May 11, 2023

Paschal Pastoral Encyclical 2011 (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

The First and Second Resurrection

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The Resurrection of Christ, which we solemnly celebrate, after many days of fasting, repentance and prayer, is the central mystery of our faith and life in Christ. Without the Resurrection of Christ we would be under the rule of death, sin and the devil and there would be no gateway for life. That is why the Apostle Paul proclaims: "If Christ is not raised, your faith is in vain and you are in your sins" (1 Cor. 10:17). Christ with His Resurrection gave us the grace to be resurrected spiritually from this life, but also physically at the Second Coming of Christ, as we confess in the Creed: "I expect the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come."

Usually, when we examine the subject of the Resurrection from the point of view of the liturgical typikon, we speak of a first Resurrection, which is the Matins and the Divine Liturgy that takes place on Pascha night, and a second Resurrection, which is the Vespers of Love, which takes place on the day of Pascha, that is, in the afternoon of Pascha Sunday. However, in Holy Scripture the expression first and second resurrection is associated with faithful Christians and refers to the spiritual life. Characteristic is the passage of John the Evangelist written in the Apocalypse: "Blessed is he who has part in the first resurrection" (Rev. 20:5). This means that there is a first resurrection, in which the saints participate, and a second resurrection.

To see what the theological meaning of the first and second resurrection is, we must first examine what the first and second death are. The first death is the separation of man from God, Who is real life, and the second death is the definitive separation of sinners from God which will take place at the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, the first resurrection is man's communion with God, as long as man lives in this world in the Church, and the second resurrection is his communion with God, during His Second Coming, when his body will also be resurrected.

Therefore, the first resurrection that takes place within the Church, when man lives biologically, is of great importance. It is the "period of a thousand years." The Evangelist John in the Apocalypse speaks of those who did not worship the beast and his image and did not receive the mark on their foreheads and hands and who "lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4). What is this thousand year period?

According to Saint Andrew of Caesarea, the time of a thousand years is symbolic and is characterized by the period "from the coming of Christ to the appearance of the Antichrist," that is, the period of the Church in history. Those who truly live in the Church with the sacraments and exercise experience the first resurrection and the second resurrection will take place when their bodies are also resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ.

Thus, according to Saint Andrew of Caesarea, there are two deaths and two resurrections. The first death is spiritual and physical death, which came from man's disobedience to God's command, and the second death is eternal hell. By extension, the first resurrection is "making life from dead works," which takes place through Baptism, Chrismation and the death of the passions, and the second resurrection is the transformation "from the corruption of bodies into incorruption."

This means that, when we live in the Orthodox Church, with the mysteries and asceticism, we participate in the first resurrection, which, as Anthimos of Jerusalem writes, is "God's glory and grace", which "the saints receive in this present life." For those who experience the first resurrection, "the second death, which is the distancing from God," has no power.

The Evangelist John blesses the one who participates in the first resurrection from now on as long as he lives his biological life. He is holy: "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection," because "over these the second death has no power." Those who take part in the first resurrection will be "priests of God and Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:6).

The Church, beloved brethren and children in the Lord, with all the splendor with which it celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, wants to encourage and motivate us to experience the first resurrection from now, that is, our liberation from passions and life of Christ's resurrection in our hearts. Thus, we avoid the death of sin that works in us. In this way we experience the grace, love and peace of Christ within us and this life spreads around us. And then there will be the hope of the second Resurrection, of eternal communion with Christ.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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