Sunday, April 10, 2022

Your Brother Will Rise -- a reflection by Mother Iliana

When the war broke out in Ukraine, my heart was torn to pieces. My own people were being slaughtered. I felt so helpless – what could I do to help them so far away, here in a little monastery in Ohio? My heart was filled with grief for all the broken families, and all those who have lost or been separated from fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, friends, and even their precious little children. As I sat in the chapel one day, I heard the Lord speak to my heart, “Your brother will rise,” and I wept. I did not understand what His words meant, but I was consoled to hear them, because in hearing His word, I understood that He was with me and with each of them. “God is with us, understand all you nations” we sing over and over at Great Compline, especially during the time of the Fast.

During Matins on Lazarus Saturday, as we sang the Praises, these words came off the page –though they were simply retelling the story directly from a very familiar Scripture, in that moment they became alive. “Martha and Mary said to the Savior: Lord, if You had been here, our brother would not have died.” Is this not the cry of every heart in the midst of tremendous human loss? “God, if You had been here, my brother, my sister, my child, my parents, my nation, my dream would not have died! If You had only done something, I would not have this grief in my heart day and night” (see Psalm 12). As we continued to sing the Praises, again a line jumped out to me: “Martha said to Mary: The Master is here!” While I think, “If He had only been here,” Martha reminds me that “the Master is here.” Here, in the midst of this sorrow and grief, He is here, and what does He say to me? “You brother will rise.” 

St. John Chrysostom says: “We do indeed die, but we do not continue in it; which is not to die at all. For the tyranny of death, and death indeed, is when he who dies is nevermore allowed to return to life. But when after dying is living, and that a better life, this is not death but sleep” (Christ Our Pascha, pg. 79). Jesus, when He raises Jairus’ daughter, says, “the girl is not dead but sleeping” (Mt 9:24), and before raising Lazarus He says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep” (Jn 11:12). “Today, Lazarus rejoices in Your word, O Word of God, as he begins his life again” (Lazarus Saturday, Hymn of Light). And the word he hears, this brother who will rise, is the Incarnate God calling him by his name. “Through Lazarus, O Christ, You have already despoiled Death; where is you victory, where is your sting? Now You bear the grief of Bethany! Carrying branches in our hands, let us all praise the victory of Christ” (Lazarus Saturday, Hymn of Light).

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