Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Our Resurrection is the Point

Arabic original here.

Our Resurrection is the Point

"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty" (1 Corinthians 15:13-14). Christianity, as summarized by Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, in these two verses, is the faith that Christ rose from the dead and rose the dead up with Him. One aspect of celebrating Pascha is this faith that the feast spreads in the heart of all who believe in the risen Christ, the hope that their own resurrection is certainly coming. If you pay close attention to the icon of the feast in the Orthodox Church, you will notice that Christ, who is trampling the gates of hell, is lifting up with Himself two elderly people, symbolizing Adam and Eve, our first ancestors, who at the same time symbolize sinfuly humanity.

The purpose of Christ's resurrection, then, is the general resurrection of all people. This hoped-for resurrection-- and the resurrection is certain in Christianity-- was the major factor in causing Christians to not fear death. They went and preached the Good News throughout the inhabited world. They courageously faced the terror of persecutions and threats. They accepted to be martyred, refusing to deny their God or to deny their faith that He is the Savior of their life. After we saw the weakness and cowardice of the diciples and their fleeing from the Jews after their Teacher was arrested, we find them, after their encounter with the One risen from the dead, we find them without fear for any threat to their life. Indeed, their resolved was strengthened the greater the hardship and the pressure on them.

Eternal Life
This unconquerable resolve continued in the first generations of Christianity. Saint Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. 107) writes to the Romans when he was being taken in chains to be martyred "nothing keeps me from Christ"-- no pleasures, no temptations, no kings, and no authority. "I seek Christ who died for our sake and also rose for our sake. The hour has drawn near when I will be born." He himself affirms the centrality of the resurrection in his steadfastness in faith and his acceptance of martyrdom with exceptional heroism. In his Letter to the Trallians, he says, "If Christ suffered outwardly, as some impious people say, then what meaning have the chains that I bear? In such a case, my death is in vain and what I say about the Savior is superstition. Christ died for our sake to preserve us from death."

Faith in eternal life is how the first Christians faced the persecutions that lasted from the time of Nero (64 AD) until the end of the reign of Diocletian (311). If not for this enormous faith, Christianity would have ended with Christ's ascension to heaven. During this period, apologies for Christianity flourished and all of them include abstention from this world and its strife and exhortations to accept the worst fate in order to preserve the lofty principles and teachings brought by Christ. This renunciation, however, did not prevent Christians from involvement in the public affairs of the countries in which they lived.

Citizens of Heaven
In this context, the author of the Epistle to Diognetus (an anonymous author of the second century) says that Christians "are not distinguished from other people by country, by language or by dress. They practice local customs in clothing, food and way of life." As regards their relationship to their countries, the Epistle says that "each resides in his country, but as wayfaring strangers. They perform all their duties as citizens do and bear all burdens as strangers. Every foreign land is a nation for them and every nation a foreign land for them. They are in the body, but they do not live according to the body. They spend their life on the earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They love all people and all people persecute them." It would be wonderful if Christians in general and the Christians of the Arab Middle East in particular recovered this glorious image held by the early Christians. If they want this world and their rights in it, then they must not forget their name, which in the beginning was enough to send those who bore it to martyrdom. They must not forget that they are first of all the people of the resurrection, the people of Christ risen from the dead.

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