Life in the World to Come

Christ is risen!

Truly He is risen!

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Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.  (John 5:24-30)

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St John the Evangelist tells us of a time when those who have died will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear it will live – be resurrected from death.  Everyone, good and evil will be resurrected either to life or to judgment.  Many in the early church were convinced this meant a bodily resurrection, not just giving life to the soul.  St Methodius of Olympus (martyred in 311AD), for example, writes that the time of prophecy and foreshadowing came to an end with the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  Christ begins a new reality for all humanity in which we rise from the dead and overcome the effects of sin and death.  Methodius envisions a fleshly and bodily resurrection for us.

“For the Law is a shadow and type of the image, that is to say, of the Gospel; and the image, the Gospel, represents the truth which will be fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ. Thus the ancients and the Law foretold and prophesied to us the features of the Church, and the Church foretells those of the new order.  And we, who have accepted the Christ who said I am the Truth, are aware that the shadows and types have come to an end, and we press on towards the truth, proclaiming it in vivid images.  For as yet we know in part, and, as it were, through a glass, for that which is perfect is not yet come to us, the kingdom of heaven and the resurrection, when that which is in part shall be done away (John 14:6; 1 Cor 13:9, 12:10).

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Thus will all our tabernacles be established, when our bodies rise again, their bones once more fixed and compacted with flesh.  Then shall we celebrate to the Lord the day of joy in a pure manner, receiving now eternal tabernacles, never more to die or to be dissolved into the earth of the grave.

For our tabernacle of old had been firmly made; but it tottered and fell by the Fall.  And God put an end to sin by man’s death, lest man become a sinner for all eternity, and, since sin would be living in him, be under eternal condemnation.  And this is the reason why man, though he was not made mortal and corruptible, dies and his soul is separated from his body, in order that his transgression might be destroyed by death, being unable to live after he was dead.  Thus with sin dead and destroyed, I can rise again in immortality and sing a hymn of praise to God who saves His children from death by means of death; and in accordance with the Law I celebrate the Feast in His honor, adorning the tabernacle of my flesh with good works, just as the prudent virgins there with their five-flamed lamps.  (THE SYMPOSIUM: A TREATISE ON CHASTITY, pp 134-135)

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Like other early Christian teachers Methodius believes death was not a punishment of humans for sinning against God, but rather was God’s way of preventing us humans from sinning for all eternity.  Just as some believed after death there is no chance to repent, so many believed that in death there was no longer any chance to sin.  Death thus was used by God to end the effects of sin in each human being.  Now, in Christ, God is destroying sin and death, enabling us to live forever with God in His Kingdom.  We show our thanks to God for this salvation by doing God’s will – the good works commanded by Christ in the Gospel.  Satan may have thought he had created a conundrum which God could not escape:  either God lets humans, now under the power of sin, to live forever as sinners, going from bad to worse, ever increasing in sin and becoming further alienated from God, OR, God could only stop sin by surrendering humans to Death and leave them in Hades where they would live separated from God forever. The revelation of the Gospel is that God had His own plan in which God used death to stop sin from continuing forever, and then destroyed sin and death by the death and resurrection of His Son.  Satan, sin and death all belong to the fallen created order, that God is bringing to an end by establishing His new creation.

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

The God Who Continuously Works

Christ is risen!

Indeed He is risen!

But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”  Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.  Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  (John 5:17-20)

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The opponents of Jesus accuse Him on several occasions of “making Himself equal with God.”   They are actually expressing a theological truth about Jesus, though unaware of it or its implications.  Jesus taught that “I and the Father are one” – a statement that led his opponents to want to stone Him for blasphemy.

St Gregory of Nyssa in his commentary on the biblical book, The Song of Songs, addresses the issue of Christ being both God and human.  Gregory like several early Church Fathers interprets The Song to be a love (eros) poem about Christ and the Church, rather than being a sexually erotic poem. It is in the Bible because it reveals God, not because it reveals sexual relations (or to put it in others terms, it uses an erotic theme because of the intensity of such feelings, in order to describe what the believers relationship with God should be like).  In the quote below Gregory is talking about the woman lover (i.e., the Church) who is search of her beloved (Christ) at the beginning of the quote:

“Let us attend, then, to the one who has had her veil quite removed and looks toward Truth with the uncovered eye of the soul. How does she describe for them the One she seeks?  How does she portray in speech that which marks out the One she desires?  How does she bring the Unknown One within the sight of her virgins?

