1. TRULY "God is glorious in his saints" (Ps. 68:35 Lxx). Let us call to mind the martyrs' superhuman struggles, how in the weakness of their flesh they put to shame the evil one's strength, disregarding pain and wounds as they struggled bodily against fire, sword, all different kinds of deadly tortures, patiently resisting while their flesh was cut, their joints dislocated and their bones crushed, and keeping the confession of faith in Christ in its integrity, complete, unharmed and unshaken. As a result there were bestowed on them the incontrovertible wisdom of the Spirit and the power to work miracles. Let us consider the patience of holy men and women, how they willingly endured long periods of fasting, vigil and various other physical hardships as though they were not in the body, battling to the end against evil passions and all sorts of sin, in the invincible inner warfare against principalities, powers and spiritual wickedness (Eph. 6:12). They wore away their outer selves and made them useless, but their inner man was renewed and deified by Him from Whom they also received gifts of healing and mighty works. When we think on these matters and understand that they surpass human nature, we are filled with wonder and glorify God who gave them such grace and power. For even if their intentions were good and noble, without God's strength they could not have gone beyond the bounds of their nature and driven away the bodiless enemy while clothed in their bodies.
Brothers and sisters! See how the Holy Church teaches our conscience. The flowers today represent our conscience. Because when all of nature was still dead, when the time of our yearly cycle was approaching, the Holy Church revealed to us a great mystery: the mystery of our redemption. She then opened before us the cave of Bethlehem and the Lord Who had just been born. And we were told through the reading from the Epistle to the Galatians that this cave is our entrance in to a new yearly cycle, that at the manger of Christ our soul is renewed, and that in this renewal of spirit we receive the spirit of adoption (sonship), which unites us into the one family of Christ (Gal. 4:4-7).
And these are not just words. The Holy Church convinces us of this, comparing our spiritual life with what goes on in nature: the death of nature in winter, its revival in the beauty of spring and summer, and the yielding of fruit in fall. It is the same with the soul of a human being. After the sluggishness of spiritual slumber, a person receives the spirit of adoption in order to unite in one family and to receive what the Lord gives in His plan of salvation — His Body and Blood, the Mystery of the Tree of Life, which Adam lost in Paradise.
The Orthodox Church today prayerfully remembers the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which once met in the city of Nicaea in order to investigate and judge the heresy of Arius. We know that in the first centuries of Christianity, the Church endured severe persecution, first from the Jews and then from the pagan Roman imperial power. But despite the fact that the persecution was bloody, despite the fact that thousands of Christians died under torture for their confession of faith, nonetheless, it was not dangerous for the Church.
The Christian of the first centuries remembered well that the Lord Jesus Christ said: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the sou: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). And in the Apocalypse He said: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev 2:10). In these bloody persecutions Christians were faithful to death, went to martyric death, and received from the Lord Savior the crown of eternal life earned by them.
"While He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy"...with great joy ... "and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God" (Lk. 24:51-3).
If, during the course of six weeks, the Holy Church has been teaching us to preserve this peace which Christ granted on the first day of His Resurrection, saying: "Peace be unto you" (Jn. 20:19), then now this feeling of peace should fill our hearts. You see, this feeling of peace appears in all of us as an expectation of joy. People search for some kind of rest, some kind of comfort. For this they travel from place to place in order to find peace. And yet this peace is within them, only in an unrevealed state. Peace is that gift which the Lord gave to us, that peace which keeps a person in a kind of unearthly state of joy. This is what the Holy Church has been teaching us during the six weeks of Easter: to be close to Christ, to preserve this peace, protect ourselves from those things which, entering our heart, might disturb this peace.
You see, our heart is the place in which peace abides.
