Fullness of Paschal Joy

Orthodox Life magazine 1992 (3)

By Archbishop Averky

And your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you (John 16:22) 
"Be divinely gIad... For Christ is Risen. O gladness eternal!" (Paschal Canon)

Our Orthodox Christian faith is that joy living in our hearts, which never ceases, that joy which is joy in the Resurrection of the Lord; Resurrection joy; Paschal joy.

It is not without deep significance, as that great Church Father, St. John Chrysostom testifies, that on the Paschal night and then during all the Paschal period the God-inspired Acts of the Apostles are read in our churches.  Clearly and vividly the Acts speak to us as no other book about the greatest Christian truth — about the Resurrection of Christ ”and chiefly contain evidence of the Resurrection” (Works of St. John Chrysostom, vol. IX, pp. 5-8).  From the Acts we learn that the holy Apostles, while expounding the Gospel, preached above all about Christ crucified and risen from the dead, a message with such a powerful effect on its hearers that thousands of hearts were captured for Christ.

That is understandable because humanity yearns for nothing as much as it yearns for salvation from those diverse sorrows which are unavoidably accompanied by the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23).  Death is conquered by the Resurrection of Christ; the poisonous power of sin is trampled underfoot, and therefore, we solemnly glorify Pascha as ”deliverance from sorrows” (Paschal stichera).  That is why the heart of man is so keenly receptive to bright Paschal joy.  The plenitude of Paschal joy is, however, accessible to us only when we grasp the absolute truth of Christ's Resurrection, only if we are exclusively devoted to Him as our God and Saviour, and only when we implacably oppose His enemies.  It is not by accident that at the Divine Liturgy on the day of Pascha and during the whole of Bright Week, instead of the Trisagion Hymn, the exultantly joyful "As many as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ," which forms a constituent part of the great Mystery of Baptism, is sung.  This is not only because before Pascha, on Great Saturday, many catechumens receive Holy Baptism.  Therein lies its special, deep, mystical meaning.

It is true, is it not, that Baptism, as the holy Apostle Paul teaches us, is accomplished as a representation of the death and the resurrection of Christ: Do you not know, the Apostle to the Romans asks those to whom he writes, that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (Rom. 6:3-5).  These words of the Apostle Paul are read at the Divine Liturgy on Great Saturday, showing us the mystical link existing between the death and resurrection of Christ and our death to sin and resurrection to new life in the Mystery of Baptism.

Thus, the joy of Baptism and the, joy of the Resurrection are, in essence, one and the same feeling — a feeling of great spiritual joy, ”joy in the Lord.”  This is the joy of spiritual renewal, the joy of putting on Christ, the joy of union with Christ as the source of eternal life, the joy of complete adherence and abandonment’ to Christ as our Saviour through His resurrection, which has given us life eternal.

If you love Me you will keep My commandments were the words that Christ bequeathed to His disciples as a final legacy and through them also to us in the Mystical Supper.  Faithfulness to Christ the Saviour, naturally owing out of love for Him, expresses itself in the keeping of His commandments.  Those who love Christ and who strive to be true to Him must in every possible way guard themselves against falling into sin, which is contrary to the Gospel commandments.  But the Word of God Himself teaches us that we cannot completely protect ourselves from falling into sin.  There is no man who lives and does not sin (I Kings 8:46) and If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves (I John 1:8). For that reason the Mystery of ”second baptism,” or repentance, which cleanses us again from sins committed after Baptism was established.

In spite of the fall into sins, due to the weakness of human nature, we may nonetheless preserve faithfulness to Christ as our God and our Saviour if we do not forget to offer sincere repentance, and that is the most important thing. 

What do the closing words of the Office for the "Departing of the soul from the body" — prayers so comforting for us sinners, show us?  ”Give him (the newly fallen asleep) part in and inheritance of Your eternal good things prepared for those who love You,”

From the words of this prayer it can clearly be seen that the most terrible thing is not so much sin, peculiar to the weakness of human nature, but rather apostasy.  Such desertion unavoidably leads to a transfer of allegiance to the camp of the enemies of Christ.  There we are in company with the servants of the Antichrist who are preparing for his appearance.

Every Spirit, said the beloved disciple of Christ, St. John the Theologian even in apostolic times, which does not confess Jesus Christ having come in the flesh is not from God, but is the spirit of Antichrist (I John 4:3).

