by Pope Shenouda III (Coptic Orthodox Church)
On this occasion of the Glorious Resurrection of the Lord, we shall answer some of the questions addressed by many people:
1. Concerning the consistency of the events accompanying the Resurrection:
Question: Is there any inconsistency of the resurrection events as told by each of the four Evangelists? We notice that according to one of them, there appeared one angel only, and to another two angels; and concerning the persons who visited the tomb the story told about them differs from one gospel to another.
Answer: There is no inconsistency, for one Evangelist mentions a certain visit in a certain time, while another Evangelist mentions another different visit, and with different persons. The first visit mentioned in the Gospel according to St. Matthew includes the empty tomb, the announcement of the Resurrection by the angel, and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Mt 28).
Then there was another visit by the women to the tomb, with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, and they heard the same announcement from two angels confirming the first announcement. St. Luke, the Evangelist, also tells us that the Lord appeared to the disciples of Emmaus (Lk 24).
The last visit as mentioned by St. John the Evangelist tells about Peter and John, and mentions at the end that the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20) in the form of a gardener. St. Mark, on the other hand, mentions in brief all those visits together. Had they been one visit only and the details differed from one gospel to another there would have been a reason for amazement, but since they were various visits at different times, we cannot, therefore, find a place for contradiction or inconsistency.
The Lord then appeared to the disciples while gathered together (Lk 24) and gave them the Sacrament of Priesthood (Jn 20: 22, 23), but Thomas was not with them. On the following Sunday He appeared to Thomas (Jn 20: 26- 29), so the church calls this day "Thomas Sunday".
Evidently, there were successive events, not conflicting events. Some of the Evangelists mentioned part of those events, and the others mentioned the other part. While one of them spoke about a certain event in general, the others spoke about it in detail. However, there is no disagreement at all concerning a certain event in particular in the whole story of the Resurrection.
2. Concerning the words, "Go and tell His disciples and Peter":
Question: The angel said to the women after the Lord's resurrection, "Go and tell His disciples –and Peter– that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him." (Mk 16: 7) Is the fact that the Lord mentioned Peter by name means that Peter is distinguished from the other disciples?
Answer: It is true that the Lord meant to give special care to Peter because Peter was worried about his end after denying the Lord, cursing and swearing, saying that he knows not the Man. In such a case Peter would have perished, for the words of the Lord applied to him, "Whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven." (Mt 10: 33; 26: 72, 74) These words then meant to comfort Peter because of his denial and sin. Peter probably was ashamed to meet the Lord without a special call by name from Him!
It is the same case of Adam after his sin, for he hid from the presence of the Lord in fear and said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid." (Gen 3: 10) The matter then is not presidency or preference but rather comforting a poor soul!
3. Tend My sheep; feed My sheep:
Question: Why do we deny the presidency of Peter while the Lord said to him after the resurrection, "Tend My sheep; feed My sheep"?
Answer: The Lord did not intend by these words to set him as a Chief for the catholic church, but to restore to him his apostolic rank which he was about to lose because of his denial. By these words, the Lord made him once more equal to the other apostles while the words of the Lord would have applied to him, "He who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God." (Lk 12: 9)
It is also clear that the Lord said to him these words while rebuking him, for He first asked him thrice, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these? … Tend My sheep; feed My sheep." (Jn 21: 15- 17) The Lord wanted to remind him that he had denied Him three times, and to remind him of his words, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" We also notice that the Lord called him by his old name before getting the name Peter. Therefore, Peter grieved after hearing these words thrice because he understood what they meant. Had these words been for honoring him or giving him presidency or authority they would have been a cause of joy and pleasure rather than grief.
Pastoral Care is an office which the Lord entrusted to many; for the apostles and all the bishops were pastors or shepherds, and the Lord Christ is the Chief Pastor of Shepherd.
[Editor's Note: The position of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church on the role of St. Peter in the church is different than those of Coptic Orthodox Church. Universal Syriac Orthodox Church believes that St. Peter is the chief among the disciples and was entrusted a key role in building the church by Jesus Christ.]
