|The Resurrection of Christ, fresco from Dechani Monastery circa 1340|
Serbian True Orthodox Church
PASCHAL ENCYCLICAL 2021
Hierarchical Council of the STOC
Under the Chairmanship of His Grace Akakije,
Bishop of Uteshiteljevo
To all the Faithful Children of St. Sava’s Church
We greet you on the Feast of Feasts,
the Radiant Resurrection of Christ:
CHRIST IS RISEN!
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” – Jn 16:20
Воскресенија ден – today is the day of the Resurrection. This is that most joyous day, when even before dawn an inexpressible joy touched the hearts of Christ’s disciples and echoed powerfully through all the coming ages.
The apostles accepted this joy with disbelief and caution. The day had just dawned, and the news of the victory over death astonished them. They were confused and felt a strange burning in their hearts. Nonetheless, the grace-filled joy only shined on them when they looked upon the Resurrected One in His still-earthly form. That was a joy above all joys, ecstasy, like the threshold of Heaven itself.
The Resurrected Lord appeared to the Apostles in a way that they could recognize Him, in the shape that they knew when they lived with Him on earth. For it was impossible, even partially, as it was shown when He was transfigured before them on Mount Tabor, for them to look upon the true radiance of the Resurrected One, Who revealed, for those on earth, the inaccessible mystery of the Eighth Day, the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Lord had spoken to them of this joyful meeting and this joy, comforting them, before His Passion and death on the Cross: “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you…(Jn 16:22)." This promise was made to them, and through them, to all of us.
From these words we can see that the joy in our hearts does not come just from our vision or recognition of the Resurrected Christ, as on earth one usually has from seeing a loved one, but rather, His seeing us, for He does not say, when you see Me, but rather when I see you, your hearts will rejoice. Therefore, the resurrectional joy which all faithful followers of Christ, the children of God, feel, comes from the Divine, grace-filled gaze into our hearts and souls, the gaze of the God-Man Christ, Resurrected and Glorified. This is confirmed by the Lord’s special goodwill towards those who do not see, but believe: “…because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed…(Jn 20:29)."
This joy of ours can no longer be taken away. The World, which in this context the Holy Fathers understand meaning the Jews, at that time gloated, thinking that with the killing of Christ they had triumphed over Him. This joy of the Jews hurt the disciples of Christ even more, who were already broken with sorrow because of the death of their Teacher. However, the Jews’ joy and the Apostles’ sorrow were short-lived. A reversal occurred quickly and unexpectedly, just as a woman after brief pains in labor is filled with great joy when she sees her new-born child (Jn 16:21).
All Christians, from that first Resurrection day to this very day, feel that inexpressible joy of the Resurrection of Christ, the feast of the Resurrection and Resurrectional services, which are repeated not just every year, but every Sunday, and so they shall until the Second Coming of Christ.
Nonetheless, despite everything, the Christians of these last times are oppressed by sadness and a feeling of being forsaken by God, as it is becoming all the more apparent that the Church as a monolithic, most-saving institution of the nation and a pious national ruler are under the yoke of the lords of darkness of this world and his servants (Eph 6:12). Without these two vital supports, Christian peoples are left without pastors and defenseless before wolves who snatch and disperse them unhindered (Jn 10:12).
The great apostasy of which Holy Scripture speaks is before us. It is spreading more and more powerfully as the forerunner of the coming antichrist. Mankind has become so perverse and far from God that the appearance of the man of iniquity, the antichrist, is the perfectly logical, expected, and natural result of people’s general moral and spiritual state. However, even if we have this apocalyptic picture before us, we cannot waver and fall in spirit. That would be a great and unforgivable sin.
Let us remember the time when the Jews arose against Christ to kill Him. He surrendered to them willingly, without resistance, explaining His action with the words, “the scriptures must be fulfilled” as the Evangelist Mark says (14:49). In other words, all of this must happen for the salvation of the world. The Lord drove away Peter because of his lack of understanding of this, calling him satan (Mt. 16:23). In the Gospel according to Luke the Lord explains this with different words: “…this is your hour, and the power of darkness (Lk 22:53)." The meaning of this verse is similar to the former. For the Lord surrendered to the Jews for voluntary suffering and death on the Cross for the salvation of the world. In order for the Jews to fulfill their evil plan, their hour and power of darkness were allowed by God. That is, the power of the spirit of darkness and evil, whose tools were the Jews, temporarily prevailed, in order to carry out the secret economy of human salvation.
