Sonntag, 20. April 2014

The Resurrection of Christ—the Conquest of Death - by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)


The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our faith. It is the first, the most important, the greatest and most inspiring Truth. With the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostles began their sermons. As with the death of Christ on the Cross we have been freed from our sins, so through His resurrection we have been given eternal life. Therefore the resurrection of Christ is a source of permanent gladness, continuous joy, which culminates with the feast of feasts — Holy Easter.
In this pamphlet we shall tell about the main events of the resurrection of Christ and show the interrelationship between Easter and the Passover of the Old Testament. We shall quote the Old Testament's prophecies about the resurrection of the Savior and comment on the importance of Christ's resurrection in our lives and the life of all mankind. At the end we shall explain the main elements of the Easter service and present the Easter canon.

The Resurrection of Christ
Probably, there is not a single person in the whole world who has not heard of the death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But simultaneously with the historical events of His death and resurrection being so widely known, their spiritual essence and their inner meaning are a deep mystery of God's wisdom, righteousness, and infinite love. The greatest human minds have hopelessly yielded to this inconceivable mystery of salvation. Despite this, the spiritual fruits of the Savior's death and resurrection are accessible to our faith and are heartfelt. And through this ability of our soul to accept spiritual light, we are convinced that the incarnate Son of God has voluntarily died on the Cross to free us from our sins and has resurrected to give us eternal life. Our entire religious belief and perception of life are based on this conviction.
Now let us briefly convey the main events related to the resurrection of our Savior. As the evangelists narrate, the Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross on a Friday, about three hours past noon, on the eve of Passover. On that particular night Joseph of Arimathea, a very rich and honorable person, with Nicodemus, took Christ's body from the Cross, anointed Him with sweet-smelling ointments, wrapped Him in a shroud, according to Jewish traditions, and buried Christ in a cave carved in rock. That cave was cut by Joseph for his own interment, but he transferred it for Jesus' burial out of his love for Him. The cave was located in Joseph's garden, near Golgotha, where Christ had been crucified. Joseph and Nicodemus were members of the Sanhedrin (the supreme Judaic court) and simultaneously were secret disciples of Christ. They placed a great stone at the entrance of the cave in which Christ was buried. The burial was accomplished hurriedly and not according to all the rules because the Passover celebration was going to begin that evening.
Despite the celebration, on Saturday morning the high priests and scribes came to Pilate and asked his permission to place Roman warriors as a guard at the tomb. They also put a seal on the stone covering the tomb's entrance. All this was done as a precaution, since they remembered a prediction of Christ that He would arise on the third day after His death. In this way the Judaic authorities, without knowing it, prepared strong proofs of Christ's resurrection, which followed the next day.
Where did the soul of our Lord go after He died? According to Church belief, He descended into Hell with His sermon on deliverance and led from there the souls of those who believed in Him (I Peter 3:19).
On the third day after His death, early Sunday morning, while it was still dark and the guards were at their post by the sealed tomb, the Lord Jesus Christ arose from the dead. The mystery of His resurrection, as the mystery of His incarnation, is inconceivable to us. Through our weak human minds we understand the event in this way: during resurrection the soul of the Son of God re-entered His Body, which transfigured and became imperishable, enlivened and spiritualized. Our resurrected Christ left the tomb without removing the stone or touching the seal. The guards, having seen nothing, kept watch over the empty tomb. Later an earthquake occurred when an angel of the Lord, coming from Heaven, removed the stone from the tomb's entrance and sat upon it. His appearance resembled lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards, frightened by the angel, ran away.
Neither the myrrh-bearing women nor the disciples of Christ knew what had happened. Since the burial of Jesus Christ was accomplished in a hurry, the myrrh-bearers agreed that on the next day after the Passover, that is on Sunday, they would go to the tomb and finish anointing the Savior's body with sweet-smelling ointments. They did not know, however, about the Roman guards watching the tomb or about the seal. At daybreak, Mary Magdalene, "the other" Mary, Salome, and other honorable women, came to the tomb with sweet-smelling myrrh. On their way they deliberated: "Who will roll away the stone from the tomb for us?" — because this stone was very heavy. Mary Magdalene was the first one to come to the tomb. When she saw that it was empty, she ran back to the disciples Peter and John and told them about the disappearance of the Teacher's body. Later other myrrh-bearers came to the tomb. They saw a youth dressed in white clothing sitting on the right side of the tomb who told them: "Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for the crucified Christ. He is resurrected. Go and tell the disciples that they will see Him in Galilee." Being elated by the unexpected news, they hurried to the disciples.
Peter and John, having heard from Mary what had happened, ran up to the cave and, having found only a shroud and a cloth that had been placed on the head of Jesus, became distraught and returned home. Later Mary Magdalene went back to the place at which Christ was buried and began to cry. Then she saw in the tomb two angels in white clothing sitting where the body of Christ had lain, one at the head and the other at the feet. The angels asked her: "Why are you crying?" Having answered them, Mary turned around and saw Jesus Christ but did not recognize Him. Taking Him as a gardener, she asked: "Mister, if you have taken Him (Jesus Christ) away, then tell me where you have put Him, and I shall take Him." Then the Lord said to her: "Mary!" Having heard a familiar voice, she turned toward Him and recognized Jesus. Crying out, "Teacher!" she fell at His feet. But the Lord did not allow her to touch Him and ordered her to go to the disciples and tell them about the miracle of His resurrection.
That same morning the guards came to the high priests and told them about the appearance of the angel and about the empty tomb. This news greatly troubled the Judaic authorities, for their fearful expectations had come true. Now they had to make sure that the people would not believe in the resurrection of Christ. Having gathered a council, they gave the guards a great deal of money and ordered them to spread rumors that the disciples of Christ, at night while the guards were sleeping, had stolen His body. The guards did so, and for a long time the people believed that the body of our Savior was stolen.
On the first day of His resurrection, the Lord appeared several times to His disciples, who were hiding alone and in small groups in different parts of Jerusalem. According to church tradition, Jesus first appeared to His Mother and comforted Her grief. Then the Lord appeared also to the other women, the myrrh-bearers, saying to them: "Rejoice!" They rushed to share their joyful news with the other disciples and the Apostles. This day the Lord appeared to the Apostle Peter and two other disciples, Luke and Cleophas, who were going to Emmaus.
That evening He appeared also to all of the Apostles who gathered in a house in Jerusalem, probably in the Zion's Chamber where the Lord's Supper was accomplished and where, seven weeks after Easter, the Holy Spirit came down onto the Apostles. Fearing the Jews, they confined themselves behind locked doors to discuss the rumors of His resurrection.
A week later the Lord reappeared to the Apostles, including Thomas, who was not present at the first appearance of the Savior. To dispel Thomas' doubts concerning His resurrection, the Lord allowed him to touch His wounds. Now Thomas believed and threw himself down at the Lord's feet crying: "My Lord and My God!" As the evangelists narrate, during the forty-day period after His resurrection, the Lord appeared to the Apostles several more times, talked with them and gave them His last instructions. Not long before His ascension the Lord appeared to more than five hundred believers.
On the fortieth day after His resurrection, in the presence of the Apostles, the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven and since then He "sitteth at the right hand of His Father." The Apostles, encouraged by the Savior's resurrection and His glorious ascension, returned to Jerusalem to await the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Relationship Between
Passover and Easter