Today we heard at the Divine Liturgy the account of the Holy Evangelist John the Theologian about the healing by Jesus Christ of the man born blind, that is, who had never seen anything before. It is characteristic that, when this Gospel account ends, the Lord said: “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” (Jn 9:39). And His spiteful enemies, the scribes and Pharisees, probably with irony and mockery, asked Him: “Are we blind also?” (Jn 9:40). And they received an answer, as the Lord told them: “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin” (Jn 9:41), because if a person does not know and does not see, he cannot transgress consciously and does not sin so greatly. Even if he makes a mistake, the Lord Himself does not find it a sin, if the person did not know he was sinning. So the Lord spoke, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin, but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (Jn 9:41).
The Church calls tomorrow’s Sunday the Sunday of the Samaritan, that is, the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, because at the Divine Liturgy the Gospel narrative is about how our Lord Jesus Christ spoke at Jacob’s Well with the Samaritan woman, turning her to the light [of truth] and towards a good and pious life. In this moving narrative we all see, above all, a lesson for us about how careful we ought to be in judging our neighbors, and to avoid all condemning judgment of them, remembering what the Gospel tells us.
Today’s Gospel reading confirms us more and more strongly in the divinity of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The Gospels for the last two Sundays told us about the appearances of the Risen One. They were as if filled with the light of Christ’s Resurrection: the wonderful appearances to the disciples, to Thomas, to the myrrhbearers. But today’s Gospel starts with a dismal, horrible picture: there is no brightness, no light. At the Sheep Gate there was a pool which had five porches. "In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered.... For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years" (Jn. 5:2-5).
"And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?" (Mk. 16:1-3).
Brothers and sisters! Can you imagine the state of mind these Myrrhbearing women were in? For those who lived through Soviet times in Russia and through the persecution of the Church, it is so understandable. In some churches, as in the outskirts of Kiev, this service (the Burial of the Savior) was performed at night. People made their way to such a church through dark streets. Anything could happen, you had to be careful of everything. Neighbors might hear that you went somewhere at night; and you could be stopped on the street. And the service itself in church and the carrying of the Shroud around the church could be interrupted by the authorities. One did not know if tomorrow, on Holy Saturday, this already semi-Easter Liturgy would be performed, because the priest might be arrested.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ!
Christ is Risen!
With what joy and even exultation, the soul of every Orthodox person responds in the victorious exclamation: Truly He is Risen! The Resurrection of Christ is the Victory over death, it is Pascha, it is the way to life everlasting, where there is neither sorrow, nor disease, nor death. Who is found in eternal joy with all the heavenly beings? All believers who seek the Truth - find it in Christ, for Christ is the Way and the Truth. Yes, the Truth is crucified, it can be denied, it is in the minority, but Truth can be defeated by no-one, by nothing - not even death. And if the Truth of Christ is in us, if we confess intact Orthodox Christianity, then we are the victors, no matter how small the last remnant of truly Orthodox Christians may seem. Remember this, beloved in Christ, brothers and sisters! And don't let the enemies of the Risen One bother you! Their days are numbered, they are "as smoke disappears, let them disappear," for our life is only one moment in a world damaged by evil. And the Pascha of the Lord opens the door to eternal life and everlasting joy. Therefore, the church hymns are overflowing with joy today: “Pascha, Lord's Pascha! Pascha, most honorable has shone for us. Pascha, we hug each other with joy. Oh, Pascha! The deliverance from sorrows, for from the tomb this day, Christ has shone forth from the hall of Christ. " Therefore I say to you again and again: Christ is Risen!
☦ Metropolitan Philaret.
We have read various discussions about the apparent lack of accord among the Gospel narrations of Christ's Resurrection. There have been a number of attempts at demonstrating a concordance among the Evangelists in this regard, but not all have been successful.
I wish to offer some considerations on the subject, and I wish to begin by mentioning the most obvious point of seeming lack of accord.
In Matthew's Gospel, we read that upon being greeted by the risen Lord with the word "rejoice," Mary of Magdala and the other Mary immediately embraced His feet. Nevertheless, we read elsewhere [John 20:11-17] that, when Mary of Magdala was weeping at the empty tomb and did not recognize Christ, but thought that He was the caretaker of the garden. When she did finally recognize Him, she was forbidden to touch Him.