Without a doubt, the most intimate desire of the heart – and yet the greatest scandal of the mind – is the confession of our Faith, that states: “I anticipate the resurrection of the dead”.
Our life is not eliminated by the gravedigger’s shovel. It is not demarcated by the solemn cypress-tree that stands by the freshly-dug grave. Our life is without boundaries; it is eternal. And, just as all of us shall die, thus shall all of us be resurrected! What can testify to this? What can verify this? The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us therefore step aside and allow the God-inspired preacher of the Resurrection – the Apostle Paul – to speak to us, who expounds the issue extensively in the 15th chapter of his 1st Epistle to Corinthians.
From that apostolic teaching, I shall isolate the related paragraph (Corinthians A, 15:12-20)
There were several Christians of Corinth who had basically accepted the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but had doubts about the resurrection of all the dead bodies, and so were asking for logical evidence in order to be convinced of it. In his address to them, the Apostle Paul referred to a chain of arguments, which he actually set forth in the mathematical method “reductio ad absurdum”. As those who have been taught mathematics already know, this scientific method begins from an erroneous hypothesis, which it attempts to prove by using correct proposals. But, because the hypothesis is incorrect, the reasoning ends up with contradictory and ambiguous proposals, in other words, absurdities. These absurd conclusions are precisely what convince that the original basis was incorrect, and is therefore negated, rejected.
In this instance, the erroneous proposal from which the Apostle begins his reasoning is: “It is not possible for a dead person to be resurrected; therefore, Christ was not resurrected”. If we were to accept the validity of this proposal – as many do, even today – we must also accept the following consequences, which depend on it:
First: The apostles’ teaching – i.e., the Gospel itself – is vacant. It is nothing more than hollow words, devoid of content.
Second: The Christians’ faith, i.e. the Church, is void, hollow, and unsubstantial.
Third: As heralds of the Resurrection, the apostles are exposed and proven to be false witnesses, sycophants and sanctimonious frauds, since they have been preaching a monstrous lie to the world: that God resurrected Christ, when He didn’t resurrect Him.
Fourth: The Christians’ faith is futile, useless, deceptive and harmful. It promises salvation to mankind, but leads it into destruction, since everything deteriorates and is lost inside the grave.
Fifth: Those who are redeemed in Christ – the faithful – remain unredeemed, under the slavery of sin and of their vices. Who can redeem them, if Christ was not resurrected?
Sixth: The reposed brethren – all of our loved ones who died with faith in Christ – have vanished altogether; they no longer exist, since there is nothing beyond the grave.
Seventh: “We, the faithful, the members of the Church, are the most miserable and wretched creatures on earth, if we cannot hope for another life, after death.” If a metaphysical reality does indeed exist, then mankind is even more tragic than the animal kingdom, because Man has an innate yearning for the eternal, whereas animals do not have any metaphysical anxieties. Similarly, the faithful are even more unfortunate than the faithless, who lack any familiarity with the celestial reality and are totally indifferent to its existence.
For the Christians who have had experiences in Christ during their lifetime, the above seven proposals are absolutely absurd and incongruous, therefore the original proposition on which they are based is likewise absurd and is to be rejected. It is wrong to claim “the dead can’t be resurrected, therefore neither Christ was resurrected”. The truth declares the exact opposite: that Christ WAS resurrected, therefore the dead WILL be resurrected. Out of this reality, the following seven consequences ensue:
First: The apostolic sermon constitutes an irrefutable reality and a salvific truth. It is the founding-stone of historic witness in prophecy, and is testified by the faithful’s experience and familiarity; for example, the hungry person, who has eaten and is satiated, knows with certainty that the plate he was given was full of tasty and nourishing food; also the thirsty person, who has drunk and quenched his thirst, is more than certain that his glass was not empty; thus do Christians have the certainty and the “aftertaste” that the Apostles’ sermon was not just hollow words. The Corinthians themselves had first-hand experience of the sweetness and the spiritual satiety that the word of the Gospel infused in their hearts. They were no hollow words – they were Light, Truth, and Life!
