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Victory over Death

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This and Concerning Eternal Life are sermons given by Fr Alexander Men. Victory over Death is an Easter sermon, simple but with some touches of interest, from a defunct website of Roman Pomarenko.

With the setting of the sun on April 8th the Sabbath rest had come to an end but the women still had to buy the aromatic powders and ointments which were used to embalm. Thus visitation of the tomb was postponed to the morning of the following day. Of the guards they knew nothing; they were only bothered by the thought: Who will help us roll away the heavy stone?

Mary Magdalene came earlier than her friends. In the twilight of the dawn, coming up to the cave, she stopped in confusion: the stone had been rolled away.

What did this mean? Were not the enemies of the Teacher satisfied even after His death?

Meanwhile Salome and Mary, the mother of James arrived and, looking into the cave, were convinced that it is empty. In tears Mary Magdalene ran to Peter and John and told them the horrible news: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we do not know where they have put Him.” Both disciples hurriedly left the house where they were hiding and ran after Mary to Joseph's garden.

At first they ran together, but late Simon fell behind and John reached the cave first. Seeing that Mary was right he got caught up in speculation: Who would violate the law and embitter a place of eternal rest? The youth leaned towards the opening but strongly hesitated to enter.

When Peter arrived at the enclosure he was virtually out of breath but he was not the sort of person to think things out at length. Not stopping, he immediately entered the dark cavern. That emboldened John and he followed Simon. Next to the stone mat they saw the shroud and a cover for the face. The one who had been buried had disappeared.

The disciples were afraid to ask questions, protest or seek the body. They returned to the city filled with sorrowful doubt. Clearly, their enemies had decided to make fun of them as long as possible.

Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb alone. Immersed in her owe, she did not notice that the rest of the women had gone somewhere. Literally not believing the misfortune, Mary again drew near to the opening of the cave and unexpectedly saw there two unknown persons in white robes.

“Woman, why do you weep?” they asked.

“Because you have taken my Lord and I do not know where you have laid Him.”

A hope awoke in her: maybe these people will explain to me what happened? But at the same moment Mary Magdalene felt the presence of someone standing behind her and she turned around to see who it was.

“Woman, why do you weep? Whom do you seek?” asked the stranger.

Thinking only about her concern, Mary decided that standing in front of her was a gardener who would definitely know where the body was.

“Sir”, she said pleading, “if you have taken Him away, tell me where you have placed Him and I will take Him.”

“Mariam!” shouted out a painfully familiar voice. Everything inside her went topsy-turvy. There was no doubt. It is He…

“Rabuni!” cried Mary Magdalene and fell at His feet.

“Do not touch me”, Jesus warned her, “for I have not yet gone to my Father; but go to my brethren and tell them: ‘I go up to my Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’”

Driven crazy with joy, barely understanding what had happened, Mary ran out of the garden. The herald of the rare, unheard of news ran into the house, where mourning reigned, but not one of her friends took her amazing words seriously. All decided that the poor woman had gone out of her mind. They thought the same thing when, after her, there appeared Joanna the wife of Chuza, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They, speaking all at once, began to give testimony that the Teacher is alive, that they had seen Him with their own eyes. They told of how when they had gone down into the cave, as Mary Magdalene was leaving to call the disciples, and found there the youth in a white robe.

“Do not be frightened!” he said. “You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One. He is risen, He is not here. There is the place, where He was laid. But go and tell His disciples and Peter, that He will precede you to Galilee. There you will see Him, as He said to you.”

The women admitted that at first it was horrible for them to speak of this vision, but that later Jesus Himself appeared to them on the road and repeated the order for all of them to go to Galilee.

The apostles just looked at each other, listening to this account. Luke notes that to the apostles “this story of the women seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them.” After the recent disaster, the disciples were far from hoping for a miracle and least of all did they expect that soon God would transform them from people who had been shaken and nearly destroyed by catastrophe into the proclaimers of a new faith.

The annals of history contain much what is incomprehensible, but one can safely say, that the least probable historical event is the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the mystery which crowned His life. It is correct to say that this mystery goes beyond the bounds of what is accessible to human reason. Even so there are observable facts, found in the field of vision of a historian. At the same time as the Church which had barely been born seemed to have perished forever, when the project put forth by Jesus lay in ruins and His disciples had lost all faith—everything suddenly changes radically. Exultant joy replaced disappointment and despair; those who had only recently abandoned the Teacher and denied Him, boldly proclaim the victory of the Son of God. Something happened, without which there would be no Christianity.

That “something” was the revelation of the Son of God in glory, which Jesus Himself had foretold to Caiphas at His trial. The high priest perceived blasphemy in His words, and the tragic end of the Nazarene was to confirm the opinion of the Sanhedrin. To the Apostles the paschal appearances showed the truthfulness of prophecy. Jesus revealed Himself now not only as the Christ and the Teacher, but as the Lord, the Lord who is the incarnate Living God.

Neither Pilate nor the members of the tribunal saw the Risen One. If it had been the irrefutable and obvious nature of a miracle which would have forced them to confess Him, that would have been an injustice to the spirit which is free to oppose God. Only those who loved Christ, who were chosen by Him for service, could “see His Glory, the Glory that is His as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

For the apostles the Resurrection was not only the joy of again finding the Teacher; it meant victory over the powers of darkness, it became the guarantee of the final triumph of God's Truth, sign of the invincibility of the Good personified in Jesus of Nazareth.

“If Christ is not risen,” says the Apostle Paul, “vain is our preaching and vain is our faith.”

This is the thought by which Christianity will live, for on the day of Pascha the Church does not merely confess faith in the immortality of the soul, but the overcoming of death, darkness and disintegration.

“Christ is Risen, and Hades is overthrown! Christ is Risen and the demons have fallen! Christ is Risen and the Angels rejoice! Christ is Risen and Life reigns!”