April 24, 2023

Paschal Pastoral Encyclical 1997 (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

My beloved brethren,

Throughout Great Lent, which just passed, the Church prepared us to celebrate, as best as possible, the Passion, the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, in fact to love more the Suffering, Crucified and Resurrected God-man Christ.

From the middle of Great Lent, the apostolic readings of the Sundays came from the Epistle to the Hebrews of the Apostle Paul and referred to the high priestly attribute of Christ. Indeed, Christ, as the High Priest of the New Testament, performed the great sacrifice on Golgotha and rose from the dead. In this way He healed man from sin, which is inherent in man's nature and which caused decay and death, not only in man, but also in the whole creation. With the Cross and His Resurrection, Christ "became perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:8-10).

Cross and Resurrection are closely connected. The Cross is the altar of the High Priest Christ on which He performed the great sacrifice, i.e. defeated the forces of darkness, and the Resurrection is the triumph of the glory of the Cross. After all, this link is clearly visible in the sacred hymnography and sacred iconography of our Church. The troparia of Great Friday speak of the glory and triumph of Christ, as well as the troparia of the Resurrection, they speak of the glory of the sacrifice on the Cross, through which man was reconciled to God. The iconography of the Cross presents both the passion of human nature and the dispassion of divinity, as also the icon of the Resurrection presents Christ crushing the devil's kingdom with the Cross. "Behold, through the Cross there is joy throughout the world".

The Fathers of the Church speak in their works about the high priesthood of Christ. Saint Epiphanios of Cyprus writes: "He is a temple, He is a victim, He is a priest, He is an altar, He is God, He is a man, He is a king, He is a high priest, He is a sheep, He is a lamb, He became all things on our behalf." Saint Gregory the Theologian writes that Christ is called "sheep as one who is slaughtered, but high priest as the one who offers." And Saint John Chrysostom teaches that Christ had mercy on us not just by giving us a high priest, as was done in the Old Testament, "but He became a faithful high priest."

The Great High Priest Christ is the hope of man, precisely because he is the God-man. As a perfect man He had a suffering and mortal nature, He was "tempted in all things we are, though without sin" (Heb. 4:15) that is why He can understand us effectively in the many problems and sufferings we have, because of His mortal human nature. Therefore, we do not have "a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb. 4:15). But as a perfect God and risen from the dead, since He was born before all ages from the Father, He can have mercy on us and save us, as the Apostle Paul says: "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

This combination of sympathy and salvation is effective. There are people who can show sympathy, but they do not have the ability to save us, to free us from the sufferings of sin, death, decay, and this causes greater disappointment. True sympathy is not an external consolation, it is not a consoling word, but it is salvation, the overcoming of death, the liberation from the prison of the senses and the sensible. What people, systems, ideologies, religions, etc. cannot achieve, Christ achieves, precisely because as the God-man He is the only High Priest of mankind, and He offers salvation to those who obey Him.

The Great High Priest Christ still today has His own flock and leads it to salvation and sanctification. However, the high priesthood of Christ must be understood in an Orthodox way and not in a Protestant way. That is, Christ is not someone who was once crucified and resurrected and now resides in the heavens and has an emotional relationship with people, but acts within the Church and in the person of each of its Bishops. Every canonical Bishop is not the representative of Christ, but the mystery of the tangible presence of Christ on earth. Therefore, we receive the Grace of the Great High Priest Christ, living in the Church, participating in the mysteries and being guided by the Canonical Shepherds of the Church.

We all ask for sympathy, comfort, love, salvation, freedom. These can only be given to us by the Great High Priest Christ, Who defeated death and offers the medicine of immortality in the Church to those who are His children and are guided by Him to salvation.

Beloved brethren,

"Seeing then that we have a Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14).

I pray that the Grace of the resurrected Great High Priest Christ will always be with you, as a source of sympathy, mercy, grace and effective help.

With warm resurrection blessings,

† HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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