Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

The shaking of the foundations. Lecture 7. The Resurrection of Christ

Theme: Christ, The Gospel   Place: London Parish   Period: 1961-1965   Genre: Talk

We have spoken last time of Passion Week, and although we have left a great deal unsaid, I would like now to turn to the Resurrec­tion of Christ and the consequences of the Resurrection. The Resur­rection of Christ stands at the very heart of the Apostolic messa­ge. Saint Paul says that if Christ is not risen, we are the most miserable of men. And this is easy to understand, because the Apostolic generation founded all their faith, all their hope, staked all their destiny in time, that is their lives and death, on their fai­th in the Resurrection, that, if the Resurrection was not a reality, if it did not occur, if it had been simply an illusion, or, as some could put it, in modern time, a way of conveying some superior truth, still it would have remain that the believers were the most miserable men, who lived by an illusion, for an illusion, and died for an illusion, in vain. I will have to repeat a certain amount of things which you may have heard on occasions, but I would like to help you to understand the meaning of the Resurrection for the Apostles, and the consequences of the Resurrection for us, throughout the ages. For the Apostles, the Resurrection of Christ was not only a victory, was not only a proof that what Christ had preached and foretold had come true, and therefore that He was what He had claimed to be. It was an event which gripped them much deeper than any conviction can. There is a deep connection between the being of the Apostles and the event of the Resurrection of Christ; it is not easy for us to imagine what the Crucifixion and the days after the Crucifixion were for the eleven, because, however imaginary we are, however realistically we follow the events of the Holy Weak, we know; we know with certainty that after Friday, Saturday will come, and then the glory of the Resur­rection. Here perhaps more than everywhere else, does the English saying come true, that every dark cloud has a shining lining. In our time, after the apostolic witness, the darkness of Holy Week, the tragedy of the Cross can be seen only against the shining back­ground of the Resurrection. What we must always remember, and what the we cannot realise to the full is the fact that for the Apostles, each of the days that proceeded the first apparition of Christ, was complete darkness; there was no silver lining, there was only a day of death, a day that was more than the defeat of their leader as I will try to show in a moment. If we remember this, then we will realise that the Resurrection of Christ was an event more fragrant, much more shaking than we ever can imagine. What was the situation of the Apostles with regard to Christ’s death? We can easily realise that they saw in His death, the death of one whom they had learned to love very dearly, to respect and to believe it was the death of their friend, of their teacher, and of their leader. We can easily realise that with the death of Christ upon the Cross, all their hope had come to an end and that the Cross, not yet followed by the Resurrection, meant a complete collapse, not only of these hopes, but also of all they had lived for. It was not only a defeat, it was the realisation that Christ, who had been right in so many ways, had been wrong in one particular thing about Himself, about the final decisive victory: but there is even more in the tragedy of the apostolic experience. The Apostles had gradually grown to see in Christ, not only a friend, a teacher and a leader, but the focus and indeed the source of everything that was life and meaning. If we try to imagine their mutual situation throughout the Gospel, we will see approximately this: first of all, thirty years in the course of which Christ had been a child among children, a youth, a young among the young ; a grown up man among other men, and this on a small piece of land, in Galilee. He had been known intimately, with familiarity. He was known as one of the men of a given little town. This familiarity had not breed contempt, but He was absolutely concrete as a man, and the discovery of His Godhead was a gradual process which occurred in the years of Christ’s public ministry. However He might have been, wiser, holier, truer in every respect in the years that proceeded his ministry He was for others, nothing but an outstanding man. The first event that sets Him apart, is the meeting of Christ of St. John the Baptist and of two of the Apostles, on the banks of the river Jordan. When St. John the Baptist saw Christ coming and witnessed that He was the Lamb of God, that was to take away the sins of the world. Two men stood by him who had been for some time his disciples, Andrew and John. These words which refer to the Messianic hopes of Israel, had probably, thanks to the closeness of the disciples with John, had a peculiar ring for them, because they left their master to follow the new man who had appeared. This is the first moment when, in the life of St. John the Baptist, his own saying find fulfillment: ‘I must decrease that He may increase’. It is perhaps the greatest sacrifice that a master can make, to see two of his disciples abandoned him because they had understood his message and have understood that they must follow another one, not him. And then we see what we all remember so well, the scene in which, having met Christ, they spent a day with Him, discovered in Him something they had never suspected. John and Andrew hurry to find their closest friends or brothers and to bring them to Christ, because they know Him for what He is. They know Him not for long indeed, later on they will forget. This first experience of theirs will be blurred, but, at that moment, they know that He is the Messiah, that He is the Son of God. Andrew finds his brother Peter, John brings Philip and they all rediscover Christ. In this scene there is one saying which is so interesting, the conversation between the Lord and Nathaniel; Nathaniel belongs to Cana of Galilee, a village at a very short distance from Nazareth, and when he is told that his friends villagers of the neighbouring villages have found the Messiah and that the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth, he has the natural reaction of anyone who, in an English village, would be told that the Saviour of the world is one of the young men he has ever known in the neighbouring village. He says: ”Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Is it credible, and then he is called, come and see. And then again, this conversation between him and Jesus, the words of Jesus: “Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile”. And Nathaniel says ‘Whence knowest thou me?’ and Jesus answers: ‘Befo­re that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee’ (John I, 46-48). The commentary which some of the writers of old give is that the exclamation of Nathaniel “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel!” refers to the fact that Nathaniel was praying under the fig tree and that the words of Christ showed him he was the Very God he was addressing his prayer.

