Table of contents
Because we are composed of a dual nature, soul and body, we need a dual birth and dual nourishment. We receive our birth by means of water and Spirit, that is, by Holy Baptism. We find our nourishment in the bread of life, that is, in Jesus Christ himself. When the moment arrived for him to undergo death for us of his own free will, in the night in which he was to be handed over to his enemies, he established a new covenant with his disciples, and through them with all those who believe in him. He washed his disciples' feet, offering in this a symbol of Holy Baptism. Then, breaking the bread, he gave it to them saying: "Take and eat; this is my body which will be broken for you for the forgiveness of sins." In the same way he gave them the cup with the wine and the water saying: "Drink, this is my blood.' If sky, earth, water, iron and air have been created by the Word of God, so much more certainly this noble being called humanity has been formed by him. And if the Word himself became flesh by the pure blood of the Virgin, will he not be able to make the bread his body and the wine and water his blood? In the beginning God said: "Let the earth bring forth green grass." And so after that the earth, watered by the rain, in obedience to God's command, brings forth its fruits. Then God said: "This is my body, this is my blood," adding: "Do this in memory of me." After that, all the mystery takes place, thanks to his all-powerful Word, and proclaims its faith in the Lord. It is a new kind of planting. The rain comes down on it, that is to say, the power of the Spirit comes down, and overshadows it.[St. John of Damascus - On the Orthodox Faith, 4, 13 (PG94, 1137ff.)]
A Community of Hope and Joy"So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." (John 16:22)
147. It has never been easy to believe in the Resurrection. Think about those holy women who went to the tomb to anoint the Lord's Body on the third day after His death on the Cross. What they encountered there was something that none of them could ever have imagined: an empty tomb, radiant angels, and Jesus risen from the dead. Astonished, they ran to tell the Disciples (cf. Matthew 28:8).
148. Think about the Disciples. After the Lord's death they sat huddled and confused in the upper room. When the women, Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and the others, came to tell what they had found, they simply did not believe it. The Gospel of Luke reports that to the Apostles "these words seemed to them like an idle tale and they did not believe them." (Luke 24:11)
149. Even after the Lord had appeared to the other Disciples in the upper room, Thomas, who had not been present (cf. John 20:24-29), still would not believe the story. It was not until the Lord appeared to him and told him to touch His wounds that he finally declared: "My Lord and my God!"
150. The joy that the women and the other Disciples felt was still an earthly joy. They were happy, just as anyone of us would be, that someone whom they knew to be dead was alive again. However, they had not yet understood that Jesus' rising was not simply a personal event. They could not yet comprehend the cosmic significance. After their initial joy, the Disciples went back to their regular lives. They went fishing (cf. John 21).
151. Not until the Holy Spirit had enlightened them on the day of Pentecost did they begin to appreciate what had occurred. The Lord's rising from the dead became their personal event. This was not another resurrection like that of Lazarus (John 11:43), or Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:41). It was a victory over Death itself. This was now a different kind of joy, the joy that "no one could take away."
152. This joy is spiritual. It is the realization in our hearts that nothing can harm us because God, in the person of His Son, has freed us. But many people, even among those who believe, confuse this joy with a happiness that is earth-bound not centered on the Lord. You do not need to be a psychologist to recognize that people pursue material objects thinking that these things will make them happy. We live in a society comprising six percent of the world's population and we consume two-thirds of the earth's resources. Happiness eludes us, yet we continue to hope.
153. In fact, we live by hope. This is true for everyone, believer and unbeliever alike. We could not continue from one day to the next without hope. We hope that the sun will rise in the morning. We hope that our nation will be at peace. We hope that we will have a job. We hope that our family and loved ones will be well. We may long for certainty, but we live by hope. St. Paul makes an obvious, but important point when he says: "Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?" (Romans 8:24) Our question is: on what do we hope?
154. For Christians our hope rests on Christ, on His resurrection. "For if Christ has not been raised [our] faith is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:17). His resurrection gives us an assurance that suffering and death - all too common in this present existence - do not have the final word. St. Paul, speaking from his own experience of pain and trial, reminds us that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). And so, we live by hope which is that place between sadness and joy.