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For since Christ is in one respect creature and in another respect uncreated.  (We say that he is uncreated in that he is eternal and prior to the ages and the Maker of everything that is, but created in that he was conformed to our lowly body in the economy he carried out for our sakes.  But it would be better to set out our understanding of this matter by means of the divine words themselves:  ‘uncreated’ we call the Word who was in the beginning and is always with God and is God the Logos (John 1:1-4), the One through whom everything came to be and apart from whom none of the things that have come to be exists; but ‘created’ we call the One who became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14), whose glory shining forth in his incarnate state reveals that God has been ‘manifested in flesh,’ the Only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father.  For John says, ‘We have seen his glory,’ and even though what was observable was a human being, nevertheless what was made known through him, says John, was ‘glory as of the Only Begotten of the father, full of grace and truth’ [John 1:14]).  Now that of him which is uncreated and before the ages and eternal is by nature completely incapable of being grasped and unutterable, while what is manifested for us through the flesh can to a degree come into our knowledge; and for this reason our teacher focuses on the latter and in that regard speaks as much as her hearers are capable of taking in.

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What I mean is ‘the great … mystery of our religion,’ in which God ‘was manifested in the flesh’ (1 Tim 3:16), in which he who ‘was in the form of God’ also, in the role of a slave, held converse with human beings through his flesh (Phil 2:6-7).  And since he once for all, through its firstfruits, drew to himself the mortal nature of flesh, which he took on by means of an uncorrupted virginity, he ever sanctifies the common dough of that nature through its firstfruits, nourishing his body, the church, in the persons of those who are united to him in the fellowship of the mystery; and those members that are grafted into him through faith he fits into the common body, and he fashions a comely whole by fitly and appropriately assigning believers to roles as eyes and mouth and hands and the other members.”  (HOMILIES ON THE SONG OF SONGS, pp 401-403)

Gregory is noting that the claim that Jesus is God should not surprise the Jews since in their own Scriptures, they have a book, The Song of Songs, which is an entire parable, poem and prophecy about the God-man Jesus Christ.  Christ heals/saves human flesh in the incarnation, and then that salvation becomes ours when we are united to Christ through faith and the sacramental life in the Church, which is Christ’s Body.  Salvation is not just God uniting Himself to humanity in Christ in the incarnation, but also is in our participation in this salvation – in our incorporation into Christ and into Christ’s Body.  God became human so that humans might become divine.  All the dividing walls between humanity and God have been removed so that now humanity can participate in the divine love and divine life.  This idea of salvation is what the entire Old Testament prophesied and foreshadowed.

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Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.” The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me …  (John 10:30-37)

Jesus Christ Whom God Raised from the Dead

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the morrow, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

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On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well.  (Acts 4:1-10)

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The Apostle Peter makes clear to the Jewish religious leadership that Jesus Christ, whom they put to death through crucifixion has been raised from the dead by God the Father.  It is only through the Name and Power of Jesus that the crippled man was healed but certainly not through any power that Peter personally possesses.  The religious leaders may have thought Jesus was misleading the people, but God has shown them otherwise – by raising Christ from the dead, God is giving the religious leaders a second chance to embrace Jesus as Lord and Christ.  For Peter, God raising Jesus from the dead has changed everything for everyone and he is inviting the religious leaders to re-evaluate their relationship to Jesus Christ.  And the resurrection is not merely a past historical event, for Christ shows He is alive by healing the crippled man even though Christ was not physically present to heal the man.

