ARCHBISHOP ANTHONY (MEDVEDEFF, +2000)
"Enter, All of You, Into the Joy of Your Lord"
(Archbishop Anthony's Final Paschal Epistle)
From the Editors: We bring to your attention the last Paschal appeal to the San Francisco flock written by His Eminence, the ever-memorable Archbishop Anthony of Western America and San Francisco, the kindly elder beloved by all (+10/23 September 2000). We are providing this text to mark the fourth anniversary of his blessed repose. Let us pray, brethren and sisters, for the repose of his radiant soul, and that the Lord may raise up new pillars for our support. And we believe that He will indeed raise them up, for the Church of Christ is ever alive, and the Lord always guides those who worthily do and support the work of God.
Christ Is Risen!
Dear fathers, fellow pastors, brethren, sisters and children in Christ, and all who read or listen to this Paschal greeting: "Enter, all of you, into the joy of your Lord" (St John Chrysostom's paraphrase of Mt. 25:21).
I must admit that, this year, while approaching the final weeks of the Great Fast and keenly, as never before, reviewing all the sins I have committed throughout my life against the background of the helplessness of old age I am experiencing these days, I grew extremely despondent; yet the grace of the approaching Pascha has saved me. I know not when, but I reached a turning point in my soul.
It is growing light, and I conjure up the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, and the Apostles Peter and John hastening to the burial cave.
Glory to Thee, O Lord! Outrunning the much younger John, Peter, who was tormented by everything that had happened from the hour of the Lord's betrayal and by the bitter tears he shed for denying Christ the Savior thrice out of fear of the Jews, reached the tomb first.
O Lord our God, what courage, what renewal of strength is imparted by the forgiveness of Christ, which is granted with such divine goodness!
And the Apostle and Evangelist Mark, the disciple and traveling companion of Peter, bears witness that through the angel the myrrh-bearing women were instructed to tell of the Resurrection to the disciples of Christ and to Peter. The holy Apostle Paul likewise maintains that after the Resurrection Christ "appeared also to Cephas" (that is, to Peter), and afterwards to the twelve (I Cor. 15:4). The senior apostles also confirmed this to the holy Apostles Luke and Cleopas on their return from Emmaus (Lk. 24:34).
But let us now prepare for our own radiant Paschal Matins.
The several arrivals of the holy myrrh-bearing women, who desired to anoint the body of Christ with precious ointments, are represented by the procession we make around the church. And the invisible world also takes part in this, as we attest when we chant: "The angels in the heavens hymn Thy Resurrection, O Christ God..."
And, finally, our spiritual renewal is depicted by the ending of this same sticheron: "and vouchsafe also that we on earth may glorify Thee with a pure heart."
Matins begins prayerfully, in front of the church. There we hear: "Christ is risen!" And the reply: "Indeed, He is risen!" Then the doors are opened, we enter the church, and there, as one church writer expresses it, "The whole church [that is, those present in the church] is transformed into His Holy Church," into our oneness with Christ, which the tenth article of the Symbol of Faith teaches.
On the right-hand side of the church [ the Cathedral of the Joy of All Who Sorrow, in San Francisco--ed. ], under a canopy, is the shrine containing the holy relics of the founder of this Cathedral, our great man of prayer, the holy hierarch John of Shanghai and San Francisco. He is truly alive in spirit and is praying for us.
In the church there are those who remember how he served on Pascha when, his face suffused with faith and love, he would perform the censing with the triple paschal candles, moving rapidly around the church, crying out "Christ is risen!"
Those who are younger will tell later generations of how they witnessed the vast congregation assembled for the glorification of the holy hierarch in 1994.
More and more pilgrims will arrive in San Francisco , not only from the various dioceses in North America , but from other parts of the world as well.
And Saint John will, as it were, repeat with us the meaning of the paschal hymns: "Let us purify our senses," "Let us forgive all things with the Resurrection," and finally, "Receive ye the Body of Christ; taste ye of the fountain of immortality" (Pascha Canon, Odes I and IX; sticheron and koinonicon of Pascha). The holy hierarch, a tireless man of prayer and speedy helper of those who pray to him, lived by this commandment.
Let us maintain that most beautiful Russian custom of the paschal divine service; for Holy Russia gave us Saint John . It is his legacy to love it and labor for it.
Even in Russia , Archbishop Antony of Kharkov (later Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia ), came to love the future Saint John , and having consecrated him to the episcopacy, he sent him from Serbia to Shanghai , as "a little bit of my own heart."
Much-suffering Serbia was the homeland of our saint's remote ancestors. Serbia is a country of great long-suffering, which has encountered the hatred of the so-called West and of NATO. It was during the season of Pascha last year that they began the violent bombardment of Serbia and its province of Kosovo , which is covered with ancient holy places. And missiles were launched mockingly, with the blasphemous slogan painted on them: "Happy Easter."
I shall conclude this paschal epistle (possibly my last) with a call for you all to pray for the salvation and renewal by grace, through faith and piety, of the fraternal peoples of Russia and Serbia .
In Serbia, in his own native village, Lelich, the Serbian Chrysostom, the theologian, archpastor and confessor, Nicholas, Bishop first of Okhrid, and later of Zhicha, has already been locally glorified and awaits a fitting Church-wide canonization.
He was a friend of Saint John . It was in his diocese that Father John (Maximovich) labored, together with the famous Father Justin (Popovich), as an instructor and teacher in the local seminary. Saint Nicholas was the first, in both print and word, to declare the holiness of Father John (Maximovich). And after exile to Germany and imprisonment, when he was living in America , he asked our Synod to hasten the canonization of Saint John of Kronstadt.
One must say that the persecution of Orthodox believers in Serbia reminds us very much of the persecution of the Church in our homeland. In both countries the entire land was sanctified by the blood of new-martyrs. Bishop Nicholas of Zhicha composed, in the Serbian language, a "Service for the Holy Martyrs of Serbia Who Have Suffered from the Time of Prince Lazarus to This Day." This service begins with a sticheron which I will here translate loosely:
"Gazing down from the heavens, the holy hierarchs of Serbia spake to the souls of the new-martyrs as to their own descendants, as they went to greet them: 'O excellent athletes, grieve no more! But join chorus with us in the kingdom of heaven!'"
O holy new-martyrs and confessors of the fraternal peoples of Russia and Serbia , pray to God for us! Ye are alive, and--God willing--your people will also live!
Indeed, He is risen!