You can read the Arabic version here
A Pastoral Letter for Easter, Holy and Glorious Pascha, 2021.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.” (1Cor 1:3)
In his account of the salvific sufferings of our Lord, the Evangelist John, recounts how Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, the Prefect or Governor of Judea, for a definitive judgment. (Jn 18:28) When Jesus speaks of the truth, the cynical Pilate, ever the opportunist, retorts with the now famous question, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38)
The American Catholic philosopher and theologian, Dr Peter Kreeft writes of Pilate’s question, “Pilate’s sceptical sneer, ‘What is truth?’ was addressed to Truth Himself, standing there right in front of his face. The world’s stupidest question was three words; God’s profoundest answer was one Word.” – and that one Word was Jesus Christ, the Eternal Logos come into this world. (Jn 1:1-18)
Thomas, the Twin, more practical than doubting, is the foil to Pilate’s off-handed question. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Thomas simply raises the question of how the disciples can follow after Jesus when, “we do not know where you are going.” (Jn 14:5) This genuine question receives an answer which underpins our own understanding of Jesus – “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (Jn 14:6)
In contemporary society, one which has abandoned its philosophical foundations, the idea of truth as a certainty has all but disappeared. What were once considered self-evident logical propositions are now relegated to the realm of “it’s what you really think” or more often, “it’s what you feel deep down.” An inane popular song once bleated out the line, “My mind’s made up by the way that I feel.”
For the Christian there is not my truth or your truth, his truth or her truth, as the degenerate social media now proclaim. There is only one Truth, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, risen in glory from the dead.
The celebration of Great and Holy Week, and Glorious Pascha, brings before us the fundamental truth of what we believe and what we are as members of the Household of the Faith. As St Paul writes, “… if Christ be not risen, our preaching is useless, and your faith is also useless.” (1Cor 15:14)
The appropriation of the festivals of the Christian year is one of the more puzzling, and at times, bizarre phenomena of modern society. It would seem that when it is not possible to demolish a traditional event or practice, it is somehow transformed into the most innocuous version of what it once was.
The most dramatic example thus far is, of course, the secular Christ-less Christmas. The celebration of the Divine Nativity has been re-invented as a day for families, especially “the kiddies”. Christmas, in its secularized form, has become so non-confronting that it can be, and often is, “celebrated” by atheists, non-Christians and anyone else.
I fear that Easter, Glorious Pascha, has gone much the same way. We had not even begun Lent when hot cross buns were being sold in the supermarkets. In some places they were being advertised as “Easter buns” to avoid using the word “cross”.
The symbols of Christian Easter have been so deformed that they now lack their original underlying dynamic; and sadly, this is an indicator of the collapse of an inner Easter Faith. Society promotes hollow signs and symbols because the truth of the Life-Giving Death and Resurrection has been forgotten, if not always rejected.
And I cannot help but consider all this, and there is much to consider, without recalling the words of Jesus, “You cannot serve two masters at the same time. You will hate one master and love the other. Or you will be loyal to one and not care about the other. You cannot serve God and Money at the same time.” (Lk 16:13-15) For big business, the cash register is more venerated than the Cross of Christ.
And yet in the midst of all this we are still called to the truth, and at this Feast to be unwavering witnesses to the truth of the Resurrection. In western society there is presently a widespread concerted effort to drive Christianity from public life. The truth of Pascha demands that we never cease proclaiming the Gospel. “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2)
This Holy Saturday night as we gather for the Resurrection Service, the Hajme, think for a moment of what surrounds you, the dark of night. It is at this Service that after the reading of the Holy Gospel, we hurl a truth into the night, “Christ is Risen!”, and at those words the darkness is conquered, the demons are subdued; and across the Ages, the entire Cosmos - all living things, seen and unseen, and all that has ever been or will be - cries out “He is truly Risen!”
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Risen Lord,
In Australia, perhaps not since early colonial days, has our worship life been so challenged by officially limited church attendance. However, as restrictions continue to ease, it is anticipated that our churches will be able to welcome ever increasing numbers of faithful. Together with our clergy, I take this opportunity to welcome you and to urge you to resume your regular attendance at church; and let that be whenever possible with your children. Heed the advice of St John Chrysostom, “Fathers and mothers: Go and lead your child by the hand into the church.”
Much will be different in the months ahead as Australia continues the national vaccination program. As the Christian People, a community of truth, we must be wary of gossip, idle speculation and sensationalist speculation. Regrettably, too many people obtain their only information from, and conform their opinions to, social media.
In the Book of Proverbs, King Solomon warns us, “Scoundrels invent evil, and their speech is a scorching fire.” (16:27) St Paul alerts Timothy to a type of person we find in every period, in every society - “They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” (1 Tim 5:13)
If you choose not to accept Covid19 vaccination, that is your right. However, think of those you could be endangering - your family, your friends, your neighbours. Are you willing to risk all on the babble of an uninformed keyboard warrior?
As we slowly emerge from the difficulties of this pandemic year, let our hearts be filled with joy, love and hope this Holy and Glorious Pascha. Let us place all before the Lord Jesus Christ, Risen in Glory from the Dead. When others urge other ways, when perhaps they challenge us, or turn against us because we believe, let us make our own the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)
May this Feast of Feasts be for each of you and all those dear to you, a time of countless blessings.
Christ is Risen! المسيح قام ! Χριστός ἀνέστη!
With my paternal blessing and with prayers assured,
Robert Rabbat, DD
From our Eparchy at Greenacre, New South Wales
Holy and Glorious Pascha, 2021.