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Theodoret of Cyrus, writing in the 5th Century, comments on the words of St Paul about the resurrection of Christ from the dead and its implication for humanity:

If, then, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Have a mind for things above, not for things on earth (Colossians 3:1-2): you shared resurrection with Christ.  He is seated over all in the heavens with the Father; so imitate the life above.  After all, you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed in glory with him (3:3-4): you became dead to the present life, being buried in baptism with Christ and receiving the hope of resurrection – the meaning of your life is hidden with Christ in God.  After all, with his rising all were raised.  But we do not see the outcome in reality: the mystery of our resurrection is hidden in him.  When he comes a second time, therefore, then we shall attain resurrection and enjoy immortal life.  Now, it was very apposite for him to say also in reference to Christ, he is revealed: he is not seen even by us and is completely unknown by the unbelievers.  He said it also in reference to us, you will be revealed in glory: in hope we have the promises of the good things; what is now unknown will then be revealed.  (COMMENTARY ON THE LETTERS OF ST PAUL  Vol 2, pp 96-97)

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Though we have died with Christ in baptism, and were raised from death with Christ, part of the effects of the resurrection remain hidden from our eyes.  Christ is in heaven and though we still walk on earth, through baptism we are united to Christ so that part of our lives, part of us, is now in Christ in heaven.  This part of our life is still hidden from us in our life on earth, but it is as real as anything we experience in this world.  The glory of the Lord, which God shares with us, still is a hidden mystery for us, but we are ever moving toward that event in which all will be revealed in Christ.

A New Creation = The Restoration of All Things

Christ is risen!

Truly He is risen!

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Jesus Christ… whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.  (Acts 3:20-21; emphasis added)

What the Acts of the Apostles calls the ‘restoration of all things’, St Paul refers to as a ‘new creation’.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17; emphasis added).   Reflecting on the idea of a new creation, theoretical physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne writes:

“The old creation has its own fruitfulness and brings about its own possibilities. Yet it must be delivered from the frustration of its impending mortality, just as Jesus was delivered from the bonds of death by his resurrection. In each case a great act of God is called for, but an act which must be the fitting fulfillment of what has gone before, not its arbitrary abolition. Just as the cross and the resurrection are part of the one drama of the incarnation, so the old and new creation must be part of the one drama of God’s purpose for his creatures.”    (The Faith of a Physicist, p 169)

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Polkinghorne argues that just as God’s act of salvation is the continuation of His act of creation, so too the resurrection is the continuation of the incarnation, and the new creation to be inaugurated by God will not be the abrupt discontinuation of creation (this world) but rather will be the continuation of it in a new way.  God is not going to create heaven and paradise out of nothing, rather He is going to transfigure and transform what He has already called into existence.  God proclaims His revelation: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  God makes all things new rather than making all new things. Thus, the Church, the sacramental Mysteries as well as any miracle are not the discontinuance of God’s creation, but rather the  experience of what God in fact is continually working through His creation, our world and us. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17).  The continual creative activity of God is visible in our daily lives:  When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.  May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works…” (Psalm 104:30-31).

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“Abba Mios was asked by a soldier whether God accepted repentance.  After he had instructed him in many words the elder said to him: ‘Tell me, dear one, if your mantle is torn, do you throw it out?’  ‘No,’ he said; ‘I sew it up and use it.’  The elder said to him: ‘So if you are sparing of your own clothing, will not God be sparing of his own creation?”   (GIVE ME A WORD, p207)

St Romanos: Hymns on the Doubt of Thomas

Christ is risen!   Indeed He is risen!

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

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Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.  (John 20:19-31)

St Romanos the Melodist in long poem with many stanzas (ON THE LIFE OF CHRIST: KONTAKIA, pp 185-188) comments on the Gospel lesson of the doubt of the Apostle Thomas.  Like many ancient commentators, he does so by imagining various thoughts that might have gone through Thomas’s mind as well as by creating dialogue between Thomas and Christ.  The dialogue and thoughts are fictitious, yet he uses them to teach truth drawn from the Gospel lesson.

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In the first of the stanzas below, Thomas is wrestling with why Christ appeared to the other apostles at the very moment Thomas wasn’t with them.  That Thomas would wonder why Christ appeared to the apostles when he wasn’t with them, seems highly likely to me – a very natural human response.  Thomas’ internal turmoil leads him to look critically at his fellow disciples and he brings to mind reasons why he shouldn’t believe them—he remembers their faults and deems them untrustworthy.  He both wants to justify his own disbelief as well as to remind Christ of the faults of others.  He is criticizing Christ for choosing to appear to the apostles at that moment that Thomas wasn’t with them.  The stanza begins with Thomas raising a question to and about his brother apostles:

“How shall I be able to believe you, for I hear unbelievable words?’

