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Paschal Letter for the Feast of the Resurrection 2004

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The Resurrection and the Blessings of Death

Christ is Risen, Truly He is Risen

Today, as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we rejoice because of Christ’s victory over death and the new understanding of death, as presented by Christ’s death and life-giving resurrection.

The power of Christ’s resurrection was revealed when Sts. Peter and John saw the empty tomb and the linen cloths lying there (Jn. 20: 5-8). The tomb is a symbol of death and the linen cloths are the garments of the dead. However, the resurrection of Christ made both the tomb and the linen cloths signs of life!

How can death be a sign of life? How can the curse of death be changed into a blessing? How can blood be a sign of salvation and not of destruction? “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you.” (Ex. 12: 13) How can death become a desire (Phil. 1:23) and suffering a grant (Phil. 1:29)? Is it possible for death to be gain (Phil. 1: 21)?

It is quite natural for humans to fear death, be uneasy about seeing blood, want to escape suffering, and desire long life. We see that death entered into the world as a result of sin, and when blood was shed on the earth for the first time, it was sign of man’s injustice and evil, and was accompanied by a curse, “ So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (Gen. 4:11)

During this past month of March, the world witnessed two scenes that involved death and bloodshed. Yet they were substantially different in the core of their understanding of death and blood.

The first scene was the one resulting from the terrorism that took place in Madrid , where the death toll of innocent people was in the hundreds. Blood was everywhere covering the railroads and broken trains. Everyone was overcome by grief and fear. The grief was over the innocent dead people, and the fear was because the possibility of losing life became so close to everyone. This scene was inspired by the devil, who desires the death of man and plants hatred in people’s souls. He leads a person to make himself a destructive bomb, spreading devastation, death, and sorrow. This scene was an accumulation of previous similar events, which the world witnessed since the beginning of this century, from which the odor of blood emanated.

The second scene is from the magnificent movie “The Passion of Christ”, which portrayed to millions of viewers the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the scene, which God, the Lover of mankind, did when He was incarnated and offered Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. The movie effectively portrayed the details and severity of the sufferings, which our Lord Jesus Christ endured. They were sufferings, which a person finds difficult not only to endure, but also even to watch. Yet, the movie depicted it with deep biblical and theological understanding. It showed how Christ, in the midst of His pain, offered His crucifiers not a curse, but forgiveness, “Fr., forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Lk. 23:34) He asks us not to revenge for Him from His crucifiers, but rather tells us, “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:44)

The honorable Body, which was offered on the cross, after enduring many sufferings, and the pure Blood, which was shed during the sufferings on the cross, became the source of eternal life for us. This was brilliantly shown in the movie when the scene of the crucifixion was tied to the scene of the Last Supper, when Christ instituted the Mystery of the Eucharist and said to His disciples and to all of us, “Take, eat; this is My body…. Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed fro many for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28)

Seeing Christ’s passion in details gives a person peace and hope, inspiring him not to go kill others in revenge, but rather to kill sin that dwells within him, “Therefore put to death your members which are on earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” (Col. 3:5-6)

Our Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself unto death, not to kill His enemies, but to give life to man, who was in enmity with God, and to offer salvation to all humanity, which alienated itself from God, sinned, and did not fulfill His commandments. Therefore, the Church teaches us that when we remember the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross to pray, “ You have wrought salvation in the midst of all the earth, O Christ our God, when You stretched Your pure hands upon the tree of the cross .”

Usually whenever there is a scene that involves death and blood, the question is always raised “Who did it?” In the case of Christ’s passion, the Book of Isaiah offers us the answer, “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities.” (Is. 53:5) So, to the question: “Who crucified Christ?”, the answer is: my sins, your sins, and the sins of the entire world.

 

My beloved brothers and sisters,

Let us rejoice in Christ’s resurrection, which turned death into a blessing, pain into a gift, and the decomposition of the body into hope for a better life.

The power of the resurrection made our fathers and mothers the martyrs proceed with joy towards their death. When St. Psati the Bishop was condemned to death by the governor, he wore the liturgical vestments and said, “I am going to my wedding ceremony…I lived all these long years desiring this encounter.”

The power of the resurrection made the departed Fr. Mikhail Ibrahim, of blessed memory, to pray at the grave of his son, who was at the prime of his life, and say, “With You is more profitable for him than with me.”

The power of the resurrection made the departed Fr. Pishoy Kamel, of blessed memory, consider cancer with all its pain as the “illness of paradise”.

Let us rejoice in Christ’s resurrection and not fear death, but see it as a departure to a better life. Let us not be frightened by the shedding of blood, but regard it as deliverance from the pains of this life. Let us not dread the tribulations, but see them as a gift from God. Let us not sorrow over our human weakness, but rather say with St. Paul , “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake . For when I am weak, them I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)

We ask our Lord, Who is risen from the dead, to always grant us the joy and the power of the resurrection. We ask Him to guard the Holy Church and keep Her in peace and to preserve the life of our father and shepherd, H.H. Pope Shenouda III.

Wishing you many happy returns.
Bishop Serapion

 

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