This is a first meeting of the disciples with their master, any political leader would have taken advantage of this experience which they had undergone, to take them, to mould them and to start an action. Christ behave differently: He leaves them, He retires Himself into the desert and He abandons his disciples, for nearly two months. There is a passage in the Old Testament, in which we are told, God calls man, once, He calls them twice, and this appears so clearly in the story of the disciples: they go back, their memory get organised, they come back to their ordinary normal life, yet, carrying into it, with them, what they had gone through in the course of these few hours. They settled again into normality, and, when they are completely reintegrated, Christ appears on the banks of the lake, passes by, and commands them to follow Him. He takes them at the lowest possible ebb, not at the moment of enthusiasm, but when they are back in their ordinary life. But then, He does what He never did before: He claims total and complete obedience, complete surrender. He claims them wholly, and they follow Him. In the beginning we see that they follow Him as a teacher, as a master, as a leader; we see later on how gradually and how slowly indeed they learn from Him. And a decisive turn comes which we find described in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John (verse 66), when most of those who followed Him, disappointed, dismayed by his teaching and his claims, abandoned Him and Christ turns to the twelve and say: ‘Will ye also go away?’ And Peter voices everyone’s feeling everyone’s conviction and experience, and answered: “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life’. At that point we see that they already know that what He stands for is the Truth, is the Divine Kingdom, is the Truth that stands for ever, the Truth of God. We see that then, already, they are aware of the fact that there are two realms, one at the heart of which stands Christ, with all He has got to say, and which is the divine realm, a realm of life, a realm of truth, a realm that means love, and another realm, which begins in the twilight around Him and ends in outer darkness, which surrounds the spot of life indeed, in the words of Christ, that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not comprehend it but neither does it quench it; but this we know now. This is just the tragic thing which the Apostles had to learn after the Resurrection. Because there was a moment, when the darkness that had surrounded the spot of life, the spark of light that had not comprehended it, seemingly, had also put it out, on Good Friday, throughout the day, throughout the next day, until He appeared alive. And gradually we see, from words here and there, from their attitude that Christ is identical for them with life, that in Him is life, that from Him does that life flow and bring them into eternity. And when Christ dies upon the Cross, something happens in their lives, that was perhaps more tragic and more essential than what I have spoken before: when He died upon the Cross, it was the life of God in the world, the realm of reality that had been overcome by the realm of darkness, by the realm of death and decay by all that was unreal and shadowing. And when they found themselves after the frightening night of the betrayal, in the house of John Mark, they were men who had no longer either heavenly or earthly life; they could no longer come back to the life of the earth, as they had known it, because this life had been robbed of every illusion of reality, it was no longer life, it was duration, it was a continuing flow of time. And life eternal had been quenched and ruled out. To this they could not come: it had gone, and irremediably so as it appeared to them. They could continue to exist, they could no longer live. In that respect, and one could enlarge on this, the death of Christ was their death also. Not the physical death of which we always think, but a death more radical, more essential, a death more complete because they could continue to be there, and not continue to be alive. There is a difference in the death of the Apostles in the death of Christ and their coming back to life in Christ’s Resurrection and the death and resurrection of Lazarus: Lazarus died bodily, within time, he was called back by the creative Word of God, into time. He lived again, and he died again. The Apostles never left this realm of duration, but this realm of duration contains now, death for them and contained no longer life for them.

