Word Magazine May 1959 Page 3
IF A MAN DIE, SHALL HE
By V. Rev. Fr. Michael Baroudy
Archpriest, St. George Orthodox Church, Vicksburg, Miss.
Once again Easter comes and the Christian world bows in adoration to this greatest of all festivals. Millions of people of all races, colors and nationalities repeat the joyous words of the angels and the devoted women, “He is risen, Christ is risen!” The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of hope, and the basis for the belief in the immortality of the soul. The Christian religion is not a code of ethics, a system of theology, but a fact — an eternal truth, based upon implicit faith. If a person has no faith and is not willing to believe in the redeeming power of God and of His Christ in goodness and righteousness, if he is cynical — then no power on earth can convince him of anything.
Men throughout the world and in all stages of history, have always, like Job, inquired, “If a man die shall he live again?” And while the doubter and the skeptic refute the belief in immortality, yet great men of faith have answered the question in the affirmative, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!” The difference between the two is that the one is not willing to believe because he has not entered into the experience which lifts men up and makes them share in the greatest of all hopes, that of immortality. He is the slave of degrading habits and thoughts, the slave of his baser nature. The other lives on the plane of the divine, eternal — with him, believing is seeing. Immortality to him is not a myth but a mighty truth. He has a foretaste of it here in the present life. Immortality for him is not something to be deferred after death, but realizable right here and now as soon as he has entered the realm of earnest, honest, belief, immortality begins, for then he would have passed from death unto life.
Life after death, which goes by the name of immortality, is one of the most baffling, and yet the most challenging themes of all, for if you are a person who believes that the grave ends it all, it is a great pity — I personally feel sorry for you. This world is your all in all. You are living to gratify the whims of your baser nature. Beyond fulfilling the desires of your physical nature, you have no concern. You are the slave of ideas and ideals that are not uplifting, not warranted by facts. Christianity is one of the greatest ventures in the world. It isn’t hot-house or a mushroom institution. It is a dynamic power that will change the lives of men and women everywhere. It is a life that leads inevitably to a cross. To understand this is to know the reason why poor, ignorant fishermen became men who changed the course of history, because they were willing to pay the price.
The fact that our Lord Jesus Christ arose from the dead some twenty centuries ago may not be of very great import to us if He does not live in us and through us now. I am more concerned about whether He makes His presence known to us than I am about whether there was an empty tomb. What we need to realize is “that I am with you always, even to the end.” I wish we could at this Easter season realize the full significance of this immortal truth, “I am with you always.” You know, sometimes we think that God has deserted, abdicated His throne because we are living in a wicked day — in an evil day. Nothing is further from the truth! Christ is here and He is our companion and guide along life’s journey. He is more than ever before seeking an entrance into the lives of His people. He wants to share with them the troubles, the anxiety and the anguish they are going through if they will only let Him.
Probably we have often thought that if we were as rich as Henry Ford, that if we had the wit of Will Rogers, or if we had the wisdom of Solomon, we could make good in our particular sphere. Probably we sigh because of the limitation of opportunity and excuse ourselves because of heredity and environment, if so, we should constantly remind ourselves of the most successful man this world has ever known. Here is a brief sketch of His life.
There was a man born in an obscure village, the child of a poor, peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village. He worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty, and then for three years he was a traveling preacher. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never held office. He never wrote a book. He never attended college. He never put his foot inside a large city. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place of His birth. He never did one of the things that usually accompanies greatness. He had no credentials, that is, no written papers of recommendation, but Himself.
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away, one denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through a mock trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled while he was dying, for His only piece of property on earth, His shirt. When He was dead, He was taken down from the cross, and buried in a borrowed tomb, the pity of a friend. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, all put together have not affected the life of men upon the earth as powerfully as that one solitary life. This man, Christ Jesus, man’s greatest teacher, example, friend and ONLY Savior, lived an unselfish life, died for our sins and arose again for our justification. He died that we might live, for God so loved the world. The Easter message is, “He is risen, because I live ye shall live also . . . Lo, I am with you always even unto the end.”
The resurrection of our Lord from the dead has given to the world of believers a new hope, a new lease on life. It made of Christianity a world-conquering, world-redeeming fellowship, for Jesus’ rising from the dead caused men to believe in the immortality of the soul.
This is the reason that our Troparion at Easter is, “Christ is risen from the dead, overcometh death by death; and has given life to those who lie in the tomb.” Death is the enemy of the human race. But Jesus conquered, by His death, this enemy and has given to believing humanity a love and a hope which live beyond the years.
In certain respects, the great article of the Creed is the last : “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Without that article, the other great affirmations have no meaning. Suppose one were to say, ‘‘I believe in God the Father,’’ but not in the life everlasting; or, “I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son;” but not in the life everlasting; or, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church,’’ but not in the life everlasting. All these affirmations would be meaningless without the great chord that is struck in the final sentence of the Creed : “I believe in the life everlasting.” Without that affirmation, the Creed would be like a great cathedral wrapped in gloom and the darkness of the night. But with that affirmation, the Creed is like a great cathedral illuminated by the sun and showing all the glory of the architect, sculptor and painter.
Therefore, we can triumphantly say with St. Paul, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . . . But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus