For the unbelieving consciousness, the idea of resurrection is absurd. From this point of view, the faith of Christians is even more absurd. The case of the speech of St. Paul the Apostle in Athens is indicative – the center of the then world philosophical and intellectual thought. His speech ends the moment he speaks of the resurrection from the dead. Some of the listeners leave, others laugh at him, and some stay and believe him (Acts 17:34). In many ways, the event described corresponds to the attitude of the people in the modern world. With its belief in the resurrection, Christianity is radically different from all other religious systems. The goal of the Christian life is not salvation per se, but union with God through love. The main obstacle to this union with Him is death. It is the main obstacle that needs to be overcome. And according to the Christian faith, this can only happen with divine help.
The Christian faith in the resurrection from the dead is radically different from the belief in immortality. Immortality, understood in various pagan systems, is generally accepted as immortality of the soul, ie of a part of man – of its component, which is separated from the material, from dark matter, and goes to the realm of light. Christianity is radically changing the paradigm. It preaches something unthinkable – complete recovery of man, physical and spiritual. Because of this faith, he became hated by the pagan world. The reason is that it does not deny this world, does not treat it with contempt, but does not worship it. On the contrary, he accepts it, views it as a creation of God, which, however, is subject to transformation, liberation from sin – ie, confession of a mistake made at the dawn of human history. The classical pagan world preaches something else – an escape from this world and, accordingly, hatred of matter, which, according to him, stops man on his way to God. For him, matter is evil, a dungeon that holds the soul. For Christianity, the problem is not in matter, but in the spirit that has distanced itself from God and sunk into matter, distorted its purpose. Due to man’s sin, matter in the world created for him also suffers damage. According to the Christian faith, through the resurrection not only the soul is restored, but also the matter, the whole man, ie nothing of it is lost, does not perish. Therefore, there is nothing superfluous in man. Otherwise, it would be absurd to assume that God created man in such a way that something must fall away from him afterwards.
In the Old Testament, the expectation of the resurrection is conveyed indirectly. There the main idea was the belief in one God, as a counterbalance to pagan polytheism. As a result, the resurrection was avoided, which was especially popular in the cults of the pagan world and led to temptation. But the prophets clearly testify that the resurrection of man is something that will happen and defeat death. The text of Prov. Hosea: “I will redeem them from the power of hell, I will deliver them from death. Where is your sting, death? Where is your victory, hell? ”2. The life of the Old Testament man depends on two main factors: exclusively and only from God, on the one hand, and on the other, as a consequence of the first – the community, the people, the ancestral origin. Therefore, the well-being of man is determined entirely by the well-being of the people, by life here and now – the well-being of the individual is predominant on earth. The land has a special role for the Israelite; even today it is politically important, but also eschatological in importance3.
In the attitude of the Old Testament man to life, to its meaning and significance, the book is very indicative. Job. Job’s trial ends only with his faithfulness to God. He remains faithful to the end, despite all the suffering. The book concludes with God restoring to him twice what he had before the trial (42:10). He died “old and full of life” (17). However, there is no ultimate, eschatological optimism in this book. It anchors man on earth, does not give him extreme hope. It does not solve the question of meaning, it only postpones it. The real solution comes later. It is in the resurrection.
This was first foreshadowed by the prophets4, and was gradually expressed through revelations in visions and various images. However, the prophetic view and vision of the resurrection is not understood by all. Subsequently, the idea of it was rejected in certain religious and intellectual circles of society. In this spiritual and ideological environment in the so-called inter-Testament age, two currents are formed regarding the belief in the resurrection of the dead5. On the one hand are the Pharisees who accept the resurrection and God’s judgment, and on the other are the Sadducees who deny the resurrection and even enter into a dispute with Jesus Christ (Mark 12: 18-27).
The very preaching of Jesus Christ is categorical about the resurrection. The Savior rebuked the Sadducees, much of the spiritual and intellectual elite of Jewish society at the time, for misunderstanding the Scriptures. He refers to Moses, ie the law according to which God is the God of the fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “But he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him” (Luke 20:38). In refutation of their unbelief, the Savior again uses an argument from Scripture. He quotes Ps. 109: 1 where the Messiah is called the son of David (Luke 20: 41-44). Apparently here Jesus Christ categorically states that death is not absolute, that it is only temporary and does not affect man as a whole. According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, Jesus Christ showed the Sadducees that they were especially illiterate because they did not accept the words of their main authority, Moses, who was clearly familiar with the resurrection from the dead. “To whom will He be God, according to their arguments, if they have ceased to live? He is the God of the living. ”6
The Gospel directly testifies to how difficult it was to accept the idea of the resurrection from the dead. Although Jesus Christ told His disciples that He would be killed and resurrected, their faith was weak. It is weak even after the transfiguration of Peter, James, and John. They enter directly into another spiritual reality, participate in theophany (Luke 9: 34-35), but still cannot accept this truth. Most obviously, these moments occur after the very resurrection of Jesus Christ. The words of the passengers about Emmaus are indicative. The women have already brought the news of His resurrection, but they doubt, do not believe the testimonies and those who saw the empty tomb (Luke 24: 23-24). The Savior has to explain the Scriptures to them, and yet they do not believe. Only after the blessing and breaking of the bread (Holy Eucharist) do they recognize Him. All the while, Jesus Christ insists before them that what is happening is the fulfillment of Scripture. That is, the hidden reproach is that they do not rely on Scripture, but on their own understandings. So that they would not hesitate, He took special action: “Then opened he their minds to understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus Christ must suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day” (45-46).
