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EASTER EPISTLE 2019

 

ARTEMIJE

by the grace of God Orthodox Bishop

of Diocese of Ras-Prizren

in Exile

 

To all the spiritual children, monastics, clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Ras-Prizren in Exile, we proclaim the ever-joyful Easter greeting:

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

 

Let the heavens be glad,

and let the earth rejoice, let the world,

visible and invisible, celebrate;

for Christ our eternal joy has risen

(From Paschal Canon, Ode 1.)

What possible gladness or joy is there to be found upon this tormented earth, where the very Son of God was crucified? For a man once dead is gone, and a mortal once fallen, is no more, says the righteous Job (Job 14, 10). Indeed, can any happiness exist within the abyss of this world’s fallen human nature, together with all of its accompanying woes, suffering and anguish ending in death? The answer given by a fallen mankind disfigured by sin is that there is no comfort, no joy nor bliss for us here on earth. And this tragedy was confirmed on the day when the Lamb of God, the Son of God Himself was nailed to the Cross. But what is Christ the God-man’s answer to this question? His answer to this, and to every great question tormenting the soul of humankind from the very beginning, is not a word, but a deed. And that deed is His bright and glorious Resurrection from the dead. This divine act is so wondrous and so victorious, that it can never fully be encompassed by any human words. To be sure, in contrast to Christ’s suffering, every human suffering, sorrow or injury however immense, could nevertheless be spelled out in a few letters, or formulated into a specific question for mulling over as did the aforementioned Job, and lamented upon as do all natural descendants of Adam who share a mutual inheritance in sin. However, Christ’s answer to these questions through His Glorious Resurrection from the dead in all its supremely divine splendour, can never be fully expressed in words, described in letters or explained in books. Thus does the holy bishop Nikolai declare in words like unto precious gold: by His Resurrection, Christ overcomes sin and death, crushes the dark kingdom of Satan, releases the human race held captive therein, and breaks open the seal concealing the greatest mysteries of God and man. Indeed, the Resurrection of Christ is the unveiling of the greatest mystery of God and man, the greatest and most illuminating divine answer to the greatest and most perplexing of human questions. Therefore, such an exalted work of Christ as evinced by His miraculous Resurrection, can most closely be perceived, experienced and understood by one act alone, and never by words. By one act that consists of the movement of the human heart towards the Resurrected Christ. And such an act is called Faith. Because that which cannot be fully understood and expressed by words – namely, the Resurrection of Christ – can only ever be fully received by a living faith. That is why a living faith in Christ within His Church, is the only way to accept and understand the Resurrection of Christ, as St. Justin Popovic of Chelije explains to us saying: The meaning of life for every Christian, is to make of his own person an organic part and member of the Body of the Resurrected Christ which is the Church. If he can do this, then it is not necessary to prove to him the Resurrection from the dead, for he has already acquired the innate feeling of being immortal and eternal. Therefore, the Resurrection of Christ becomes the foundation of the Christian Faith. Such is the message to us from the same Holy Father who goes on to say: If Christianity can be reduced to one event, then this event is the Resurrection of Christ. None of us sad and mortal beings ever gave to humanity a gift so victorious, so triumphant and so comforting, which alone is capable of stemming the flow of every tear shed by the suffering and silence every sigh uttered by the dying, as Christ did through His all-glorious Resurrection. From the Resurrection of Christ to this day, both Heaven and Earth echo the most victorious and most joyful greeting: Christ is Risen! The joyful echo of this greeting with its immortal and divine power has dispelled the lamentation arising from all human tribulation, torment and suffering in this world, a suffering ultimately culminating in death. Hence this greeting proclaims the most conclusive victory ever granted to humanity, the victory by which people are delivered from sin, death, and hell.

And so for many centuries, human thought has been stumbling over and buckling beneath the burden of that most difficult question concerning the origin and meaning of suffering in this world. When confronted by this question, the power of the human mind dissolves, its capacity to comprehend vanishes and its ability to understand withers away. And yet, to this most difficult question for man, Christ answers with His Resurrection. For the Resurrection of Christ bestows meaning, explanation and clarification of all human suffering. Again, as Saint Justin Popovic of Chelije says: Without the Resurrection it is impossible to make sense of suffering. Without making sense of suffering, it is impossible for a thinking man not to be an anarchist and an atheist. For any ethics that does not recognise the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the person is basically anarchistic and nihilistic, because without Christ’s Resurrection, life would be meaningless, sorrow would be senseless and suffering would be irredeemable.

This is why the Resurrection of Christ is the most beautiful springtime of them all, the very springtime of every spring for every human soul receiving Him with faith, because Christ rescues such souls from the winter of sin, the coldness of feeble belief and the darkness of ignorance. The Resurrected Christ is the Sun under whose Resurrection the souls of the Faithful blossom, exuding the fragrance of eternity and adorned with the beauty of the evangelic virtues, for bringing forth the fruit that the Hand of God gathers into the barns of the Kingdom of Heaven. There is no stronger power than the Resurrection of Christ, because whenever the all-joyful greeting of Christ is Risen is proclaimed, Hades is shaken and Heaven rejoices. Life blooms and death flees. Despair dissolves and hope is born. Our weaknesses disappear and our power returns. The Gates of Hades are destroyed while the Gates of Paradise are thrown open. The righteous chant and the demons tremble, while all people are given eternal life. Such is the power of Christ’s Resurrection. It is infinite because it gives endless life in the Resurrected Christ. It is at the same time majestic, but never expressed overtly or made completely manifest. Thus we experience and live by the Resurrection, primarily in the Resurrected Christ and His Church, which is the treasury of resurrection and eternal life. In fact, it is our duty to live in the Resurrected Christ while here on earth, because according to the great ascetic of the previous century, monk Georgije Vitković, we are the Children of the Resurrection.