For had the Redeemer come, he would be seeking his servant.

If the Day had dawned, he would not have appeared at the wrong hour.

If the Shepherd had appeared, he would be calling the lamb.

Once he asked, ‘Where have you laid Lazarus?’

And now he has not said, ‘Where have you left Thomas?’

But has he forgotten the one who wished to die with him? (John 11:6)

I remain unbelieving until I have seen.

When I have seen and touched, I will believe and say,

You are our Lord and our God.

[Thomas’ first thought shows his own hurt ego.  He critically asks his brothers – you all are rejoicing because Christ appeared to you, but did He even ask about me?  Did He ask where I was or why I wasn’t with you?  Thomas says he is asking this because Jesus is the Good Shepherd and surely He would have noticed that one of His sheep was missing.  So he begins to feel a justified hurt at the Lord’s lack of concern for him.  That is when he decides to raise the issue of Peter’s ‘lying’ to Jesus when Peter said in John 11:6 that he was willing to die with Christ.  Peter goes on to deny not only that he is Christ’s disciples but even denies knowing Jesus at all.  Yet Jesus still appears to him but not to Thomas?  So Thomas feels very justified in saying until he sees Christ Himself, he will not believe.

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In the next stanza, Christ has already made His second visit to the apostles, and this time Thomas is with them.  Christ has asked Thomas about his disbelief.  Thomas now regrets the rashness of his disbelieving comments.  But he explains that he was provoked by the rejoicing and happiness of his brothers in an event which he did not share with them.  He again brings up the failures of his brother disciples – Peter denied Christ, the others fled when Christ was arrested.  Thomas desperately wants Christ to tell him: “You are not worse than them or somehow a lesser disciple.  I didn’t appear to them when you weren’t there because you aren’t part of them or me.” Christ doesn’t explain why he appeared when He did, but He is clear that He has nothing against Thomas.

Thomas now continues his lament.]

. . .

Would that I too had exercised silence, like Jesus when being judged,

But the sight of them rejoicing drove me to speak;

I was piqued by the words of those who were crying in joy,

‘We have clearly seen alive the One who was willingly dead.’

Therefore, seeing Peter, the denier, all joyful,

And, cheerful again, those who had fled with him,

I was jealous because I wanted to dance with them.

Through jealousy, then, I said what I said before.

Let me not be blamed, my Jesu, but be accepted as I cry to you:

You are our Lord and our God.

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[Thomas admits it was sinful jealousy which caused him to make his foolish declaration and now he is asking Christ to forgive him and receive him again into the fellowship of believers.

Now Christ addresses Thomas with a blunt comment: Here I am risen from the dead and instead of you being thankful, you are both unbelieving and judgmental!]

. . .

‘I slept for a short time in a tomb and after three days came back to life.

For you and those like you I lay in a grave,

And you, instead of thanksgiving, have brought me unbelief.

For I heard what you said to your brothers.’

At this, Thomas trembled and cried out,

‘Do not blame me, Savior, for you I always believe.

Peter and the rest I have difficulty believing,

For I know that they lied to you (Matt 26:31-35)

And, in the hour of evils, they were afraid to say to you,

You are our Lord and our God.

[Thomas, now a bit fearful of having offended his Lord, still attempts to justify his misbehavior by saying he always believes Christ, it is Peter and the other disciples he mistrusts because he has witnessed their lying.  He is again trying to raise his self in Christ’s eyes and his own self-esteem.  He still wants some kind of affirmation from Christ that he is somehow not a lesser disciple because of his personal failure for he reminds himself and Christ that all the others lied to Him when they said they would never deny Him.  Christ is loving them all, despite their personal failures. He remains Good Shepherd even to the sheep that have become lost or willfully left the flock.

Thomas is also raising a very important issue about faith in Christ – before we can believe in Christ, we have to believe in His witnesses – the Apostles, their successors, all believers, the Church.  We are not only asked to believe in Christ, but to believe that His witnesses are being faithful to what they experienced.  Faith turns out not to be in Christ alone, but also in His chosen witnesses as well as the witness of all Christians, namely, the Church which gives us the Scriptures, the theology and wisdom which bears witness to Christ.

