BY THE WILL OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF BUCHAREST
METROPOLITAN OF MUNTENIA AND DOBRUDGEA
LOCUM TENENS OF CAESAREA OF CAPPADOCHIA
AND PATRIARCH OF THE ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
TO THE CLERGY, MONKS, NUNS
AND BELOVED FAITHFUL OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BUCHAREST
GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE FROM CHRIST, OUR LORD, AND FATHERLY BLESSINGS FROM US
„And I will be with you always, till the end of time” (Matthew 28: 20)
Fathers and monks, Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
(…) After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Lord, ap-peared, for forty days long, from Easter till Ascension, several times in several places. First of all, He was seen by the women of myrrh, then by his disciples and by several people whom He convinced of the truth of His Resur-rection, teaching them: “about the King-dom of God” (cf. Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24; John 20-21), Acts (1,3) and a few writings of Saint Paul the Apostle (cf. I Corinthians 15:6).
Saint Evangelist Matthew shows us that after his Resurrection from the dead, Christ-the Lord appeared to his disciples in Galilee “at the hill where Jesus had told them to go” (Mathew 28:18-20) and told them: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples every-where and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have com-manded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Saint Evangelist Mark speaks similarly about the meeting of the Risen Lord with His disciples “when they were eating” (Mark 16:14-18). Saint Evange-list Luke shows us clearly that Jesus Christ Risen from the dead travelled with his disciples, Luke and Cleopa, on the way to Emaus, when He explained them what the Holy Scriptures had pre-dicted about His death and Resurrection (Luke 24: 13-32). During this journey, the Lord seemed a stranger whom they invited into the house not to let him travel alone by night. After entering the house, he sat down at the table, blessed and broke the bread and gave it to his disciples to eat. Then, their spiritual eyes opened and they recog-nised the Crucified Jesus. But suddenly, He disappeared. Luke and Cleopa went back to Jerusalem and told the other eleven disciples of Jesus and those who were together with them about their encounter with the Lord Risen from the dead. While they were talking, Jesus appeared among them and explained them everything that happened to him that is about his Passions, Death and Resurrection, fulfilled just as predicted “in the law of Moses, the writings of the prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44). After telling them He will send “what the Father has promised” (Luke 24:49), that is the Holy Spirit, the Risen Jesus took them out of Jerusalem and “raised his hands and blessed them and was taken up into heaven. They worshipped him and went back to Jerusalem, filled with great joy and spent all their time in the Temple giving thanks to God.” (Luke 24: 50-53). So, we see how the blessing of the Christ Risen and Ascended to heaven brings joy to the Church, and the joy brings about thanksgiving to God.
Saint Paul the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, speaks about the appearances of Jesus Christ, our Lord, after his Resurrection from the dead, saying: “that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. Then he appeared to James, and after-wards to all the apostles. Last of all he appeared also to me – even though I am like someone whose birth was ab-normal.” (I Corinthians 15:5-8). These appearances of Jesus Christ, our Lord, after His Resurrection from the dead, show us He is mysteriously present and appears to the people when, where and how He wants.
We also see that the life of Jesus Christ, our Lord Risen from the dead is not a simple return to the life He lived among people, but a different one. His risen body passes through the locked doors (John 20:19), although Apostle Thomas sees He bears, even after death, the insignia of the nails and spear during his crucifixion (John 20:19). Although He tastes the fish and honeycomb after Resurrection (Luke 24:42; John 21.10), the Lord does it not because He needs to feed his body, but to prove his disciples He is Jesus, not a ghost or apparition. In other words, although He appears from time to time, for forty days, to his disciples and to some other persons on the earth, the Risen Christ lives the heavenly eternal life, that is free of any limit of space and time. Nobody and nothing in the earthly life can keep him, not even by sight, unless He wants to. The Risen Jesus does never dies, as He is always alive: “death will no longer rule over him” as Saint Paul the Apostle teaches us (Romans 6:9). Jesus Risen from the dead lives a new life, unlimited and everlasting, immortal, with no sufferance or decay, that is: the eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
The promise that Jesus Christ, our Lord, Risen from the dead, makes to his disciples: “And I will be with you always, to the end of the age“ (Matthew 28:20) is fulfilled in his Church and lived as such by his Church especially after the Ascension of Christ, the Lord, to heaven and the coming down of the Holy Spirit, as He himself predicted to his disciples before his Passion and Resurrection: “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. He is the spirit who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is in you. When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you.” (John 14: 15-18). So, we see that the same as the Holy Spirit from heaven was present in Christ when He was living on the earth, so is Christ from heaven present now in the Holy Spirit who came down and worked in the Church of Christ, which is His Body mysterious and full of the Holy Spirit.
