Word Magazine April 1964 Page 3-4
THE HOPE OF IMMORTALITY
To all the venerable clergy and laity within all the constituencies of our
Archdiocese in North America — Greetings and Blessings from
Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.. .
Once again Easter morn dawns upon the world, announcing to us the hope of immortality by the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. It comes at a season of the year when nature is revived by wearing a green and flowing garment. Nature seems to speak to us in a practical sort of way, to believe in the revival and renewal of life after seeming death. During the winter season we have seen trees and bushes void of any beauty, no leaves or flowers in evident, having that dismal, dead look. But that was only a temporary arrangement: nature and nature’s God were instilling in us the basic truth that we should look beyond the immediate to the ultimate, when God breathes through nature and natural laws and thereby every tree and bush will put on a new life, a new body.
We want to organize our thinking by asking two fundamental questions relative to this disturbing fact of immortality. The first, what is the basic fact for the immortality of the soul? Belief in an immortal God and in an immortal Savior, who arose from the dead the third day, by the power of God, is the great warranty for our belief. Not only that but there is also another witness to vouch for that fact, it is the immortal soul which God breathed into mankind which makes such belief possible. God equipped men with that inward craving to live which makes man a hopeful, forward-looking being. Throughout the history of his entire life, man hopes for a life beyond the grave. In all stages of history and in all religions we find this belief ingrained in man. Sometimes their belief is dim, awkward and somewhat superstitious, nevertheless it is part and parcel of his every day life. It stands to reason, if we are the product of the Eternal Spirit of God, if God has made us and not we ourselves, then we are made for two worlds, the natural and the spiritual. No wonder that all the saints who lived throughout all stages of the Christian era believed, as Saint Augustine believed, that we are made for God and our souls are restless unless they find their rest in Him.
The second question is, how may we know that there is a life beyond the grave? Only by the coming of the Divine Spirit into our lives, that is, through moral regeneration which gives a person a new outlook on life and an inner illumination. Only as man becomes aware of God by faith, as he surrenders himself to that living, loving Comforter, can he understand the significance of life. Love then takes the place of hatred. The Apostle John said. “We know that we passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.”
Belief in immortality is necessary to great living. No person on the face of the earth, no matter what his qualifications may be, can give the world what it mostly needs, whose life has not been touched by God’s immortal spirit. Great living comes from persons who daily have audiences with God, who surrender the reins of their lives to Him, and who are out in the world to subdue hate by love, to fight cruelty with mercy. We need above all else the spirit of God by which alone we can conquer the citadel of unrighteousness and the forts of iniquity. A revival of that religion which dies daily but is never dead is the one thing needful in this world of ours.
The trouble with most Christians is that they look upon Christ’s rising from the dead as a matter of history, but not as a matter of every-day experience. We treat it as we treat some historical event, like General MacArthur’s return to Japan or the surrender of Germany. It is historical but it is more than that. “Because I live ye shall live also,” was Christ’s promise on the eve of His crucifixion.
That truth and that experience are of supreme importance to us, especially now in this day and time when everything has a price tag on it, when the world is filled with the spirit of hate, prejudice, jealousy and division, when most men seem to be jittery, on the verge of collapse, groping in the dark, running here and there aimlessly. Darkness is now enveloping the earth. The world is seething with unrest and suspicion.
One of the great and important factors for the belief in immortality and the life beyond the grave is gathered from the reaction of Jesus’ disciples before and after his rising from the dead.
During the arrest, trial and crucifixion of the Master, the disciples were a pitiful lot. These were the most trying days—somber, sinister, crushingly devastating. Looking at them from the human side of the picture, we are prone to say that those followers of Jesus had every right to be. They had followed Jesus for little over three long years, believed that He was the Messiah of Jewish prophecy, the Redeemer of Israel and the Conqueror of their foes. They were expecting Him to establish in Jerusalem a Kingdom whose influence was to be felt the world over, but what they failed to realize from the writing of the Prophets, that the Savior of Israel, and consequently the world, was to be a suffering Savior before becoming a conquering Redeemer. “We had hope that He would redeem Israel,” was their pitiful statement.
We also note their behavior when Jesus publicly and before their very eyes, surrendered without putting up a fight. What disillusionment that experience must have been to His followers! What a disgrace! Their hopes were shattered in believing that He was to release them from the yoke of bondage and restore the Kingdom to Israel by driving the Romans out of their country.
Peter who acted as a spokesman for the disciples and bragged on the night before that. “If all will desert Thee, I won’t,” was the first to defect by denying three times with curses and oaths that he never knew the man. The record tells also that they all left Him and fled. They met again and again behind closed doors to decide what course of action they should follow. Frustration and defeat were their lot during the three days. They were laboring under the mistaken belief that their leader, Jesus, is dead and that their cause was lost forever.
But we can’t help but note the striking contrast in their reaction when they witnessed, with their own eyes, their Lord and Master alive. The New Day of the Resurrection brought with it a new outlook, renewed hope and joy to the whole world. During the forty days before His ascension, Jesus appeared about six different times to different people including the disciples. The joy of these men was indescribable. Their cup of happiness and hope was running over. Their crushing’ sorrow and bereavement were replaced by profound faith, indelible belief that Jesus’ cause was righteous, that immortality was not a myth but a profoundly genuine reality, a hope that lives beyond the years.
The one hundred twenty Christians, including the disciples, rallied their forces and chose a new disciple to take the place of Judas Iscariot. The erstwhile Peter who was timorous, sheepish and panicky during the trial of Jesus when denying his Master, preached a historic sermon on
the Day of Pentecost, in which he publicly proclaimed the rising of Jesus from the dead and denounced the action of the Jewish hierarchy in putting Jesus to death. His sermon sparkles with words like these, ‘Ye have by wicked hands crucified the Lord of life, but God raised him from the dead whereof we are witnesses. Later in his general Epistle to the scattered Christians, we find Peter reaffirming his belief in the resurrection. Wrote he, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ Who has begotten us into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The living hope which Jesus imparts to his disciples is more than an emotion. It is an expectancy that is founded upon the promises of God. It is a hope which cannot fail. Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, the believer looks forward to the constant care of the Shepherd, and to the ultimate entrance into the heart of the Father. Its consummation will be realized when that hope of the personal appearing of the Lord Jesus becomes a reality.
Our heritage in Christ is incorruptible. It is not established upon things that change. It is the gradual unfolding and perfect conclusion of eternal life. It gives the greatest possible dignity to our present experience, and incorporates the promise of the first Psalm. “His leaf also shall not wither.”
At this blessed season of the year in which we commemorate the triumph of the risen Lord over His adversaries and the initiation of a new order in the world, we heartily implore Divine Providence on behalf of our people both here and abroad, so that we might with one mind and mouth be united so that our holy Orthodox faith may flourish, enabled to rise above any and all obstacles in these crucial, unpredictable times, in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — Amen. . . . .
Yours in His Service,