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John does not tell us in the Gospel why Thomas was away from the fellowship of the apostles on that day Jesus appeared to them.  Was he gone on personal business?  Was he doing something for the other disciples?  Did he feel he needed some time away from the others to think things through what Christ’s death meant for him and them?  If the latter idea is right, then Thomas was guilty of breaking the fellowship/communion of the apostles.  He needed them and needed to be with them, rather than being apart from them.  This he came to realize when he heard they collectively had seen Christ.  He hadn’t seen the risen Lord for the simple reason that he wasn’t in and with the fellowship of apostles.  By going off as an individual rather than remaining in the fellowship (in the Church), he had cut himself off from Christ.  He was experiencing a test of faith – we not only believe in Christ, we have to believe those who witness to Him.

The God Who Fills All Things

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

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Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed.  So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.  (Acts 3:11-16)

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The Apostle Peter in the above sermon says something I think many faith healers and televangelists today would be reluctant to admit: “as though by our own power or godliness” we performed the miracle.  Peter is firm in his conviction and message that Christ is the physician and healer of all, the apostles are simply His servants, doing His will.  Peter denies having any personal power or godliness.  He is a branch on the vine, but it is the vine which gives life to the branch.  He and the other Apostles are not interested in making themselves essential to what happened.  The Apostles are not seeking glory, praise, honor, money, fame or fortune.  Rather they are freely doing the will of God to the glory of God and not at all for their personal gain.   Peter does not want the people to follow him or focus on him.  He is doing everything to focus the attention on Jesus Christ the Lord, God and Savior.  Peter makes this point that it is Christ, the very person the people rejected and crucified, who is still the focus of our spiritual attention.  The people may have killed Him, but God raised Him from the dead.  Christ is no less important to our spiritual lives and to the world for having died.  His life is not just in the past, for He has been raised by the Father from the dead and now reigns forever as Lord and Savior.  Scripture scholar N.T. Wright makes the same claim for the preaching of St Paul:

“For Paul, the point of the resurrection is not simply that the creator god has done something remarkable for one solitary individual (as people today sometimes imagine is the supposed thrust of the Easter proclamation), but that, in and through the resurrection, ‘the present evil age’ has been invaded by the ‘age to come’, the time of restoration, return, covenant renewal, and forgiveness.  An event has occurred as a result of which the world is a different place, and human beings have the new possibility to become a different kind of people.”   (THE RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF GOD, p 332)

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As a result of Christ’s resurrection, the world, even the entire universe has been changed forever.  Christ makes present the Kingdom of God in the world and in our lives.  The resurrection is showing that God claims Lordship over the living and the dead, over the spiritual and the physical, over heaven, earth and hell itself.  The spiritual world (heaven, hell, angels, etc.) has been united to the physical world.  We experience the spiritual world in and through our bodies and we experience the physical world through our spiritual lives.  The scholar of Syriac Christianity, Sebastian Brock,  points out that heaven in the ancient Christian tradition is  accessible only with and through our bodies.

“… St Ephrem is quite clear in his mind that the soul cannot enter Paradise without the body, and so the righteous cannot in fact enter Paradise until the final Resurrection, when the body and soul will eventually be reunited; in the meantime the disembodied souls await the Resurrection just outside the boundary of Paradise in a state that our Syriac writers describe as ‘the sleep of the soul.’”  (ST EPHREM THE SYRIAN: HYMNS ON PARADISE, p 131)

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The resurrection unites all the realms which exist in the created order:  heaven, earth, and Sheol/Hades.

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

… and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:19-23)

He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  (Colossians 1:13-20)

Raising Up the Temple

Christ is risen!

Truly He is risen!

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After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.  Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”  Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”  So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”  But He was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.  (John 2:12-22)

Temple

Scripture scholar Tom Wright comments on Jesus’ words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”, which he notes was another way of Jesus claiming to be king :

“… Jesus’ Temple action, the question which rumbles on underneath these chapters until it surfaces like a volcano when Jesus stands before the high priest is: Who does Jesus think he is?  Only one person has the authority to act in the Temple in the way he had done—only one person, that is, other than the high priest himself.  It was David who planned the Temple, Solomon who built it, Hezekiah and Josiah who had cleansed it, Zerubbabel who had rebuilt it, Judas who had cleansed it again, Herod who was rebuilding it.  Destroying and rebuilding the Temple was an inescapably royal thing to do.  Jesus’ saying about destroying and rebuilding which had gone round the rumor-mill several times by now, was (and everyone knew it was) a veiled claim to royalty.  It is the son of David who declares the Temple redundant and who thereby draws unto himself the divine purposes for which the Temple had stood as a thousand-year advance symbol.  The Father has indeed prepared a marriage feast for his son and the marriage feast will indeed take place.  But the city of those who refused the invitation will be burnt with fire.

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What then will follow?  Somehow God’s purpose will go ahead anyway.  The choice of Israel wasn’t a mistake, but the purposes God intended to carry out through her are now to be carried forward by the son alone. The building of the Temple wasn’t a mistake, but now the place of sacrifice will be the son alone.  The mystery at the heart of the parable is the mystery of the heart of the gospel itself: that all alike have refused the father’s call, and that the son, who is himself the final rejected messenger, will take that rejection itself and turn it into the means hereby the father’s purpose will finally be accomplished.”  (THE SCRIPTURES, THE CROSS & THE POWER OF GOD, p 16)

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Breaking the Bread; Keeping the Unity

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  (Acts 2:42)

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The Orthodox have tended to understand “the breaking of the bread” to refer to Holy Communion. The Christians assembled to celebrate the Eucharist not just as a commemoration of a past historical even, but even more so to celebrate Christ’s living presence in their midst.  People received Holy Communion not so much for their personal salvation as to demonstrate their union with the community of faithful, the Body of Christ, the Church.  We show we are Christian by identifying ourselves with the Body of Christ (see the comments by Sister Vassa Larin, “The Communion Spoon as Icon” in THE WHEEL Issue 23 Fall 2020, especially pp 31-32).

“…Christian liturgy was a celebration of the presence of the living Christ.  It is not a memorial meal commemorating something that happened in the past.”   (Robert Wilken, THE SPIRIT OF EARLY CHRISTIAN THOUGHT, p 31)

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The Eucharist was given to us as part of Christ’s healing us as the Physician of our souls.  As we receive Christ we are being healed of all of our spiritual infirmities by being united to Christ the Lord and to His Body, the Church.

“… sin was understood in terms of illness.  Here the remedy that Christ offered was his own life, and thus he was ‘himself the physician, himself the medicine’ (St Augustine). Or, again, the remedy was the Eucharist, which Ignatius of Antioch memorably referred to as ‘the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death.’  Or, yet again, it was the sentiments that Christ sent us, some soothing and some painful, but all curative, just as medicines usually are.”   (Boniface Ramsey, BEGINNING TO READ THE FATHERS, p 96)

We become one with Christ in and through Baptism and Holy Communion.  We share in the one table, the one cup, the one bread to become one Body with Christ.  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:16).

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Fr John Meyendorff notes that St Gregory Palamas

 “… when preaching about the Mysteries with the Eucharist specially in mind, developed the conception of St Paul and of the Fathers about the concorporality (syssomoi) of Christians with Christ…  In calling his flock to communion, he reminds them that ‘they must be with Christ not only one Spirit, but also one Body,’ that they are ‘flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone,’ and that ‘such is the union that has been granted to us by this Bread.’ ‘Christ,’ he continues, ‘has become our brother, by sharing our flesh and blood and so becoming assimilated to us.  . . .  He has joined and bound us to himself, as a husband his wife, by becoming one single flesh with us through the communion of his blood; he has also become our father by divine baptism which renders us like unto him, and he nourishes us at his own beast as a tender mother nourishes her babies.  . . .  Come, (Christ) says, eat my Body, drink my Blood . . .  so that you may be not only made after God’s image, but become gods and kings, eternal and heavenly, in me clothing yourselves with me, King and God,’”   (John Meyendorff, A STUDY OF GREGORY PALAMAS, p 177)

In the life of the parish each of us is responsible for maintaining the unity of the parish community.  The only thing we are to break or fraction is the Bread of Communion, but never are we to break the peace, concord, tranquility and unity of the parish community.

