Paschal Epistle of Archbishop Vladimir (Christ’s Paskha, 2020)

Beloved in Christ fathers, brothers and sisters, monastics, pastors and parishioners of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad!

I greet you with the Great and joyous Feast of Christ’s Radiant Resurrection!

  This spiritual joy concerning the Resurrected Christ, for the Orthodox Christian, cannot be affected any way: not by the troubled times (times of the Apostasy) in which we find ourselves, not by any epidemics, not even by the powerful of this world that drive everybody into their homes and residences.

  The Lord Jesus Christ warns of similar times: do not be afraid since all this has to occur: “there will be famine, pestilences (epidemics) and earthquakes in various places; all of this is the beginning of the sorrows” (cf. Matt. 24, 6-7). There will even come a time, says the Lord, when “they shall deliver you up to be afflicted and shall kill you, and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. Then shall many be offended and shall betray one another. Many false prophets shall arise and shall deceive many and because iniquity shall abound the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end shall be saved. And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come” (Matt 24, 9-14).

  The Holy Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Thessalonians, even in his time said that “the mystery of the iniquity does already work” (2 Thess 2, 7). This spirit of iniquity, spirit of unbelief and against God is aimed at Christ, against His commandments and against His followers.  This spirit of iniquity is attempting to infect the entire world with this thinking.  This apostasy, all-destroying spirit of unbelief, impiety, all-permissiveness and unrestricted thoughts, is as a sore as death itself (cf. Jeremiah 9) – we can quote the Holy Prophet Jeremiah – is attempting to penetrate not only through our doors but through windows and cracks and it wants to change the world in his manner, whatever it takes.

  Everything that occurs in the world: sickness, epidemics, earthquakes, wars – all of it occurs either by God’s will or by His allowing it but all of it is by Divine Providence. The holy fathers teach that the Divine Providence is God’s will and it is allowed by God.

The venerable John of Damascus says: “That which depends on Divine Providence happens either by God’s will or it’s allowed by Him. What occurs by God’s will is unquestionably good. What is allowed to happen that without a doubt is not good. Thus, God often allows even a righteous person to fall into misfortune to show others the kindness that is hidden in him: so it was, for example, with Job.”

And St. Ignatius (Brianchninov) explains: “one thing occurs because of God’s will and the other by God allowing it to happen; all that happens occurs by God’s judgment and His decision. For this reason the fortunes of God are often called God’s judgment in the Gospels. God’s judgment is always just – You are just says the Prophet and Your judgments are righteous (Ps. 118, 137)”. [Psalm numbering is per the Septuagint-trans]

And, finally, the venerable Efrem the Syrian says: “Everything is from God: the good and the sorrowful and the undeserved. However, one is by God’s will, another is for enlightenment and the third God so allows it. By God’s will is when we live a virtuous life which is pleasing to God that we spend our life without sin, with virtue and piety. For our enlightenment when we fall into errors and begin to sin we are then brought to our senses. And it is so allowed because we ignore even the enlightenment.

  The Lord, Himself, mentions this in the Holy Bible.

  He can send sickness or death: “I kill and I can make alive. I wound and I heal. Neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32, 39).

  Or He allows that we be stricken with a sickness as it said in the book of Job: Satan said to the Lord: stretch forth Thy hand and touch his (Job’s) bone and his flesh - will he bless Thee? And the Lord said Satan: he is in your hands but save his life. So went Satan from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown (Job 2, 4-7).

  Or He can send a illness as a punishment for sin: if you view My commandments with contempt and if your soul views My laws with aversion then I will treat you this way: I will send you terror, consumption, and a burning fever that shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart (Lev. 26, 15-16). If you will not listen to the words of your Lord God then the Lord will send you pestilence until He consumes thee from off the land The Lord will smite you with consumption, a fever, an inflammation and they shall pursue you until thou perish (Deut. 28, 15, 21-22). The Lord will smite you and your descendants with unusual plagues, great and persistent plagues and sore sicknesses of long duration. And He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you feared and they shall cleave onto you. Also every sickness and every plague not written (and all that are written) in the book of this law the Lord will bring upon thee until thou be destroyed because thou would not obey the voice of the Lord God (Deut. 28, 59-62).

   Sickness can also happen to whoever unworthily partakes of the Holy Communion – that person eats and drinks in judgment of himself. Because of this many of you are weak, sick and many die - so says the Holy Apostle Paul (1Cor. 11, 30).

  Often a sickness is not curable by human means if you will not try to obey all of God’s commandments. The Lord will strike you with the Egyptian plague, tumors, scabs and an itching from which you will not be healed (Deut. 28, 15, 27).

  Yet at the same time, with prayer combined with faith the Lord can heal any illness: “the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up (James 5, 15).

  The Lord can heal from sickness a person who is repentant and turns to Him: He forgives all your transgressions, heals all your ailments and frees your life from the grave (Ps. 102, 3-4). He sent His word and healed them (Ps. 106, 20). Said to Hezekiah: I heard your prayer and saw your tears. So, I will heal you and on the third day you will go the Lord’s house and I will add fifteen years to your life (2Kings 20, 5-6).

  The Lord guards from sickness those who believe in Him: if you will hear the voice of your Lord God and do what is favorable in his eyes and heed his commandments then I will not smite you with any of the diseases that I brought on to Egypt since I am the Lord (your God) your healer (Exod. 15, 26). Observe the commandments and the Lord (your God) will distance all infirmities from you and no terrible Egyptian sicknesses that you know will smite thee (Deut. 7, 11, 15). You shall not fear the pestilence that walks in darkness, the destruction that lays waste at noontime. A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand but it shall not come near thee. No evil shall befall you nor shall any plague come near your dwelling (Ps. 90, 5, 6, 7, 10).

  The Lord shows His love, His power, His kindness in the healing of all sicknesses and all infirmities – it is only necessary to follow Him: “and there were brought to Him all the sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, those who were demon-possessed, epileptics and paralytics and He healed them” (Matt. 4, 24).

  The Lord God as All-Mighty, All-Goodness, All-Powerful allows evil to occur so that from any evil there can be good consequences. In order to save us God turns everything into good.

  So, any earthquake, epidemic, sickness, misery, any suffering which can touch people because God allows it can help them give up pride, learn humility and become compassionate to see and to love the true Christian values.

  The venerable John of Damascus says: “It is necessary to keep in mind that God, first of all, wants all to be saved and to reach His Kingdom. In reality, since He is Good, He did not create us to punish us but that we would be part of His kindness.  All tearful events, if people accept them with gratitude are sent for their salvation and, without a doubt, it is for their benefit.

  Therefore, it is necessary for us to do this wish of venerable John regardless of our life’s circumstances, to thank the Lord and also to follow the words of St. John Chrysostom; “Thank God for everything, and especially for sorrows”.

  Unfortunately, due to certain temptations, sicknesses and misfortunes, a person very often tries to improve his situation, health and life solely by material and human methods and often things don’t improve, as in the Russian saying: “without God, not even to the threshold”. [in Russian it rhymes. It means that one does not start anything without having God in mind-trans] Similarly, our third First Hierarch St. Philaret the Confessor when they find comparable situations states: “first cleanse the inner self and then the external will improve”. That is why, for all us Orthodox Christians yearning for salvation who in this earthly life are worried about guarding against external viruses that affect the body, it is more important to worry about the viruses of sin and passions that affect our souls.

  The Lord created us in His image and likeness. After the initial Fall into sin we are redeemed with an expensive price: the suffering and death on the cross of the Savior. Our soul is not created to be weighted down by sins, passions and the interests of this world which lies in sin. Our soul is too ennobled, too wonderful to sacrifice the eternal for an imaginary temporary and to conform to world views and ideas of this age of apostasy. Behold to what ideas and deeds, not only godless but openly against God, are being presented to the contemporary individual.

  Human pride is the root cause of all sins. It is the basis of the great sin of unbelief, opposition to the truth and pseudo-freedom from all morality.

  The Lord because of His love, in His Providence at all times and under different historic conditions always tries to draw the individual to Himself. He is the Truth at the Highest level and the source of all Goodness. These paths may be different but there is one among them that the Lord offers us in the parable of the prodigal son. The father agreed to free the son who was striving to live a self-sufficient and independent life in a far off land with the idea of again accepting him into his arms when the son, having spent all that was given him and being in a state of poverty and distress, returned to his father with the repenting cry: Father, I have sinned to heaven and before thee!

   So it is in our times the Lord allows various illnesses to those who have forgotten Him and stepped away from Him to today’s humanity that it may feel the calamity of life without Him and experience the depth of its moral bankruptcy, that it would have the possibility, a chance, to have an open path to come to its senses and come to Him, the Heavenly Father, having acknowledged in what a sad and sorry condition humanity is without Him.

  That is why all of us must, before anything else, say with repentance: Father, we have sinned to heaven and before Thee!

  Without God there is no truth and there can be no life illuminated by higher spiritual beginnings. Only the truth indicates an intelligent purpose to our lives, affirms all goodness and gives a beneficial start to all the capabilities of our eternal soul. This truth is in Christ Who resurrected and opened for us the doors of paradise.

  Therefore, in celebrating this Feast of Christ’s Radiant Resurrection, let us thank the Lord for all the circumstances that He sends us in our lives and let us ask the Lord that He would strengthen us and help us withstand the temptations of this age and that at the time of the Universal Resurrection He would resurrect us unto life eternal, eternal happiness and blessedness in the endless day of His Kingdom. Amen


Truly Christ is Risen!

 +Archbishop Vladimir

 Christ’s Paskha, 2020