The feast of the Resurrection of Christ and the feast of the Pentecost are mysteriously linked together through the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ, so that through His crucified body, risen and ascended in glory, to bestow then the divine-human eternal life of Christ into his Church in order to prepare it as a bride for the eternal life (John 6: 40 and 47. Romans 6:22-32; Ephesians 2:6), for the glory of the Kingdom of God or the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21).
So, the Risen Christ is present in the Church through the Holy Spirit, enlightening the Church to understand the Scriptures, to celebrate the Holy Sacraments and to observe everything He commanded, always improving the life of the Christians for the final Resurrection and for the Heavenly Kingdom of the Holy Trinity (John 16:13).
The ways of the presence of Jesus Christ, our Lord, in the Church and of communicating his saving grace to those who believe in Him and fulfil his will are many and wonderful, holy and saving.
The Risen Christ is present in His Church and dedicates himself to the faithful through the obedience to the word of His Gospel and through the fulfilment of His commands, as He Himself teaches us saying: “whoever hears my words and believes in him who sent me has eternal life. He will not be judged, but has already passed from death to life” (John 5:24); “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remained in his love.” (John 15:10); “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it.” (John 15:7).
The word of the Gospel by which Christ Himself together with the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts and minds of the faithful feeds and inspires our thanksgiving and praying to God (Romans 10:17). So, the working presence of Christ in us is felt especially in and through prayer, as this is our answer to the call Christ addresses us through the words of His Gospel. This is why before and after listening to the Gospel of Christ in the church, we sing: “Glory to you, God, glory to you!”
Another way in which Christ is present in the Church and dedicated to those who believe in him is the Holy Sacraments that the Church calls “the divine, holy, pure, eternal, heavenly and life giving, fearful Sacraments of Christ.” Rev. Dumitru Stăniloae defined the Holy Sacraments of the Church as the multiple dedication of Christ to us by which the unification of the people with Christ is done.
In the Sacrament of the Holy Baptism, Christ baptised in the River Jordan and the One who baptised his disciples first with Holy Spirit and then with fire flames, is present and united with those who believe in Him: “You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ Himself” (Galatians 3:27). His Baptism is the Holy Sacrament by which we have the communion with the saving grace of the Holy Trinity and receive the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that is the Christian name which means anointed with the Holy Spirit, as the ceremony of the Anointment Sacrament says to the one anointed with Holy Spirit: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Through faith and through the grace of the Holy Spirit received at the Holy Baptism, Christ lives in the hearts of the baptised ones (Ephesians 3: 17-18) and prepares them for the eternal life, as Saint Paul the Apostle teaches us when he says: “If the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you, then he who raised Christ from death, will also give life to your mortal bodies by the presence of the Spirit in you” (Romans 8:11).
The Risen Christ is present and working in the Church through the Holy Sacrament of Wedding, blessing with His presence and grace the relationship between bridegroom and bride as holy icon of the relationship between Him and His Church, as the Apostle says at the wedding: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife, and the two will become one. There is a deep secret truth revealed in this scripture, which I understand as applying to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Christ present with His Mother and His disciples at the Wedding in Cana Galilee (John 2) is present through His grace at every Christian wedding celebrated with faith and piety in the Orthodox Church.
