Written by Vladimir Moss



     “Christ is risen!” We may have heard those words thousands of times, but at the end of each Great Lent and Holy Week they always elicit a special thrill in the heart of the Orthodox believer. The present writer particularly remembers one Paschal night in a True Orthodox church in Bulgaria, when a fellow Christian whom he had never seen before or since said to him with a husky voice and radiant eyes: “He’s done it! He’s done it!” It was impossible not to be infected with his Divine enthusiasm…

     But what precisely has Christ done? Sometimes the mind lags behind the heart at Pascha. We rejoice, but do we really know what we are rejoicing about? He has “trampled down death by death”. True, but what death, and how? After all, we still die, and death is all around us. Indeed, in our terrible times it sometimes seems as if the Paschal light has been quenched by an all-encompassing darkness. It seems as if we have gone back to the dark days before Pascha when the Lord said: “This is your hour, and the hour of darkness” (Luke 22.53).

     But no, time does not go backwards, and the triumph of Pascha is an eternal triumph. All the victories of sin and darkness since then have been ephemeral, in a sense illusory. For since Christ has risen from the dead we know with an unshakeable certainty that He is in complete control of everything; as He says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28.18). And below the earth, too: since Christ descended into hell satan and his minions have no power over us unless we freely choose to place his chains over us again. Sin and death and hell may still appear to have a certain freedom and power to this day; but we know that theirs is like the freedom of a prisoner on death row; death has been condemned to death, and in the end will be swallowed up by life…



     But how? In order to answer this question, it is very useful to consider the counterfactual: what if Christ had not risen from the dead? St. Paul poses this question, and answers it in a very startling and categorical manner: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty… If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (I Corinthians 15.14, 17-19).

     Bishop Theophan the Recluse comments on this passage: “If Christ is not risen, some terrible consequences ensue. First, if Christ, having died, is not risen, then sin has not been destroyed, and death has not been conquered, and the curse has not been destroyed: we have lost everything, all is lost, and you have not only preached empty dreams in vain, but you have also vainly believed in these dreams. (St. John Chrysostom). If Christ is not risen, then there is no redemption. You believed in Christ in the hope of receiving the remission of sins and strength to counter sin and destroy it in yourselves through a new life. But on what is this hope founded? On the fact that Christ, having died on the cross, has offered a redemptive sacrifice for our sins: Behold the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world (John 1.29). But the fact that this sacrifice has been accepted is confirmed by the resurrection of Him Who died for our sins. But if He is not risen, the sacrifice has not been accepted and sin remains unredeemed. On the other hand, deliverance from sins has two aspects – the remission of sins and the seed of new life in the destruction of sin. The first is given through communing in the death of Christ, and the second – in communing in His Resurrection. But if Christ is not risen, then there is no communion in His Resurrection, and no seed of new life in us. Therefore sin as before has control over us, and we are still in our sins. That is why the Apostle says that if Christ is not risen, vain is your faith and you are still in your sins.”[1]

     Let us especially note the words: “the fact that this sacrifice has been accepted is confirmed by the resurrection of Him Who died for our sins”.

     In the Old Testament the fact that a sacrifice was accepted by God was indicated by a clear sign: fire. Thus the Theodotion text of Genesis says that "the Lord kindled a fire over Abel and his sacrifice, but did not kindle a fire over Cain and his sacrifice". For “Abel offered a greater sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying over his gifts' (Hebrews 11.4).” Again, God “testified over the gifts” of Elijah when he made a sacrifice to God in front of the priests of Baal. For He descended in fire upon his sacrifice, but no fire descended on the sacrifice of the pagan priests…

     It is no different in the New Testament, although the fire here is invisible. When a truly Orthodox priest serves the Divine Liturgy, the Divine Fire of the Holy Spirit descends and transforms the bread and the wine into the Blood and Body of Christ. This does not happen on the altars of the heretics…

     But the Sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is the same as the Sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha; as St. John Chrysostom says, the Blood that flowed from the side of Christ on Golgotha is the same Blood that we drink from the Chalice in the Eucharist. And the fact that the Sacrifice of Christ was accepted by God the Father is testified by the fact that at midnight on Pascha the Holy Fire of Christ’s Divinity shone out from His Body like a lightning flash.  As the troparion for Holy Saturday chants: “When Thou didst descend unto death, O Life Immortal, then didst Thou slay hades with the lightning of Thy Divinity.”

     We commemorate this event when we walk around the church in darkness but then enter it in a blaze of light. The light symbolizes the Light of Christ’s Divinity testifying to the acceptance of the Sacrifice of His Humanity by the whole of the Holy Trinity. This is the greatest event in human history, and there is no greater joy than knowing it. For it means that God has accepted the Sacrifice of His Son, and our sins are forgiven. “He’s done it! He’s done it!” Christ is risen!


Week of the Holy Cross, 2015.

[1]"ЕслижеХристосневоскрес, тоотсюдавыходятстрашныезаключения. Первое - то, чтоеслиХристос, умерши, невоскрес, тоигрехнеистреблен, исмертьнепобеждена, иклятванеразрушена: мывсепотеряли, всепогибло, инеВытолькотщетнопроповедовалипустыемечты, ноиВытщетноувероваливэтимечты (Св. Злат.). ЕслиХристосневоскрес, тонетиискупления. ВыувероваливоХриставнадеждеполучитьотпущениегреховипринятьсилынапротиводействиегрехуиистреблениееговсебеновоюжизнью. Начемжеосновываетсяэтанадежда? Натом, чтоХристос, умершинакресте, принесзагрехинашиискупительнуюжертву: сеагнецБожий, вземяйгрехимира (Ин. 1.29). Ачтожертвa принята, этоподтверждаетсявоскресениемУмершегозагрехи. ЕслижеОнневоскрес, жертванепринята, грехосталсянеискупленным. Сдругойстороны, изблавлениеотгреховимеетдвестороны - отпущениегреховисемяновойжизнивистреблениигреха. ПервоеподаетсяприобщениемсмертиХриста, авторое - приобщениемВоскресенияЕго. ЕслижеХристосневокрес, тонетиобщенияВоскресeнияЕго, нетисеменивнасновойжизни, сталобыть, грехпо-прежнемунамиобладает, имыещевгрехах. ПоэтомуАпостолиговорит, чтоеслиХристосневоскрес, тотщетнавераВашаиВыещевогрехахВаших." (Svt. Feofan Zatvornik, Tolkovanie Poslanij sv. Apostola Pavla, Moskva, 2002 g., cc. 205, 206).

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