The Most Reverend ROBERT RABBAT by the Mercy of God
Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparch of Australia and New Zealand to the Priests and Deacons, my Fellow Ministers at the Altar, to the Religious and to All the Faithful of our Holy Eparchy, which is most beloved of Christ,
a Pastoral Letter for Easter, Holy and Glorious Pascha, 2020.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“And Jesus stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Luke 24:36)
Several individuals both ancient and modern have been credited with the adage, “In war the first casualty is truth.” And we might add that the second casualty is invariably language. Currently, much in vogue is the word “unprecedented.” Whether or not we are in the midst of an unprecedented challenge has yet to be determined. However, last year was the one hundredth anniversary of the devastating pandemic of the so-called “Spanish flu.” During this past century, Australia has experienced debilitating outbreaks of smallpox, diphtheria, polio, tuberculosis, and various viral contagions. Only with the passing of time will we be able to look back at these difficult days and consider them in the perspective of world events and our own national historical experience.
For me the truly distressing sign of the times was that our holy churches, and those of other Communities, have been closed during the Great and Holy Week, and at Glorious Pascha. Not since the pandemic of 1919 has this been generally necessary in Australia. Holy Easter is a time of inexpressible joy, a time of family and community gathering. This Paschal Feast has been truly exceptional. It has not been possible for us to celebrate that Blessed Event which re-formed the entire created reality.
However, as much as this weighs heavily upon our hearts, we can, indeed we must rejoice and be glad in this Day which the Lord has made. This year, that will be in what the Greek spiritual writers have called “joyful sorrow.”
It is good to recall that the first Easter proclamation, “He is risen” made by the Angel at the Life-Giving Tomb was delivered in the pre-dawn darkness. On that blessed morning, before the first daylight, the world was touched by that Unfading Light which shone forth from the Tomb; and it was this light which penetrated the entire cosmos, bringing new life to all things, seen and unseen.
For many, a “church-less” Easter has been a contradiction beyond our experience and our comprehension. However, the directives made by the civil authorities are legitimate and must be obeyed, and probably, will continue for some time. In the weeks and months ahead it is our task to cooperate, to be in touch with the isolated and reach out to those in need, and to continue in fervent prayer that the whole world will soon be delivered from this affliction.
As for “lockdown” church services, those who saw on 27 March 2010 the extraordinary blessing Urbi et Orbi given by H.H. Pope Francis will agree that if it’s good enough for the Pope of Rome then it’s good enough for us.
It is important that we avoid “apocalyptic predictions.” Indeed, it is presumptuous to attempt to discern the “time and hour” which our Lord tells us are known only to the Father. (Mk 13:32) Such speculation is the futile activity of the adventist sectarians.
Those who see COVID-19 as a divine punishment for an entire catalogue of sins, real or imagined, would do well to read and take to heart the account of the cure of the blind man - “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” (Jn 9:3) God is not the sixteenth century hanging magistrate of fundamentalist Protestantism.
I urge you do not listen to idle and uninformed “religious chatter” and do not spread alarmist comments touted by those who have little or no knowledge of either theology or sacred scripture.
Like the first Believers that first Easter morning, we have found the Risen Lord in the darkness. This present situation must be taken seriously. Amongst all Australians and New Zealanders there must be mutual support and a willingness to bear difficulties. We know that there can be no Resurrection - no Glorious Pascha - without the Cross.
Some commentators have said that they can see “the light at the end of the tunnel.” We have seen it already, it is the Light at the Tomb, it is the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Unconquered and Unfailing Light.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our Lord urged us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust in me.” (Jn14:1) There could be no greater tragedy than to fall into despair. Rather, let us take to heart the words of the Lord Jesus, he who loves humankind, “Come unto me all you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28)
Let us place all before the Risen Lord, the Light in our darkness.
May this Feast of Feasts be for each of you, your families 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, 2020.