Throughout salvation history, there were many moments when God’s people were tested. One such period was in the time of the prophet Habakkuk, mentioned in our Paschal Matins service. He lived in a time of transition, when the Babylonian empire arose on the ruins of the Assyrian empire. The new power proved to be just as ruthless as the previous. Although the ruler changed, but the same elements of imperial power remained unchanged: an ideology of one’s own “greatness,” the pursuit of glory, wealth, and foreign lands – all sustained by deceit and violence.
Keeping watch with the prophet on this Paschal night is to stand with perseverance in the midst of human disillusionment and helplessness expecting God’s saving action, the revelation of His victory over the enemy and aggressor. Habakkuk proclaims: “I will take my stand at my watch post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. Today, we, together with the prophet, call out to God: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to You ‘Violence!’ and You will not save?”
In response to this call emanating from within the suffering heart of the faithful, today we receive an answer from the Almighty God: “God came … His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from His hand; and there He veiled His power”. The prophesized glory and splendor, the brightness and ray of light – that is the light of Christ’s Resurrection, which shines upon us today in the same way as it did then when Christ dispatched the armed guard and emerged victorious from the sealed tomb. The watchful song of Habakkuk finds its fulfillment in the good news greeting: “Christ is risen!” The Risen Christ shows us that God fulfills our prayer, He rushes to free those, who each day persistently stand on guard in prayer for Ukraine. On this light-filled night the Holy Church sings out God’s victory, and in the prayerful vigil of her Paschal services together with the prophet Habakkuk , she points to “the brilliant angel who proclaims: Today salvation comes to the world…” Today on its native lands our Church is called to give out the prophetic voice of victory over idolatry, deceit, and violence. The Risen Lord dispelled the fear of the Apostles, saying: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”. These words also speak to us and give us strength not only to stand against the enemy, but to also conquer our interior ills: loss of faith, fatigue, and fear. The Revolution of Dignity is far from completed as long as the peace of Christ has not filled our hearts – it is only with Christ that we can, in the words of the Servant of God Metropolitan Andrey, defeat self-serving political opportunism, corruption, and the vestiges of a godless regime in relations between government institutions and society.
The peace of Christ is threatened not only in Ukraine. Far and wide, where true Christians proclaim the Risen Lord and live according to the Gospel, old persecutions have reignited and new challenges emerge. We pray for the conversion of those who in words proclaim the Risen Lord but in action do works of the evil and deceit, which remains deeply rooted in human hearts. In a special way, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Ukrainian Crimea and the Donbas, as well as for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are being persecuted unto martyrdom. We understand how the faith is threatened by the self-assured consumerist culture of a West that has forgotten its Christian roots and values. We might think that in our spiritual struggle it is as if we are surrounded on all sides. That is why the prophet’s prayer is also our prayer: “Will you not hear? Will you not respond? Will you not save?” Today we who call out to God against the violence and lies, we who stand in watchful prayer, receive the brilliant angel, who proclaims the victory of the Risen Christ. He brings solace and peace to those who mourn the dead, gives assuredness of His victory over violence, aggression, malice, and untruth.
Celebrating Pascha in wartime is to be able to see our victory in the Risen Christ. This victory must first of all take place in our souls and fill the heart of each person who truly believes that indeed Christ is risen! This faith in the victory of the Risen One allows those who are on the front lines to face death and, with courage and confidence, defend one’s land. This power of the Risen One allows us to resist the temptation of hatred towards those who allowed themselves to be deceived by an insatiable imperial ideology of falsehood and violence. This victory of Christ, as the Risen Truth, finds its expression in all who speak of and bear witness to the truth regarding what is happening in Ukraine. This truth of Christ allows all who see themselves as Disciples of Christ to be true apostles of the Good News of peace and love.
Our victory, found in the Risen Savior, over all enemies seen and unseen, may not appear right away. It approaches in stages, day by day, gradually revealing itself in all its fullness. Therefore, that which the prophet Habakkuk already saw, already celebrated, already in part received in anticipation, that is what we today celebrate in fullness: the Resurrection of Christ!
Beloved in Christ! On this luminous day of Christ’s Resurrection I long to share this Paschal joy with you. My deepest heartfelt wish is that our festive greeting, “Christ is risen,” may strengthen us in faith, dispel the fatigue of battle, and give us hope in a complete victory and a shining future for Ukraine. This greeting is also addressed to our faithful throughout the world who share the pain of their family and friends in the native land, and provide assistance, each according to his or her ability, in prayer and material support. Wherever we are, let us proclaim a true Revolution of Dignity which can only be founded on a constant conversion to the Risen Christ, and on the fulfillment of His Gospel in our lives. To all of you in Ukraine and throughout the world I send you my heartfelt festive greetings. May this feast of Our Lord’s Resurrection bring you blessings, a tasty sharing of our traditional blessed egg, and a Paschal joy that is full of light.