Syosset, New York
To the Venerable Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America:
O Christ, great and most holy Pascha! O Wisdom, Word, and Power of God! Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the never-ending day of Thy Kingdom!
As we sing these words of the Paschal Canon, we not only exalt the risen Lord, Who by His life-creating death conquers death, but we proclaim our vision, our purpose, our goal as people of faith: to partake of and share in His glorious victory in His eternal Kingdom. We acknowledge that, while we indeed have been blessed to reflect the image of our Creator and Savior in this world, it is in “the life of the world to come” that we reach the goal of life’s journey. And we respond to Christ’s invitation, extended to us continually during the past several weeks-the simple invitation to “Follow Me.”
In the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Great Lent, Christ called the first of His disciples with these simple words. His invitation to Nathaniel—“Follow Me”—was extended to all mankind. As we celebrated the third Sunday of Great Lent, we heard our Lord’s invitation once again: “Take up your Cross and follow Me.” Far from weighing us down with additional burdens, the Cross became a sign of encouragement to continue our journey to the empty tomb and to remain ever mindful and vigilant in our prayer, our fasting, and our giving of alms. A few weeks later, we followed Christ to Bethany, where we confronted our mortality at the tomb of Lazarus and delighted in a foretaste of greater things to come in his resurrection. It was with the resurrection of Lazarus, which as we read in Scripture “created a division among the people,” that our resolve to follow Christ was tested.
What at first appeared to be a broad, simple invitation—“Follow Me”—had become an intense, personal challenge: would we choose to follow Christ to Jerusalem, faithfully making His passion, His death, and His burial our own; or would we, like those unwilling to forsake their personal pride, comfort, and celebrity, forsake Him instead? Would we, uncertain as to where our journey with Christ would lead, hide or fall into denial; or would we, like those faithful women, follow Him to the Cross and tomb, faithful to the end?
Today, as we join the women in approaching the empty tomb, our fear and apprehension has been instantly transformed into unspeakable joy and wonder. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” we are asked. “He is not here; He is risen!” At once, the words “Follow Me” take on new meaning as our destination—“the never-ending day of Thy Kingdom” that lies beyond the empty tomb—is fully revealed to us. And in this revelation, our true nature as beings created for eternal communion with our Creator and with one another is likewise revealed. As Saint Paul reminds us, while we remain “in the world,” we are not “of the world.” And while we have been given a foretaste of the Kingdom yet to come, we also have been charged with proclaiming the never-ending day of His Kingdom here and now, to all who would listen, with every word and in every act of forgiveness and compassion, of kindness and of love.
My beloved brothers and sisters in the risen Lord: The invitation to follow Christ is an invitation that the world desperately needs in these times of uncertainty and calamity. We are facing events and forces that, while indeed powerful, so often appear to be out of control. Many are struggling to find even a glimmer of hope in a world that at times seems to be so preoccupied with itself that it has little interest in forgiveness or compassion or love, much less a recognition that the eternal Kingdom of the risen Christ is in its midst. And with so many forces demanding a following, Christ’s invitation to follow Him into the never-ending day of His Kingdom can easily go undiscovered. Yet it is up to us—to those who know that there is more to life than what appears on the front pages of tomorrow’s tabloid—to proclaim the risen Lord with renewed boldness and fervor. For indeed, as Saint Paul reminds us, if Christ is not risen from the dead, our faith and preaching are in vain. If we fail to proclaim the risen Lord and His Kingdom, who will?
Having remembered, as we do at every Divine Liturgy, “the Cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day,” let us not lose sight of “the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand of the Father, and the second and glorious Coming.” Let us proclaim these realities in word and deed, with an intensity unlike any we have experienced in the past. In so doing, we will not only discover the depths of our heavenly Father’s love for us, but we will serve as the catalyst that will enable a world in search of meaning and direction to discover that its true goal—its only goal—is to follow the risen Lord into that Kingdom which alone offers mankind hope in this life and infinite joy in the life of the world to come.
May the joy of this holy season fill each and every one of you, and may the blessings of the victorious risen Lord be your guide as you continue to follow Him now and in the days, months, and years to come!
With love in the Risen Lord,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada