Почетна / English version / EASTER EPISTLE 2024


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By the grace of God,

Orthodox Bishop

Diocese of Raška-Prizren


To the spiritual children, monastics, clergy and faithful

of the Diocese of Raška- Prizren


the festive Paschal greeting


Christ is risen, and Hades is torn down! Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and there are no dead left in the tombs! For Christ, having risen from the dead has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power throughout all ages. Amen!

(From the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom)

Тhese, my dearly beloved spiritual children, are the magnificent words with which all of our temples, all of our thoughts and all of our hearts have been filled to overflowing, on this joyfully glorious night and radiant morning of the all-holy feast of Christ’s Resurrection. Are there any Christians who do not rejoice from the depths of their hearts on this day when Hades is made empty, the devil is disgraced, and death is vanquished by death? Will not our hearts rejoice even more so today than ever, as they resound with the words of the Holy Apostle Paul: “ O Hades, where is your victory? O death, where, is your sting?“

For until Christ took human flesh, living amongst us and preaching His Holy Gospel, suffering crucifixion and burial to rise thereafter from the dead, humankind alone could provide neither an adequate, nor a healing, nor a redemptive answer to the most burning question of death itself. And so the human race wandered endlessly vulnerable, bewildered and afraid, like a deer that had strayed far from the paradise it had lost.

But by His Resurrection, Christ delivers us from death. He deliver us, who throughout our lives have been guilty of our bondage to it, despite being created temporarily, a little lower than the angels as children of God, and who together with Christ have communion in flesh and blood. For as the Apostle of the Gentiles St Paul teaches us in his epistle: „Since the children have flesh and blood, Christ too shared in their humanity so that by His death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death“ (Hebrews 2:14-15). And thus, enlivened by the Resurrection of Christ, we are recreated and transformed, becoming a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). For this reason, Christians mock death, they deride it, and they hasten themselves towards it. Not only brave and hardened warriors of asceticism, but also weaker members of the female gender and powerless children, together with millions of believers throughout the history of the Church have done so, thereby testifying to us that through Christ, death is temporary and life is eternal, boldly proclaiming with the Apostle Paul: „For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!“ (Philippians 1:21)

Ever since the transgression of our first parents in the paradisiacal garden of joy, and God’s pronouncement that the now fallen human race was doomed to toil in sweat and give birth in pain, the devil held humanity in bondage to the illusion of pleasure and the reality of endless suffering here on earth, a suffering ‘crowned’ with death and terminating in the grave. Alas, what a seemingly hopeless and dreadful existence in this sorrowful valley of tears! Even the righteous prophets and saints of the Old Testament were horrified and confused by the phenomenon of death, and both their contemporaries and descendants likewise, had a vague and murky conception of the afterlife and the nature of the soul, as can witnessed by numerous Gospel dialogues between bewildered representatives of the Jewish people and Christ. That is why when coming to earth, Christ had to conquer both physical pleasure and the suffering that proceeds from this pleasure. Thus it was upon the Mount of Temptation, where after Christ had fasted completely for forty days and was exhausted as once was Job on the dunghill, that the devil tried to tempt Him. For this purpose, the devil ironically presented himself to Christ as a Biblical ‘theologian’ and a ‘scholar’, ‘reciting’ Scripture so as to entice Christ with various pleasures: the love of indulgence, the love of power, and the love of honour. Oh, how vain and terrifying and hellishly barren is the knowledge of Scripture, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of His Mysteries, without love, without asceticism, without humility and endurance, and without the Cross. For as St. Maximus the Confessor makes clear, it is precisely such theology and ‘knowledge’ of God that is demonic, as we see in the harrowing event on the Mount of Temptation.

But Christ the New Adam is victorious, Christ the New Man conquers, as once did – albeit temporarily – the righteous Job of the Old Testament. For even though the devil brazenly attacks Job and also God himself by saying that Job in his suffering “ will curse You to Your face“, Job calmly invokes the name of the Lord instead, edifying us with his moving response: „Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!“ (Job 1:21) Thus it is, again during Great Lent – and especially during the Great and Holy Week of Our Lord’s Passion now passed – that the Church recites and expounds upon the book of the long-suffering and all-patient Job with great attention. For while Job the man triumphs temporarily by trusting in the Lord, Christ the God-Man conquers eternally, as a man fasting, as a man suffering, as a man dying, and as the God-Man rising from the dead and resurrecting us together with Himself. Thus does the Lord lead us to and bestows upon us, this great and awesome mystery of the Cross which He ascended. Because in so doing, Christ sanctified the air and all creation, over which the Prince of this world had hitherto ruled unassailably through death. But by ascending the Cross, Christ recreated and transformed us. Upon the Cross, Christ tore apart the bond of sin, lifting up all of our humanity with Himself on high. And by spreading out His pure hands on the Cross, Christ embraced the entirety of mankind, as the Church sings at the Burial Service of Christ on the morning of Great Saturday: „Worthy it is to magnify Thee, O Giver of Life, who stretched out Thy hands upon the Cross, and crushed the power of the enemy!“ (2nd Stasis of Great Saturday Matins).

