This week across the world and throughout these United States, approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians have been celebrating their Holy Week, which culminates in the Orthodox Easter, known by its original Greek name, Pascha (which means Passover).
This week is the pinnacle of liturgical life in the Orthodox Church, where its most beautiful and sublime services unite the faithful on Earth to our Father in heaven. But besides the fact that the Orthodox celebrate Pascha on a different day than those churches originating out of the Roman Church, the reasons for which are too complex to explain here, what else distinguishes the Orthodox understanding of Christ's resurrection from the dead?
I have often heard it said that the resurrection of Christ was a vindication of his claims to be the awaited messiah and a proof that God the Father had accepted his sacrifice on the cross. Thus, the empty tomb proves that Jesus is who he claimed to be: The Son of God and God the Son. And this is pretty much what the Resurrection was for -- to convince people Jesus really meant what he said. After all, the most significant work of Christ was already accomplished on the cross, where he paid the price of our sins. At least, this is how the story goes.
This somewhat limited idea of the Resurrection is perhaps a natural conclusion one comes to based on the theology of Atonement. This theology was most fully developed and expressed in the Western European Middle Ages starting with Anselm of Canterbury and eventually accepted as apostolic teaching in both the Roman Church and its Protestant offshoots.
A different view
Interestingly, this was not the case in the Orthodox Christian East. From the time of the apostles, the Orthodox have preached first and foremost that "Christ is risen!"
The preaching of the early church was not the kind of "Christ died for you! Don't you feel guilty? Now repent!" approach that we often hear today. Rather it was more like "Christ rose for you! How can we not repent?" Christ not only accepted death on our behalf, but by doing so, he trampled down death to bestow life on us who could not overcome it. The whole plan of salvation was accomplished primarily and definitively in the Resurrection.
While the resurrection does indeed prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the messiah, it does much more. The Resurrection is not just a grand publicity stunt designed to get people's attention and to make converts.
The Resurrection reveals something very important about God's love and his plan for us. For God, the atoning sacrifice on the cross was not enough. His love for us goes even farther than wiping the slate clean.
The resurrection provides for us the path of glory in his Christ, so that we who were dead in sin might not only live again and start over, but live in perfect communion with the God who created us.
In the Resurrection, our human nature, which had fallen, is raised up to a new height that it never had, even in the first paradise.
We need to understand that when God reveals himself through Christ in remarkable and miraculous ways, such as through the Resurrection, his baptism, and in his Transfiguration, he is not just making a show to impress the disciples. These actions actually teach us something about God's glory and the kingdom which is to come.
The apostolic and Orthodox teaching of Glorification finds its roots in the glorified body of Jesus Christ.
The body of the resurrected Christ is not like the body he had before. The mortal has been raised immortal, it has been glorified (1 Corinthians 15:42).
Those who unite themselves to him not only have the opportunity to be forgiven for any and all sins they have committed and confessed, but also to experience the glory of the new life in Christ.
When we are united to Christ we become partakers of the divine nature in him (2 Peter 1:4). In the words of Lord, "Abide in Me, and I in you." This is also at the heart of the Orthodox teaching of Holy Communion (John 6:51-58).
God is not satisfied that Christ should die for our sins. Atonement is not enough. He is only satisfied when we should live with him the way he intended when he created us.
For us to be saved we need more than forgiveness, we also need a new life to supercede the old. This new life is made possible only through the resurrection of Christ. Let us rejoice therefore, for Christ is risen!
XThe Rev. David G. Subu is pastor of Holy Cross Orthodox Church, in Hermitage, Pa.