2008 Encyclical for Pascha - Metropolitan Moses
- 2008 Encyclical for PaschaBeloved in Christ,
Christ is risen from the dead, by death hath He trampled down death and on those in the graves hath He bestowed life!
On this day we celebrate the liberation of mankind from the bitter bondage of sin and death. This liberation was foreshadowed in the Old Testament by the events that took place by Gods providence in liberating His people from servitude under the Egyptians.
The Hebrews of old were held under the sway of Pharaoh and his most cruel task masters. God sent Moses to liberate them, but it took many signs and wonders to convince Pharaoh to let them go. At the last the Most High God told His people to prepare a special meal of an unblemished lamb, roasted, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. God further instructed them to take the blood of this lamb and anoint the lintel and doorposts of their homes and remain within. On the night of this meal God sent the angel of death and slew the first born of every household that did not protect themselves by the anointing of the doorposts. By this Pharaoh, a type of the evil one, was constrained to allow the Hebrews to go free, only later to pursue them and finally lose all when God opened a path through the Red Sea for His people to pass over and then shook off Pharaohs forces when He caused the waters to return to their place.
These historical events were types of what the Christ of God would later accomplish, the liberation from sin and death for those that were united to Him. Saint Athanasios the Great compared the historical liberation of the Hebrews from Pharaoh to our liberation for all time in Christ:
Now, however, that the devil, that tyrant against the whole world, is slain, we do not approach a temporal feast, my beloved, but an eternal and heavenly. Not in shadows do we show it forth, but we come to it in truth. For they being filled with the flesh of a dumb lamb, accomplished the feast, and having anointed their door-posts with the blood, implored aid against the destroyer. But now we, eating of the Word of the Father, and having the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Testament, acknowledge the grace given us from the Saviour, who said, 'Behold, I have given unto you to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.'
For no more does death reign; but instead of death henceforth is life, since our Lord said, 'I am the life;' so that everything is filled with joy and gladness; as it is written, 'The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.'
What follows, my beloved, is obvious; that we should approach such a feast, not with filthy raiment, but having clothed our minds with pure garments. For we need in this to put on our Lord Jesus, that we may be able to celebrate the feast with Him. Now we are clothed with Him when we love virtue, and are enemies to wickedness, when we exercise ourselves in temperance and mortify lasciviousness, when we love righteousness before iniquity, when we honour sufficiency, and have strength of mind, when we do not forget the poor, but open our doors to all men, when we assist humble-mindedness, but hate pride.[Letter IV of Saint Athanasius, p 516, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers]
Our passing over is a gift of grace from our Christ, but also an act of our own will. If we do not labor to change and abandon the ways of sin, our Pascha is but a pretense. Saint Paul instructs us on how to keep the feast, explaining the spiritual significance of the unleavened bread in the Passover of the Old Covenant:
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5: 7-8).
We are called upon to become nothing less than new men and women, as Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Brethren, Christ died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him Who died for them, and rose again. Wherefore, henceforth we know no man according to the flesh... Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2Cor 5:16).
All things have become new and our Christ has freed us from the tyranny of sin and death, but Satan is clever and struggles to once again bring us under his power. The warfare that the evil one uses against modern man most effectively is complacency. Modern man attempts to justify every form of self-indulgence and thoughtless harm to ones neighbor. Survival of the fittest is not a Christian principle. Today, even those that call themselves Orthodox clergy trivialize the things of God. Holy Tradition and the Canons of the Church are made light of. Ecumenism has infected most of the local Churches of the Orthodox.
What can we do to overcome this plague of complacency and insure that we participate in the Pascha of God and pass over from sin and death to immortal life? As simple as it sounds, our Holy Church instructs us in what is required of us by a simple phrase that is repeated at every liturgy, With fear of God, faith and love, draw near.
Saint Isaac the Syrian explains that, Fear is the paternal rod which guides our way until we reach the spiritual paradise of good things. When we have attained thereto, it leaves us and turns back. (Homily 46,The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian)
Contrary to what modern day psychologists teach, pious fear is a very healthy state. Pious fear is not naked terror. Pious fear knows that God loves all men and accepts their repentance, but also that one can ruin oneself by trivializing things that are sacred and that by making excuse with excuses in sin one can cut oneself off from the grace of God. Pious fear is the source of spiritual vigilance. It is only through a pious fear that the saints eventually passed over to the Promised Land and Paradise of sanctified and steadfast love of God. Let us remember the great love that our Savior has for us with joy and a pious fear, that we may not be tripped up by the evil one, but rather pass over from death unto life eternal, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ is risen!
Your fervent suppliant unto the Lord,
+Metropolitan MosesIn Christ,+Fr. Panagiotes
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