by Fr. John Reeves
Last year on Western Easter, Marianne Budde, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, DC, opined that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it, “the entire enterprise would not come crashing down.” (virtueonline.org) This isn’t a new notion. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it as doctrine. But it’s been around a lot longer than that.
The belief that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead is part of the Gnostic family of heresies, this one in particular being called “docetism”, (from Greek, δοχειν, to appear). In other words, Jesus would only have appeared as man. This would make Him a divine spirit masquerading in human form; His death was only an appearance, as well as his Resurrection. If that is the case, the Resurrection would be superfluous.
Such errant preaching and teaching led me from the Episcopal Church to Orthodoxy almost forty years ago. It is sad to see how the denials of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Miracles, and oh yes, the Resurrection, have been multiplied over the past five decades.
Either Christ rose from the dead, or death is not conquered. If death is not conquered, we are still in our sins, to borrow from St. Athanasius (cf. On the Incarnation). Either Christ was and remains God in the flesh, before, during, and after his Passion and Resurrection, or all that we are about to celebrate is simply play-acting, a myth, a drama without much to compel it.
In writing to the Church in Corinth, this is St. Paul’s point: our faith, our life, and our eternal salvation are all based upon the Resurrection of Christ. If the Resurrection is not true, in what then do we place our hope? St. Paul says that his preaching, and our faith, would then be vain, pointless. He does not talk about the moral teaching of Jesus. He does not exhort the Corinthians merely to live ethical lives. He is blunt: Christ’s resurrection is our hope of resurrection. Without His victory over sin and death, we are all losers.
The story is told of a young man arrested during Soviet days for shouting “Christ is risen!” in front of Lenin’s tomb. Upon being interrogated, he was asked why he was “disturbing the peace.”
He asked his questioners simply, “Is there a body in Lenin’s tomb?”
“Of course, young man! Everyone knows that!” was the brusque reply.
“Christ’s tomb is empty! Christ is risen!”
On Pascha night, at Orthodox churches around the world, bishops, priests, deacons, and laymen will wait for the “Light of Christ” to pierce the darkness, in anticipation of the Resurrection. We know Christ’s tomb is empty. We fill the night skies with the cry which makes devils tremble: “Christ is risen!”
And we will say it, not merely because it is our tradition, but because it is the truth, a truth we believe down to the core of our being, down to the marrow in our bones. That in a nutshell is Orthodoxy: the Truth about God, the Truth about Man, and the Truth about Christ—God’s rising from the dead to save Man from sin and death. Otherwise, why bother?
“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (1 Cor. 15:14)