If we live in the Resurrected Christ today, then once we depart from this life, our existence will flow effortlessly into the next, where it will continue its course toward the sweet eternity of the Resurrected God-man. And how do we live in the Resurrected Christ? We do so only by living under the sign of Christ’s Cross. The Cross of Christ constitutes the most extraordinary spiritual turning point in the entire history of mankind, because through His Cross and His Resurrection, Christ re-orientated the history of mankind from its path of death to Christ’s own eternal life. That is why the Cross of Christ is the unmistakable sign of Christ’s Resurrection, because through the Golgotha of the Cross we arrive at the Resurrection of the Lord.

As for us mortals, we are resurrected from the tomb of our sins and our passions by one supreme ascetic effort – namely, by spiritually crucifying the old and sinful man within us, upon the Cross of the Gospel-led life. By doing this from day to day and from moment to moment through the power of Christ Whom we follow, then we will be naturally co-resurrected in Christ and with Him. Therefore, this ascetic effort alone – expressed especially through fasting, prayer and repentance – provides the best means of preparation upon our path of attaining and experiencing the joy of Christ’s Resurrection. This personal co-embodiment of us in Christ is necessary for all who freely choose to follow Him. By this self-sacrificing struggle of faith, humans transfer themselves to the Risen Lord, and begin to live in Him, to think in Him, to act with Him – as is testified once more by Saint Justin of Celije, that ceaseless preacher of Christ Risen. This is why the solemn period of Great Lent through which we have recently emerged, is the most natural and reliable guide in our preparation for experiencing, understanding and celebrating the Holy Resurrection of Christ.

The same Holy Father Justin reaffirms that there is no way to experience the Resurrection of Christ and the Resurrection in Christ, other than through the Crucifixion, for whoever does not live the reality of the Crucified Lord cannot live the reality of the Resurrection either. We enter Resurrection via Crucifixion. And without the Resurrection, there is no salvation (Rom 10, 9). Indeed, crucifixion cannot be avoided. If a man is to be resurrected by the Resurrection of Christ, he must first die with Christ’s death.  Truly, if we die with Christ, then we will surely come to life with Him (2 Tim. 2, 11). These words on this bright Feast of the Resurrection are therefore, an indispensable consolation for all people who strive to peacefully bear the Cross which the Lord has assigned to everyone. We present-day Orthodox Serbs also bear this Cross, both as individuals and as a people, crucified between the evils of the West and the mute confusion of the East. Between God-denying Communism which has not yet faded completely from this nation, and the soul-destroying globalism of our times. Between a tragic past, a sad present and an unclear future promising little hope. Between betrayal of our Faith by the Church and the betrayal of Kosovo and Metohija by the state leadership. Together with our people in Kosovo and Metohija, we bear the exceptional weight of this present crucifix and the events which have befallen us. For this crucifix is also carried by the rest of us Orthodox Serbs as we flock together, seeking sanctuary in the spiritual havens of our catacombs. It is there where we gather to shelter our heads and above all, to shelter or our souls from every impending evil directed against us, by the enemies of our Faith and of our Homeland. An evil directed not only against us Orthodox Serbs, but also against our Orthodox brethren in Russia and throughout the Orthodox world, where a crucial battle for the defence and preservation of the Orthodox Faith in the Resurrected Christ is being fought. Therefore, just as after that most terrible day of Our Lord’s Crucifixion there shone the most joyful day of His Rising, so likewise today does the Lord send the overwhelming consolation and joy of His Holy Resurrection to us all. And then, just like the Cross on which Christ was crucified, all of our own crosses whether small or large, are transformed into joy, into solace, into power, into victory, into triumph of good over evil, virtue over sin, and life over death. If ever Orthodox people feel this power of Christ’s consolation, it is most vividly so on this day of His glorious Resurrection. This consolation is a pre-figuration of the Universal Resurrection in Christ of all those who serve Him in this life, and all those who believe in Him. This is the consolation with which we are comforted today. This is the victory with which we in Christ also conquer, and which cannot be taken away from us by any powers opposed to the Resurrected Christ, His Church and to the Orthodox Faith. It is with such joy that we rejoice today as we celebrate that victory. And because today we are also comforted with such life-giving consolation, we will – God willing – persevere upon the path of the Orthodox Faith in the Risen Christ unto the end of the world and beyond all time, both as individuals and as one Orthodox people. Wherefore it is with this joy and this victory of Christ that we once again greet you, hailing this bright Feast of the Resurrection, and proclaiming with an all-joyful and all-victorious salutation:

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Prayerfully remembering you all before the throne of the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ,

 

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

We prayerfully remember you before the throne of the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ,

+Bishop Artemije,

Bishop in charge of Diocese of Raska and Prizren in exile;

+Chorbishop Nikolaj

of Stara Raska and Loznica

+Chorbishop Maksim

of Novo Brdo and Panonia

+Chorbishop Naum

of Hvosno and Barajevo

Easter of 2019,

Monastery of New Nicea, Lelic