Thus it is with arms outstretched upon the Cross that Christ descends with His divine soul into Hades, reaching out to our first parents and the righteous of the Old Testament imprisoned therein, awaiting the consolation of Israel. Because prior to the arrival of Christ, death was seen as terrible, horrifying and insurmountable, an unfathomably deep and impenetrable abyss. But then, there is suffering and the Cross; and to those humble words of the repentant thief: „Remember me, Lord”, comes Christ’s extraordinary response: „Today you will be with me in Paradise“ (Luke 23:43). For that reason, the Cross and the Resurrection are inseparably linked, both as symbols and as power, from the fearsome events of Great Friday with the judgment that mankind executed against God, to the Glorious three-day Resurrection from the dead, and even up until today and beyond the end of the world and eternity, and the time that slowly flows into eternity.

According to the law of God’s immeasurable love for mankind, the Cross, once a symbol of the most dishonourable and humiliating punishment and death, becomes the instrument of victory of the God-Man Christ. And through Christ, the Cross becomes the instrument of victory of humanity over sin, death, and the devil. However, without the Resurrection, the Cross would be nothing more than a terrifying, unnecessary and meaningless object of affliction for the righteous. Likewise, the Resurrection without the Cross is equally unattainable, as it would be little more than a futile demonstration of God’s omnipotence over creation. Let us remember how on the Mount of Temptation as in so many times during His ministry to the Jews, right up until this day of Resurrection, that the Lord will not work any miracle – like turning stones into bread – unless the miracle can be of supreme benefit to mankind’s salvation. For God does not perform miracles just for the sake of miracles, but He performs miracles for the sake of salvation and the eternal life of mankind which He „so loved“, as testified by the beloved disciple and Apostle of Love, Saint John the Theologian – „that God gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life… For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.“(John 3:16). Certainly, the Lord could have saved humanity as He wished, because “where God wills, there the order of nature is overcome”, as the Church sings on the Feast of the Annunciation. But it is from His love that the Saviour willingly chose to suffer, to give to mankind the good news that death is but a dream, and that Christ by His death incapacitates and eliminates our destroyer. For it is both through the Cross and the Resurrection, that hell is embittered, and the brutal kingdom of death is shattered to pieces. And as the Church of God sings many times on this day and in the days to come, with its concise hymn celebrating the victory of Life over death: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs He has given life!

When explaining this mystery of the Resurrection of Christ, Saint Justin of Čelije tells us that the Resurrection is both a miracle and a reality, the Truth above all truths, the essence and the core in which all healing truths of the Gospel are condensed. And this all-conquering Truth was testified not by Christ alone risen from the dead, but also by many of His disciples, who not only looked upon the discarded burial clothes and empty tomb where Christ formerly lay, but also saw, heard, and touched Him after the Resurrection – as witnessed by Saint John the Theologian saying: „That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands“ (1 John 1:1).

And to repeat the words of Saint Justin of Čelije, it was precisely the Holy Apostles, who were not only disciples and witnesses to, but also rigorous examiners of the self-evident fact of the Resurrection, for they questioned and tested not only for themselves but also for all people of all times and for human nature in general. And having thus tested and confirmed, believed and testified, they were then able to fearlessly transmit Christ’s powerful and harmonious blessing of “Peace be with you!” from Mount Zion, following the Resurrection and after Pentecost. A peace that they carried throughout the entire universe, bringing it to the faithful and establishing it in their hearts until this day, bestowing it even unto us, the least amongst brethren, gathered together in our catacombs, our monasteries, and our temples.

Therefore, to be a Christian today as always, is not the result of some self-suggestive, pessimistic and romantic Western melancholic ‘Weltschmerz’, or ‘worldly sorrow’ – an ever-rising sorrow and helplessness in the face of this tragic era in world history, which are becoming increasingly disseminated by the „devotees of evil”, whose numbers together with their fame, are rapidly multiplying throughout the world. At the same time, the mystery of evil and iniquity lying hidden behind the most seductive masks, seems to enchant and delude many. A mystery materializing in thesons of disobedience” and their endeavours to diminish, belittle and conceal the greatest mystery of piety, the greatest mystery of divinity, and the greatest mystery of the Church, namely, the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection.

It is for this reason, that the Apostle Paul warns us through the Ephesians „to walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, for the days are evil”. (Ephesians 5:16). Because in our dark times that are infused with the breath of putrefaction (as the poet Vladislav Petkovic Dis puts it), we have seen the multiplication of false prophets and teachers, who are operating alas, even beneath gilded crosses and domes and hierarchal mitres.

