Bishop Alfeev on the Resurrection
"It Is Impossible to Come to Christianity Except Through Love"
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VIENNA, Austria, APRIL 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a reflection on Easter written by Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeev of Vienna and Austria. He is the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow to the European Community.
He has shared this meditation with ZENIT to mark that the date of Easter is shared this year by both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
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The Resurrection of Christ went by just as unnoticed as his birth, for nobody saw Christ leaving the tomb. And from the very first days after the resurrection, doubt took hold of many people, even Christ's closest disciples, even those who knew and loved him.
Thomas doubted more than the others. Having heard of the appearance of the Savior from the other disciples, he said: "Unless I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:19-25).
And so, the Lord appeared to them once again, with Thomas among them, and said to him: "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing."
Thomas then cried: "My Lord and my God," because the wounds in Jesus' body convinced him that he who was speaking to him was the real, risen Savior. Jesus then says something which is addressed not only to Thomas, but to all who doubt the reality of the resurrection: "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:26-31).
"They that have not seen, and yet have believed" are all those who, though not witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, nevertheless believe in him because they have come to love him.
It is impossible to come to Christianity except through love for the living Christ. It is impossible to become a Christian by simply being impressed by Christ's moral teaching or out of respect for his sayings and doctrine. Only by loving Christ can one arrive at a faith that is inexpressible in words and higher than our usual earthly vision. Even though nobody has seen the resurrection of Christ with their earthly, physical eyes, the surety that "Christ is risen indeed" still abides in each one of us, Christians.
The experience of beholding the resurrection of Christ is given to us, Christians East and West, in a special way during the days of Easter, although we can sense the live presence of the risen one every Sunday and on any other day of the week.
But we must be worthy of this experience; we must become like the disciples after Christ said to them: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). Although they were able to see Christ earlier with their physical eyes, they did not recognize in him the incarnate God with their spiritual eyes. But having received the Holy Spirit, they could now say: "We have beheld the resurrection of Christ."
The Holy Spirit is also given to us Christians in the sacraments of the Church, especially in the communion of the Holy Mysteries. That is why each of us bears the same responsibility and the same mission that was given to the apostles -- to preach Christ to the world.
It is not by chance that in the days after Easter, the Orthodox Christians not only pray in church, but also proceed around it with the cross, Gospel, banners and the icon of Christ's resurrection. The procession with the cross is meant to show that we believe in Christ and become witnesses of his resurrection not only within the church walls, but also outside the church, where we are called to testify to the risen Christ.
The experience of Easter is given to us not only that we might enjoy communion with the risen Christ and keep his light in our hearts, but also that we might bring this light to our close ones, relatives, acquaintances, friends and enemies -- to the whole world, the very world which the Lord wishes to enlighten with his resurrection, through us.