Jesus Christ has destroyed death and has made this life imperishable and luminous by means of the Gospel. [2Timothy 1:10]
If there is something that strikes the most terror into the skeptic’s life, unhitching the strings of his heart and shattering his nerves, it is death. Death is at every corner. We live with it and we live within it. With its terrifying countenance it prowls about freely. It brings anguish everywhere, from the poor man’s roofless, crumbling shack to the tranquil domains of a magnificent home. How it burns and scorches our hearts when it comes to sweep away a member of our family or a loved one with its grim, terrifying appearance! Over that loss we weep in vain, we speak in vain, we contemplate in vain. And I dare say that after such a loss we live in vain.
They say that the perpetual fear of death took hold especially among the primitive peoples and non-believers. During their lives their main thought is, “How can I escape death?” They imagine death standing before them like a gruesome monster. They do not fear the torments of this or that crisis, but rather the mystery of death, which, after God, is for them the most impenetrable mystery. It is natural for them to fear death that much because they have no faith or clear concept of another life to come. What can we say about a life that has no faith? How miniscule and futile! How mundane and hopeless!
Pity the person who does not know what life after death means, eternal and heavenly life! How befuddled and unhinged must be that person who senses that his life is limited to the here and now; when he is convinced that he will spend the entire length of his existence on earth.
What a disastrous thing death would be if there were no resurrection of the dead! If we thought and believed that at death we simply become dirt— that our body and spirit would simply rot and decay, only to be forever mixed with the coarse, rocky soil. Such a notion would be horrible.
A Time of Sleep and Nothing Else
But thank God, we believers are fortunate—a thousand times fortunate—that we no longer have such fear and dread. We know and we believe that at death we do not cease to exist but we pass on to be born into a new and everlasting life. For us death is simply a time of sleep and nothing else.
Let death putrefy and rot the body and terminate life. Let the grave swallow life into the depths of its dark womb and still we will believe and will always believe that after that terrifying disintegration we will have a new life. After the terror of that darkness we will enjoy the dawn of a tranquil morning.
Let death shout and proclaim its victory and we will consider it empty chatter.
Let death claim that it is annihilation and we will again consider it a time of sleep, a long, deep and silent sleep.
Let hundreds of faithful, thousands, be sacrificed to the grim reaper and still we will believe that they are being born into the dawn of a new life.
The Dawn of a New Day
This faith of ours has its own date. Our assurance has its origin. Christ is the one who inspired this faith by his teaching and confirmed it by his resurrection. Death was destroyed by Jesus Christ by means of his only power—his resurrection. Death was destroyed with its locks and chains. It was crippled along with its threats, and through Jesus, the graceful shores of eternal life appeared in the distance. Through Jesus, under the dawn of a new day, a new spirit, a new expectation came into being in the heart of humanity. Without him, human beings would cease to be human. Without him, mankind would be reduced to an absurdity.
Could a rational creature have possibly destroyed death? Never! Only Christ, God’s Son, could have broken death’s grip under his all-terrifying form. Through his passion, Christ broke the chains of death. He destroyed it by his power and by his peace. He dispersed the haze that had settled upon the grave to show us the eternal life beyond it. He rose from the dead without a sound, without clamor, without emotion. No one helped him, neither did he ask anyone for help.
Finally, Jesus soundly defeated death because death could not rob him of anything—neither the miraculous powers in which Jesus was clothed, nor his wisdom, nor his glory, nor his goodness. Everything that Jesus left behind on Earth before his resurrection he found and reestablished after his resurrection—except for one thing, if we may be permitted to put it this way: He wears a new crown in place of that crown of thorns. It is a crown of light, the sign of eternal glory.
And this is how Jesus defeated death: He took control of life and became its protector. He became the ruler of life and he became Life itself, as he said: “I myself am resurrection and life” [John 11:25]. This Life that is proclaimed in the Gospel must not be confused with our current life. In the Gospel “life” is not the often miserable existence of these uncertain days, squeezed as they are between the cradle and the casket, where everything is erosion and decay.
