April 25, 2023

Paschal Pastoral Encyclical 1998 (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

the Sacred Clergy and the pious people
of our Sacred Metropolis

My beloved brethren,

After His Resurrection, Christ appeared to His Disciples and showed them the wounds formed on His body by the spear and the nails of the Cross. This was His mark of recognition.

There is a beautiful image in the Book of the Apocalypse of John which graphically presents the sacrificial work of Christ, that He was crucified on the Cross and then resurrected, thus offering His love to the human race. This is the image of the "slain" Lamb. The Evangelist John says: "And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth" (Rev. 5:6).

Christ is the Lamb, Who "through the Passover of the law was offered as a prototype," according to the interpretation of Arethas of Caesarea. The Prophets in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, saw the Messiah as a lamb, because they foresaw His sacrifice on behalf of the human race. Saint John the Forerunner introduced Christ to his Disciples as a lamb: "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:37).

The Lamb that John the Evangelist saw was "as though it had been slain" which means that it had the marks and wounds of the sacrifice, but was still alive. Saint Andrew of Caesarea says that "as though it had been slain" "denotes his post-slaughter life," and even declares the symbols of the Passion, which Christ would show after His Resurrection.

Another characteristic of the Lamb was that He stood upright despite His wounds. That is why the Evangelist John says: "stood a Lamb as though it had been slain." And in fact he was standing upright, in the middle of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, declaring with this attitude that the risen Christ is He who "continues and upholds all things" (Anthimos of Jerusalem).

The seven horns of the Lamb reveal His power and glory (Arethas of Caesarea) and the seven eyes indicate the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which reside in the human nature of Christ (Anthimos of Jerusalem).

The whole majestic image of the "as though it had been slain" Lamb of the Apocalypse of John shows the glory and majesty of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Christ was sacrificed as an unblemished lamb to defeat sin and the devil, and then rose from the dead to defeat death as well, and thus give life to people who are connected to Him.

Christ, that glorious Lamb, is continually sacrificed to offer life to humanity. Every Divine Liturgy is a Pascha, an experience of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. In the Divine Liturgy we live the Paschal atmosphere and experience. The Passover of the Jews, during which a lamb was sacrificed, was a type of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, but the mystery of the divine Eucharist is the actual eating of the Lamb, that is, Christ. Christians are not limited and exhausted with the roasted lamb, the so-called Paschal lamb, but proceed to eat the real "as though it had been slain" Lamb which is Christ, Who is never depleted, since according to the words of the Divine Liturgy, "The Lamb of God is apportioned and distributed; apportioned, but not divided; ever eaten, yet never consumed; but sanctifying those who partake."

However, in the Apocalypse of John there is another image that refers to the Lamb who is Christ, and to the relationship He has with His disciples. "And I looked and behold the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand, having his name and the name of his father written on their foreheads" (Rev. 14:1). The number "one hundred and forty-four thousand" is symbolic and reveals the fullness of the saints, those people who follow the Lamb "wherever He goes" (Rev. 14:4). And the foreheads of these saints "are sealed by the light of the divine face" and that is why they look "reverent", terrible to the annihilated angels, according to Saint Andrew of Caesarea.

This means that the saints obtained communion and unity with the glorious Lamb, Christ. And as the Lamb was sacrificed, so they are sacrificed daily. And just as the Lamb was resurrected, so they are also resurrected by His power from the old life and live the new life, in New Zion, which is the Church.

In general, in the Book of the Sacred Apocalypse we see the actions of the beast, i.e. the devil and the antichrist, but at the same time the glory and triumph of the slain Lamb, i.e. Christ. We also notice that there is talk of the "mark" which the beast seals on the right hand and the forehead of the people who worshiped it (Rev. 13:16-17), but at the same time there is talk of the "mark of the living God" with which the foreheads of God's servants are sealed (Rev. 7:2-3). Thus, the saints who follow and live with the Lamb have "his name and the name of his father written on their foreheads" (Rev. 14:1). The final victory in history belongs to the "as though it had been slain" Lamb, who will defeat the beast and reign eternally with those sealed with His name and His Father's name.

We celebrate these days, we the new people of the Grace of God, spiritually the Crucified and Resurrection Pascha and we strive with the sacramental life to be sealed with the mark of the living God, because when we are sealed by Christ, that is when we unite with Him, then we will avoid any other trial and tyranny, and we will live the eternal Pascha with the Risen Christ, whose infinite mercy "be with all of us."

With paternal prayers and blessings

† HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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