155. St. Symeon the New Theologian, in a remarkable explanation of the hymn, "Having beheld the resurrection of Christ," differentiates between those who believe in Christ's resurrection and those who have beheld His resurrection. He says that a great many people believe in His resurrection, but there are not so many who see His resurrection. And, leading us deeper into the meaning of that phrase, he asks: why do we say 'beheld' when we now live hundreds of years from that event? Moreover, even of those who were present, the soldiers guarding the tomb, the women bringing myrrh, the Disciples hiding out of fear, not one of them was an "eyewitness" to the event. He tells us what we should already know, "that the resurrection of Christ takes place in each of us who believes, not just once, but every hour of every day, when Christ the Master arises in us, resplendent and flashing with the lightening brightness of His Divinity."(22) When that happens we know the power of Christ's resurrection because we ourselves see Him risen. His resurrection will be our experience as it was the experience of the very first Christians. Then we will have that joy that no one will take away.
156. In the spiritual tradition of the Church, great guides like the Desert Fathers advise us that we should always be thinking about our death. Not in a morbid fashion, but in order to put all of our life into immediate relief, to help us prioritize. This question of death has dominated human thought from the moment we were able to engage in any act of self-reflection. Everything in our being screams out that we do not want to, that we should not, pass into nonexistence. Even for those of us who try to avoid thinking about it, it preoccupies us in ways that we hardly notice. It has the power to shape and influence our behavior. If we might say out loud that "we can't take it with us," we, nevertheless, consume and accumulate goods as though we hope that we can. Long before modern psychology proposed its own theories surrounding it, we have known in our hearts that the fear of death is the foundation of all fear.
157. Throughout this letter we have used the words "Good News" when referring to the Gospel. Good News is a direct translation of the original Greek word "Evangelion." The Good News that the first witnesses of the Lord's resurrection proclaimed to the world was His victory over death. It was Good News then, and it remains Good News for us today. It is Good News because it addresses this primary human question.
158. The spiritual life is not just for a select few. It is for everyone. The life in Christ needs to be more than a two-hour segment on Sunday morning. It must permeate our entire being. The only thing that satisfies our true longing, gives us real joy, is communion with the living God.
159. One of the challenges we face is that the language of religious experience used today has been shaped by many different voices. Many of the virtues and spiritual practices that we know from our own experience lead to God are not valued today. Emotionalism is confused with spirituality. Thus, we are somewhat reluctant to even speak of the joy which God gives us, for fear of being misunderstood.
160. Listen to this spiritual advice from St. Diadochos: "Initiatory joy is one thing, the joy of perfection is another. The first is not exempt from fantasy, while the second has the strength of humility. Between the two joys comes a 'godly sorrow' (2 Corinthians 7:10) and tears unaccompanied by grief; 'For in much wisdom is much knowledge; and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow'" (Ecclesiastes 1:18).(23)
161. As a society we have forgotten that wisdom comes only by the grace of God and as a spiritual gift that should be cherished. Joy is a gift that God gives us to encourage us in the spiritual life. The world is full of joy and our Lord has given us these signs as a means to comfort and hearten us on the road of life. Some mistake this foretaste as the whole, or see any pleasure as good.
162. In the hymn, "Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ," there is a verse: "for through the Cross, joy has come into the world." Here we come face to face with the heart of the Christian paradox, the one thing that the "world" will always reject: true joy, true happiness, true community, true fulfillment comes only through the giving of ourselves out of love for our brother and sister. This is what the Lord means when He says: "Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it" (Luke 17:33). We find true joy in our love for the other, the same love our Lord showed us on the Cross.
163. St. Paul declares: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:35-37). As Christians we not only choose the path of Christ, we choose it with joy, because it fills us with hope.
164. And so, beloved brothers and sisters, "may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13). "Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). As we stand at the dawn of this Third Millennium of our Salvation, let our faith be a witness to the entire world of God's love, even as the faith of the countless holy men and women who preceded us has been an inspiration for us.
May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God the Father, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with each and every one of you.
+ Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
+ Metropolitan Philip, Vice Chairman Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America
+ Metropolitan Joseph, Secretary Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church
+ Metropolitan Nicholas, Treasurer American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Diocese in the U.S.A.
+ Metropolitan Theodosius Orthodox Church in America
+ Archbishop Victorin Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada
+ Metropolitan Christopher Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada
+ Metropolitan Constantine Ukrainian Church of the USA