The salvation of the world through Christ is the work of God’s love towards mankind, a father’s love, merciful love, compassionate and all-forgiving. This Divine fatherly love sent His beloved Only-Begotten Son to redeem and renew mankind, to give birth to us in the Spirit (Jn 3:3). In contrast, all those who persist in not believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the world, not only are not born again and do not become sons, do not become children of God, but rather are of the antichrist (2 Jn 1:7), the bearers and helpers of the mystery of iniquity (2 Thess 2:7). This is the mystery of the salvation of the human race; this is the mystery of piety (1 Tim 3:16). The seal of this mystery is the Resurrection of Christ. This is the foundation of our living faith and living hope, for the Resurrection of Christ is the foundational dogma (Rom. 10:9). If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain… (1 Cor 15:14)."
Before His suffering and death, the Lord encouraged His disciples: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The appearance of the Lord was accompanied by the Divine greeting, “Rejoice!” and the powerful encouragement, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, Amen (Mat 28:20)." Belief in the Resurrection and victory over hades gave Christians superhuman power which transformed fishermen into apostles who with the Holy Spirit “fished” the entire world and turned pagan empires into Christian empires.
This belief in the Resurrection warmed and fortified through various times many enslaved Christian nations, which like the phoenix came back to life and rose from ashes. The most remarkable example of this is the Serbian people which groaned and sighed under the multi-century Turkish yoke. But the same people under the heavy yoke of the Hagarene antichrist kept the Emmaus Easter fire in their chests and carried the miraculous Easter hope in their hearts. It was this very faith in the Resurrection of Christ that gave the Serbian people strength, who then could be raised from the dead, like Lazarus the four-days-dead. They were like a five-century-old dead man that the Lord revived, saying: "Loose him and let him go" (John 11:44) in order to continue their God-ordained historical mission.
Our contemporaries do not understand the grace-filled power of Christ’s Resurrection, whose annual and weekly celebration has been left to us by the Holy Fathers. In these services is hidden the power of that first Resurrection night, which scatters His enemies and drives away all all that is dark and un-illumined with Christ’s Resurrection, expressed in the well-known Resurrectional Psalm, “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and let all that hate Him flee from before His face…(Ps 67:2)."
All those who in this apostolic joy celebrate the Resurrected Christ and dedicate themselves to serving Him are made worthy of that special grace which rescues them out of the darkness of fallen humanity and from a life lived in fear of the Jews (Jn 20:19). Therefore they no longer have anything or anyone to fear. We see in the Holy Scriptures that the Apostles hid and fled from fear of the Jews only for a short period after the arrest of Christ in Gethsemane, when all of the disciples left Him and fled (Mat 26:56). However, after the Resurrection of Christ, when they became full of the grace-filled power of Christ’s Resurrection, they fearlessly went to enlighten all nations with the light of the Gospel truth (Matt 28:19).
With the strength of our faith, we know that Christ’s work has triumphed and will triumph for those who faithfully serve it and fight for it. For our Lord Jesus Christ, the Victor over hades and death, has risen from the dead. He is the one and only final Victor. Whether now is the time of the end - i.e., that period in which the prophecies in the Apocalypse are fulfilled and, by God's allowance, the power of the spirits of darkness and evil, and all that will make the final period of human history terrible, will rule - or whether we will be given more time for the resistance of the mystery of iniquity, for the renewal of Christian states and the rebirth of the Church on earth - we do not know. In either case, evil, however powerful it may be, will be defeated by the power of the Resurrection over death and the power of our faith and loyalty to Christ. It can be restrained and temporarily overcome, and in the end it will be finally blown away by the breath of the mouth of Christ (2 Thess. 2: 8) into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
Therefore we do not despair, because every defeat we undergo by the mystery of iniquity is only a postponed victory for us Christians. For us, even an obvious “victory” of evil over good cannot make us waver. Simply being loyal to Christ is a victory over Evil. St. Nikolai of Zhicha, keeping this in mind, like a Serbian prophet Jonah left our people, as Jonah once did for the Ninevites, a prophetic message that we should have only one care - to win the Kingdom of Heaven - and if we do, we can successfully oppose evil, postpone the apocalyptic doom of the final break of Christian states and the institutional Church, and renew and uphold an earthly kingdom for a longer period.
The Old-Testament Ninevites had not only sinned, but, furthermore, they had already been condemned by God! Yet they had ears to hear the prophet who declared to them the terrible divine sentence of the final destruction of Nineveh. They believed him and did not fall into despair, but with hope in the mercy of God, they all, from the king to the lowest servant, gave themselves to repentance and changed God’s sentence, stopping the heavenly anger and turning it into divine favor (Jonah 3).
“Rejoice always… Quench not the Spirit!” (1Thess. 5:16-19)
Christ is Risen!
Your Intercessors before the Resurrected Lord
Bishop of Uteshiteljevo Akakije
Bishop of Shumadia Nektarije