As we know, the time of the Old Testament was a period of preparation for the Jewish nation for the advent of the Messiah. Therefore, some events in the life of the Jewish people, and especially the predictions of the prophets, have a direct relation to the advent of Jesus Christ and the coming of the epoch of the New Testament. The law of the Old Testament, according to the words of the Apostle Paul, was "a child-bearer to Jesus Christ" and "a shadow of future blessings" (Gal. 3:24, Heb. 10:1).
The most significant occurrence in the history of the Jewish nation was its liberation from Egyptian slavery in the time of the prophet Moses, some fifteen hundred years before Christ. This liberation became commemorated in the feast of the Jewish Passover with other related events: the angel's slaying of the Egyptian first-born and the "passing over" of the Jewish infants, whose houses had signs made with the blood of a Paschal lamb; (The word "Pascha" means "to pass by." the miracle of the march through the Red Sea and the loss of the Egyptian army pursuing the Hebrews; and then the receiving of the Law (the Ten Commandments) on Mount Sinai by the Jewish people and the establishment of the Covenant with God, after which the Jewish nation was considered God's chosen people. Since then, in celebrating Passover and following their ancestors' traditions, the Hebrews symbolically make an offering of a Paschal lamb.
In the coincidence of the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ with the celebration of Passover, one ought to see God's sign of a profound inner relationship between these two events. We now shall examine these two events side by side.

Prophecies about the
Resurrection of Christ

Many prophecies of the Old Testament foretell the resurrection of the Messiah. Among them are those places in the Holy Scriptures which say that the Messiah shall be not only a person but also God and, therefore, immortal by His divine nature. See, for example, the following texts: Psalms: 2, 45 and 110; Gen. 9:6; Jer. 23:5; Mich. 5:2; Mal. 3:1. Prophecies which predict the eternity of Christ's Kingdom indirectly refer to His resurrection — because an eternal kingdom implies an immortal king. See Gen. 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:13; Psalm 132:11; Ezek. 37:24; Dan. 7:13.
The clearest prophecy about the resurrection of Christ is the one pronounced by Isaiah 700 years before Christ. This prophecy occupies the whole 53rd chapter of his book. Isaiah, after describing the sufferings of Christ in detail as if he were standing right beside the foot of the Cross, finishes his narration with the following words: "They assigned to Him a grave with the wicked, but He was buried in a rich man's, because He did not sin nor His mouth did say any lies. But God saw fit for Him to suffer, and to put Him to torment. But when His soul shall make a sacrifice of appeasement, He shall see life eternal. And God's will shall be successfully fulfilled by His hand. He shall look benevolently upon the exploits of His soul. Through His knowledge, the Just, My Servant, shall justify many and shall carry their sins upon Himself. Therefore, I shall give Him a place among the great and He shall share a prize with the strong." The concluding words of this prophecy clearly say that the Messiah, after His redeeming suffering and death, shall come to life and shall be glorified by God the Father.
The resurrection of Christ was also predicted by King David in the 16th Psalm, in which David says on behalf of Jesus: "Always have I seen God before me, because He has me in His right hand, I shall not quake … Therefore My heart has been filled with joy, and My tongue has become merry. Even My flesh shall rest in hope. For You shall not leave My soul in hell nor allow Your Holy one to see putrefaction. You shall indicate to Me the path of life. A plenitude of joy before Thy face, bliss in Your right hand — forever" (Ps. 16:9-11, see also Acts 2:25 and 13:35).
Thus, these prophets laid down for their people a foundation of faith toward the advent and the resurrection of the Messiah. That is why the Apostles so successfully spread among the Hebrews the belief that Christ was resurrected from the dead, despite all the obstacles that were perpetrated by the religious leaders of the Jewish nation.

(An excert from The Resurrection of Christ—the Conquest of Death - Bishop ALEXANDER (Mileant))

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