My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and Christ Jesus our Lord.” (1Cor 1:3)
We live in an intellectual environment best described as a dismissive scepticism blended with a bizarre gullibility. It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between factual media coverage of events and what is commonly called “fake news”. This is presently compounded by a general lack of personal or corporate responsibility in cyberspace; one can say anything about anyone or any event with scant chance of being called to account. As a consequence, the means by which information is circulated have become politicised and placed at the service of any number of causes, authentic or not.
For us as the Household of the Faith, followers of the Way as many early Christians called themselves, this is most apparent at our significant liturgical celebrations, especially Christmas and Easter. At this time of the year, at least one religiously uneducated and uninformed commentator will produce a sceptical opinion piece about the Resurrection – and I would stress uneducated and uninformed! And, he or she will not be called to account. Sadly, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of these unbelievers lest they should see the glorious Gospel of Christ who is the image of God.” (2Cor 4:4)
Christianity is an historical religion. It is centred upon an actual individual who lived out his life, and who died in a particular place within a certain time frame. Significant things he did and said are recorded and knowable. The evidence for Jesus, and what we know about him, would be acceptable in any unbiased law court.
And all this includes, as its foundational belief, the Resurrection of Jesus following his death by crucifixion and his burial in the garden tomb. As with his public ministry of about three years, at the events of his suffering, death and resurrection, there were also witnesses; and these testimonies are often the more remarkable because of the legal process of the time – for example, the witnesses to the empty tomb are women, the first post-Resurrection appearance is to a woman, Mary of Magdala. These were not the type of evidence immediately acceptable in first century courts – Jewish or Gentile. “But did not Providence reward their efforts in an incomparably richer way, in giving – in place of the dead body – the living Lord?” (St Nikolai Velimirovich, 1881-1956))
In the Churches of the East, Catholic and Orthodox, the favoured descriptive word for sacrament is mystery. In the sacramental theology of the Greek Byzantine Churches, this mystery is not a confusing puzzle awaiting a suitably skilled detective, but rather it contains the idea of revelation. That which is sacramental reveals God, it makes God known to us.
Under the influence of western theologians, we tend to think in terms of seven sacraments or holy mysteries. However, the earliest Church used the term more generally, and so it was, and is, possible to speak of Christ as a “sacrament” – for it is in his Life-Giving Death and Resurrection that there is re-established the intimate bond between God and humankind, the relationship that had existed at the beginning.
In Christ, “from his fullness we have received grace upon grace”. (Jn 1:16) The Risen Lord is truly an inexhaustible source of grace, χαρις – blessing and favour. Thus, we can truly say that the Risen Jesus is the fundamental sacrament or mystery, for in him the Father is most perfectly revealed because Jesus “is the radiance of the Father’s glory and bears the stamp of God’s hidden being.” (Heb 1:3)
One occasionally hears the wish “may you live in interesting times.” During these last several years we have indeed lived in interesting times – the Covid19 pandemic, civil unrest, fire and flood, and presently, wars and rumours of wars. For many, this has been a time that could indeed be considered cursed, or at the very least most unfortunate. Doubtless, during these interesting times, there have been many occasions when we were able to identify with the mediaeval antiphon – “In the midst of life we are in death…” however, our response must be the next few words not always quoted, “…To whom may we look for help, O Lord, but from you.”
For many throughout the world, perhaps the most pernicious feature of these last several years has been the undermining of hope, with a consequent almost universal pessimism. Unhappily we encounter even those within faith communities who seem overwhelmed. This is especially disappointing if we remember that the Christian People are essentially a people of hope.
In Sacred Scripture there are numerous instances when faith and trust are interchangeable. Our Lord himself says to the apostles, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.” (Jn 14:1) That faith and hope are inextricably interwoven is clear in the words of St Paul, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.” (Gal 5:5) And it is this hope that alone can overcome all uncertainty and doubt because it is set on the Risen Lord. St Ephrem of Syria (306-373) says, “Blessed is the one who cultivates fair and good thoughts each day and by hope conquers the wicked passion of despondency, by which the Lord’s ascetics are attacked.”
For us who have been blessed to know the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 20-29), and to know that in him there is the fullness of revelation, so that even in the most difficult circumstances, we make our own the words of St Peter, after the feeding of the five thousand, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)
It is at Easter, the Holy and Glorious Pascha of the Lord, that we should have an even greater awareness of our faith and hope, our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, risen in glory from the dead. As St Paul writes to the Romans, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8: 1-39)
As we greet the Risen Lord this Blessed Feast of Feasts, it is my fervent prayer for each of you – every family and every household – and the many friends of the Eparchy, that the Feast of Feasts will be a time of faith strengthened, hope made stronger and trust renewed.
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, 2022.