The Risen Christ is present and working in the Holy Sacrament of Priesthood as the steps and name of deacon, priest and bishop are Christological names, that is proofs of the work of Christ in His Church, because He is the servant (Deacon), High Priest and Bishop (The Shepherd, guardian and Bishop of your souls) (I Peter 2:25). The Saviour Himself promised he would be present in those whom He sends to confess Him: “whoever listens to you listens to me” (Luke 10:16) or “whoever receives anyone I send receives me also” (John 13.20). So, we can see how great and holy is the work of Christ through His priests consecrated by the Holy Spirit “to be shepherds of the church of God” (Acts 20:28).
The Risen Christ is present in the Sacrament of Healing, he is “the doctor of our souls and bodies” (Healing Sacrament) or the Healing Source (Service for consecrating the water), the One who healed lots of sick people. This is why Saint John Chrisostom called the Church of God “a spiritual pharmacy, where new remedies, to heal the wounds caused by the world are prepared”.
The Risen Christ is present in the Sacrament of Repentance and of the forgiveness of the sins as the One who healed the sinful woman, the weak in Capernaum, the sick at Vitezda pool and many others. The gift of forgiving the sins for getting the eternal life is the greatest gift that Christ the Lord gave to his disciples on the first day of his Resurrection from the dead, when He said: “‘Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so I send you’. Then he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven, if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’” (John 20: 21-23). Saint John Chrisostom says, when he speaks of the forgiveness of the sins through the Holy Sacrament: “Go into the church and confess your sins, repenting for them; because you will find there the doctor to heal you, not a judge to punish you; they do not want to punish the sinner there, but to forgive the sins.”
Christ Risen from the dead is present and dedicated to his faithful especially in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, according to his promise: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him to life on the last day” (John 6:54) or “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him” (John 5:56).
When explaining what Saint John the Evangelist says, Saint Kyril of Alexandria (+444) says: “As the life giving Word of God lived in the body, turned it to his own good, that is into life, and showed it, through mysterious union, becoming as he Himself is by nature, through a life giving adding. This is why the body of Christ makes alive those who take Him as communion, because when He comes to the mortals, He chases away death and removes decay, as He has in Himself the power to do completely away with decay.”
Another way of the mysterious presence of the Risen Christ in the world is His presence and call through our fellow beings who need our brotherly presence and help. Christ, the Lord, waits for our answer to His merciful love, in them, as well as in our willingness to become His merciful hands for our fellow beings in need. This truth is given by the Holy Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 25, when He speaks about the love for our neighbour as the criteria for the Last Judgement, when Christ, the just judge will tell everybody: “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25: 40 and 45). Saint John Chrisostom teaches us that the union with Christ through the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist is fruitless unless it fulfils the deeds of the Christian mercy: “Do you want to honour the Body of Christ? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honour it here, in the Church, through silk clothes if you let him outside to suffer from cold with no clothes.
The one who said: this is my body and changed it saying these words, is the same one who says: I was hungry and you gave me to eat (…). Remember it also Christ when we see your fellow being roams like a homeless stranger.”
The presence of the Risen Christ in the Church and in the world is a mysterious, spiritual presence, which is not conspicuous and which does not constrains us physically or morally, because Christ, our Lord respects our freedom to receive or to refuse Him. The Risen Christ does not force the doors of our soul, does not annul our freedom; His way meets the way of our life, but He does not enter the house of our soul and body unless we are willing to receive Him. He tells us rather often, in many ways and circumstances: “Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him, and he will eat with me” (Rev. 3:20). Whoever receives Him receives eternal Life and joy, receives the heaven in his heart and house. Whoever does not open the door of his heart to Christ, locks himself outside the Kingdom of God, as the liturgical chant says during the Lent: “Here the bridegroom comes at midnight and happy is the servant whom he will find watching, and useless is the one whom he will find idling. So, see my soul not to oversleep and not to die and lock yourself outside the Kingdom….”
