The Orthodox world celebrates Easter this year on Sunday, May 2, in three days. We wish a blessed, holy Easter to all, and include here below reflections on the meaning and importance of Easter.

    As the Orthodox Easter draws near, in the light of Christian faith, in the light of the proclamation of the Resurrection, it seems important to make one point, as follows:

    The modern, increasingly popular, ever more accepted “scientific” and “humanistic” vision of human life and its meaning tends to look “beyond” human beings as we are now, beyond Homo sapiens, toward a “better,” “improved” type of human being (Homo sapiens 2.0, as it were), to be “created” through the skill of science, through computer programming and the insertion into the human body of computer chips and through genetic engineering, et cetera…

    This vision is sometimes termed “transhumanism,” (link and link).

    This vision is spurring great efforts to arrive at this “new humanity,” all the while tending to neglect, or ignore, or forget the astonishing reality of… Christ’s Resurrection on the first Easter Sunday almost 2,000 years ago.

    What occurred that morning?

    Christ on that first Easter morning accomplished a transformation of the human race, if we may understand profoundly what it meant that He rose from the dead.

    Indeed, He accomplished the definitive transformation, drawing mortal humans up into immortality, fallible humans into divinity (the Orthodox refer to this as “theosis,” the process by which human being take on the divinity of Christ.)

    This is not to belittle or mock or cast aside the many positive, even astonishingly beneficial, results of modern medical and genetic and computer science.

    Yet it is to speak a word of caution.

    It is to appeal to our scientific, medical, political, financial and philosophical elites to recall and keep fixed in their minds some wise words Pope Benedict XVI spoke in differing ways on many occasions, until one might say that they became a key teaching of his pontificate: that humans, in our efforts to create a “new humanity,” nevertheless face intrinsic limits that we should not pass… that we should not do everything that we can do… that some things are sacred, and must be kept sacred… to avoid tragedy…

    “I would like to repeat here what I already wrote some time ago,” Benedict said in 2006. “Here there is a problem that we cannot get around; no one can dispose of human life. An insurmountable limit to our possibilities of doing and of experimenting must be established. The human being is not a disposable object, but every single individual represents God’s presence in the world (cf. J. Ratzinger, God and the World, Ignatius Press, 2002).”

    Benedict spoke these words at a talk he gave in 2006 to participants in a symposium on the theme “Stem Cells: What Future For Therapy?” organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life in the Hall of the Swiss, Castel Gandolfo, Saturday, September 16, 2006, (link).

    As the Orthodox Easter again draws near, it seems necessary to insist that a science that experiments on human beings (sometimes taking the lives of human embryos), and seeks to alter the very nature and structure of the human genetic code, and to intertwine that code with one or many computer chips made by men, all in the name of “surpassing the limitations” of the present human species, ought to take into account the fact of the Resurrection — that surpassing fact, that transcendent fact, that divinizing fact.

    Might not the “surpassing” these scientists are seeking have been, on the ontological level, already accomplished?

    By whom?

    By Jesus Christ, the anointed one of God, the Savior of all mankind, when He conquered sin, and in so doing, conquered death itself.

    “Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed death by enduring death… Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of the dead. —Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom (c. 343-407 A.D.; he was about 63 when he died). The Orthodox Easter is celebrated on this coming Sunday, May 2. St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily is read aloud at Paschal matins, the service that begins Easter, in Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches. According to the tradition of the Church, no one sits during the reading of the Paschal homily.    

    “Christ is the Head of the Church, that is to say, of the new humanity in whose heart no sin, no adverse power, can henceforth finally separate man from grace. In Christ, a man’s life can always begin afresh, however burdened with sin. A man can always surrender his life to Christ, so that He may restore it to him, liberated and whole. And this work of Christ is valid for the entire assemblage of humanity, even beyond the visible limits of the Church.” —Vladimir Lossky, the great Russian Orthodox emigrè theologian (1903-1958)

    Below are two texts for your reflection.

    The first is the homily of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, for this coming Easter.

