Our Lord did not become incarnate to improve the conditions of our world. Nor did he come to make bad men good.
He came to make dead men live. He came to conquer death, and to bring us eternal life.
He does not offer this eternal life as a promise of “happiness” beyond space and time, or “survival” after our bodies give out.
Eternal life is the participation in the uncreated grace of God here and now. We do not have to wait until the end of this life to experience his presence.
In the Orthodox Church, on every Pascha (Easter) night we proclaim, “O death, where is thy sting? O hell, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. Christ is risen, and life reigns!”
Death has no power, it has been trampled down. After the cross, after the descent into Hades, there is the Resurrection from the dead.
Christianity is a belief, first and above all, in the fact that Christ did not remain in the grave, that life is more powerful than death, and that in Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, the absolute, all-encompassing law of dying and death, which tolerated no exceptions, was somehow blown apart and overcome.
What makes us truly human, and gives us value, is not our physical or intellectual capacities. What makes us truly human is the grace of having a share in the Resurrection, of being able to, from now on, live and die eternal life.
He who loves his life will lose it; but he who hates his life in this world will keep it unto life eternal, the Gospel of John tells us.
In A.D. 108, while being taken under guard to Rome to be martyred for his faith in Christ, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Christians in that city.
He implored them not to interfere with his coming trials or, for instance, try to keep him alive by bribing the authorities. While journeying slowly to what would surely be a gruesome martyrdom, he embraced his destiny with joy.
This is a direct quote from that letter: “It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth. I seek him who died for our sake. I desire him who rose for us. Birth-pangs are upon me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to die. Suffer me to receive the pure light; when I shall arrive there, I shall become a human being (Anthropos) suffer me to follow the example of the Passion of my God.”
“Do not wish me to die” by finding a way out, or a way around, the suffering that is sure to come. “Do not hinder me from living” by trying to stop me from being martyred.
Compared to the way we normally think about these things, life and death are reversed. His martyrdom is his birth. Death, in this context, is a defining moment: it is our personal Passover.
Death is not the end, but the beginning; not disappearance, but revelation.
Christ comes into the world to bring us life in abundance. But this life he brings is offered only to those of us who are willing to die for life. Life is much more that active brainwaves and a beating heart. Our journey through this world is a dying to this world.
“Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Our Lord said these words to the thief hanging on the cross to his right.
Our Lord and Savior also says these words to everyone who is willing to be crucified with him.
Today’s Insights was written by Gregory Owen, the priest at St. Joseph Orthodox Church in Baroda. Insights is written by area clergy to give different viewpoints on a variety of topics. It is published each Saturday in cooperation with the Berrien County Association of Churches. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of member churches.