Gregorios, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church on the occasion of the Glorious Feast of Pascha
Feast of the Glorious Resurrection, 8 April 2007
“O my joy, Christ is risen!”
It is thus that the Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov used to receive the visitors to his hermitage who came to seek his guidance and request his prayers for the healing of their spiritual and bodily illnesses. This experience of Paschal joy was his spiritual food, food that he would offer his visitors.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov would repeat this outburst of joy until it became a balm, consolation and hope for them all.
A call to joy
Through this Paschal letter, I would like us to commune together in this joy and meditate together on the reasons for this joy, for it is the “new drink, no longer gushing from the rock in the desert, but the fount of immortality springing marvellously from the tomb of Christ, our strength” and our joy. (Paschal Canon, Canticle III, Irmos)
The Paschal hymns are abundant in calling us to joy, as we listen to Jesus speaking to the Myrrh-bearing Women and the Apostles, saying, “Rejoice.” Saint John of Damascus invites us all, saying, “Let heaven rejoice as is fitting and let the earth be glad. Let the whole universe, visible and invisible, take part in this feast, for Christ is risen, he who is our endless gladness.” (Paschal Canon, Canticle I, Hymn)
So the expressions of joy, gladness and lightheartedness are repeated, so that “all of creation celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, our strength” and “joy.” (Paschal Canon, Canticle III, Troparion) The Church invites us to dance like David during this feast and to “rejoice with divine rejoicing, for Christ is risen, as almighty.” (Canticle IV, Hymn) Even the dead, who were “captive and bound by the chains of hell, ran forward with joyful steps towards the daylight, applauding the eternal Passover.” (Canticle V, Troparion)
We are all called to “take our lamps” and to “celebrate with the heavenly hosts who love to honour the redeeming Passover of our God.” (Canticle V, hymn)
And the whole Church shouts with the rapture of victory as “we celebrate the mortification of death, the destruction of hell and the beginning of another and eternal life, as we sing with gladness to their author, the only God of our fathers, to him be blessing and exceeding glory.” (Canticle VII, Hymn) We continue, “How holy and beautiful, indeed, is this night of our redemption, radiant messenger of the shining Day of the Resurrection.” (Canticle VII, Hymn) and again, “Come, let us taste the fruits of the new vine and commune in the divine joy of the kingdom of Christ.” (Canticle VIII, Troparion)
The hymns are addressed to the Church and to the holy Virgin Mary. “Shine, shine, new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee. Rejoice, exult and dance with joy, O Zion” – the Church – “and thou, pure Mother of God, rejoice also at the resurrection of thy Son.” (Canticle IX, Irmos)
The faithful are in the greatest rapture of joy, crying aloud, “O divine delight! O ineffable sweetness of thy voice, for truly thou hast promised, O Christ, to be with us until the end of time and we, the faithful, whose hope rests on this promise, exult in joy.” (Canticle IX, Troparion)
There is the atmosphere of joy, joy of the resurrection, joy of the Great Feast.
Let us also, with the hymns of the glorious Paschal Canon, with Saint Seraphim of Sarov, shout, “O my joy, Christ is risen!”
Reasons for joy in the resurrection
Meditating on these hymns and the exultation of Seraphim of Sarov, I discover faith’s deep reasons for the festal joy of all of us, children of the Church of the Patriarchal Eparchies of Damascus, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, those three eparchies that depend directly on our patriarchal service and of all our eparchies and parishes throughout the world.
In fact the faithful person finds innumerable reasons to be thankful, to celebrate and be joyful, not only on the Day of the Resurrection, but all the days of his life.
That is what I wished for our sons and daughters to discover in our Church, which is truly the Church of the Resurrection. So their joy is abiding, as Jesus says to his disciples. “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22)
“O my joy, Christ is risen!”
O my joy, we Christians throughout the whole world are celebrating all together this year. It is a really ecumenical festival, a cosmic feast, a Christian and universal feast.
O my joy, Christ is my expectation.
O my joy, Christ is my hope.
O my joy, Christ is my life.
O my joy, Christ is living in me.
O my joy, Christ is my Redeemer.
O my joy, Christ is my Saviour, my light, my consolation.