This rejection of the saving mystery of piety — the appearance of God in the flesh (I Tim. 3:16) has since the time of its occurrence taken different forms in various heresies and pseudo-teachings.  But essentially they have always been the same — the distortion of the true Faith and defection from the true Church.  Throughout the whole history of Christianity the enemy of human salvation has constantly striven to contrast the mystery of piety with his own mystery — the mystery of lawlessness (II Thess. 2:7).

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the whole history of mankind from the appearance in the world of the Son of God made flesh is nothing other than an unceasing, persistent struggle of the mystery of lawlessness against the mystery of piety.  And in that struggle the enemy of mankind does not hesitate to resort to every possible device and subterfuge, and the further man goes, the more subtle become his intrigues.

We know from the Gospel how the Jewish high priests "slandered the resurrection of the Saviour," having bribed the soldiers with "sufficient silver" and instructed them to say that "His disciples came in the night and stole His body" (Matt. 28:11-15).  That very primitive and naive lie, not having justified itself, was subsequently replaced by other lies, the purpose of which was to undermine in people the saving faith in the great truth of the resurrection of Christ.

From those earliest times onward lies and slander, and all kinds of perversion and distortion of the truth have become the main weapons of the enemy in his deadly struggle against the true Faith and the Church.  The enemy of man's salvation — the Devil, finding, by bribery or other worldly means, tools for his use among the people, does not stop slandering the true faith of the Church, calling "white" — ”black" and "black" — ”white,” calling the truth — a lie, and a lie — the truth, skillfully sowing false belief together with true belief!

We, however, must not dare to forget that true Faith is only one, like one God.  Likewise, the true Church is also only One because the Lord Jesus Christ founded only one Church (Matt. 16:18) and not many different Churches.

It would seem that this was all so clear and understandable.

Until comparatively recent times this was so.  But now the enemy has been so successful in his intrigues and has so confused everything in the consciousness of the people that even in the case of believers — the one is gradually lost and overwhelmed with doubts, afraid to seem in the eyes of others "old-fashioned” and not ”avant-garde” enough, while the other, having completely lost his common sense, no longer tries to justify himself by various pretexts, but consciously goes over to the side of the enemy, having been made in essence a betrayer of Christ.

Only by the subtle intrigues of the enemy can we explain the widespread attitude of indifference in the majority of contemporary Christians to the very heart of Christianity, to true Christian Faith, to the Church canons, to the centuries-old customs and traditions of our Faith and Church.  Only the intrigues of the enemy can explain this cold disregard for and fearless scorning of holy things.

Genuine, interior, heartfelt faith in Christ as God and Saviour has grown exceedingly rare.  Only external "formal piety” remains — its inner power having been rejected thanks to the abnormal spiritual deviations of our time, revealed in such movements as the "Living Church” and the ”Renovationist” movement in Russia in the 1920's.  Light-minded scorning of the Church, disregard for its dogmas, and the loss of a living ecclesiastical consciousness led to the entry by representatives of local Orthodox churches into the so-called "Ecumenical Movement."  In Soviet Russia these same distortions led to the appearance of ”Sergianism" and subsequently to the "Soviet Church" which made common cause with the atheistic Soviet authorities, becoming a faithful servant of the godless Communists in carrying out their genocidal, hellish plans throughout the world.

All of this is exactly that "broad sphere of apostasy" about which our learned theologian and great mentor of Christian piety, the holy Theophan the Recluse, gives us an account in his commentary on the second letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, saying, ”Although the name Christian will be heard everywhere, and churches and church services will be seen everywhere, it will only be for show, but inwardly (spiritually) it will be pure apostasy.

Do we not already see just that?  Is not the service of Christ really only outward appearance for those hierarchs who subject themselves to both open and secret atheistic and anti-Christian societies and organizations, and through their activities commit themselves to fulfilling their designs and plans?

What are we supposed to think when the mouths of these hierarchs pronounce the name of Christ but their hearts lag far behind Him?  And not only lag far behind Him but following the orders of their evil masters they bind Him and His true followers and servants in fetters.