The presence of the Risen Christ is invoked in prayer. When we say “God help me”, God have mercy, God, be with me, God, save me, all these expressions whom we learned from the Gospel of Christ, are calls of Christ in our soul, life and activity, as His presence is offered, not imposed. The Risen Christ never misses his encounter with us, but we often forget to look for Him, to call Him and to receive Him. The best-known evidence of Christ’s presence amid us is the Orthodox liturgical greeting: “Christ is amid us”, followed by the answer: “He is, will always be, for ever and ever, Amen! So, the promise of Christ’s presence in His Church is confirmed, based on the experience of His Church, which lives in and is feeding with the loving, holy and saving presence of Christ.
The same as on the day of His Resurrection the Risen Lord came to His disciples gathered together, sat with them and blessed them, so does He come and sits amid the faithful met in His name, in any place and any time, according to His promise: “For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them” (Matthew 18:20). While using the priest’s voice and hand, Christ meets and blesses us with His peace. This is why in the Orthodox rite the priest conveys, through word and gesture, the blessing of Christ, saying: “Peace to all of you!”, while he blesses making a cross with his right hand.
The heavenly peace that the Risen Christ brings in the souls of the faithful is the peace of man’s reconciliation with God, the power of victory over the sin and death, the power of the sacrificial love, which helps them to overcome the troubles, temptations and trials of the earthly life. This power is confirmed by Saint Paul the Apostle when he says: “I have the strength to face all conditions, by the power that Christ gives me” (Philipians 4:13). The power of the Cross and Resurrection, as mysterious but true presence of Christ in the Church, is confirmed by the apostles and martyrs who sacrificed their lives for Him, by the hierarchs, priests and deacons who fought for defending the right faith, by the monks and nuns who lived in monasteries and sketes fasting and praying, by the Christian families who gave birth to children and grew them in faith, as well as by all those who carried with joy the cross of many trials and sorrows, with the faith in the help of God and in the hope of Resurrection.
The Church lives in the presence of the saving love of Christ (Romans 8:35), in the living relationship with Him, as a result of the “faith that works through love” (Galatians 5:6) and waits with faith, hope and love the fulfilment of His promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
I mentioned in the previous pages of the Pastoral letter, when I underlined the importance of the saving presence of the Risen Christ in the Church, proofs especially from the Holy Scripture and from the Divine Liturgy, chiefly because this year, 2008, is the jubilee year of the Holy Scripture and of the Divine Liturgy in the Romanian Patriarchy, when we celebrate 320 years since the printing of the Bible from Bucharest (1688), the first complete edition of the Holy Scripture in the Romanian language, and 500 years since the printing of the first Orthodox liturgical book, namely the Slavonic Liturgical Book published in Târgovişte in 1508. When obeying the words of God in the Holy Scripture and participating in the Divine Liturgy, we feel as strongly as possible the loving, consecrating and saving presence of Christ in the Church, in order to give us joy, peace and eternal life.
Let us enjoy the loving cones-crating presence of Christ on these days of the feast of the Holy Easter, in our souls and houses. Let us glorify Him thanking Him at the same time for the blessing and peace that He gives us when we seek Him. At the same time, let us spread joy and peace around us, by word and deed, helping especially the sick, poor and old people, those in need and distress. Let us not forget in our prayer and love our brothers from abroad, especially those far away from Romania. Let us use the time of the Holy Easter in order to strengthen the communion of love between parents and children, between spouses, friends, and neighbours and let us try “to be at peace with everyone and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it.” (Hebrews 12:14).
We address you, in the light of the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and of the prayers of His saints, best wishes of good health and salvation, of peace and joy, of help from God in every good deed, together with the Pascal greeting “Christ is Risen!”
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (II Corinthians 13:13).
Archbishop of Bucharest,
Metropolitan of Muntenia and Dobrudgea,
Locum tenens of the throne of Caesarea of Cappadocia,
Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church