O my joy, Christ was born, baptised, appeared to the world and lived among men, sharing their life. He is day by day living alongside them, working many wonders for their salvation, healing and happiness, that they might have life in abundance and in dignity.
O my joy, Christ has suffered for us and is living with us and for us even today. He lightens others’ sufferings, serves them and causes hope to spring up in their hearts, hope and encouragement for a happier life.
O my joy, Christ is really Emmanuel in word and deed and until today and every day he is Emmanuel, God risen and alive in us, with us and for us, for our salvation.
Our feasts throughout the liturgical year are a resurrection
O my joy, I live the life of my Lord, God, Saviour, Redeemer and Healer of my soul and body. I live and experience his own life through the feasts of the liturgical year: Christmas, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, his Baptism or Theophany, the day of Transfiguration, the days of the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, the descent of the Spirit into the world.
O my joy, Christ is my feast.
O my joy, I am baptised in the name of Christ.
O my joy, I am chrismated and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
O my joy, I feed often and repeatedly on the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, in the Divine Liturgy and thus truly participate in the life of Christ risen from the dead. So I may say with the Apostle Paul, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20) and with him again, “For to me, to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21)
O my joy, I am founding a Christian family through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and thus am participating in the creative work of God the Creator and am giving life to children, created in the image and likeness of God and who are called to become living members of the parish, Church and society.
O my joy, for the priests who put on Christ through holy priesthood and who are consecrated for the service of God and his faithful people and who bring to the faithful the life-giving grace of Jesus in the Sacred Mysteries, sowing the word of the living God in the hearts and minds of the children of their parishes.
O my joy, I believe and by faith I participate in the resurrection of Christ.
O my joy, I hope and through hope I participate in the resurrection of Christ.
O my joy, I love and through love I participate in the resurrection of Christ.
O my joy, I repent and return to the compassionate Father and take up again the life of new grace in Jesus Christ.
O my joy, Christ saves me through the Holy Mysteries (sacraments), through creation and all its elements and matter, for the risen Christ sanctifies the whole of the natural world, through the symbols of grace and life-giving sacraments. Water, oil, bread, wine, light, candles and incense: the risen Christ blesses me through every earthly and heavenly blessing; the risen Christ makes all natural elements into agents of sanctification, salvation, redemption and resurrection.
O my joy, the whole of the natural order is sanctified by the epiphany of Christ the Saviour.
O my joy, my fellow humans, all of us, are created in the image and likeness of God and called to salvation and participation in the life of the risen Christ.
Our celebrations are a resurrection
O my joy, as we reach the end of this period of preparation for Pascha, in which we faithful of our whole parish have lived with the risen Christ an experience of the pleasure of Lent; sharing a great spiritual joy through the very beautiful prayers and Lenten celebrations, characteristic of our Greek Catholic Church’s rites! Amongst these are the prayer of Great Compline, so full of compunction; the Liturgy of the Presanctified; the very popular Akathist, for our Mother, the Virgin Mary, really festive, Marian, spiritual, tuneful, artistic and wonderful; the procession with the icons on the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Lent; the procession with the Relics of the Saints on the second Sunday of Lent, a feast proper to the Melkite Church; the procession of the Holy Cross, on the third Sunday of Lent (called the Sunday of Flowers when flowers are distributed); the joy of the procession of Palms, festival of our beloved children; the Anointing with Holy Unction, sacrament of repentance and healing forgiveness; the Way of the Cross and reading of the Twelve Gospels of the Passion on Great and Holy Thursday; the adoration of the Holy Cross on Holy and Great Friday - besides the church visiting on Holy Thursday and the walking with the cross through the streets of our towns and villages.
Our Christian life, an agent of resurrection for our society
Are these not all the true joys of the resurrection, for they are all linked to the Great Feast of the radiant Resurrection? Thanks to these ceremonies, the faithful scarcely notice any gloominess or hardship in Lent; rather longing for this Great Lent and its celebrations, just as they yearn for the Greatest Feast.
O my joy, I am a believing Christian who lives all these celebrations with my fellow faithful, all together forming a single believing family, one in our believing houses, in our churches and in all our parishes and communities, especially now, as this year we are all celebrating together the Feast of Pascha.
