matter of immersion into daily life, while forgetting prayer and rarely participating in the Eucharist. Knowing this, the Church calls us to the contrary. It is necessary that everyone who has the physical ability should approach the Communion of the Holy Gifts during Bright Week, even before the onset of the following Sunday (thus teaches the Sixth Ecumenical Council). And then it is essential that we celebrate every Sunday as if it were the day of Christ’s Resurrection, as if it were the day of Pascha. If we begin to live in such a way, the feast of Pascha will never end for us – even when the set forty days of this feast pass by.
For this, we need to labor only a little; the primary work will not be in the external and visible forms of our life, but only in our inner attention and memory of God. We have already become convinced how many times of how good it is to live with the memory of God, and of how bad it is to live with that which takes its place, when this memory is lost. So let us wish ourselves good rather than bad. Now, on the feast day, we need labor only a little in order to remain with Christ and not exchange Him for the false joys of the worldly celebrations that will, after all, be quickly replaced by equally false worldly sorrows and anxieties. Not only the fast, but feasts call us to labor: but this labor is light, for Christ’s “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
With the Prophet Abbakum, let us stand upon the watch of our mind and our soul, that we may watch and never lose Christ (Abbakum 2:1). Then, as is chanted in today’s hymns, we will stand with the Prophet, and the Prophet will stand with us:
Let the Prophet Abbakum, the proclaimer of divine things, keep the divine watch with us, and show forth the radiant Angel who with resounding voice hath declared: Today doth bring salvation to the world, for Christ is risen as omnipotent.
Bishop of Petrograd and Gdov
Saint Petersburg, the Lord’s Pascha, 2015.