the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Every Sunday throughout the year, century after century, the Orthodox Church
proclaims the Resurrection of Christ. Each Sunday we relive once again our joy
that Christ is risen. And that joy is so deep, so profound, that it bears
witness of itself: we rejoice not only because the Lord is risen, but because
his Resurrection is for us the beginning of new, renewed life. In the Sermon
of John Chrysostom which is read on the night of Christ's Resurrection each
year, it is said that 'Christ is risen, and there is none dead in the tomb...'
And we ourselves continue to pass on this message from one century to the
next. Yet is it true? Do we not see that death continues to reap its harvest
around us? Are there not graves beside Christian churches as well? How can we
say that 'there is none dead in the tomb', that Christ has conquered death by
can say this because death has two completely different meanings, and the
tombs are indeed empty. Until the coming of Christ, every human being, when he
died - whether he was righteous or not - was deprived of the joy of meeting
God. According to the Old Testament story of the primal sin of our ancestors,
Adam and Eve, the whole human race was deprived of the radiance, the joy, the
glory of God. Everyone who died thereafter entered into an abyss of horror, of
separation from God and, as a result, of separation from those closest to him.
And his death was twofold: not just an earthly death when the soul, separated
from the body, flies upward towards God and worships at the throne of the
Lord, who consoles it for its earthly sorrows. There was another death as
well, a second separation. While someone lived on this earth, he could, in one
way or another, with just the tip of his soul, touch at least the border of
the Lord's garment. But after death, any separation became final, definitive,
dreadful. And age after age people waited for the Saviour, for the one who
would unite heaven and earth, God and creation. But until the Lord came, our
Saviour Jesus Christ, that separation remained dark and terrible.
And then the Lord came and died on the Cross the death of every man, having
first shared in the dreadful loneliness and torment that precedes death.
Remember the garden of Gethsemene: 'O my Father, if it be possible, let this
cup pass from me...' He shared in the horror of that separation when he cried
out to God from the Cross: 'My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' And he
descended into hell... into hell!
And hell opened wide with joy in the hope that now the enemy whom it had found
invincible on earth had been overcome and taken prisoner. Hell opened up, as
John Chrysostom says, to take in flesh - and opened itself to God. Hell opened
to imprison the incarnate Son of God become man - and before him stood, into
him entered the Living God who fills all things, entering hell and destroying
it for ever. Hell was no longer that former terrible hell of separation,
because in it was the living God.
The Prophet David in his mysterious vision said: 'Whither shall I go then from
thy presence? If I go up into heaven, thou art there: If I go down to hell,
thou art there also'. For us this seems simple, because for us that eternal,
hopeless hell of the absence of God no longer exists. But for the man of the
Old Testament this was a puzzling statement: how can God be where God is not?
How can he be in the place of separation from God? But David foresaw - and
prophetically foretold - the coming of the Lord and the end of that final
separation. Today death has become for us something else. Now it is a falling
asleep. In the body we fall asleep to the anxieties of the earth, and peace
descends upon our flesh. Our body now lies there like an icon of Christ lying
in the grave on that mysterious, blessed Saturday when the Lord ceased from
his works, from the work of saving mankind, from the labour of suffering, from
the Cross, from crucifixion. Everyone who dies now, falls asleep in Christ, he
falls asleep until the day his body rises at the last trumpet, on the day of
the resurrection of the dead. 'Blessed are they who die in the Lord', as John
the Theologian says in the Apocalypse.
This is why for the Christian, death is not something terrible. This is why
someone who meant a great deal to me was able to say to me: 'Wait for your
death as a young man waits for his bride'. With the same kind of trembling,
with the same rejoicing of soul we can say to death: 'Come, open for me the
doors of eternal life, so that my rebellious flesh may find peace, and my soul
may soar up to the eternal dwelling place of God'. This is why we can say
truly and rightfully proclaim that 'there is not one dead in the tomb'. For
the grave has ceased to be a prison, a place of final and terrible captivity.
