Ethics of the Resurrection
+ Protopresbyter John Meyendorff
Human life is inevitably dominated by worries, preoccupations, fears or concerns with the one sure fact of the future for all of us: physical death. These concerns and worries are sometimes quite unconscious, but nevertheless, omnipresent. There is no way in which we can avoid being concerned about our income, our insurance policies, our savings, as well as about the availability of such services which society can offer us to provide us with a measure of security in our old age or when we are sick. But have we ever thought that all these preoccupations are basically connected with one reality: the ultimate inevitability of death, which we understandably want to postpone and to make as harmless as possible? Actually, our society even offers artificial gimmicks to make us forget about it, to hide death under funeral make-up. But should we really ignore the obvious reality which lies behind it?
Furthermore, is it not true that our mortality serves -- quite unconsciously again -- to justify our concern for ourselves, instead of our neighbors? My neighbor can be cold and hungry next door, but I feel quite justified in preserving my own standard of living and the security of my own future, because I consider my money as having been earned by me (or given to me) with no other purpose than to prolong my own life and to make it as comfortable as I can.
Moreover, even the laws of this mortal world of ours are made in such a way that their main purpose is to preserve my rights and my property. They justify violence as a form of self-defense. And the history of human society is one of conflicts and wars in which individuals and nations struggle and kill others in the name of temporal benefits which will be destroyed by death anyway. But this is still considered as "justice."
Such is, indeed, the inevitable logic of a world, which St. Paul describes as "the reign of death" (Romans 5:14).
On Easter Day (Pascha) however, we celebrate the end of this reign. Christ came to destroy it. "Death is swallowed up in victory, O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). "Christ is Risen, and no one remains in a tomb" (St. John Chrysostom). Therefore, as the Church sings, "let us embrace," "let us forgive."
This victory which our Church celebrates so brilliantly, so loudly, so triumphantly, is not simply a guarantee of "after life." Rather, it changes the entire set of our ethical priorities, even now. There is no need for self-preservation anymore because "our life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). To love one's neighbors and to give them the "last penny" is better insurance than to "store treasures upon earth." "To lose one's soul" is "to save it."
This is indeed total "foolishness" in the eyes of the world, but it is the wisdom of God, revealed in the Resurrection of the Lord.
(Fr. Meyendorff succeeded Fr. Alexander Schmemann as Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Fr. John was a noted Orthodox Patristics scholar and prolific author. For years he was also the editor of The Orthodox Church newspaper. The above editorial appeared in the April 1981 issue.)