    The second is a reflection about the meaning of Easter by the great Russian Orthodox emigre theologian Vladimir Lossky, who lived in Paris after leaving Russia in the 1920s.

    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: Christ is our Pascha, the resurrection of all (link)

    Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Bartholomew writes of Easter: If the fall comprised the suspension of our journey toward the ‘divine likeness,’ in the risen Christ the way toward deification through grace is once again opened”

    Bartholomew’s Easter 2021 Homily

    “As we celebrate Pascha, we confess in Church that the Kingdom of God has been already inaugurated, but not yet fulfilled.—Patriarch Bartholomew

    “In the light of the Resurrection,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said in his prepared homily to be delivered on Easter Sunday, May 2, “earthly things assume new significance, because they are already transformed and transfigured.” Nothing is simply “given.” Everything lies “in motion toward eschatological perfection,” notes the Ecumenical Patriarch.

    The Ecumenical Patriarch also stresses that “Holy Pascha is not merely a religious feast, albeit the greatest feast for us Orthodox. Every Divine Liturgy, every prayer and supplication of the faithful, every feast and commemoration of Saints and Martyrs, the honor of sacred icons, the ‘abundant joy’ of Christians (2 Cor. 8.2), every act of sacrificial love and fraternity, the endurance of sorrow, the hope that never disappoints the people of God, is a festival of freedom.”

    The Patriarchal Encyclical for Holy Pascha, May 2, 2021:

+ B A R T H O L O M E W

    Having completed the soul-profiting Lent and venerated the Lord’s Passion and Cross, behold today we are rendered participants of His glorious Resurrection, radiant through the feast and crying out with ineffable joy the world-saving announcement: “Christ is Risen!”

    All that we believe, all that we love, and all that we hope as Orthodox Christians is associated with Pascha, from which everything derives its vividness, through which everything is interpreted, and in which everything acquires its true meaning.

    The Resurrection of Christ is the response of the Divine love to the anguish and expectation of man, but also to the “yearning” of creation that groans with us.

    In the Resurrection, the meaning of “let us make man in our image and likeness”[1] and of “God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good”[2] has been revealed.

    Christ is “our Pascha,”[3] “the resurrection of all.”

    If the fall comprised the suspension of our journey toward the “divine likeness,” in the risen Christ the way toward deification through grace is once again opened for “the beloved of God.”

    The “great miracle” is performed, which heals the “great wound,” mankind.

    In the emblematic icon of the Resurrection at the Chora Monastery, we behold the Lord of glory, who descended “to the depths of Hades” and conquered the power of death, to arise as life-giver from the tomb, raising with Himself the forefathers of humankind and in them the entire human race from beginning to end, as our liberator from the slavery of the enemy.

    In the Resurrection, the life in Christ is revealed as liberation and freedom.

    For “Christ has set us free … for freedom.”[4]

    The content, the “ethos” of such freedom, which must be experienced here in a manner befitting to Christ, before it is perfected in the heavenly kingdom, is love, the experiential quintessence of the “new creation.”

    “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another”[5].

    The freedom of a believer, grounded on the Cross and Resurrection of the Savior, is a journey upward and toward our neighbor; it is “faith working through love” [6].

    It is an exodus from the “Egypt of slavery” and of the diverse alienations, the Christ-given transcendence of an introverted and shriveled existence, the hope of eternity that renders man human.

    As we celebrate Pascha, we confess in Church that the Kingdom of God “has been already inaugurated, but not yet fulfilled.”[7]

    In the light of the Resurrection, earthly things assume new significance, because they are already transformed and transfigured.

    Nothing is simply “given.”

    Everything lies in motion toward eschatological perfection.

    This “unrestrained rush” toward the Kingdom, which is especially lived out in the eucharistic assembly, safeguards God’s people, on the one hand from indifference toward history and the presence of evil in it, and on the other hand from forgetfulness of the Lord’s words, that “my kingdom is not of this world,”[8] which marks the difference between the “already” and the “not yet” of the coming of the Kingdom, in accordance with the most theological expression that “The King has come, the Lord Jesus, and His Kingdom is to come.”[9]

    The chief characteristic of this God-given freedom of the believer is the unrelenting resurrectional pulse, this freedom’s vigilance, and dynamism.