Second: The faith of the Christians – the Church of Christ – is a historic reality, which continues the life and the work of Christ. People can either accept it or reject it. But, regardless of the stance that each person takes, the Church is an unchallenged reality. For example, one may never attend Church, but that does not mean that he can assert (for that reason) that temples do not exist!
Third: The Apostles, among whom Paul (who was known and familiar to the Corinthians) is included, are the true witnesses of Christ’s Gospel. They are neither false witnesses, nor sanctimonious frauds. This is certified by their very lives. With all the sufferings that they endured for the sake of the resurrected Christ, they sealed everything that they testified with their sermons. Would they have truly sacrificed their very lives for the Resurrection, if it were a falsehood? Would they have dared to relate the very Persona of God to a falsehood?
Fourth: The Christians’ faith leads to salvation. It has no resemblance whatsoever to the orgies and the ugliness that characterized the Pagan religions, whose teachings the faithful were already familiar with, given that they too used to be pagans. The Christian faith inspires purity and cleanliness in one’s life; it teaches love and solidarity towards the destitute, and forgiveness towards one’s enemy. Its benefits do not pertain to the afterlife only. They enrich and adorn this life also.
Fifth: The very Christians whom Paul was addressing proved, with their new life in Christ, that their faith was not fruitless. Thanks to this faith, they were transported from darkness into the light; from the lion’s teeth, into Christ’s embrace. They, who were once full of empathy, malice and moral discrepancies, have now changed their lives. They are experiencing this wonderful change, within their very existence; they rejoice in it, and they praise God. But their change is also evident to their environment; it is confessed by the community of the entire city.
Sixth: The Christians of Corinth had first-hand experience of an……. actual event: a live communication between the “triumphant“ (celestial) Church and the “enlisted” (terrestrial) Church. In other words, the reposed in Christ brethren would inform the living that those who have passed away are still alive; that, while their dead bodies are asleep in graves, their souls are in the land of the living.
For example, during the Transfiguration of the Lord, the apostles SAW AND HEARD the prophets Moses and Elijah conversing with the Lord (Matthew 17:3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30-32), therefore they had not vanished altogether, even though they had died. That specific experience alone testifies that it is not possible for so many saints and spiritual people to have vanished; so many prophets and martyrs, who, for Christ’s namesake, “trod the narrow path” and gave up their lives for Him.
This argument of the apostle Paul is corroborated throughout the ages, by the holy relics of the saints: in the old Testament, we find mention that the bones of the prophet Elijah brought a dead soldier back to life (Kings IV, 13:21). But even up to our time, the relics of saints that still exude fragrance and perform so many other signs through the Grace they are endowed with, all testify that the reposed saints are still alive and will most assuredly be resurrected.
Seventh: The charismas of the holy Spirit certify the state of Grace that Christians enjoy as members of the Church. Through the tribulations and the tempests of life, they can remain cheerful and at peace. The Bishop of Kyrus, Theodoretus, characteristically writes: “We live here, amidst a multitude of perils. We are pressured by famine; we are constantly tortured and we alternate between the prisons of the universe. Homeless and migrants, we struggle with consecutive, oncoming waves. But that is not how things are, because we have as our vehicle, our good hope and reassurance of our own resurrection, the resurrection of our Saviour.” The hope and the joy that we feel in this world are but an “advance payment” and a “foretaste” of our future joy and hope.
The post-mortem reality, therefore, is the continuation and the extension of this present life of ours, within the grace of Christ. The one who does not doubt the resurrection, is the one who already lives a resurrected life in Christ. When our faith begins to pale and wane before the fact of the resurrection – that “capita of all good things” according to the Chrysostom’s expression – then we must examine more closely just how honest and consistent our spiritual life really is.
by Stergios Sakkos, University Professor Emeritus