There is another life that Jesus shows us as he stands in front of his open tomb. It is the eternal life, the true and heavenly life. The Gospel teaches us that human beings were not born for this world. They have a higher calling, which is perfection, and only the spirit can achieve that perfection. Therefore, we can now say confidently with the Apostle Paul, that “Jesus Christ has destroyed death and has made this life imperishable and luminous by means of the Gospel” [2Timothy 1:10]. Now we too can rise above the noise of this world, and from the depths of our heart we can cry out in amazement, “O death, where is your victory? O hell, where is your sting?” [1Corinthians 15:35].
Eternal life and the Resurrection are revealed vaguely in the Old Testament. It was through Christ that they were plainly proclaimed and established. Among ancient peoples too there were vague prophecies concerning immortality. But there was no permanent, ennobling conviction, no true light. The pagan philosophers generally rejected immortality because they considered it all too uncertain. Not a single pagan accepted the doctrine of the resurrection of the body until the teaching of the Gospel was proclaimed. Christ destroyed death not only for himself, but also for all those who believe in him, who belong to him.” [Hebrews 2:14-15]. Whoever believes in Christ will not die, but will only sleep. And that sleep will be followed by a blessed and glorious awakening.
Eternal life is a matter of personal choice. Faith must be voluntary if it is to be truly ours. To become immortal, Christ’s life must be reflected in us. We must recondition our hearts in goodness and in the spirit of the Gospel. We must love our companions in faith like true brothers and sisters because we all have one Father in heaven. Step by step we must walk toward perfection, always aiming toward the highest Perfection, which is God. Yes, only then will we become true Christians, and freed from the chains of death, we will have chosen the best means of crossing the threshold into eternal life.
Nothing Can Take the Place of Faith
Dear faithful, both before his resurrection and after his resurrection, Christ clearly made immortality present by planting faith, a longing, deep into the heart of humanity. That faith is the most noble, the most holy treasure of the Christian’s heart. Take away that faith from the depths of the Christian’s heart, take away that faith in the resurrection, and nothing else remains. The entire teaching of the Gospel evaporates. All that is left is hopelessness, fatalism, the disintegration of life, and eternal death. Anyone who does not have faith in Christ’s resurrection can never believe anything in the Gospel. Such a person ceases to be a Christian. Such a person is a corpse who cannot be revived through Christ. “If you do not believe that I am the One, you will die in your sins” [John 8:24]. Nothing can take the place of faith: neither hope, nor moral life, nor philosophy.
If Christ is still in the tomb like a regular mortal man, he ceases to be a savior. If Christ has not risen, throw away Christianity, Christ’s name, his work, and faith itself! The Apostle Paul says, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain and our preaching is in vain” [1Corinthians 15:14]. But no! “He has risen and is the first fruit of those who are asleep” [1Corinthians 15:20]. Even the unbelieving Jews could not falsify Christ’s resurrection even though they did everything to destroy the truth.
Therefore, let us announce to the world, that “Christ is risen from the dead.” Let us be firmly convinced that Jesus Christ has broken to bits and annihilated the chains of death. He has destroyed it. By his resurrection he has dispersed the dense haze that hovered above the grave. And he has gone up to heaven, shining light on life and immortality. Blessed be his resurrection. Amen.
Translated by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan
This sermon is taken from a collection of writings entitled, Simple Sermons [Պարզ քարոզներ] delivered by Archbishop Ghevont Tourian when he was a young priest. A graduate of the renowned Armash Seminary, the brilliant clergyman served as secretary to Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian, Patriarch of Constantinople. Later he served as Primate of the Armenian Church of America until he was murdered at Holy Cross Armenian Church in New York on December 24, 1933. This translation has appeared in the Volume 1, Number 2 of The Treasury publication, Spring 2015, pp.11-14 (http://www.stvoski.org/embed-v1-n2.html)