    Its character as a gift of grace not only does not restrict, but in fact manifests our own consent to this gift, and strengthens our journey and our conduct into this new freedom, which also contains the restoration of our estranged relationship with creation.

    One who is free in Christ is not trapped in the “earthly absolutes” like “the rest, who do not have hope.”[10]

    Our hope is Christ, the existence fulfilled in Christ, the brilliance and resplendence of eternity.

    The biological boundaries of life do not define its truth.

    Death is not the end of our existence.

    “Let none fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He was held prisoner by it and has annihilated it. The one who descended into hell, He made hell captive.”[11]

    Freedom in Christ is the “other creation”[12] of man, a foretaste and model of the fulfillment and fullness of the Divine Economy in the “now and always” of the last day, when the “blessed of the Father” will live person to person with Christ, “seeing Him and seen by Him, as they enjoy the fruits of the endless delight that comes from Him.”[13]

    Holy Pascha is not merely a religious feast, albeit the greatest feast for us Orthodox.

    Every Divine Liturgy, every prayer and supplication of the faithful, every feast and commemoration of Saints and Martyrs, the honor of sacred icons, the “abundant joy” of Christians (2 Cor. 8.2), every act of sacrificial love and fraternity, the endurance of sorrow, the hope that never disappoints the people of God, is a festival of freedom.

    All of these radiate the paschal light and exude the fragrance of the Resurrection.

    In this spirit, then, as we glorify the Savior of the world, who trampled down death by death, we convey to all of you – our most honorable Brothers throughout the Lord’s Dominion and our dearly beloved children of the Mother Church – a festal greeting, as, with one voice and one heart, we joyously bless with you Christ unto the ages.

At the Phanar, Holy Pascha 2021
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Fervent supplicant for you all
to the Risen Lord.

[1] Gen. 1.26.
[2] Gen. 1.31.
[3] 1 Cor. 5.7.
[4] Gal. 5.1.
[5] Gal. 5.13.
[6] Gal. 5.6.
[7] Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition, Belmont MA: Nordland Publishing, 1972, 36.
[8] John 18.36.
[9] Florovsky, op. cit., 72.
[10] 1 Thess. 4.13.
[11] From the Catechetical Homily of St. John Chrysostom on the holy and glorious Resurrection.
[12] Gregory the Theologian, Ethical Poems 61.
[13] John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, IV. 27.

    [End, homily for this coming Easter Sunday, May 2, 2021, by Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.]    

    Below, a reflection on the meaning of Christ’s Resurrection of Christ by the Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky

    The Resurrection

    Excerpt from Vladimir N. Lossky‘s book Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, translated by Ian and Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson).

    By Vladimir Lossky

    The Father accepts the Son’s sacrifice “by economy” (“po domostroitelstvu“): “man had to be sanctified by God’s humanity” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45, On the Holy Pascha).

    Kenosis [God’s self-limitation, His Divine condescension, especially in taking on human nature in Christ – Ed.] culminates and ends with Christ’s death, to sanctify the entire human condition, including death.

    Cur Deus homo? [“Why did God become man?”] Not only because of our sins but also for our sanctification, to introduce all the moments of our fallen life into that true life which never knows death.

    By Christ’s resurrection, the fullness of life is inserted into the dry tree of humanity.

    Christ’s work therefore presents a physical, even biological, reality.

    On the cross, death is swallowed up in life.

    In Christ, death enters into divinity and there exhausts itself, for “it does not find a place there.”

    Redemption thus signifies a struggle of life against death, and the triumph of life.

    Christ’s humanity constitutes the first fruits of a new creation.

    Through it a force for life is introduced into the cosmos to resurrect and transfigure it in the final destruction of death.

    Since the Incarnation and the Resurrection death is enervated, is no longer absolute.

    Everything converges towards the apokataspasis ton panton, that is to say, towards the complete restoration of all that is destroyed by death, towards the embracing of the whole cosmos by the glory of God become all in all things, without excluding from this fullness the freedom of each person before that full consciousness of his wretchedness which the light divine will communicate to him.

