Saturday, April 28, 2012

Met. Georges Khodr: The Existential Resurrection

From his column in today's an-Nahar. Arabic original here.

The Existential Resurrection

The Resurrection is an event and it is an idea. That is, it was an occurrence in the life of Jesus of Nazareth but it was also something with meaning. This is expressed in the Paschal troparion which says, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death." These words mean that when Christ entered death, it had no power over Him, as though there is something that goes beyond the impact of the event and expresses the Savior's triumph over the reality of death.

This death is an event that is explained in the four Gospels in numerous passages, just as it is also a focal point for Paul. In Luke's account, "A great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him" (Luke 23:27). After being lifted up on the wood of the Cross, He "gave up His spirit" (Luke 26:46). The expression "gave up His spirit" is repeated literally in the other Gospels, with mention of witnesses by name. The crucifixion was a physical event, since the Gospels used the current reports of those days, whether or not they believed in salvation. The consistent and true accounts of the death of Jesus of Nazareth are proof of the current text of the Gospels. The people of the first century testified and confirmed the event before the complete Gospels were written down.

Jesus of Nazareth was killed with the encouragement of the crowds of Jews and by a Roman court ruling. We also speak of another event, the Resurrection. This discloses the chief meaning of the death of the Nazarene for His followers. The remaining question is, did the Resurrection palpably occur for you? The beginning of an answer is that Jesus was buried in a cave. This means that a stone, rather than soil, was placed over Him and that this large tomb was witnessed to be empty on Sunday morning. According to Matthew's account, the angel said to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who had come to the tomb, "Come, see the place where the Lord lay." Then he said, "He is risen." So it appears that palpable proof of the Resurrection is based on the absence of a body in the tomb. For Mark, the young man sitting on top of the tomb said to the women who came to the tomb to perfume the body, "He is risen. He is not here. Here is the place where they placed Him." Here again is assurance that it is empty.

Luke expresses the emptiness of the tomb by saying that Peter was there and "saw the linen cloths lying by themselves." That is, without a body. This testimony is the same with John.

The Gospels do not say that Jesus' body moved on the third day and went out. But they all do say that He appeared to His followers. The Resurrection is not a physical event in the same way as that crucifixion, in the sense that it can be physically described. But it is an event that we can deduce or identify from the Teacher's appearances to the diciples and to Mary Magdalene in the garden. Thus, it also has an eventedness or consequence-- another physical reality. It was a real liberation from a real death. We accept it from the testimony of witnesses, the Apostles and companions who said that they saw Him.

We understand the meaning of His crucifixion through the Resurrection. The crucifixion was an event, but you need someone to explain it to you, to bring you from the reality of the event to the reason that was the purpose of the crucifixion: that we may come to life through the Resurrection just as Christ came to life. In other words, the purpose of the Resurrection is us. But this could only occur if Jesus condemned sin in His flesh, as Basil says. For this reason the Feast of Pascha came, to say that after the new life that we have acquired in Christ, we do not await anything else, for "the fullness of time has come," as Paul says, and through the crucifixion we have become children of God, earth has become heaven, and we have been called to the throne of glory.

No one has expressed the meaning of the Resurrection and our acceptance of its implications as Paul did when he said, "Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4). If we do not want to live a new life, it is as though the Savior's Resurrection did not mean anything for us. It is as though we did not accept it and remained in our sins.

For this great Apostle, the Resurrection was not an event that occurred and can then be dispensed of. It became present in the life of the faithful, who come from its light, its warmth, its permanence. This is why the Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov made his daily greeting, "My joy, Christ is risen." This brings to mind Saint Mardarius, who was a Roman nobleman. Once, as he was pacing about the upper floor of his palace, he heard songs rising up from the street. He looked down from above and saw a crowd singing. He asked his servants who they were and why they were singing. They said that they were people from the east, being led to their execution, singing their belief that in their death they will be united to their Savior, who is called Jesus. So Mardarius said in his heart, "People whose religion puts them in such a state of joy on their path to death must have the true religion." So he went down and joined them and was baptized in his blood. We celebrate him as a martyr.

Each one among us who shines with spiritual glory is risen from sin, just as Christ is risen. If we look at the icon in our church and rejoice in it, we are coming from the Resurrection. We begin the week by remembering it, because each liturgy is a pascha.

The first Christians would dress in white when someone dear to them died, since at death he speaks with the Father, as Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, says.

However, God is not only concerned with individuals. He wants the Resurrection to encompass all existence and for this reason on the last day existence is radiance. It is our teaching that Jesus' Resurrection inaugurated new existence and that matter will shine with it on the last day. If our expression is true, matter does not remain material. It will shine with the light of Christ and every existential movement will become a part of the final Pascha.

In this way, we can understand the full meaning of our chanting, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life." It is saying that the dead shall rise. This must be explained by our saying that existence itself will become the garment of Christ, and Christ only garbs himself in light.

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