April 14, 2023

First Homily for Holy and Great Friday (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Weeping Over the Epitaphios

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on May 4, 1945)

Behold, the sun has gone down. The earth shuddered and trembled. The temple veil separating the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom, for the Lord Himself opened for us the entrance to the Holy of Holies - to heaven itself, to the Throne of His Father.

Hades shuddered, for its strength and power collapsed. The rocks split, the tombs hewn in them were opened, and the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep rose up, and came out of the tombs, and appeared to many in Jerusalem, proclaiming to everyone: “It is finished.”

What happened? The work of saving the human race from the power of the devil has been completed, the ancient Old Testament prophecies have come true.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth” (Is. 53:4-9).

Our Lord Jesus Christ breathed his last on the Cross of Golgotha with the words that shocked the whole world: “It is finished!” The head, crowned with a crown of thorns, stained with Blood, fell on his chest. Relatives came, His Mother came, myrrhbearing women came, Joseph of Arimathea came, and in deep grief, shedding tears, they removed the Most Pure Body of their Teacher from the Cross, and made bitter lamentation over Him.

And now before us lies the dead body of Jesus depicted on the Holy Shroud. Let us also weep for Him, weep for our sins, for which He voluntarily offered Himself as a sacrifice, and redeemed them with His Most Pure Blood. The incomprehensible pinnacle of Divine love was revealed to us on the Cross by the Son of God, the Savior of the world. For God so loved the world that "He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

On the Cross shone the Sun of Truth, the Sun of Love, illuminating the whole world with its light, the light of Divine compassion. And millions of hearts that loved the Lord Jesus Christ were kindled from this Sun. In these hearts His words were inscribed in fiery letters: “If anyone wants to follow Me, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

The Lord was the first to take the Cross, the most terrible Cross, and after Him the countless martyrs of Christ took their crosses on their shoulders - albeit smaller ones. Following Him, huge multitudes took their crosses, and quietly lowering their heads, went on the long and thorny path indicated by Christ - the path to the Throne of God, to the kingdom of heaven. For two thousand years more and more people have been following Christ. And on this path stand the crosses on which the martyrs of Christ were crucified.

Crosses, crosses... further on, as far as the eye can see, all the crosses, crosses... People walk in an endless line who rejected all the blessings of the world, despised everything for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, left everything that was once dear to them and devoted their whole lives to serving Him.

Fools walk under the weight of chains and iron crosses, monks and nuns walk, God's saints walk with a cross and with a holy Chalice in their hands. The good and meek servants of God, obedient to Christ, following their spiritual leaders, pastors and teachers, follow them as if they were shepherds. They go without end... The common people, who love Christ, are walking, about whom the word of Christ has been fulfilled: “In the world you will be sorrowful” (John 16:33). He walks, carrying the heavy cross of his sorrows. They come in a long line, driven out for the truth, driven out for the name of Christ. Pure, immaculate wives are walking, leading their little children by the hands, for whom the Lord has opened the entrance to the kingdom of heaven.

Well, shall we not join this endless stream of Christ-lovers, this holy procession along the path of sorrows and suffering? Shall we not take up our cross and follow Christ? Let it be! May our hearts tremble at the sight of the lifeless Body of Christ lying before us. May Christ, who suffered so grievously for us, fill our hearts with His immeasurable grace. May He give us at the end of our long and difficult way of the Cross the knowledge of His words: “Be of good cheer! For I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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