O my joy, Christ is risen! I shout it at the top of my voice in the presence of my brothers and sisters in society. I show them that I am really happy in my faith as I bring to all my fellow citizens, Christians and Muslims alike, the great tidings of the resurrection of Christ and repeat the hallowed verse of the Qur’an, "Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am resurrected." (19:33, Surah Maryam)
O my joy, Christ is risen! I live my faith in freedom in my country, in all Arab countries and everywhere. I live the joy of the feast with my brethren and fellowmen and I am proud of my faith and full of joy at being able to share that with all humankind.
O my joy, Christ is risen! This refrain repeated especially by the young – scouts and different youth groups in their pastoral activities and brotherhoods - amidst the rapture of the feast, enlivens faith in all our hearts that beat in fellowship, as we help each other preserve inwardly in joy, pride and splendour the deposit of faith inherited from our forebears. Truly, our faith is the great joy of the resurrection.
O my joy, Christ is risen! O my joy, to be able to live our Christian faith, common to us all. In fact the faithful person, the believer, is never completely alone: God is with him and his fellow believers are with him.
O my joy, Christ is risen! O our joy at having this holy faith!
Saint Paul, teacher of the resurrection
We are “children of the resurrection,” as was our nickname in olden days in the East. We have a great teacher to explain to us the meaning of the resurrection and of life in Christ – Saint Paul, whose letters are full of its meaning. He is truly the great Apostle of the Resurrection.
That is why I am closing this Paschal letter with some passages on the resurrection from his beautiful epistles. In the Epistle to the Romans, we read “that like as Christ was raised up from the dead… even so we also should walk in newness of life,” for “if we have become planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. …Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans, 6: 4, 5, 11)
Saint Paul affirms, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15:17)
Saint Paul boasts of life in Christ risen and alive. He says, “I am crucified with Christ… yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live… I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Saint Paul longs with his whole soul to participate in Christ’s resurrection. He says his wish is “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
Saint Paul speaks to the Colossians, saying to them that they are “buried with him in baptism, wherein also (they) are risen with him.” (Colossians 2:12) He says, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God… and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1, 3)
He speaks to his son Timothy, saying, “Remember that Jesus Christ… was raised from the dead.” (II Timothy 2:8)
O my joy, Christ is risen! This joy is fulfilled and made perfect in the measure in which I participate in Jesus’ suffering, cross and resurrection. The joy is still further fulfilled if I am myself the cause of resurrection and life for others, so that together we may encourage each other for life, living our Christian faith in joy, hope, expectation, courage and involvement in our society, on its social, political, economic, cultural and scientific levels. Our involvement is true resurrection for us and for our society.
This true joy in the resurrection is poles apart from laziness, discouragement, despair, selfishness, banality, superficiality, slavery to modern idols such as fashion, money, food, drink, pleasure, weakness, self-sufficiency and false security. Our joy in the resurrection means that we are living the values of the Gospel, that we are following the words of Jesus risen from the dead, for they are the words of life.
Conclusion: O my joy, Christ is risen!
It is to that joy that I call my brothers and sisters, whom this Paschal letter reaches. We all have need of this holy joy in order to be strong, with the strength of our faith in Christ, risen and living in us, to overcome the difficulties of life, in our career, family, school, teaching, work and daily struggle.
O my joy at participating together in this feast, unique to us all!
To this joy, our prayers and hymns call us in all the feasts, but especially in the Feast of the Resurrection, Feast of the Glorious Passover. To this joy, I summon all our sons and daughters in our churches for the Feast of the Resurrection. We pray most insistently that this joy may enter all hearts and minds, homes and families, among the sick, the elderly, men, women, boys and girls. Again we pray that this joy enter into the reality of our society, especially in the Arab East where there continue to flare up here and there fires, wars, armament, hatred, aggression, violence, killings, fundamentalism and terrorism.
May this Feast of the Resurrection be a spiritual, social and economic resurrection for our society and in the full expectation of that, we shout, proclaiming our faith in the risen Christ, “Christ is risen from the dead!” and we Christians throughout the whole world sing all together, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs he has given life.”
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain