An Easter Message from Archbishop Angaelos
‘For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?’ (1 Corinthians 1.18-20). These are the words of Saint Paul, in which he clearly demonstrates the newness of the message he had both received, and was now sharing.
The world around us has its own definitions of what is ‘foolish’ and ‘wise’, and what is believable and farcical. For the world, the message of a God loving humanity to the extent of Incarnation, and then being persecuted, convicted, sentenced and executed by that same humanity makes no sense. Yet it is in this very message of putting oneself aside that we find the true strength of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and of the Christian message he has called us to live.
It is relatively simple to mask ourselves behind a façade of strength, an illusion of confidence and a perception of power, and in many cases, that will be enough to satisfy the person hiding behind the screen and those whom he or she seeks to convince. In living the Christian message however, we must sometimes be vulnerable, and even appear weak and defeated; but this, surprisingly, is where our strength is found. Once people see someone defeated they expect nothing, let alone victory, and this is why the empty tomb and the risen Lord were a striking blow that not only caused confusion, but instilled a sense of fear, into those who had doubted him.
In our own lives we will have opportunities to choose either to be winners or perceived losers; to appear to have the upper hand and be strong, or to sometimes give way and be perceived to have failed. Our Lord chose the latter for the greater good, knowing that the real victory was truly his, and ours through him.
In agreeing to ascend to the Cross, after having been tried, humiliated and convicted by his enemies, it was obvious that this would appear to be a defeat, but then how great the victory that would follow would be. The fact that the angels announced that ‘He is risen, he is not here’ (Matthew 28.6) was a true proclamation of the omnipotence of our God. Nothing could contain him, especially the humanity that he himself had created. Saint John of Damascus reminds us that our Lord ‘was tried and overcame in order that he might prepare victory for us and give [us] power to overcome’. This is a message to us all, that it is not in the appearance of power, but in genuine power itself, that we should place significance.
As Christians we are called to put others before us, to forgive and indeed to even ‘bless those who curse us’ (Matthew 5.44). The result of this is by no means weakness, but it is the true power that stems from the empty tomb, and forms the Resurrection of the crucified Lord himself. As we celebrate the risen Lord, we are reminded that his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12.9), and proclaim that he is the God of Gods and Lord of Lords, Risen Indeed for us and for all the world around us.
As Christians we must always be mindful of the pain of others, and as ambassadors of Christ, do all we can to alleviate the suffering of those around us. We are called to share the Good News of the Gospel, which may often simply translate into being a source of hope, mercy, forgiveness, light, and faithful prayer for those in need. This is most prevalent when considering issues of poverty, inequality and injustice that directly impact so many in Britain and around the world, and our role in supporting those who suffer, and reassuring them of a God who never abandons humanity (Hebrews 10.23).
Archbishop Angaelos is the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and Papal Legate to the United Kingdom.