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

He Who Took Flesh from the Virgin Destroyed Death

Christ is risen!

Truly He is risen!

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.  (Acts 2:22-36)

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Fr John Behr comments on the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, reminding us that the total shocking nature of the resurrection is sometimes lost on us who celebrate Pascha year after year.

“We sing so frequently that Christ has trampled down death by death.  We sing it so frequently that we no longer listen to the words.  We tend to think that Christ died because he was human, but because he is God he is able to get himself out of the grave.  Well, if that were the case then what good would it have done us: we are not God!  We would still be bound by death.  No, it is by his death that he has destroyed death—so that he can return to us, risen from the dead.

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[I think this is such an important point that Behr makes.  It is not just by being God that Christ destroys death.  It is because He is human and actually dies on the cross and is buried that He destroys death so that we all can also experience the resurrection.  It is God becoming incarnate, becoming human, that has brought about the destruction of death.  Death had power over all humanity, but Christ destroys that power and frees all humanity from living under Death’s tyranny. The idea is well expressed in this hymn from Matins: “All blessed are you, O virgin Theotokos, for he who took flesh of you has triumphed over hell.  He freed Adam and Eve from the ancient curse, destroying death by death and gracing  us with life.  For this, we raise our voices together in son: Blessed are you, O Christ, our God, for doing all this.  Glory to you.”  (New Skete translation)  It is actually His taking on human flesh from the Virgin which led to the destruction of death and His triumph over hell.  It turns out that that which is a sign of human frailty, fragility and futility – our being subject to sickness, sorrow and suffering but especially our mortality – is the very means God is using to accomplish our salvation.  This should give us hope in God’s love and power even in the midst of a fallen and broken world.]

When we think through this, it really should take our breath away!  By death—by that which expresses all the weakness, futility, impotence, and brokenness of our lives—by that very aspect he has shown us what it is to be God, trampling down death by death!

To become like Christ, then, does not require us to become something that we are not, some kind of superhuman existence, but requires instead that we use our death in the way that he has.  For whether we like it or not, we are going to die!  The only question then is: how are we going to die?

Will it be with our hearts attached to this world, to our treasures in this world, to our career, our family, our good image of ourselves?  In which case our death will be a painful separation from all that we love.  Or will it be a death that we willingly embrace even now, as we follow Christ, by taking up the Cross, dying to ourselves, to our ego, to all our passions, to all that ties us to this world, to live, as he did, for others—in love, in service in compassion?  If we do that, we will, even now begin to live the life of God, the risen Christ, manifesting him to others, and thus confirming the reality of his resurrection, making  him present in this world, the world that is increasingly alienated from him, yet is also so desperate for him.”   (THE CROSS STANDS WHILE THE WORLD TURNS, pp 70-71)

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If we live only for our life in this world, if all that we love is in the world, then as Behr says death becomes a painful separation from all that we love.  But if we love God, then love will stretch beyond this world and this life into the next life, eternal life.  If we live as Christians, live being Christ-like, live in imitation of Christ, then we will have Christ with us both in this world and in the world to come.  If we live in Christ, struggling against sin and evil, we will also be able to use our death as the means to triumph over death and live with Christ in His Kingdom.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  . . .  For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:35)

Resurrectional Appearance

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

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And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.

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Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.  (Luke 24:13-35)

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Archimandrite Aimilianos comments:

After the passion, Christ no longer had an ordinary, human body. He was no longer flesh in the way we understand it, and thus we no longer know Him according to the flesh (2 Cor 5:16).  But the disciples saw flesh, and even though the risen Christ had no need to eat, He nevertheless took some fish and ate it (Lk 24:42), because that’s what the disciples could understand.  He did it voluntarily, for their sake.  How, then, was He able to eat it?  Where did He put it?  A thousand questions could be posed.  But the only answer is that He wanted it so, and so He did it.  Do you see?  Christ is what He presents Himself to us and that includes when and how and the extent to which He does so.  He is what He offers to us; He is ‘offered and partaken of’ (from the prayer of the Cherubic Hymn), but only insofar as He wishes.  He gives what He wishes.  And what He gives is what we can receive, what we’re capable of understanding, and in accordance with the degree of our love.”  (THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, p 164)

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Christ is risen!