Father Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory wrote of Pascha:
For Easter is not the remembrance of an event in the past. It is the real encounter in happiness and joy, with him whom our hearts long ago knew and encountered as the life and light of all light. Easter night testifies that Christ is alive and with us, and that we are alive with him. The entire celebration is an invitation to look at the world and life, and to behold the dawning of the mystical day of the Kingdom of light. “Today the scent of Spring begins,” sings the church, “and the new creation exults…” It exults in faith, in love and in hope.
For the faithful who accepted the invitation, we celebrated and encountered the life and the light of all light. We beheld the mystical day of the Kingdom of light. Pascha, celebrated but a week ago and commemorated on each and every Sunday is the day on which according to St. Athanasius: “The reign of life has begun, the tyranny of death is ended…. This is the day the Lord has made – a day far different from those made when the world was first created, and which are measured by the passage of time. This is the beginning of a new creation. On this day, as the prophet says, God makes a new heaven and a new earth.”
This is the day that transitioned us from the tyranny of death to the beginning of a new creation, the most pivotal day in salvation history. It was the day on which the Lord resurrected from the dead. The Sainted Bishop Nikolai explains that on this day: “the devil was out of his reckoning. He thought to destroy by death Him who is stronger than death. He thought to dishonor Him who alone gives honor to every creature. The Lord Christ, by his glorious Resurrection, overcame and shamed the devil and gave us men power and authority over him.”
Although the Resurrection of Christ is confounding at best, His Resurrection is in fact a historical event. We learn of His rising from the dead in each of the four Gospels and we are provided a record of His post resurrection appearances by St. Paul, which are documented in his epistle to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor 15:3-8):
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Evidently, faith in the Resurrected Christ, at least for the first Christians, did not come through theological inquiry, but through either an engagement with the resurrected Christ or through the personal testimony of those to whom He appeared following His Resurrection from the dead after three days.
At the beginning of the second century, Saint Ignatius of Antioch preached to those who were first called Christians. He utilized the post resurrection appearances to and interactions with the first disciples to affirm the bodily resurrection of Christ for the faithful:
By His resurrection He raises up a standard over His saints and the faithful ones for all times (both Jews and Gentiles alike) in the body of His Church. I am convinced He was united with His body even after His resurrection. When He visited Peter and his companions, He said to them: Take hold of Me, touch Me and see that I am not a spirit without a body… After His Resurrection, the Lord ate and drank with them like a real human being.
Similarly, writing two centuries later, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, directs the faithful of the See of Jerusalem to possess faith in the Resurrection through the witness of Peter, the twelve, the five hundred, and most notably through the testimony of the first bishop of Jerusalem, James the Brother of our Lord:
In what follows, he says, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that are asleep; - And He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; (for if you believe not the one witness, you have twelve witnesses), then He was seen of above five hundred); “after that He was seen of James His brother,” the first Bishop of this Diocese. Seeing then that such a bishop originally saw Christ Jesus when risen, do not you, His disciples, disbelieve Him.
The greatest blessing of the Lord’s Resurrection, testified by His rising from the dead, is that we are reconciled with the Father, as He remains the first fruit of them who are asleep. Bishop Nikolai explains, “God first raised Christ. Together with Christ as man, God raises us also, who were dead in sins. The Lord visited the earth and that visit means for us life in place of death, glory in place of shame, nearness to God in place of a curse. In brief: resurrection from the dead and eternal majesty with Christ in the heavens.”
I close with a lengthy, yet beautiful writing of St. Symeon the New Theologian, who reflects upon the blessing of the Resurrection and our ability to behold, not believe, but behold the Resurrected Christ in the Holy Spirit as did His first disciples:
Most men believe in the resurrection of Christ, but very few have a clear vision of it. Those who have no vision thereof cannot even adore Christ Jesus as the Holy One and as Lord. As it is written, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3), and, elsewhere, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). That most sacred formula which is daily on our lips does not say, “Having believed in Christ’s resurrection,” but, “Having beheld Christ’s resurrection, let us worship the Holy One, the Lord Jesus, who alone is without sin.” How then does the Holy Spirit urge us to say, “Having beheld Christ’s resurrection,” which we have not seen, as though we had seen it, when Christ has risen once for all a thousand years ago, and even then without anybody’s seeing it? Surely Holy Scripture does not wish us to lie? Far from it! Rather, it urges us to speak the truth, that the resurrection of Christ takes place in each of us who believes, and that not once, but every hour, so to speak, when Christ the Master arises in us, resplendent in array (cf. Ps. 93:1) and flashing with the lightning’s of incorruption and Deity. For the light-bringing coming of the Spirit shows forth to us, as in early morning, the Master’s resurrection, or, rather, it grants us to see the Risen One Himself. Therefore we say, “The Lord is God, and He has given us light” (Ps. 118:27), and we allude to His second Coming and add these words, “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord” (Ps. 118:26). Those to whom Christ has given light as He has risen, to them He has appeared spiritually, He has been shown to their spiritual eyes. When this happens to us through the Spirit He raises us up from the dead and gives us life. He grants us to see Him, who is immortal and indestructible. More than that, He grants clearly to know Him who raises us up (cf. Eph. 2:6) and glorifies us (Rom. 8:17) with Himself, as all the divine Scripture testifies.