May 2, 2023

Paschal Pastoral Encyclical 2004 (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

My beloved brethren,

The Resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate these days, is an event that marked great changes in history, first in people's lives and then in society and culture. In this theological climate of the Resurrection of Christ, as proclaimed by the Church, life was given meaning, death took on another meaning, relationships between people were redefined, all the considered details of our lives acquired a purpose, existence was filled with eternal life of those who were associated with the Risen Christ.

Communicating with you today, on the occasion of the feast of the Resurrection of Christ, I would like to identify an event that is of particular importance for our Church. And this is that the resurrected Christ appeared to His Disciples, who had communion with each other, mainly during a meal.

The Evangelist Mark writes: "Later He appeared to the eleven as they reclined at the table" (Mark 16:14). He writes "reclined", because then people, and of course the Apostles, ate while they reclined. The Evangelist Luke refers to the Disciples who were on their way to Emmaus, who did not recognize Him while He was speaking to them, but they recognized Him during the meal, because then "He took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them, and their eyes were opened and they recognized Him" (Luke 24:30-31). Again, the Evangelist Luke mentions that Christ, in another appearance to the Disciples, who were astonished, asked them: "What food do you have?" When the Disciples gave Him a portion of a baked fish and some honeycomb, He "took it before them and ate" (Luke 24:41-43). Also, the Evangelist John describes the appearance of Christ on the beach, at the time when the Apostles Peter and John were at sea and fishing, and he asked them "Have you any food?" And when the Disciples Peter and John disembarked on land, "they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread." Then He exhorted them: "Come, eat lunch." However, "none of the disciples dared to examine Him, knowing that He was the Lord," that is, they gained certainty that He is the Christ. Then Christ "took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish" (John 21:1-14).

In these appearances of the resurrected Christ, two events are seen: one is that the Disciples are together, sometimes all of them and sometimes some of them, and the second is that they are invited to a meal. And during the meal Christ appears to them, and His Disciples recognize Him. The movements of Christ, as well as the energy emitted by these movements, reminded them of the Secret Supper, the mystery of the divine Eucharist, since indeed these movements have a Eucharistic background, they constitute a liturgical act. In particular, the phrase "He took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them," reminded the Disciples of the Secret Supper.

This teaches us that the power of Christ's Resurrection is revealed in the Church, in the group of Christ's Disciples, in the Divine Eucharist, and we know Him personally, when, after proper preparation, we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, that is, we partake of the Immaculate Mysteries.

The real Pascha for us Orthodox is the mystery of the Divine Eucharist, the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. That is why we prepare all through Great Lent, and on the night of the Resurrection, during the Divine Liturgy, we do not leave the churches, but remain in the Resurrection Divine Liturgy, which is the real Pascha. Great Lent, with asceticism, is a stage of preparation for the feast of Pascha.

And this Pascha we celebrate and feast every time the Divine Eucharist is celebrated, especially during the Divine Liturgy every Sunday, which is the weekly Pascha.

Saint John the Chrysostom in one of his sermons writes that Pascha and Great Lent are not the same thing, "Pascha is one thing, Lent is another." And he explains that Lent comes once a year, while Pascha is celebrated three or four times a week and every time the Divine Eucharist is celebrated, because "Pascha is not fasting, but the offering and the sacrifice, the communion that takes place each time." Every time you come, he says, to the Divine Eucharist with a clear conscience, "you celebrate Pascha", and you celebrate Pascha not when you fast, "but when you participate in that sacrifice." Every Divine Liturgy does not differ in any way from the Divine Liturgy of the day of Christ's Resurrection. And Pascha is not a reason for fasting and mourning, "but for joy and gladness." That Pascha is the Divine Eucharist is shown by the fact that the catechumen, even though he is fasting, "never celebrates Pascha, because he does not receive communion." And, of course, not everyone in attendance is recommended for Divine Communion, but those who do so "with a clean conscience."

It is necessary as Orthodox Christians to experience the Resurrection of Christ in order to defeat biological and spiritual death and to give those around us the hope of Resurrection and life. This will happen if we participate organically and substantially in the group of the Disciples of Christ, in the Body of the Church, if we go to church every Sunday, and if after preparation, we partake of the Body and Blood of the resurrected Christ. This is because Christ is revealed during the Eucharistic Supper to those who are ready to accept this revelation. Orthodox Christians participate every Sunday in the Resurrection Divine Liturgy, because in this way they have the possibility to acquire knowledge of the Risen Christ, Who will give another perspective to their lives, will flee despair, deprivation and loneliness.

With the wish that we celebrate Pascha every Sunday, living in the Church and participating in the Sunday Divine Liturgy and partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, I address to all of you the resurrection greeting "Christ is Risen".

With paternal blessings,

The Metropolitan

† HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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