Consequently, it is the duty of every Christian to confess and to speak by both the letter and the Spirit of the authentic Gospel, not by the false anti-Gospel of lawlessness, which is boldly preached from pulpits and altars devoid of spirituality. Furthermore, this destructive anti-Gospel is oftentimes proclaimed using the language of the Gospels themselves. (Let us remember once again, how shamelessly Satan quotes Holy Scripture modified according to his own demonic ‘theology’, in the attempt to tempt by Our Lord’s leave, even Our Lord Himself). For as the Apostles foretold, such false gospels will always have their followers, the mockers who live according to their own desires (2 Peter 3:3), and apostates from the faith, who obey deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. Especially poignant are the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy concerning the people of the last days: „For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God having a form of godliness but denying its power“ (2 Timothy 3:2-5).

Did not our very Lord Himself testify to us in the Gospel that because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold? And empathising with us in His human nature, does He not sorrowfully ask whether the Son of Man will find faith upon the earth when He comes again, or just indifference in the lukewarm people of the last days (Luke 18:8)? Are we not witnessing how evil is rapidly rushing to the peak of its satanic genius and ‘perfection’? And how the ingenious logicians of evil and apologists of sin are killing man in the name of man, killing God in the name of man, creating the ‘perfected’ man, the trans-human man, the man-god? And how this struggle of anti-Christ achieves its crescendo of evil in people who deny that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22)?

Therefore, dear brothers, sisters and spiritual children, let us preserve the mystery of piety and the mystery of the Church, rejecting every mystery of lawlessness, because unyielding faith and unwavering endurance alone have, at all times comprised the Christian weaponry of God. Let us hold fast to the entirety of unchanged teaching proclaimed by the Church of God. Let us reject and anathematize every innovation and alteration of the redemptive Gospel belonging to the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Accordingly and once again, with a paternal and pleading tone, we summon all true sons and daughters of the Orthodox Church to stand firm under the confessional banner so bravely raised and carried aloft by our Elder, Bishop Artemije of blessed memory, who remained faithful to the testament of his own Elder Abba Justin declaring: “All for Christ, and Christ for nothing!” For it was Abba Justin, the ‘Angel of Čelije’ who most ardently hoisted this very banner high above the heads of his Serbian nation and all Christian peoples; and as such, from within the fullness of the Church, he was recognized as a Father and Teacher of the Church, the most zealous, the most fervent and the most fiery advocate of Orthodoxy, and resolute expunger of the heresy of Ecumenism.

Not even so much as by a single millimeter was that heavenly banner lowered or trampled upon by our holy and ever-memorable Elder, Bishop Artemije. For by remaining both a faithful disciple of his teacher and a faithful shepherd of the Church until his last earthly breath, this „gentle and faithful servant,“ left behind a flourishing nursery of confessors in the Diocese of Raška-Prizren in Exile, as a most beautiful tribute to the Venerable Justin of Čelije. A Diocese where, God-willing, the humble are rewarded here on earth, alongside the genuine disciples and successors of Abba Justin’s struggle for the Church of God and Orthodox Truth, both of which are so often desecrated, falsified, and corrupted today.

Let „All for Christ and Christ for nothing!“ be our own cry of encouragement and our guiding star, knowing that only with Christ and in Christ that the true wreaths of victory and justice await us, no matter where and in what situation, occupation or betrayal, suffering or tribulation we may find ourselves.

Our special thoughts and prayers go to our suffering brothers and sisters, the little brethren of Christ in Kosovo and Metohija, where, for already 25 years now, an unjust human trial and ‘legal’ proceedings have been taking place. We invoke the blessing of the Risen Christ upon them, to enlighten and to empower them, and to give them the strength and awareness that despite the unlawful tribulation they are currently going through, there awaits from above the righteous judgment of God upon us all, especially upon the fateful Kosovo courts of tribunal, places of mockery and the betrayal of all human justice for nigh on one quarter of a century.

As always we greet and do not forget, all of our faithful brothers and sisters throughout the inhabited world – Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians, Slovaks, and Poles, and the brethren in far-off America and Australia, a multitude of people on many frontiers, who recognized in our spiritual struggle their own path and their own fight, standing firm beneath the sacred banner of the Orthodox faith, and within the spiritual enclosure of our confessing Diocese, where they fence themselves off from the heresy of Ecumenism and the globalist dragon. May the light of the Risen Christ, which enlightens all, also preserve and enlighten you all, our dearly beloved ones gathered in Christ.

We salute all of you, our spiritual children, assembled in the unity of the faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit, with those wonderful words of Paschal joy that make hell itself and every enemy of God tremble:

Christ is Risen! – He is Risen indeed!

Your prayerful servants before Christ Our Risen Lord:

+ Bishop of Raska and Prizren in exile – KSENOFONT
+ Chorbishop of Stara Raška and Loznica – NIKOLAJ
+ Chorbishop of Novo Brdo and Pannonia – MAKSIM
+ Chorbishop of Hvostno and Barajevo – NAUM

Easter 2024
At the monastery of the Most Holy Mother of God Trojerucica in Musvete