Russians Celebrate Orthodox Easter
From Associated Press
MOSCOW — Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II wished health and happiness to millions of Orthodox Christians on Sunday as believers marked Easter, the holiest day in the Orthodox calendar.
"Let the joy of the Easter holiday touch every heart. Let this joy give you strength and courage to withstand all hardships and troubles," the patriarch said in his address, parts of which were broadcast on Russian television.
Orthodox churches use a different calendar than the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, which celebrated Easter on March 27.
At the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a massive church near the Kremlin that was destroyed by Stalin and rebuilt with a golden dome, thousands gathered for midnight Mass, including President Vladimir V. Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Y. Fradkov.
Earlier in the evening, organizers put on a laser show that painted the church's white exterior with images of icons and famous church frescoes.
The Russian Orthodox Church, all but banned under Communist rule in the former Soviet Union, has experienced a major resurgence since 1991, with an estimated two-thirds of Russia's 144 million people believed to be observant.
In his Easter greetings, Putin said Russia was undergoing a spiritual revival.
"On this festive spring day, I'd like to point to the growing positive influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional Christian confessions on molding the spiritual and moral climate in Russian society," he said.
THE PASCHAL MESSAGE of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia to the Archpastors, Pastors, Monastics and All Faithful Children of the Russian Orthodox Church
'Therefore we were buried with Him
through baptism into death,
that just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
even so we also should walk
in the newness of life.'
Beloved in the Risen Christ your graces the archpastors, the whole priestly, diaconal and monastic order, God-loving children of our Holy Orthodox Church. In greeting each of you with the Paschal kiss, I say to you these words of joy, replete with ineffable joy:
CHRIST IS RISEN!
It is the greatest of feasts that we today celebrate; it is the finest of solemnities that we mark. The radiant joy of Paschal, which glows in our hearts, warms us amidst earthly cares, inspires us to a life of good and grants to us the foretaste of our own future resurrection.
The Lord opens to all the gracious fount of this joy and today does not ask at which hour he or she has come to accomplish his or her deed. He knows His faithful ones who have laboured from the first hour, yet He knows too that those who have come at the eleventh hour have perhaps overcome the most difficult part of the path. And there is no deed more pleasing to God than to bring this holy joy to those who do not know it, to those whose soul has yet not been illumined by the incorruptible light of Christ's Passover. And this light-bearing, transfiguring, life-giving joy will cast aside the stones from the tombs in which their souls have been sealed.
In singing the exultant Paschal hymns to the One Who has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20), we sense too within ourselves the miracle of being resurrected alongside Him: we are no longer dead spiritually, yet alive through the grace of God which has redeemed us from sin and death and has made us to be a new creation in Christ.
The miracle is accomplished by the love of the Risen Saviour who has vanquished death by His sacrifice on the Cross. For the salvation of humanity, which renounced God' plan, the Author of life descended into hell, humbled Himself unto death, even death upon the Cross, and granted to us the New Passover - the mystical transition from death to life, from darkness to light, from the world to the eternal Kingdom of God. And this transition is revealed to us already in this temporary life if we in these earthly wanderings through prayer and the humble acceptance of the will of God, through charitable deeds and ministry to our neighbours, unite ourselves to Christ.
In being liberated from the captivity of sin, with all our strength striving for the radiant light of Christ, we render our life all the more beautiful, for we increase in our souls eternal riches. As Scripture says, 'lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also' (Mt 6:20-21).
The revelation that 'God is love' (1 Jn 4:8) is the greatest gift to mankind of the Incarnate Son of God. Love transfigures, purifies and sanctifies all that is around us. And we, in following the Saviour's commandment on sacrificial, self-denying love towards people, are made a part of Divine love which, kindled in our hearts, fills our whole life with unextinguished Paschal joy. It is then that the apostle's words come true for us: 'Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God' (1 Jn 4:7).
Let us then travel along the way of salvation diligently and unswervingly. Yes, this way is always thorny and narrow. And it is not by chance than many around us in the world have abandoned this way, dimming their spiritual eyes by striving for power and fame, comfort and the acquisition of worldly goods, unbridled consumerism and endless trivial entertainments. The Church knows this road will lead the human race down a blind alley and will never make the human race happy. Yet the way of Christ, the way of bearing one's cross and the way of resurrection, lead us to the light which radiates forth from the Life-Giving Tomb of the Lord. To live in this light is to vanquish all sorrow and sadness, to possess the fullness of peace and joy.
My beloved ones! Let us, as the apostle exhorts us, 'walk in a renewed life'. Let us reject enmity and confrontation, sinful ways and weakness of the soul. With every day and hour of our life let us fulfill Christ's commandment: 'Let your light so shone before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven' (Mt 5:16).
There are in our midst many people who feel keenly the need for help and care. These are our elderly citizens, the victims of wars, crime and natural disasters, all those who suffer from disease, poverty, loneliness, homelessness and who have no parents. Let us bring to each one of them as a Paschal gift our active love, our modest contribution and labours of charity.
'The day of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ', writes St. John Chrysostom, 'is the foundation of peace, the beginning of reconciliation, the cessation of hateful actions, the destruction of death, the defeat of the devil'. May Christ's Passover bring peace where blood is shed and where hatred is kindled. May all people of the world extend towards each other the hand of brotherhood and working together for the common good. I assure everyone that the Russian Orthodox Church will labour in the name of the blessed reconciliation and the harmony of the whole human race. It is in this ministry that we remain as always open to joint labours with the state and the many and varied social forces, with peoples of different faiths and convictions.
In a few days time we will solemnly mark the sixtieth anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. In those difficult days, on the borderline between life and death, the holy Orthodox faith was awakened in the soul of the people with renewed strength. For many of our compatriots this became the beginning of a new life in Christ. Then too the radiant Feats of Christ's Passover came in May just before the people's holiday of the Great Victory. Christ our Saviour blessed with peace those who turned towards Him (Ps 28:11).
Beloved in the Lord archpastors, pastors and children of the Church, on this radiant and holy day I cordially congratulate you all on the feast of the Bright Resurrection of Christ. It is now, when the hearts of Orthodox Christians are filled with Paschal joy, that I hasten to share this joy with all of our brothers and sisters, both Orthodox and Christians of other confessions, with each human being, both neighbour and afar.
Again and again I beseech all ministers, monks and nuns and laity of our Holy Church to strive for perfection in faith and good deeds 'that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory, and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.' (1 Pet 4:11).
CHRIST IS RISEN!
HE IS RISEN INDEED!
PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA
For more photos of Orthodox Easter Celebrations, see this page.