Unbelief in the resurrection shows how much man has sunk into dependence on the definitions of the external, sensory world. The example of St. Thomas the Apostle is illustrative. He is looking for external, empirical evidence: to see the scars from the nails and to put his finger in the wounds from them, to put his palm in the wound from the spear. Until he did so, he said, “I will not believe” (John 20:25). Despite all these encounters with the risen Christ, the lives of the disciples did not change visibly. They are still not clear about what happened and what is going to happen. They fish (21: 3 nat.), Take care of everyday things. Clearly, in order to establish faith in the resurrection — despite the evidence Jesus Christ gives for Himself forty days after His resurrection — and for the radical change it brings to man, something else needs to happen. This is the historic appearance of the Church on the day of Pentecost. Then, with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, this radical change occurs. Their spiritual gaze opens and they begin to understand the Old Testament scriptures. The leading role is taken by St. Peter the Apostle and he, already enlightened by St. Spirit mind, begins to explain the Old Testament prophecies and their relationship to what is happening now. He refers them to Jesus Christ because they testify to the victory over death (Acts 2:27). The apostle directly declares, “Then God raised up Jesus, of whom we are all witnesses.”
After the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, when the spiritual eyes of all believers are opened, many of the events related to Jesus Christ, and especially the question of His resurrection, become clear to the heart and mind. Such are they later for all baptized, believing Orthodox Christians, conscious members of the Orthodox Church. For the Orthodox consciousness, the resurrection is what gives meaning and gives the right answer to the question of the Savior’s sacrifice. Without the resurrection, it would be meaningless. As Prof. Totyu Koev notes: “The Resurrection of Christ is a unique, unrepeatable case in the whole of human history. In him and through him the Golgotha sacrifice is affirmed and fully accepted. Without the resurrection, the death on the cross is meaningless, just as the resurrection without the cross is meaningless ”7.
This truth was hard to grasp among the newly converted Jews and Gentiles. Evidently among the newcomers to the Church in Corinth, and perhaps among the believers close to the apostles, there were hesitations about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then the app lights up. Paul puts before them the question of the resurrection from the dead radically: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). That is, all the efforts he, the apostles, and their followers make are in vain. And not only that, but they would be in self-deception, or worse, they would be frauds. But the truth is clear: “Christ rose from the dead and became the beginning of the dead.” If there is no resurrection, the very coming of Jesus Christ into the world is meaningless.
The meaning is clear: the resurrection from the dead is a new beginning for man. Through him, the last enemy was defeated – death (26). Without faith in the resurrection, the Christian faith itself becomes meaningless. It is absurd! In his second epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle reassures them, “We know that he who raised up the Lord Jesus will raise us up through Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:14).
It was difficult for the Hellenic consciousness to accept the resurrection as a reality. For him, death and resurrection are above all inherent in pagan gods, but not in man. Confirmation of this idea is found elsewhere, again in a Hellenic environment. Before the believers in Thessaloniki, the apostle again insisted, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (1 Thess. 4:14). The resurrection is a victory over death, it gives hope to every person to make sense of his life and, fighting his sins, to avoid despair and despondency, but to believe in life. This is the promise of the very Life of Jesus Christ: “I live and you will live” (John 14:19). The resurrection of Christ is the pinnacle, the culmination of the Christian faith. It intersects, summarizes and centers all questions and answers related to it.
What has been traced so far shows how the Holy Scriptures begin with the story of the creation and catastrophe of the Fall, the consequence of which is death. In its content it is nothing but a testimony to this gigantic battle that is being fought in heaven and earth precisely to destroy this last enemy – death. The center of this battle is the fact of its destruction in the person of Jesus Christ, and how this will happen for each person individually and for the world as a whole is testified by the last book of Scripture – vol. Revelation. In it, the history of the world, past and future, unfold as in a fast-paced film. It is the most optimistic ending in world history known to mankind. This eschatological optimism solves the question of meaning – it is in the resurrection of man in his entirety and his existence with God. Then the lost access to the tree of life will be restored. The tree will be in the middle of the main street of the new Jerusalem. According to bl. Jerome symbolizes the Holy Scriptures:
the fruits are its meaning, and the leaves are the words. However, only the words, as the Jews read them, are meaningless. But “even if one understands the Scriptures only as history, he acquires something useful for his soul.” The river that flows through the city is God’s Revelation, which contains the truth and brings grace to the inhabitants of the city. According to Bishop Andrew of Caesarea, the tree of life is Jesus Christ himself. The fruits of the tree are the believers in Christ who spread the faith during the twelve months, symbolizing the apostles. They point to the uninterrupted knowledge of God that believers receive. “The Tree of Life bears twelve fruits, namely, the Apostolic Council, which shares in Him Who is the true Tree of Life, Who, through His participation in the flesh, has enabled us to share His divinity.”