You will understand therefore two things: the one is the identifi­cation which exist in the mind of the Apostles, between baptism and death and the Resurrection. Baptism, in the first generation, for the Apostles, meant that they had been so completely identified with Christ, that His death had been a real death for them, and that His Resurrection was their coming back to life, and this is what was expected of anyone who became a limb of the body of Christ; this total, this deep identification, that lead him through the dying into the living of Christ. And the second thing which it allows us to understand is that the life which they felt they possess now, was not the life of this earth that could be taken away from them by death, by martyrdom; it was already on earth, life eternal, life divine to which they had become partakers. And this explains their attitude to life and to death, when saint Paul says, for me to live is Christ’s and death is a gain. When he says, It is no longer I, it is Christ who lives in me, he speaks exactly of this particular experience; he had died, he had come to life and the life possessed by him could not be taken away by anyone. What Christ had said about Himself, applied now to him, to each of them equally: no one takes my life away from me: I lay it down freely. Again, if we think of this we will probably come nearer to realising what the Resurrection of Christ meant; it was not only the joy of seeing the risen Christ, but it was their own Resurrection, and when they spoke of the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of Christ, they could do so not only with conviction, they were eyewitnesses, not only with enthusiasm, because of what it meant on the human level, but with experience, because they had gone through it and through its consequences. Now in the death in Christ and with Christ, and in the subsequent Resurrection of Christ, and of the Apostles, lies the peculiar quality of the relation there exists between the Apostles and the Lord who should exist between every Christian and Christ Himself, a complex rela­tionship in which on the one hand there is identification and at the same time there is a profound difference. The image which Chri­st gives Himself in the 15th chapter according to St. John I think is probably the best: “I am the wine, you are the branches; unless you are grafted, unless you belong, to the wine, you are dead”. You may survive for a while, possess a transitory ephemeral life, but in the end you will die and you will certainly bear no fruit. And yet a branch is not the wine, it has got its own identity, its own personality, and yet again, it can possess this identity and this particularity which belong to none others because the life of the wine pervades it and gives it the ability to be alive, to exist, to develop and to be itself. When the Apostle says it is not I, it is Christ who lives in me, he does not mean that Christ’s pre­sence has displaced his own life, that he no longer is himself, but on the contrary, because Christ’s life is in him he can be supremely himself, in a way in which he could not be before. The basic relationship between Christ and his Apostles is essential to understand if we want to understand all the mission of the Apostles and their situation. It allows us to understand what Saint Paul says we are fulfilling in our bodies what was lacking in the suffering of Christ. And we can realise also how Christ could send the Apostles into the world and say, a sheep among the wolves, that they may, at the cost of their own lives bring life to others. Only were there is that identity between Him and them can this mission be possible; it is not a sending of the Apostles to the slaughter; it is the presen­ce of Christ, the presence of this divine life in the world which perpetuate itself throughout the centuries and throughout space. When Christ appeared to his disciples for the first time He gave them peace, and this I believe we can now measure or imagine dimly from what I have said before, yes it was peace and it was the kind of peace of which Christ had said that He gives peace as the world cannot give; and then his next words are words that might have frightened them if they were not yet in the experience of eternal life, of Christ’s life, if they had not known within themselves that life is unconquerable and that death cannot take it away: As my Father send me even so do I send you. When we think of modern missionary activities, we do not realise what these words meant, how they sounded to the ear of the Apostles. Nowadays missionary work is a protected work. Christ was sending them in the world in the nakedness of his own mission; they had no weapon, no power, they were unknown and the moment they would be known, tragedy would occur for them, and yet, in addition to this, these words might have sounded particularly tragic on the third day of the Crucifixion as my Father has send me. And yet, it is joy, it is victory because they possess this life which makes all things possible, and they go into the world in a spirit of joy, in a spirit of victory, of love; they do not go into the world to defeat the world, but to save it; not to judge the world, but to save it, to bring it joy and life. This is perhaps one of the most striking characteristic of the Apostolic age and they form a society which possesses certain characteristics which are peculiar to it; first of all, it is a society of men who are aware that they do not only belong together, but that they are real, concrete members of one unique body, to the extent that if one member suffers, all the body suffers, and if a wound is inflicted on the one, all the body is wounded, they are aware of being what Saint Ignatius of Antioch, at the end of the first century, calls the Total Christ, members and head together. They are aware that with regard to God, they are sons by adoption because they are members of this living body; they are in a unique position when they say the Lord’s Prayer and call God their Father, they probably think in the terms which were coined later in the second century by Irenaeus of Lyon, who was just a generation back a disciple of Ignatius, and who said: “In the only Begotten Son we are really sons of God”. The relationship with Christ and consequently this relationship with the Father, but also a situation, with regard to the world around it. They are at the same time in the world and not of the world, but yet they claim something very complex; they claim to be in the words of Moffatt translation of Colossians “a colony of heaven” that is a vanguard of soldiers whose Mother Country is in Heaven and who are on earth in order to conquer it to their Lord and Master; to bring to their Master, the cities and countries of this world. They refuse to worship its values, their only values are heavenly, and yet they claim to be totally loyal to the world whose values they deny and in which they claim a right to live as equal citizen. It is not surprising therefore that the world could not understand it and rejected them. They were rejected in a way legitimately, like traitors, as spies of a foreign country, as people who had not truly recognised their kings and emperors as their rulers upon earth, because their real allegiance was to ano­ther King, who claim to be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And this would inevitably lead to conflict, they were accused of disloyalty, and yet they were loyal, because they were loyal to the true substance of things, as they really are, while people around them were loyal to the illusion of things as they are not but this, people could see and understand only when they entered into the experience of the Apostles, and this was throughout the century, and still is, the tension of a society which at the same time claims to belong with all loyalty, with all love, with all sense of responsibility to this world of ours, however godless this world may be, even willingly, intentionally godless, and yet a society that belongs to another realm. Anytime when the Church, the believers, the total group of those who claim the name of Christ, it tries to diminish this tension, it betrays the heavenly Kingdom or else it betrays the earth, but the balance must be kept and this balance is the kind of tension that will inescapably lead to tragedy, if this is the word we use for the ultimate witness of the Christian in life and death. These are the main things which I wanted to say about the Resurrection, to underline the fact that the Resurrection is an event, a reality, that this event is a peculiar event that belongs to history not only in the past, but also in the present throughout the ages, because if it is true to say that Christ died and rose from the dead, in a certain day and in a certain place, it is also true to say that Christ, the Risen Christ is always, throughout the centuries, with us until the end of the world and in that sense the experience of the Risen Christ as an experience of the Resurrection, belongs not only to St. Paul on the way of Damascus, but also to innumerable Christians throughout history and the Resurrection of Christ is already eternal Life for those who have gone or who gradually go through an increasing experience of dying with Him and living with Him and the consequen­ces which I wanted to underline is for each Christian a relationship with Christ, a relatedness to Him in his death and life, a new situation face to face with the eternal Father, a new situation in the spirit of God, the spirit of sonship and the spirit of the Father and a new tense, often tragic situation of the total body in a world for which it exists in view of which it exists, for the sake of which it exists.

