May 5, 2023

The Mystery of the Tomb of Christ (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The Despotic feasts were determined by the Church to be celebrated over the course of the year and to remember the great events that took place with the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Christ, but above all and most important to experience the mystery of Christ and the mystery of our rebirth. This is the reason why the celebration of these events is preceded by a period of repentance, fasting and prayer, and all these are connected with the Divine Liturgy and the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, which means our own existential participation in these great and wonderful events.

Regarding the feast of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, the central points of the celebration are the terrible Golgotha and the life-bearing Tomb of Christ, which are located in Jerusalem and are the center of our love and worship towards the suffering and resurrected Christ. Golgotha is connected with the Cross of Christ and His Tomb with His holy Resurrection.

On the occasion of the feast of the Resurrection of Christ, today we should turn our attention to the Tomb of Christ, the empty memorial, in which the glorious Body of Christ was placed, after His death on the Cross and His removal from it .

1. Historical Place and Mystery

The Tomb of Christ is a historical site, over which the reverence of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen built the Church of the Resurrection, but it was also the center of love and respect of the first and later Christians. Billions of Christians through the ages have placed their love and respect in this site and been helped along the way in life and even were spiritually reborn. It is, therefore, a historical event, but at the same time a mystery.

The troparia of the Church speak of the value of the Tomb of Christ, both the special place where the Body of Christ was placed, after the removal from the Cross, and the mystery associated with it.

In a troparion of the Canon of Great Saturday it is written: "The shroud and the tomb signify the mystery together, O Word." That is, the shroud and the Tomb reveal Your mystery, which is connected with Your person. The Tomb received the Body of Christ along with His divinity, and shows that death cannot hold Christ. We Christians believe in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ.

In another troparion of the same canon, the following is chanted: "O happy tomb! It received within itself the Creator, as one asleep, and it was made a divine treasury of life, for our salvation who sing: O God our Deliverer, blessed are You." In other words, the Tomb of Christ is "happy and blessed" because it received the Creator within it as if He were sleeping. When the Body of Christ died on the Cross, however, because of its union with the divinity, this death was like a sleep and even a "life-giving sleep", which gives life. Thus, this Tomb has become a divine treasure of life and contributes to the salvation of us who praise the resurrected Redeemer Christ.

The Tomb of Christ in another troparion is praised as life-giving and more beautiful than Paradise. It says: "How life-giving, how much more beautiful than paradise, and truly more resplendent than any royal palace is Your tomb, the source of our resurrection, O Christ." Where Christ is, there is also Paradise and for those who approach it, with reverence and respect, it becomes the source of their own resurrection.

2. The Holy Altar and the Heart

The tangible Tomb of Christ is located in Jerusalem where it was indicated and determined to be by the historical Church and the love of Christians. But, at the same time, the eucharistic tomb is the Holy Altar, on which the bloodless mystagogy is completed, and the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ is proclaimed throughout the world, which regenerates all those who approach it, with the Orthodox preconditions, and taste of the Body and Blood of Christ. The mystery of Christ's Tomb and Resurrection is experienced by those who are reborn through the holy Mysteries, especially from the central mystery which is the Divine Eucharist.

Saint Maximus the Confessor offers another extension of the mystery of the Tomb, which shows the Resurrection of Christ. He writes: "The Master's memorial stands equally either for this world or for the hearts of all the faithful." The world is the Master's memorial, because within it there are the logoi of beings, the uncreated energies of God, but also the human heart is the Master's memorial, because there Christ rests and resurrects human existence. For this reason, as he continues to say, they will see Him "risen in glory" who have Christ honorably entombed in their hearts, while for others who don't have Him entombed within themselves Christ will be "invisible".

These days we always honor and respect the Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, which shows the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, but at the same time we connect with the Holy Altar, the new memorial and strive to offer our hearts to Christ to make it the memorial of the Master. This is how the saints lived throughout the centuries and this made them Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Fathers, Saints and Ascetics and they sacrificed their entire lives for the resurrected Christ. They did not do this because of a study of historical events, but inspired by the experience of the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ.

Let us pray that the Risen Christ will constantly reveal to us the mystery of life that constitutes salvation and that we will hear Him announce to us the mystery of His Resurrection that will make our existence joyful. Let us always be connected to the memorial of Christ which is the Holy Altar. The life and voice of the Risen Christ can cover and neutralize all the human voices of spiritually dead people who question the greatest event in history, the Resurrection of Christ.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, March 2007. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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