    And so we must complete the legal image of redemption by a sacrificial image.

    Redemption is also the sacrifice where Christ, following the Epistle to the Hebrews, appears as the eternal sacrificer, the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek Who finishes in heaven what He began on earth.

    Death on the cross is the Passover of the New Alliance, fulfilling in one reality all that is symbolized by the Hebrew Passover.

    For freedom from death and the introduction of human nature into God’s Kingdom realize the only true Exodus.

    This sacrifice, this surrender of will itself to which Adam could not consent, certainly represents an expiation.

    But above all, it represents a sacrament, sacrament par excellence, the free gift to God, by Christ in His humanity, of the first fruits of creation, the fulfillment of that immense sacramental action, devolving first upon Adam, which the new humanity must complete, the offering of the cosmos as receptacle of grace.

    The Resurrection operates a change in fallen nature, opens a prodigious possibility: the possibility of sanctifying death itself.

    Henceforth death is no longer an impasse, but a door into the Kingdom.

    Grace is given back to us, and if we carry it as “clay vessels,” or receptacles still mortal, our fragility will now take on a power which vanquishes death.

    The peaceful assurance of martyrs, insensible not only to fear but also to physical pain itself, proves that an effective awareness of the Resurrection is henceforth possible to the Christian.

    St. Gregory of Nyssa has well emphasized this sacramental character of the Passion.

    Christ, he said, did not wait to be forced by Judas’s betrayal, the wickedness of the priests, or the people’s lack of awareness: “He anticipated this Will of evil, and before being forced, gave Himself freely on the eve of the Passion, Holy Thursday, by giving His flesh and blood.”

    It is the sacrifice of the immolated lamb before the beginning of the world that is so freely fulfilled here.

    The true Passion begins on Holy Thursday, but in total freedom.

    Soon after came Gethsemane, then the cross.

    Death on the cross is that of a divine person: submitted to by the humanness of Christ, it is consciously suffered by His eternal hypostasis.

    And the separation of body and soul, the fundamental aspect of death also breaks in upon the God-man.

    The soul that descends to Hell remains “enhypostasized” in the Word, and also the body hanging on the cross.

    Similarly, the human person remains equally present in His body recaptured by the elements, as in His soul.

    That is why we venerate the relics of the saints.

    But even more so is this true in the case of Christ, for divinity remains attached both to the body which slumbers the “pure sleep” of Holy Saturday in the sepulchre, and to the victorious soul which batters down the doors of hell How, indeed, could death destroy this person who suffers it in all its tragic estrangement, since this person is divine?

    That is why the Resurrection is already present in the death of Christ.

    Life springs from the tomb; it is manifested by death, in the very death of Christ.

    Human nature triumphs over an anti-natural condition.

    For it is, in its entirety, gathered up in Christ, “recapitulated” by Him, to adopt the expression of St. Irenaeus.

    Christ is the Head of the Church, that is to say, of the new humanity in whose heart no sin, no adverse power can henceforth finally separate man from grace.

    In Christ, a man’s life can always begin afresh, however burdened with sin.

    A man can always surrender his life to Christ, so that He may restore it to him, liberated and whole.

    And this work of Christ is valid for the entire assemblage of humanity, even beyond the visible limits of the Church.

    All faith in the triumph of life over death, every presentiment of the Resurrection, are implicit belief in Christ: for only the power of Christ raises, and will raise, the dead.

    Since the victory of Christ over death, the Resurrection has become universal law for creation; and not only for humanity, but also for the beasts, the plants and the stones, for the whole cosmos in which each one of us is the head.

    We are baptized in the death of Christ, shrouded in water to rise again with Him.

    And for the soul lustrated in the baptismal waters of tears, and ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection is not only hope but present reality.

    The parousia [the Second Coming of Christ – Ed.] begins in the souls of the saints, and St. Simeon the New Theologian can write: “For those who became children of the light and sons of the day to come, for those who always walk in the light, the Day of the Lord will never come, for they are already with God and in God.”