Answers to questions.

A Desert Father (Ammon) said to his disciples: “Remember that purity of heart does not depend on the turmoil there is in it” and a disciple said “but how can that be if I am in a turmoil if passions wedge war in me, how is it that my heart can be pure?” And he said; “It is like a country which is overrun by a stronger army; as long as the inhabitants of the country are simply subdued by violence and overcome by the enemy, but remain completely faithful to their king, they cannot be accused of disloyalty; they have not been strong enough to vanquish, but the moment they begin to co-operate and collaborate with the enemy, they have betrayed. And you cannot judge from the outside, because a country subdued by an enemy may be completely enslaved and compelled to act in a certain way, yet remains completely alien to any thought of surrender or co-operation. While another country can remain much freer in that respect and have sold its soul”. There is that element in being a sinner, and not being a sinner. As St. Paul says, there are two wills in me etc. He is aware that sin is an outside power and not an inner power.

Eschatology: in Greek means two things, what is decisive and what is final. In that sense what Christ did is absolutely decisive and nothing can be added and yet it is not final in the sense that each of us must be integrated into the consequences of the event; we are both already at home and in the process of moving homewards.

Tension: No, I think it is inevitable because of the fact that as long as there are two worlds, it will be so. The tension can be resolved only if one of the world becomes the other, either way, if godlessness becomes the situation of the total world including those who now believe. There is no tension if the world becomes the Church in the sort of general sense of the world. But as long as any individual possesses this tension within himself, as long as in one indivi­dual or in two groups of people, there is this antagonism or simply face to face situation between God and Godlessness, the tension is inevitable and we have no right to reduce it. We have no right to reduce it within ourselves by glossing over things “Oh, that will do” it must be sharp in our consciousness; we must be aware of it clearly. There are two conflicting themes in us and for the sake of comfort we cannot make a devaluation of the real values for them to come down on the level of the false ones. And among people it will be the same, but anytime; and unfortunately it happens any time the Church, seen as a society, tries to adapt itself, to be acceptable, to fit neatly, it betrays something; because it is there to create a tension, to make everyone aware that there is a tension. And when again we make a term at presenting the Gospel in a way as not to create a scandal, when we try to make sure that the Gospel provokes no problem, we are doing wrong; it cannot be presented without problem, because it is a problem in itself. Either God or no God; either selfishness (self-destruction) or complete unselfishness, that is the love who lays down its life. And the two worlds are incompatible, because a little of that and a little of this, gives no result. The totalitarian love which Christ brings is a terror to our selfish­ness if we are aware of it, if we do not dilute it, and in individuals as in societies or groups of people, the problem is always there, and always is this tension in it.

Listen to audio: no Watch video: no