THE PASCHAL MESSAGE OF ARCHBISHOP MARK TO THE PIOUS FLOCK IN THE BRITISH ISLES AND IRELAND
‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it! The Pascha of Beauty, Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord, Pascha the all-honourable has shone forth to us. Pascha, let us embrace each other in joy. O Pascha, deliverance from sorrow!’
The Church rejoices in triumphs. Christ is Faithfulness, Christ is the Truth, Christ is Beauty, Christ is our Pascha: ‘The Pascha of Beauty…’
Will it be a Pascha of Beauty for all this year?
By the mercy of God many of us who have fasted with zeal, prayed with diligence and repented with sincerity of heart can hope that it will be so.
But how will millions of Orthodox in the Middle East and in the Ukraine where people suffer so much meet Pascha? How many languish in refugee camps, how many have been saved only by life as immigrants, sorely missing their relatives and friends and torn away from them, are homeless, lacking the basic material needs to sustain themselves and have witnessed horrors caused by human and devilish cruelty…
Our experience tells us that if the parish church, the services and prayer are spiritually close to us, then even if only two or three are gathered in the Name of the Saviour, for us this Pascha – the Feast of feasts – will be the Pascha of Beauty. Such is the experience of our fathers who founded churches in very difficult war-time and post-war conditions. They started churches, literally with nothing, in sheds, basements, making liturgical vessels out of tin and copying out services by hand. So they laboured for the sake of repentance and prayer, so they could have recourse to the saving sacraments of the Body and Blood of Christ, partaking of the Risen Christ the Saviour.
But what sort of Pascha will this be for many, for a great many, who, though baptized are Orthodox only in name, who not from the choice of others but from their own choice have deprived themselves of spiritual refuge and comfort and are strangers to the Father’s House – the Church – and have lost the sense of the vital necessity and value of prayer, the sense of repentance and fasting? How often, alas! we clergy come to meet people for whom the concern to cleanse the heart in depth, the concern for salvation, are incomprehensible, who have never been to confession or have not been to confession for a very long time. The seed sown by the Saviour in the Sacrament of baptism is the seed which we were called on to cultivate in communion with Christ, or else it has been stolen (by the slanderer-devil, as our Lord Himself explained in the Gospel parable), or else it has dried up because it was not rooted in patience, or else it has been choked by thorns – the thirst for outward piety where God is absent and will be absent, as with him who in Christ’s parable, ‘hears the word, but the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and he becomes unfruitful’ (Мatt. 13, 22). How will you, souls who are so precious to God, still be able to attain to the triumphant fullness of the feast, ‘the Pascha of Beauty’, and become its partakers and communicants?
The way to do this is the same for everyone, it is the only way for all of us – it is the Lord Himself Who said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by Me’ (Jn. 14, 6). He, the Giver of life, Who became a man for our sakes, shows us compassion and raises us from the dead, throwing ‘the doors of repentance’ wide open to all. He is the Saviour Who leads us up to God the Father. He completed His earthly path, went up onto the Cross, went down into the tomb in His body and to hell in His soul. He fulfils the fundamental task which is beyond the understanding of human reason and beyond the strength of human hand, opening the doors of love and repentance to us. Let us go out to freedom through them. May we let Christ break our bonds, the shackles of hell! But we must go through the open doors of repentance by ourselves, by our own determination, by our love…and by our hatred!
Yes! Precisely by our hatred of sin, for sin still holds us captive.
True turning to Christ inevitably means turning away: it is the decisive rejection of sin, the clear determination not to sin again, not to be a slave to sin, to which we subjected ourselves and to which to this day we thoughtlessly continue to subject ourselves. Here is what the prophet David exclaims about sin and about the thoughts that come from the devil and prompt us to sin: ‘I have hated transgressors, but Thy law have I loved’ (Ps 118, 113). True conversion always involves prayer to Christ about love for Him, for His light, for His beauty and for strengthening us in virtue.
Pascha will become for us the true Pascha of Beauty if we bring forth ‘the fruits of repentance’. If the wicked and haughty condemnation of others becomes alien to us, if we no longer array ourselves in the clothes of pretended righteousness, if we dare not despise any creature of God whomsoever, if we embrace our neighbour with sincere love – no matter whether they are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Russian or Ukrainian, English or Jewish, Greek or Turkish.
We were immersed in the waters of holy Baptism for the sake of this miracle – that we might be transfigured through repentance and rise from the dead. Repentance nails us to Christ, resurrects us with Christ, leads us forth from the depths of hell and opens Paradise to us in Christ.
‘The Pascha of Beauty’ – Christ – bestows on us desired freedom and peace, where we stand in the grace of truth and long life.
Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed!
+ Mark, Archbishop of Berlin, Germany, Great Britain and Ireland