That "terrible sphere of apostasy” becomes wider and wider before our very eyes.  The spirit of "renovationism and ecclesiastical "modernism" — deeply opposed to the spirit of genuine Orthodoxy; the spirit of ecumenism — the recognition of equal rights and equal value of all confessions; and Sergianism — the cooperation with atheistic authorities and anti-Christian societies and organizations, rapidly seize greater and greater influence in all the local Orthodox churches.  The general renunciation of Christ begins in the name of Belial in the form of atheistic principles which gradually submit to themselves all the contemporary world.

Looking at everything that is now happening in the local Orthodox churches, at how their hierarchs go to make prostrations in red Moscow and lay wreaths on the tombs of the persecutors of the Church; how they strive for union with groups alien to true Christianity on the specious pretext of general unity; how the spirit of genuine Orthodox piety dissipates in them, and how the spirit of renovationism is ingrafted; how they even modernize the external characteristics of church life, right up to the interior furnishings of the churches and the appearance and behavior of the serving priest — is it not possible to recall the prophetic words of Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov: 

The times: the further you go the more difficult... Apostasy, foretold with all clarity in the Holy Scriptures, serves as a witness to how truly and faithfully everything is said in ScriptureThis apostasy is permitted by God: do not try to stop it with your feeble handReject it, guard yourself against it; and that will doFamiliarize yourself with the spirit of the times, make a thorough study of it so that as far as possible you may avoid its influenceLately apostasy has begun to act quickly, freely and openlyThe consequences will be most grievous. God's will be done!

May the merciful God protect the remnant believing in HimBut that remnant is growing ever smaller and becoming less and less numerousThe question of Orthodox belief, one must realize, is coming decisively to a headOnly the special mercy of God can stop the whole morally destructive epidemic, stop it, but only for a time, because what is foretold in the Scriptures must be fulfilled.

’’Judging by the spirit of the times and by the intellectual ferment, we must assume that the edifice of the Church which has been tottering for a long time will suddenly pitch violently and there will be no one to oppose or stop itMeasures being undertaken to support this edifice, borrowed from a world hostile to the Church, all the more quickly are hastening its fall; have they not already brought the Church to a standstill? .

We cannot expect the renewal of Christianity from anyoneEverywhere vessels of the Holy Spirit have finally run dry even in the monasteries, those treasuries of piety and grace, but the Body of the Spirit of God may be supported and renewed only by its own weaponsThe merciful and long-suffering God extends and postpones the decisive denouement for the little remnant which is being saved; in the meantime those who are rotting or who have already decayed, reach complete putrefactionThose who are saving themselves must understand this and use the time given them for their own salvation; for the time is short, and for all of us the transition to eternity is not far off.

We must reconcile ourselves to the position of the Church, although at the same time we must strive to understand it. This is all permitted from above.

"The elder Isaiah said to me, ’Understand the times. Do not expect improvements in the general Church structure, but be satisfied with what is left, in particular save people who wish to be saved. ”Let the one who is seeking salvation, save his own soul,” says the Spirit of God to those remaining Christians” (from Sayings of the Holy Fathers and Letters of Bishop Ignaty). 

Comforting words! This is nothing unexpected for us, nothing unforeseen, everything is going according to what is written. The Providence of God!

What does the holy Ignaty teach?  We must remember what is happening! Understand, so that we ourselves will not be carried along by the "spirit of the times" but rather ”withdraw from it,” and ”flee from its influence." 

And we do this in order to keep faithful to Christ the Saviour Who is risen from the dead and has given us life eternal! 

We still have our Russian Church Abroad which keeps its historical succession from the former Russian Orthodox Church.  The struggle against her has already been going on for a long time, intensifying in recent times.  We will not be too confused or disturbed by this struggle.  We will in every possible way guard and protect our Church as our last refuge in this world from the enticements of ”the spirit of the times" about which Bishop Ignaty speaks.

Let us not be afraid to remain in ”the minority.”  Most important for us is to be members of that little remnant of those who are being saved, whom the Lord Himself called little flock, saying, Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.  And whoever, with his whole spirit, belongs to that little flock of those who are being saved has nothing to fear from today's apostate world, which will not have the power to shake in him the firmness of his confession, of his stand behind the Laws of God, for with him always is all the fullness of the Paschal joy — with him is Christ Himself Who is risen, the Victor over hell and death.

From The Modern World in the Light of the Word of God, by Archbishop Averky, vol. 1, pp. 361-369.

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