It has become a place where the body awaits resurrection while the soul grows,
to the extent it can, into eternal life.
Yet death, the separation of death, is none the less still present on earth to
a certain extent. It has been defeated even in its own kingdom, yet man
himself continues, by cutting off others from the mystery of love, to prolong
that separation on earth. Just look at our human society. There is no need to
look far: just look at your family, at those closest to you, at your friends,
your parish, at the Church. Can we really say that we are so linked together
by love that death, that separation, that separation from God, that separation
from one another doesn't exist on earth? Sadly, God has conquered death
everywhere, but in the heart of man it must be conquered by man himself.
Death and love are inseparable from one another. And it is because of this
that it is such a fearsome thing to love. To love just a little, to love
irresponsibly, to love in such a way that a relationship is begun and then
allowed to end when it becomes painful or difficult or dangerous - we can all
do this. But to love as the Lord loved - this we seem unable to do. The
Apostle Paul says to us: 'Accept one another, love one another as the Lord
loved you...' But do we realize how the Lord loved us? He loved us so much
that he did not want to be a stranger to us and became one of us, one among
many others - and not just temporarily, but for eternity, for ever - with all
the pain, with all the horror of that union.
The glory of God was extinguished when the Word became Flesh. No one knew him.
His victory appeared to be defeat. He became the one whom the Holy Scriptures
declared would be 'a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief '. He became
one with us forever. Can we become one with each other in this way? Can we so
love one another that we can say: 'For ever! In sorrow and in joy, in horror
and in exultation, whatever happens, I will stand by you for ever'? If this
were the case, how marvellous our world would be, how marvellous our Church
would be, what parishes we would have, what families, what friends! But our
meetings are like two ships meeting on the sea: they meet and pass on. We
haven't enough depth, not enough faithfulness, not enough readiness to do what
Christ did: to descend into hell, into the hell of suffering of someone whom
we love, into the hell of his temptations, into the hell of his pain, into the
hell of his destruction. Instead, we stand on the shore and call out: 'Save
yourself, swim over here to me - I will reach out my hand to you!' But we
ourselves do not enter that hell, and so it is terrible for us to talk about
love, it is so difficult to love - because we should love only as the Lord has
loved us. Death and love are bound up together because to love means to forget
oneself until one doesn't exist, not to remember oneself. The other becomes so
dear to one that to think about oneself gets in the way. We need to say to
ourselves what Christ said to Peter when he stood in front of him on the way
to Golgotha: 'Get behind me, Satan; you are thinking about earthly things, and
not about heaven'. Can we forget about ourselves to that extent, can we love
like that, can we die like that?
the same time, so long as we cannot do this, we are touching only the border
of the Lord's garment, we are joined only to the outer edge of the light, the
radiant light and brilliance of the Resurrection of Christ. To live the
Resurrection is possible only for someone who has passed through death and is
on the other side of death, not the death of this world, not material, bodily
death, but the death which is also called love, when a person forgets about
himself and loves so much that he lays down his life for his friend. Moses is
called a 'friend of God' in the Scriptures, and what does he say? 'Lord, if
you do not forgive your people their sins, then strike out my name from the
book of life. I do not wish to live, if others go to their death'. The Apostle
Paul says that he would prefer, if possible, to be separated from Christ,
rather than see the destruction of the people of Israel. These are nonsensical
words - nonsensical in the sense that when a man experiences such love, he is
already on the other side of death. But humanly speaking that is all we are
able to say: 'Yes, it is better that I should perish, than that I should be
separated from anyone'. This is the standard shown us by the Cross - and by
the Resurrection, for one is inseparable from the other. And so, from Sunday
to Sunday, when you hear the news that Christ has risen, remember that we are
all called to be, on this earth, people risen from the dead in love. But for
this to take place, we must so love each other as to pass through the gates of
death, to descend through the Cross into hell, to share through Love in the
suffering of the other, to forget ourselves - and then suddenly discover that
I am alive, alive with the life of Christ! Amen.