In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord! Christ is Risen!
Happy is the exile who returns to his homeland after long, harsh wanderings. For those who have experienced hunger and cold, the warmth of their native hearth is even dearer; to those who have known the hostility of a foreign land, their fatherland is all the more precious. Those who suffer severe troubles learn to value the joy of being delivered from them. And this poor outcast, who was suddenly given the opportunity to return to his former happiness, is the human race, for which the Savior has opened the gates of Paradise.
The loss of Paradise—there is no more grievous event in the memory of mankind. The memory of the blessed Fatherland makes this perverse world with its malice and cruelty, lies and filth, sufferings and death all the more unbearable. Who’s to blame for such a disaster? Being in the Kingdom of Light, the first people themselves let the darkness in and exchanged their love for the Heavenly Father for the poisonous bait of the devil. The whole of creation is distorted by the seal of this transgression; the originally pure human nature is darkened—we’ve all become addicted to the deadly sweetness of sins and we continue to pluck the forbidden fruit, forbidden by God Himself.
For ailing eyes, sunlight is unbearable—just as a defiled soul flees from the radiance of the Father. It wasn’t the All-loving God but the darkness of their own fall that drove our forefathers out of Paradise—they fled without looking back; their confused senses were terrified even by the reflection of the Heavenly Light from the revolving flaming sword (Gen. 3:24), placed next to the Cherubim, God’s servant, who stood at the gates of Paradise. Yes, even the sight of the Heavenly messengers became unbearable for the nature darkened by sin. A later example of this is the events at the Holy Sepulchre, when the Roman guards, terrified by the appearance of the angel, whose countenance was like lightning … became as dead men (Mt. 28:3-4). How could people, pitiful “children of sin,” dream of returning to the Paradisiacal abodes, where everything is filled with the radiant glory of God?
In order for the radiance of the Father not to burn but to enlighten the souls of men, mankind needed rebirth. In the Forefather Adam, the human race was struck by the hereditary infection of sin and death—someone was needed Who would be able to transform the nature of the fallen, to give them the possibility of another birth in purity and holiness, in spirit and in truth. This spiritual progenitor of renewed mankind was the Pre-Eternal Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from Heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the Heavenly, such are they also that are Heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the Heavenly (1 Cor. 15:47-49), says the holy Apostle Paul.
Wandering the earth, the Savior miraculously straightened the crooked, opened the eyes of the blind, set the paralyzed on their feet, and resurrected the dead. The inner meaning of these acts was that the Son of God came to restore people’s spiritual fortitude, spiritual vision, spiritual strength, and to call them to eternal blessed life.
The incarnate Lord paid an incredibly high price for the salvation of fallen men. Only by the Blood of the only sinless One could the corruption of original sin be washed away. Only the Cross upon which the Most Pure Savior suffered and died could destroy the gloomy stronghold of hell and reopen the gates of Paradise to straying mankind.
The Resurrected Christ became the guide of the people saved by Him along the bright road to Heaven. In Him and with Him human nature acquires its original purity, the possibility of joyous unity with the Father’s radiance. The Cherubim and Seraphim bowed before the Son of God clothed in a human body as He entered the Heavenly Kingdom, greeting Him and those sanctified by Him—the new inhabitants of the Paradisiacal abodes.
The first companion of Jesus Christ on the most luminous Heavenly path was the repentant thief. With but a word from the Merciful Savior, the black fog of this criminal soul was dispelled, and purity and holiness were granted to it. Here is seen a sign that man is saved not by his own merits, but only by the grace of Christ, the grace of the Merciful Lord.
And in the world redeemed by the Blood of the Savior, man remains imperfect. The world still lies in evil, and many people are going to eternal death. But the man-killing devil, defeated by Jesus Christ, is deprived of his power over our souls—he can only tempt and seduce. The Lord the Redeemer has given us the freedom of choice: to strive along the path towards the blessedness of Paradise indicated by Him, or to enslave ourselves to sin and hell by our own will. A recalcitrant sinner commits spiritual suicide, opposing the sacrificial love of Christ, and he has no one to blame for his destruction but himself. Gracious help is sent down to us in the battle with evil on the rocky earthly path—and only in this way, battling temptations, offering repentance after falls, laboring in faith, hope, and love, will we be able to preserve in ourselves at least a weak spark that can flare up from the Divine call: Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light (Eph. 5:14).
The longing for the lost Paradise, the painful search for truth, the efforts of earthly righteousness—in Old Testament times, all this seemed futile and bore fruit only after the Resurrection of Christ. “Mankind has been resurrected in Christ,” says St. Ambrose of Milan. Following the resurrected Savior, the ancient righteous ones emerged from the darkness beyond the grave: And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose (Mt. 27:52). Having appeared in Jerusalem as a testimony of the Resurrection of our Lord, they then rushed into the Paradisiacal gates opened for them by our Savior, into the embrace of the All-loving Heavenly Father.
How the Heavenly world triumphed at that moment, with what exultation the spirits of goodness and light, the pure angels, greeted those saved and adopted by God! The endless Paschal joy filled the abodes of the All-loving Heavenly Father, and today the angelic choirs are also rejoicing, greeting every saved human soul!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ!
In the days of the celebration of Holy Pascha, the Royal Gates are opened in Orthodox churches as a sign that the gates of Paradise have been opened for us by the risen Savior. Yes, the All-merciful Lord is waiting, calling every one of us to Himself.
Will we really reject the love of the All-generous Creator? Will we renounce eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Goodness and Light for the sake of unclean lusts, dust, and vanity, with which the insidious satan entangles us? According to St. John Chrysostom, there is the same difference between present and future glory as between a dream and realty. Let us think about the highest destiny appointed for us—and no trials will frighten us on the good path to Heaven.
The bright days of Pascha will pass and the Royal Gates will be closed in our churches—just as the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom were once closed for unrepentant sinners who have condemned themselves to eternal torment. Let us cherish the time allotted for the fulfillment of our salvation; let us preserve the holiness of love for God and love for our brothers and sisters as the apple of our eye, remembering the covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ: If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him (Jn. 14:23).