In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, God lies in the tomb, not as one dead, but as one resting from the completion of a great work. In the silence of this great and holy day, Our Lord keeps His Sabbath, having rendered a new creation by the work of His mighty hands.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth; today the heavens weep for their crucified King and the earth quakes in horror as it receives its Creator into the protective embrace of the cave. On the first day, He called light and darkness into being; today, the light of the world is seemingly extinguished and darkness reigns in the heart of man. On the second day, He divided the waters; today He Who turned back the Jordan and calmed the storm of Galilee is washed by the tears of the myrrh-bearers. On the third day, He called the dry land from the sea and brought forth the herbs and seeds, the trees and fruits of the earth; today, the root of Jesse, murdered upon the tree, is planted in the tomb as the seed of eternal life. On the fourth day, He called the great lights and the stars into being, the sun to rule by day and the moon by night; today, sun and moon turn their faces away in shame at the cruel murder of their Creator, bringing darkness upon the earth. On the fifth day, He brought forth the birds of the air and creatures of the sea; today, the birdsong has fallen silent in lamentation as their Master lies dead in the sepulchre. On the sixth day, He raised up the beasts of the land and made with His very own hands the crown of His creation: the man Adam, made in His divine image, breathing into him the breath of life; today, the Creator lies dead, slain by the hands of ungrateful Adam.
On that same day, the disobedient Eve takes the fruit down from the tree and condemns mankind to death; today, the obedient Theotokos Mary takes the Body of her Son down from the Cross, He Who grants mankind eternal life. On that same day, man is cast out from Paradise for his pride and the Cherub guards the way with the fiery sword; He Who watched Lucifer fall from the sky like lightning watches His beloved creation fall into the world of sin and the passions; today, the sword is lowered, the good thief is granted entrance to that blessed place by his humility, and man once again enjoys the fellowship with God that he lost in ancient times.
Today, God lies in the tomb, not as one defeated, but as one having won a great victory. Eve’s lament has ended, and that of the devil has begun. Looking down and seeing His beloved creation in the misery and hardship of this world, under the thrall of sin and the devil, our good and philanthropic God did not turn His face away from us. No; he could not stand to see the pain of His children, and sought to bring Adam back to that primal unity.
He did not stay silent, for He called us back to Himself, speaking to us “at sundry times and in diverse manners.” He revealed Himself to us through the very creation wrought by His powerful hands, in the order and harmony of the natural law, but man did not listen. Instead, he worshipped that creation instead of its Creator, setting up idols and turning to wickedness and immorality. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God or given thanks: but became vain in their thoughts. And their foolish heart was darkened. For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts and of creeping things.” God therefore sent a deluge on the earth to destroy these people, but He did not turn His face away from us. He spared Noah and His family in the Ark, a type of the Church, in which we today shelter against the deluge of sin in the world. Man, however, did not turn unto Him, and instead built a tower in Babel, seeking to become equal to the Most High. God cast down this satanic experiment and scattered man across the face of the earth, as we continued to fall further and further from that primal unity. Yet, He did not turn His face away from us.
Through His servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He raised up a people for Himself, a holy nation to bear witness to His love for mankind. He gave them the Law through His servant Moses, but the Israelites did not turn unto Him. They forged for themselves a golden calf and worshipped the gods of Egypt, therefore the Lord cast them into the desert to wander for forty years. Still, He did not turn His face away from us. He brought His people into the Promised Land, a land of milk and honey, and guided them by His servants Samuel, David, and the most-wise Solomon, but the Israelites still did not turn unto Him, instead offering their worship to Baal: “they sacrificed their sons, and their daughters to devils. And they shed innocent blood: the blood of their sons and of their daughters which they sacrificed to the idols of Chanaan. And the land was polluted with blood, and was defiled with their works. And the Lord was exceedingly angry with his people: and he abhorred his inheritance. And he delivered them into the hands of the nations: and they that hated them had dominion over them.” God humbled Israel by the sword of their enemies and sent them into exile. Yet, He did not turn His face away from us. He brought His people back from exile and spoke His Word to them through the holy prophets, who called God’s people to repentance, but they still did not turn unto Him. Israel slew the prophets and rejected their message, heaping up blasphemy upon blasphemy on their own heads. They were cut down once again by the sword of their enemies and banished to foreign lands. Seeing that man would not hearken to His Word, the prophets fell silent. Yet, He did not turn His face away from us.
Seeing that his hard-hearted creation would never heed His Word, in order to overcome our ignorance and save us from our pride, God Himself “bowed the heavens and came down” that He might raise us up with Him. He became like us, that we might become like Him. When the fullness of time had come, He took flesh from the All-Holy and Ever-Virgin Theotokos Mary, being “born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem them that are under the Law.” The Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself our humanity in every aspect but sin, living as we live, toiling as we toil, weeping as we weep, and voluntarily suffering in the flesh as we suffer. God lived among us, ignored, abused, mocked, and reviled, but with those with the ears to hear, He had “the words of eternal life.”