The bride of Christ, the Church, awaits the coming of Christ. She calls: “Come! Come! And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is thirsty, let him come, and he that will, let him take of the water of life freely ”(Rev. 22:17). St. John himself concludes the book with the common hope of all Christians: “Amen, yes, come, Lord Jesus!” (20). The faith of the Church is focused on the Resurrection, and therefore it is its brightest holiday. It begins in history, is experienced constantly, transcending space and time, and is projected into the eschatology. However, its influence is constant and unchangeable for the believing Orthodox Christian, as evidenced by many of the texts of the resurrection service. They invite us to rejoice in the Resurrection:
“This is the chosen and holy day,
The first day of the week, king and lord,
Holiday and celebrations:
In him let us bless Christ forever ”10.
However, the joy of the Resurrection is always shared. It overcomes all selfishness and forgives every person who has sinned against us. Otherwise, the joy of the Resurrection is impossible. The worship service of the holiday invites us again:
“It is the day of resurrection,
Let’s shine on the holiday
And hug each other.
To those who hate us, let us say: brothers!
And forgive them all for their resurrection. ”11
In conclusion, it can be said that the Resurrection in its deepest sense leads to the restoration of man’s fullness, of his wholeness. Jesus Christ comes to “transform” man through His resurrection. In Greek, Sōtēr (Savior) means “Healer”. The miracles of healings that have such a remarkable place in the Gospels symbolically foreshadow man’s final “healing.” The true wholeness, the indivisible, incorruptible body, man acquires only in the bodily resurrected Lord, in the “body of the resurrection.” Therefore, the resurrection is directly related to the complete recovery and salvation of man from sin and death.
Welcoming the Savior is the greatest hope of the believing Christian – the final solution to the problem of evil and death. That is why Christianity is the most optimistic religion.
Excerpt from the publication “Between Faith and Reason”, Sofia, Omofor, 2020
1 Cults associated with the Sun, with the cycle of nature, where the personified deities of nature die and are reborn as Tammuz e.g.
2 Biblical critique, based on linguistic and literary analysis, questions these Old Testament testimonies. She raises the question of the clear acceptance of the idea of resurrection from the dead only in the book. Daniel (12: 2), which is believed to have been written at a very late stage in the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 BC).
3 On the subject, see: The Promised Land in Biblical-Historical and Archaeological Context. In: Cultural texts of the past – carriers of symbols and ideas. Book I. Texts of history, history of texts. Proceedings of the Jubilee International Scientific Conference in honor of the 60th anniversary of Prof. D.Sc. Kazimir Popkonstantinov, Veliko Tarnovo, October 29-31, 2003. Sofia: University Publishing House “St. Kliment Ohridski », 2005, pp. 76-92.
4 Spiritual and intuitive sense of realities that are not subject to rational analysis.
5 Cf. Popmarinov D. Biblical theology. Protection of the Mother of God Foundation, Sofia, 2018, p. 316 nat.
6 Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 136. ACCS, NT, v. 3, p. 296
7 Koev, T. Resurrection and life. DK, kn. 4, 1991. https://web.archive.org/web/20200814074122/https://bg-patriarshia.bg/reflections.php?id=393
8 Jerome, Homilies on the Psalms 1 (Ps. 1). ACCS, NT, v. 12, p. 356.
9 Andrew of Caesarea, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 22.2., ACCS, NT, v. 12, p. 358.
10 Irmos of the eighth song from the Easter canon of St. John of Damascus. Cit. By: The Incarnate God. Festive catechism. Protection of the Mother of God Foundation, Sofia, 2007, p. 331.
11 The hymn from the ninth song of the Easter verse, ch. 5 of the Easter canon of St. John of Damascus. Cit. By: The Incarnate One, p. 336.
12 Ivliev, archim. January The Man in the Holy Scriptures (exegetical approach).
https://web.archive.org/web/20161015032437/http://azbyka.ru:80/ivliev/chelovek_v_svyaschennom_pisanii-all.shtml to 25.05.2020
Author: Prof. Dimitar Popmarinov
Source: “SVET”(War / Christianity), Issue 2/2022