by Archbishop Dmitri
Although our Lord Jesus Christ had previously revealed His power over death by restoring to life several people who had died, His victory over death was accomplished by His resurrection from the dead on the third day.
The Word of God explains this victory as a victory for all men. “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.” (I Cor. 15:20-23)
Those who believe in Christ and live the life that is in Him, the core of which is participation in His holy mysteries, become partakers of Him and will live with Him forever. “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” (Hb. 3:14) “Labor not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you…” (Jn. 6:27)
The Lord Himself taught: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (Jn. 11:25) “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread which I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (Jn. 6:51) “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:56) The Church has always understood these sayings of the Lord to refer specifically to the way in which He provided for man to eat His flesh and to drink His blood: the Eucharist.
Baptism is the other way in which we are directly made partakers of Christ, of His victory over death in the Resurrection. St. Paul teaches: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27) “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life….Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him.” (Rm. 6:3,4,8,9)
Because of our union with Christ, we are already raised with Him, being dead to the old life. “If then ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are glad, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:1-3)
The Resurrection as Christ’s victory over death is consistently taught by the Fathers of the Church. For example, St. Athanasius writes: “The Lord had as the particular purpose of His dispensation the manifestation of the resurrection of His body. He wished thus to demonstrate to all the marvel of His victory over death, and to convince them that by Him corruption is destroyed and incorruption given to men.” (The Incarnation of the Word of God, n. 22) As well, St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: “He is risen, that dead man, who is free among the dead (Psalm 87/88:5) , He is the very Liberator of the dead. He whom they crown atrociously, in His great long-suffering, with a crown of thorns, arose crowned with the diadem of victory over death.” (Catechetical Lectures, XIV, n.l)
The resurrection of Christ is not to be understood figuratively, but quite literally. It was predicted by David the Prophet: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Psalm 15/16:10) This prophecy was applied by Peter, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, to Christ’s resurrection. (Acts 2:29-31) The Lord Himself declared that the stay of Jonah in the belly of a great fish was a symbol of His burial and resurrection. (Mt. 12:39-40; 16:4) Then He simply declared many times to His disciples that He would be killed and that He would be raised from the dead on the third day. (Mt. 16:21; 17:9; 26:32; Jn. 2:19; 10:17,18)
The Apostles, who were eye-witnesses, testify to the reality of the Resurrection. According to their own testimony. Christ appeared to them for forty days afterward. He spoke with them and explained the Scriptures to them. He revealed the mysteries of the Kingdom of God to them. He ate and drank with them and permitted them to touch Him. (Mt. 28; Mk. 16; Lk. 24: Jn. 20,21)
Then again, the writings of the Fathers of the Church in every generation are full of detailed teachings concerning the literal, physical resurrection of Christ. Among them. the following may be consulted: St. Clement of Rome. To the Corinthians, 1, n.24; St. Ignatius, To the Smyrneans, n.1,2,3; St. Polycarp, To the Philippians. ix: St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1,10: St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Catechetical Lectures, IV, n. 12; and especially St. John Chrysostom, in his 90th homily, On Matthew.
The reality of the resurrection has been denied by many from the earliest days. Since it was the proof of the truth of all that Christ taught about Himself, the Jews who rejected His messiahship would certainly refuse to recognize it. They explained the empty tomb as a trick on the part of the Christians, claiming that Jesus’ body had been stolen from the grave. (See Chrysostom’s Homily 90, On Matthew; cf. Mt. 28:11-15)
Later in the Church’s history, there were others who taught that the Saviour did not have a real body at all, but that He only appeared to have one, like a phantom. These Docetists would explain His appearance to the disciples after the resurrection as that of a ghost.
In our own times, the denial of the Resurrection is very widespread among “Christian” modernists. These usually disavow altogether the divinity of Christ, at least in the sense that it has always been accepted by the historic Church. Many of them claim, for example, that the idea of the physical resurrection was a distortion of the enthusiasm of the disciples. (They refer to that group of Christians as the “Easter community.”) They simply “realized” that their Master had “transcended” death in His life and works, and in this sense only had “triumphed” over it.
The recent English heretic, John A.T. Robinson, in his famous book Honest to God, sums up the contemporary secularist attitude toward the Lord’s rising from the dead. He teaches that the physical resurrection was part of the mythologizing tendency of the early Christians. He would have contemporary Christians recover the enthusiasm of that first apostolic generation but not “the myth into which they had translated it.” For him and others of his school, Pentecost was a sort of “group realization” of the transcendence of their Master’s teachings, when all of a sudden it hit them.
Yet it is quite simple to refute Robinson, and those like him, from the clear evidence in Scripture that the apostles were anything but enthusiastic following the Resurrection. They had returned to their nets, even after several resurrection appearances. (Jn. 21:4ff.)
Nor can Pentecost be explained away as a group realization. Indeed the miraculous speaking with tongues was marveled at by those who were not of the apostolic “group”. (Acts 2:1-13)
Had the Resurrection merely been the product of such a mythologizing tendency of early Christians, reason would lead one to believe that they would not have chosen to document such obvious counter-indications of their “myth”.
From The Doctrine Of Christ, A LAYMAN’S HANDBOOK By Archbishop Dmitri