4. "Do not cling to Me":
Question: When the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection, why did He say to her, "Do not cling to Me" (Jn 20: 17), whereas He permitted Thomas to touch Him (Jn 20: 27), and also the other apostles (Lk 24: 39)? Was that because she is a woman, and they men?
Answer: Actually, the Lord had permitted Mary Magdalene to hold Him by the feet before all the other apostles (Mt). When she went with the other Mary to the tomb, they saw the tomb empty and the stone removed away, then the angel announced to them the resurrection of the Lord. On going out they met the Lord and He said to them, "Peace to you", so they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him (Mt 28: 9). This proves that the Lord permitted Mary Magdalene to touch Him after the resurrection although she is a woman. On the contrary, He entrusted her to go and announce the resurrection and the meeting with Him to the disciples! It is a great honor indeed for a woman to be entrusted by the Lord to announce the good news to the apostles!
However, Mary Magdalene afterwards submitted to the doubts spread by the high priests about the resurrection. They had filled the world with rumors that the body was stolen from the tomb while the guards were asleep! Such rumors would not have any influence on Mary if she had not seen the apostles themselves unbelieving the resurrection. The doubts of the apostles are clear from the fact that they did not believe Mary Magdalene when she announced to them the resurrection of Christ, for, "When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe." (Mk 16: 9- 11) Also when the two disciples of Emmaus told them that they had seen Him, "they did not believe them either." (Mk 16: 12, 13) Again, when the women told the disciples about the resurrection, "Their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them." (Lk 24: 9- 11)
Therefore, when Mary Magdalene saw that the apostles did not believe her, did not believe the women, and did not believe the disciples of Emmaus, she herself began to doubt! She was a young woman and she thought that she had seen a dream or a spirit, for how could she be of stronger faith than the apostles? It is unreasonable. So, she thought that perhaps someone had stolen the body and carried it to another place, not the apostles of course, but others, perhaps the gardener had carried it away for some reason! Of course all such doubts were against faith, because she saw by herself the empty tomb, saw Christ and touched Him, heard His voice, and heard the announcement by the angel and the two angels.
As Peter denied Christ three times during the trial, so also Mary Magdalene denied the resurrection thrice. The three-times-denial is mentioned in one Chapter (Jn 20: 12, 13, 15):
1. The first time when she went to See Peter and John and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." (Jn 20: 2) This means that she thought that the Lord had not risen from the dead, since they had taken away His body and laid it somewhere else.
2. The second time when she was coming out of the tomb crying and the two angels asked her why she was weeping, she said the same words, "They have taken away My Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." (Jn 20: 13)
3. The third time when the Lord appeared to her, but through her tears she did not distinguish Him and thought He was the gardener, or perhaps He hid His personality from her! She said, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." (Jn 20: 15)
Then when He revealed Himself to her she recognized Him and said, "Rabboni!" (which is to say, Teacher) The Lord prevented her from touching Him as reproach for her denial of the resurrection three times. With such faith that He is an ordinary person who died and His body carried away somewhere she could not touch Him. So, He said to her not to cling to Him while she had such belief and such doubt in spite of seeing Him before, holding to His feet, hearing His voice, being entrusted by Him a mission, seeing the tomb, and hearing the testimony of the angels.
So He meant, 'Do not touch Me with such denial, I have not ascended to My Father yet.' As for the words, "I have not yet ascended to My Father", St. Savirus of Antioch and St. Augustine did not take them literally, but symbolically, because she had touched Him before. These saints said that the Lord meant: 'Do not touch Me with such faith, because I have not risen to the level of the Father in His divinity. You think that My body is still dead and people carry it wherever they want!'
However, the Lord comforted her and even entrusted her with a message to convey to the apostles. Therefore, there is no need for suppositions. What avails is the work that edifies the kingdom.
The Resurrection &
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Did the Resurrection
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