Orthodox America


  A Paschal Exhortation


(Translated from "A Priest's Reminiscences" in Nadezhda, No. 13; Possev, 1986) 

CHRIST IS RISEN!

     In greeting my true friends with these joyful tidings, there are so many bright and kindly wishes that my heart desires to convey. But of all these wishes there is one which I have especially chosen to communicate here, for I consider its fulfillment your most important concern.

    On this chosen and holyday, I want your hearts to affirm that which once the blessed Psalmist voiced. Loving the Lord with all his mind and with all his soul, he said: "With my whole heart have I sought after Thee, cast me not away from Thy commandments" (Ps. 118:10). In celebrating the Light-bearing Resurrection of Christ, it is my earnest desire that you surrender yourselves entirely to our Saviour--giving to Him your whole heart, all your love and your soul's principal endeavor. This is my fervent wish for you, my friends, because "the love of Christ constraineth us...for Christ died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again" (II Cor. 5:14-15).

    I once visited a spiritual man especially dear to me and found him wiping tears from his eyes, When asked the cause of his weeping he burst into fresh tears, and it was a few minutes before he could answer. "I am crying on account of a growing awareness of Christ's grief over the increasing coldness manifest towards Him in the hearts of men. I see believers who come to pray a little, to repent a little, to bring a meager offering. But I rarely see any souls truly dedicated to Him; I don't see any believers who have wholly given themselves over to Him. If it grieves me to see how many--who consider themselves believers--abbreviate their responsibilities towards Him and hurry away from His Liturgy to the marketplace of earthly life, how then must He look upon such Christians?''

    There is no doubt but that we live in times of spiritual impoverishment and disregard for truth. People feel no regret in abandoning their first love (Rev. 2:4). Not so very long ago one could meet everywhere Christians of burning faith. Today's believers prefer to hide their little faith and to conceal it from the eyes of strangers. Inexplicable, unconquerable fears have seized the hearts of the Orthodox faithful. Obsessed by such fears, people are afraid to wear crosses, afraid to make the sign of the cross in front of others. And when the godless ones begin to utter profanities in the company of such Christian s, there is no longer anyone who will stand up to them. Surrounding us today is a sea of the most shameless vulgarity directed against that which we hold most precious, and this vulgarity not only meets with no rebuff from us, but even receives indirect support: not only do we keep silent in the face of such abuse, but we adopt an air of casual indifference which only encourages the impious.

    And how little there is among contemporary believers in the way of deeds of love and Christian compassion. There is a sad story. A poor man prayed that the Lord might help him. As he was praying the Lord appeared to him and gave him a small silver coin, saying, "Do not be offended at My giving you so little. I Myself receive even less from people nowadays."

     When we hear words of admonition, we usually respond by excusing ourselves: "Forgive me, but that's just the way I am." But is this really the way you should be, my friend? Think, were you always like this? I f you changed from better to worse, is there any reason why you cannot change from worse to better? If you have changed for the worse through the power of sin, why can't you change for the better through the invincible power of Christ's Resurrection? Has your heart shrunk in its capacity to love God? Does not the life-creating, almighty power of the Resurrected Christ rest upon you? Is it not through His power that you live and have your being to this very day? Change yourself, my dear friend--you who have been signed by the unapproachable light of His Resurrection, and place your whole heart at the feet of your Lord. If you neglect to do this, what kind of Pascha can you expect? You will only grieve Him with your celebration.

    Through many profound and sorrowful reflections we are given to know the circumstances of our Saviour's burial. How few were those servants of His who gathered to take Him down from the Cross, to wrap Him in the shroud, to prepare His tomb and to give Him the last kiss. Where were all those to whom He gave sight, those whom He cleansed of leprosy, whom he fed, whose lips He made to speak? Where was Jairus' daughter? Where was the paralytic from the sheep's pool, and the blind Bartimeus? Where was the one blind from birth whom the Lord healed? the man with the withered arm, the deaf and dumb man, the possessed Gadarene, and the many others who believed on Him? The news of what had happened to their Benefactor had at that time spread throughout all Judea. Why didn't all these believers hasten to give witness of their love for the Crucified One? Was it not because they were afraid, because they preferred their own concerns, because they shunned such a difficult exploit, because, although they believed in Him, they had not yet given Him their hearts?

    Then there came into the world the power of His Resurrection, His victory which conquered the world. And just see, my friend, what this victory has accomplished. How many people have loved Him with their whole heart, their whole soul, and have given their whole life to Him. Just look at the multitude of His saints. Can you even begin to number all His martyrs, all His righteous ones, all those shining lamps which burned with love for Him in all nations and all ages? Can you recount all their ascetic labors, their deeds of spiritual valor and Christian charity which they performed by means of His power working through them?

    And you, my friend, unite yourself to this glorious and immense company of Christ's true followers and slaves. Celebrate the day of His bright Resurrection as it was celebrated by those who pleased Him. Remember that you will truly experience the New Passover of Christ only then when your whole heart is full of love for Him. "If a man love Me," He says, "he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (John 14:23).

    In your celebration of Pascha, may His blessed name be preserved in your hearts. May your lips sing His praises unceasingly, and may your eye s behold continually His Most Pure Face and His heavenly glory.

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