Bishop Photii of Triaditsa
bulgarian | русский
On 7/20 April 2009 in the cathedral "Dormition of the All-Holy Mother of God"
“We feast death’s slaughter, the overthrow of Hell, the first fruits of a new eternal life”
(Canon of Pascha, Ode 7, Troparion 2)
Beloved in our Risen Saviour Brothers and Sisters, children of the Holy Orthodox Church!
Today we celebrate the demise of death, the destruction of hell and the beginning of another, of a new and eternal life; today these glad tidings gush forth unstintingly and suffuse with mirth and light the entire creation, both visible and invisible. Yes, death is dead. And these words are not merely an impressing poetical metaphor; they are not a human dream, but a truth which springs from the Living God’s action and word. Because God Himself—the very Font of Life—in the Person of the God-Man Christ vanquished death, trampled death underfoot, destroyed death. And even more, the God-Man transformed death into a womb of life—of life new and eternal. Death swallowed His breathless body, but encountered God and was itself destroyed in its very den, in the bottom of hell which crushed before the power of the Omnipotent and lost all power over those who truly belong to Christ.
But what is death? According to human criteria and ideas this is the end of bodily life, the dying of the body. But man is not a mere body. Neither is he only a spirit, as the soul divested of her flesh does not comprise the whole person. God formed man of a soul and a body, which were wisely united in one creature endowed with immortality. After the fall of our Ancestors sin destroyed this unity between soul and body and in this sense it annihilates the very human existence. It is precisely this destruction caused by sin which we call death: a man dies, in other words, he no longer exists as an indissoluble union between soul and body, that is, he ceases to be a man, and he no longer is himself — such as God has made him on the sixth day of the creation. Therefore, death is not merely the end of bodily human life and the returning of the body to the dust. Death is the anti-natural disintegration of human nature in consequence of which the human body dissolves and the human soul sinks into the darkness of Hades. So, death disunites what God has united. That is why death is truly fearful. And we, just like the pagans, fear death mostly because it puts a sudden or a prolonged and painful end to the life of the body, because it takes away from us the people whom we tenderly love; we fear death because we have not gotten rid of our unpronounced and oppressive fear that death is stronger than everything that lives.
Today, however, the Church in thunders spreads the glad news: the God-Man did away with death! And He gave to man the opportunity to become free of death, [the opportunity] no longer to be death’s everlasting slave. The risen Christ made man, who was dehumanised by death, able again to be a man and even much more than that: He called man to be a god by Grace. Christ the Lord descended to the depths of hell, destroyed it and rose from the dead so as to resurrect all who are Christ’s (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23) and to grant them a new and eternal life. It is true that Christ’s children, too, pass through the gates of bodily death as all other people. Nevertheless, for those who die in Christ death is not a terrifying abyss, but the birth for a new life, the coming home to the Father’s house, where the Christian, the new man will joyfully enter into the fullness of his renewed human nature after the Resurrection of the dead.
Lo, how from an end Death has become a beginning. Not accidentally the ancient Christians celebrated the martyrs’ death as the birth for a new life in eternity. After the death and resurrection of the God-Man, the grave is no longer dark, because the Lord illumined it with uncreated light; the grave no longer inspires fear and trembling, because it no longer is the end of life, but it is birth and the beginning of an eternal life with Christ; the grave is not the last place of our terrestrial exile: it is only the last door along the way towards our heavenly Fatherland. The difference between death before Christ’s Resurrection and death after His Resurrection is comparable to the difference between an unextinguishable fire and the flame of a candle — in the words of the Serbian Hierarch St. Nikolai. From being an ominous curse over the human race, death — trampled by the God-Man — became for His children the door toward resurrection and life. Christ’s children are children of life because Christ and Life is the same. Christ’s children are children of Resurrection because Christ and Resurrection is the same. All, who with an open heart come to Christ, are filled with His Life of God-Man. Who could put in words the greatness of this gift? According to St. Athanasios the Great, even for the angelic tongue this is impossible, because “the gifts of Grace surpass the measure of things created: death is banished from among men, Hades is divested of his power of long standing, and humankind, condemned by the law of sin, is learning to reign according to the gift of Grace,”—words full of power, words permeated with truth and Grace, with spirit and with life; words whence the waters of life gush forth and irrigate, in our hearts and minds, the seed of the intransient truth, that the Resurrected and the Resurrector, the Ever-living and the Giver of life, Christ the Lord is with His living people and in His living men to the grave, and beyond the grave, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is Risen!
Pascha of our Lord, 2009.