    An infinite ocean of light flows from the risen body of the Lord.

    [End, selection from Vladimir Lossky]

    Lossky: His Life and Work

    Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky (1903–1958) was an Russian Orthodox theologian in exile from Russia. He emphasized theosis (the “divination” or “becoming divine” of man) as the main principle of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

    Lossky was born on June 8, 1903 in Göttingen, Germany. His father, Nikolai Lossky, was professor of philosophy in St. Petersburg. In 1919, he enrolled as a student in the faculty of Arts at Petrograd University; but in 1922 he and his father were exiled from Soviet Russia. Lossky was profoundly changed when he witnessed the trial which led to the execution of Metropolitan Benjamin of St Petersburg by the Soviets. Metropolitan Benjamin was later canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. From 1922 to 1926 Lossky continued his studies at Prague and in 1927 graduated at the Sorbonne in Paris in medieval philosophy. He married Madeleine Shapiro on 4 June 1928.

    Lossky settled in Paris in 1924. From 1942 until 1958 he was a member of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. He served as the first dean of the St. Dionysius Institute in Paris.

    He taught dogmatic theology and ecclesiastical history in this institute until 1953, and from 1953 to 1958 in the diocese of the patriarchate of Moscow, “rue Pétel” in Paris. He was a member of the Brotherhood Saint Photius and the ecumenical Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius. His best-known work is Essai sur la theologie mystique de l’Eglise d’orient[16] (1944) (English translation, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1957)).

    Lossky died of a heart attack on 7 February 1958 in Paris.[17]


    Lossky’s main theological concern was exegesis of mystical theology in Christian traditions.

    He argued in The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1944) that theologians of the Orthodox tradition maintained the mystical dimension of theology in a more integrated way than those of the Catholic and Reformed traditions after the East–West Schism because the latter misunderstood such Greek terms as ousia, hypostasis, theosis, and theoria.

    In illustration of his argument he cites the collection known as the Philokalia and John Climacus‘s Ladder of Divine Ascent, as well as works by Pseudo-Dionysius the AreopagiteGregory of NyssaBasil of CaesareaGregory Nazianzen, and Gregory Palamas.

    Georges Florovsky termed Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church a “neopatristic synthesis”.[18]

    The genius of Eastern mystical theology lay, he contended, in its apophatic character, which he defined as the understanding that God is radically unknowable in human, thus philosophical, terms.

    Consequently, God’s special revelation in Scripture must be preserved in all of its integrity by means of the distinction between the ineffable divine essence and the inaccessible nature of the Holy Trinity, on the one hand, and the positive revelation of the Trinitarian energies, on the other.

    “When we speak of the Trinity in itself,” said Lossky, “we are confessing, in our poor and always defective human language, the mode of existence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one sole God who cannot but be Trinity, because He is the living God of Revelation, Who, though unknowable, has made Himself known, through the incarnation of the Son, to all who have received the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father and is sent into the world in the name of the incarnate Son.”[19]

    The Trinitarian processions in revelation thus produce the energies which human beings experience as grace and by which they are sanctified or “deified.”

    In his Mystical Theology he argued that the theologians of the undivided Church understood that theosis was above knowledge (gnosis).[20]

    This was further clarified in his work, Vision of God (or theoria).

    In both works Lossky also stresses the differences between Christian thinkers such as Pseudo-Dionysius and such thinkers as Plotinus and the Neoplatonists, asserting that Christianity and Neoplatonism, though they share common culture and concepts, have very different understandings of God and ontology.

    Vladimir Lossky, like his close friend Georges Florovsky, was opposed to the sophiological theories of Sergei Bulgakov and Vladimir Soloviev.

    In the words of Nicholas Lossky, “One characteristic of his theology that should be underscored, is that he was not, and always refused to be, a direct descendant of the famous Russian ‘religious philosophy’.”[1]

    The term Russian religious philosophy had its origin in the works of the slavophile movement and its core concept of sobornost, which was later used and developed by Vladimir Soloviev.

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