By His divine power he healed the sick, raised the dead, and forgave sinners, showing His love and compassion for man. By His divine word He taught us about the Kingdom of God, eternal life, and salvation, showing the treasures He has laid up for those whom He has chosen. By His divine ascesis, He fasted for forty days in the desert, conquered the passions, and rebuked the devil, overcoming the failures of Israel in the desert. By His divine righteousness, He chastised the Pharisees and cast down the tables of the moneylenders in the Temple, condemning the hypocrisy, greed and materialism which are the source of all evil. By His divine mercy, He fed the hungry and commended the poor and destitute to our care, showing us how we may serve Him. By His divine wisdom, He taught us how to pray to Our Father and silenced the sophistry of the Scribes, showing us that the path to His kingdom is by childlike simplicity. In His divine humility, He accepted arrest at the hands of unjust men and falls silent before their accusations, showing us that we too must suffer in this life, hated by those who hate Him. In His divine longsuffering, He accepts the beatings, the blows, the mockery, and the tortures, showing us the way of martyrdom. In His divine condescension, He takes the place of a guilty man, showing us that He indeed has taken our place, we who justly deserve to die. In His divine love, He offers Himself as a pure, spotless and redemptive sacrifice for the sins of the world, is crucified naked on Golgotha, and tastes of death in the flesh, showing us that He never, ever turned His face away from us. “It is finished” and God falls silent. On the seventh day, God rests; on the eighth, He rises again. Weep now, O Jerusalem, city that murdered the prophets, and behold the One whom ye rejected! Gnash your teeth, O ye Jews, and look upon Him who ye have pierced! Lament now, O ye Gentiles, and gaze upon Him whom ye condemned! Rejoice now and be glad, O ye faithful Orthodox Christians, and await the rising of the Son of God Who redeems us all from the ancient curse!
Today, we stand before the tomb, not with the dark and despondent misery of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, but with the awe and reverence of the Israelites who stood before the Temple, knowing that God Himself dwelt behind the veil. The Lord Jesus Christ, He Who is the true Temple, has given His divine life for us as a freewill offering, a sacrifice for our redemption and salvation, a mystical Passover to bring His people – the New Israel, the Church – into the Kingdom of His Father.
As of old when Israel shed the blood of the lamb at that very first Passover, so now has the true Lamb of God been offered, fulfilling and completing the types and shadows of the old Law. As of old when Pharaoh and all his armies were cast into the deep, so now does Christ descend into Hell to crush the devil and all his demonic hosts. As of old when Israel was brought out of the darkness of Egypt into the Promised Land, so now are we brought from the kingdom of man to the Kingdom of God at this Divine Liturgy, the sacred commemoration of the New Passover. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, let us therefore keep the feast – not the carnal feast of the meat of sinful Egypt, nor even the blessed milk and honey of the earthly Promised Land, but the Heavenly Banquet of Our Lord’s Body and Blood which has been broken and shed for us for the remission of our sins.
Brethren, let us recall Our Lord’s promise that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood will be given eternal life and will be raised up on the last day. This is a grave matter. Let us not bring levity and irreverence to the Lord’s Table or His holy temple. Today, we are blessed to be able to come, worship, and fall down before our Lord, keeping this great solemnity and partaking in the divine and life-giving Eucharist; many cannot. Let us not forget that, all over the world, Orthodox temples are empty and devoid of services. Our own cathedral lies empty, our community remains in their homes, and the joyous resounding of the Paschal hymns will be heard by few this year. God has allowed this because of the sins of we Orthodox Christians, because of our lack of faith, because of our indifference, and because of our lack of reverence and piety. We have taken the Holy Things for granted and cast them before swine. We have taken the children’s bread and given it to the dogs. We have turned our house of prayer into a den of thieves. This is our fault and we are all guilty. The Good Shepherd has given us a warning, let it not go unheeded, and let us not neglect to turn unto Him. The New Covenant of the Lord’s Body and Blood is before us; let us therefore commit ourselves to living according to His Law, not our own will, so that we may no more have to drink from the cup of wrath. Instead, the Cup of eternal life is set before us; let us come forward with faith, reverence, fear, and longing for the sanctifying and redeeming Gifts that God Himself offers to us.
Today we recall Christ’s triumphal victory over death, the devil and Hell. Today, our Lord descends to Hades to break down the iron gates and free the captives. Adam returns from his exile and is brought home to Paradise. The devil is bound and rendered powerless. Hades has been despoiled and the kingdom of darkness is filled with the burning light of Our Lord’s divinity. Death has been filled with Life. Christ has conquered and reigns forever. The final victory, however, is yet to come. Not until the sky is torn open and Christ returns with a triumphal shout will our war with sin and the devil truly end. Will the Lord find faith when He returns? This is our challenge and responsibility. Let us hold fast, then, brothers, and kindle the spark of faith in our hearts with the triumphant message of Christ’s Resurrection. Let us continually struggle against the passions that dwell within us, asking the all-merciful Lord and His All-Pure Mother for their mercy and assistance. Let us not only to prepare to receive the Lord in the Holy Sacrament set before us, but also let us continually be prepared for when He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, when the Kingdom that we behold now at this Divine Liturgy will be fully manifested to us in the New Jerusalem on high. This is the mystery of our faith: Christ has died, Christ is RISEN, and Christ WILL come again! Amen.
Monk Theodore, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville