Paschal Epistle of His Grace, Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand
Beloved in the Lord, Clergy and Flock of the Australia & New Zealand Diocese
Christ is Risen!
The all-joyous and most desired day of Holy Pascha has come and the entire Church solemnly and radiantly celebrates the rising of Christ from the grave. The human race and all creation are renewed by the Resurrection of Christ. The Redeeming Sacrifice has been offered, death is defeated and the people of God are delivered from the captivity of hell. The doors of Paradise are open once again for all who have come to believe in the Lamb, sacrificed for our sake, and who are washed in His most pure Blood.
This imminent sacrificial Triumph was prefiguratively revealed by the Lord in distant antiquity, some 1500 years before the nativity of the Saviour. When the Egyptian Pharaoh refused to grant freedom to the enslaved Hebrew nation, despite all the efforts of the great leader and God-seer Moses, the Lord sent Egypt various tribulations. The heart of Pharaoh, nevertheless, was hardened even more. It was then that the Lord sent the most severe punishment - the death of all the first-born Egyptian males.
To save the first-born of Israel from the sword of the angel of death, God gave Moses precise instructions for performing a special rite: the slaying and preparation of the passover lamb. "Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; ye shall take it up until the fourteenth day of the same month, and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper doorpost of the houses wherein they shall eat it.... For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all gods of Egypt will execute judgement: I am the Lord. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you when I smite the land of Egypt. And this day shall be unto you for a memoria! l, and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever" (Exodus 12: 5-7, 12-14).
It was in this manner that the first Old Testament Passover was celebrated, serving as a prefiguration of the great and eternal Pascha (Passover), Christ Himself, Who offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world by crucifixion on the Cross. By His redeeming Blood we are delivered from servitude to sin and death. "Christ is our Pascha," as we sing in the service during the Paschal night. "Christ is the New Passover, the living Sacrifice, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world" (Song 9 of the Paschal Canon).
The great teacher of the Church, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, explains the spiritual significance and meaning of the ancient Passover in relation to the New: "Israel ate the meat of a dumb lamb to complete the Passover, and having done so, they smeared their doorposts with blood and laughed at the destroyer. But we eat the Word of the Father, the Son our Saviour. We have the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Covenant. Therefore we acknowledge the grace given to us by our Saviour... Now that death and the kingdom of the devil is abolished, we are filled with joy and gladness. God is no longer known only in Judea, but in all the earth. Their voice has gone forth, and the knowledge of Him has filled the whole earth (Ps. 18:4, Rom. 10:18)" (4th festal epistle)
The period of the Law has long passed; it is Grace that now reigns. The sacrifices of the Old Testament have ceased and the Jerusalem Temple has been destroyed to its foundations. In all the churches of Orthodoxy we now celebrate the Bloodless Sacrifice in the Divine Liturgy, glorifying and offering thanksgiving to our Saviour Christ, Who suffered for us and is risen in glory.
During these days of Pascha let us glorify God with thanksgiving and with great joy great each other with the holy kiss, repeating the sacred words, "Christ is Risen! - Truly He is Risen!"
May the Resurrected Christ God abundantly fill the hearts of all of you with joy and spiritual gladness this Pascha and all the days of your life.
With love in our Risen Saviour,
+ Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney Australia & New Zealand