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A Christianity of the Resurrection
Christianity has never been, neither at its inception nor in the end of the matter, a religion among others. It was not concerned with transmitting a new image of a god, known or new. Nor is it a relationship to him from afar or via commandments and decrees. And it is not a teaching that appears for the first time. This is despite the fact that within it there is something of these things. However, this is not its essence or its basis. Christianity, at its deepest level, has no relation to other religions. Naturally, if it is compared with them, one will come across points of intersection and similarities with things found in these religions. This is because there are divine seeds sewn since the dawn of time in all the earth and among all peoples. This was in order to point out the way and to help along what would come in the fullness of time but it is not itself the same thing. Christianity is unique because it does not bring a first step or a new view or a new position or a new idea. Christianity brings a new life! Everything that preceded it or followed it wallows in the old life, the life of this world, even if it believes in the Day of Judgment and preaches the general resurrection on the last day. There is nothing new in the various religions on the level of the nature of the life they offer to mankind. The religions all offer abundant ethics and rituals and customs for their adherents that if they follow faithfully lead to blessings here and a share in paradise hereafter, on the last day. Between what goes on now and what will occur in the hereafter, the nature of human life remains the same for these religions, augmented by some teachings and blessings that are claimed to come down from above. In these religions, some claims that they alone are right and others claims that they is right in their way, allowing each religion to think that it is also right, each one according to its path. Christianity, however, has nothing to do with either and does not belong to this kind of viewpoint.
In Christianity, the Resurrection, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, did not happen two thousand years ago to cause something to happen that is relegated to the last day. Christ rose to give us a new life now, from the moment in history when the Resurrection occurred until eternity. Christ did not rise like Lazarus or the daughter of the chief of the council or the son of the widow of Nain, as they were before His resurrection. They rose in the sense that the human life that they had had prior to their repose was returned to them but then they died because human life must arrive at an end, as natural human life in the body. The Lord Jesus, however, was resurrected to eternal life. He did not simply return to how things were before His death in the body. Resurrection to eternal life is that the life of God is that by which the Lord Jesus was resurrected in the body. For this reason His body became a body of glory, not susceptible to that to which it was susceptible before His death, no longer susceptible to sickness and death and no longer subject to the needs of the material body. The body of the Lord Jesus was spiritualized through the uncreated divine life by which he rose. The fact that Jesus, after His resurrection in the body, ate and allowed His body to be touched and the marks from the nails and the wound from the spear to be felt, as with the apostle Thomas, was not to affirm the sensibility of the body of the Lord Jesus, but to establish the He is the same one whom the disciples knew and that His body was the same one in which He died. That is, that this very same one is the teacher Jesus whom they had known. But something fundamental had changed in the body—it had become a body of glory. The way in which he appeared to us is not on account of the characteristics of the new body, but on account of the marks of the love of the Lord Jesus for us and His condescension so that we may be assured that the one appearing before us is the same one who came before and whom we knew and so that through this we may come to faith in the new life and in a glorified body given to us in the resurrection, first to the Lord Jesus and then to all mankind who believes in Him according to the divine words, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13).”
The new life, the life that wells forth from within God, the uncreated life, eternal life, this is given to us by the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost Christ our God gave us the Holy Spirit from the Heavenly Father in order to draw us close to the new life and its gifts that came through His resurrection. For this reason, Pentecost occurred and extended itself, through the Divine Mysteries, to all those who believe in Jesus. Through baptism, we are born into this new life. Through chrismation we acquire the divine gifts that are for this life. Through the mystery of the Eucharist, we are nourished by its stream, by the body of the Lord and His blood, by the life which is in it unto eternity. Thus we who believe in Jesus are alive, from this moment, with the new life which we have been given. The divine mysteries are the channels by which this life comes to us along with the spiritual graces which are its fruits, according to the Apostle Paul when he says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23).” These are not moral or social or human values. These are spiritual effects. It is the Holy Spirit who works them, and not a person’s spirit or his thinking. If not for the new spiritual life that settles within us, then these graces would not appear.
Even if this newness of life arises within us, we have this treasure in a vessel of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). This is our state here on earth. This newness is opened within us, in our body of dust, through repentance, struggle, and chastity—in a word, by keeping the divine commandments. For this reason the Lord said to us that the words which He spoke to us, the commandments that He taught us, are spirit and life. Thus the body we are in now, the body that is from dust and is returning to dust, has been changed by God into a home for life from above. The meaning of this is that every day we partake of Gods life in this body. This marks our body of dust with the divine light despite its being destined for the grave. Thus we partake of eternal life from this moment in a mortal body. We advance toward the grave while we are filled with God’s life. That which is of dust must return to the dust because corruption does not inherit incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:50). The dust returns to dust first in order that the passions and sin that are in it may die then, in order that the body be resurrected, the very same body that we are in, in glory to become a body of glory, when the hour comes. This causes us, in this body of dust, to continue to a more excellent state, in the new life that has been sewn within us, in our consciousness of our selves, and in our own personal virtues. We are not transported, by the death of our body of dust, to a state of hollow anticipation, but rather we ourselves are, in the divine life given to us, with God until our being is made perfect in the resurrection of bodies in glory on the last day according to the model of the body of Christ the Lord. God is not a god of the dead, but of the living. For this reason, in the death of the body of dust, we find ourselves in the depths of the new life, in light, in glory. This makes our death in the flesh a transition to more abundant life. The human body of dust remains, to a great degree, an impediment to openness to the divine life of light within us. Even the saints, though their bodies of dust were spiritualized and enlightened, they still remained of dust and so under the mark of death for the body. This remains a negative factor in the opening of the divine life into the untrammeled passageways within us.
Thus, in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a new divine life has settled within us, and our life in the body has opened up to it. Our obeying the divine commandments, our involvement in the liturgy, our partaking of the divine mysteries, and our efforts in the evangelical virtues do not have the goal of participating in the resurrection of the Lord and they do not have the goal of bringing the new divine life into us. Rather they are precisely an effect of our previous participation in His resurrection and the settling of the new life in our being. Man, according to the nature of dust that he is in, partakes of the natural intellectual, psychic, and bodily energies and man, according to the new divine life that has been established within him, partakes of the spiritual energies and the divine virtues. For this reason, believers become a gathering of the resurrection, not in the sense that they look to the resurrection coming in the future, but because they now live in the resurrection in the spirit, extending from the resurrection of the Lord in the body, as they are His body, that is, the Church in which He is found and of which He is the head. Glory to the One who made us heavenly on the earth until we arrive in perfection at the new earth and the glorified body in heaven! Christ is risen! This is the only new thing in history and the single truth! God is alive within us! Nothing else among us has value! All else is wandering and shadow!
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite—Douma
April 4, 2010