Thursday, May 5, 2011

…And the Captives Are Set Free: A Brief Reflection by Father Maximos McIntyre

   
“O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? You are overthrown by the Cross; you are slain by Him who is the Giver of life; you are without breath, dead, without motion, even though you keep the form of a serpent lifted up on high on a pole.” - St Gregory the Theologian, in Oration 45:22

 
“The day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O peoples! Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha; for Christ God has brought us over from death to life, and from earth to heaven, as we sing the triumphal song.” - From the Paschal canon

 
“O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who hast trampled down death, and overthrown the devil, and given life to Thy world” –from the Pannihida service

The word "Pascha," in its usage of the Church Fathers, means "Passover". More specifically it means that the grip of death and sin have "passed over" us, the children of God. On Pascha we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He sets the captives free from the power of death by his magnificent feat of His glorious resurrection. He bestows life on those who were ensnared by the grip of death. He humbly assumed flesh, willfully bore all the labors and troubles of man, all temptations and agony of existence and overcame the adversary for our sake. How majestic this is and truly life giving this is!

For such a gift was accomplished in love; love for us. Why do we not weep for our sins, our transgressions as we do not recognize this great gift which was freely offered for our sake? Why do we continue in unrighteousness, in fleshy passions, in wretched despair and in disobedience? Imagine Christ, who was an inseparable part of the creation of the cosmos, came among us as. Who with a word can move mountains, yet humbled Himself to be a servant. He was treated as a criminal, yet was pure innocence incarnate. How amazing this is!

Our Lord, Emmanuel, meaning God with us, promised also that He would be with us even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20). This promise was made not specifically to the world which rejects Him, but to the Church, the pillar and the ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).The renewal of our minds, hearts and souls can only occur in Christ, in His fullness. We must take heed that His words, His very commandments and His fullness are kept in His mystical body, the Holy Orthodox Church.

At the command of Christ the apostles despite their frailties went about per the command of Christ to go out and make disciples of all nations. This is life, the transforming power of Christ as made present in his abiding mystical body. We were once slaves of sin and corruption, subject to the power of evil and death. However if we abide in Christ fully, through repentance, heed his commandments, dwell with Him in love and humility, partake of Him as He commands we too can have life. It is ours to accept or deny as we are all ingrained with free will. Let us recognize the Truth which is Christ, which has been given to us all freely. Saint Basil’s first Paschal oration he states, “He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin.” Also if Christ be not risen, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also vain (I Cor. 15:19).

Christ being God accomplished what no other could achieve, the restoration of creation which fell by its own devices. No prophet before him, no so-called god of the ancients had this power. Even today man seeks to be his own god or places false hope in the delusions of this world when Christ accomplished everything and for all who believe in Him and live by His commandments.

In Christ’s mystical body, the Holy Orthodox Church, we can participate in the mystical process of hope and healing of the soul unto life eternal. This is not an intellectual process nor is it just for academically learned scholastics. It is accessible to all theologians, those who humble themselves before Christ, those who pray; these are true theologians or friends of God. We must realize however that as Christ suffered, we to must suffer. Becoming partakers of the divine nature as Saint Peter taught is an unending process in the Church. God is an intimate, personal being, not some distant impersonal Creator. Unfortunately we are entrenched in American society in a fundamentalist Christian mindset and that of extreme atheism, humanism, new age practices and materialism which is so foreign to the mystical reality and experience of the ancient church.

Saint Innocent of Alaska stated: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to this earth in order to return to us our lost capacity to spend eternity in the blissful presence of God. He revealed to people that all their evil lies in sin and that no one through their own efforts can overcome the evil within themselves and attain communion with God. Sin, ingrained in our nature since the fall, stands between us and God like a high wall. If the Son of God had not descended to us through His mercy for us, had not taken on our human nature, and had not by His death conquered sin, all mankind world have perished for ever! Now, thanks to Him, those who wish to cleanse themselves from evil can do so and return to God and obtain eternal bliss in the Kingdom of Heaven.” The resurrection of Christ is the transformation of all creation from the binding of sin, death and corruption to the gift of life, freedom from bondage, further access to the heavenly glory and hope of salvation. In death comes life for those who heed unto Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Christ the captives are set free.

So what does this all mean? Saint Kosmas Aitolos states, “If 'Christ died on our account in accordance with the Scriptures' (Rm 5:8; 1Co 15:3), and we do not 'live for ourselves', but 'for Him who died and rose' on our account (2 Co 5:15), it is clear that we are debtors to Christ to serve Him till our death. How then can we regard sonship as something which is our due?” The Holy Scriptures tell us, “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” (Romans 6:6-10).

We are transformed through the mystery of Pascha. When we take on the garment of salvation in Christ death no longer has dominion over us. As Saint John the theologian taught, let us be faithful unto death and He will give us the wreath of life” (Rev. 2: 10)

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