April 13, 2023

Homilies on the Passion - The Garden of Gethsemane (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 The Garden of Gethsemane

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

Do not think that only on the Cross, the Lord endured indescribable suffering, terrible torment. Torment, even more terrible, began in the Garden of Gethsemane, under the light of the moon. How He suffered! How fervently He prayed to His Father: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from me, however, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

Insolent people, perhaps, will think: “What cowardice is this? Why did He ask the Father to allow the cup of suffering to pass from Him, if He came into the world for these sufferings?” Unfortunately, not everyone understands what the Lord experienced in His heart. Not everyone knows why His prayer to God the Father was so painful. Not everyone shudders at the thought of bloody sweat dripping from His face. However, everyone should know this - to know that the spiritual struggle that the Lord experienced when praying to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane was the greatest and at the same time the hardest and most terrible test in His life.

Why were His spiritual sufferings so terrible, even in comparison with bodily sufferings? Why did Christ languish so in anticipation of His crucifixion? If one of you had to take upon himself the sins of a hundred people and give an answer for them before God, what horror would you be filled with, what a crushing burden would the sins of others cause you! But the Lord took upon Himself the sins of all mankind.

Have you not heard the words of the great prophet Isaiah: “He was wounded for our sins and tormented for our iniquities. The punishment of our peace is on Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5-6). Haven't you read what was written in the first epistle of the Apostle Peter: “He Himself bore our sins with His Body on the tree. By His stripes we are healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).

So, already in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord languished under the terrible weight of the sins of the whole world, which He voluntarily took upon Himself, for which He had to become a Sacrifice before the justice of God, for only He, and no one else, could atone for the sins of all mankind. That is why bloody sweat dripped from His forehead, that is why the Lord suffered so much, praying to His Father. Can we even imagine this torment, for as a Man He was a righteous man who hated every sin and fulfilled “every righteousness” ( Mt. 3:15). Moreover, He, the Omniscient One, also knew what we see in our days, knew that centuries would pass, and the human race would forget about Him more and more, even blaspheme and slander His holy name, that when the Son of Man comes the second time, then He is unlikely to find faith on earth (see Luke 18:8).

Blessed Augustine wrote: “Nowhere does the majesty and holiness of the Lord Jesus strike me so much as here. I would not know all the greatness of His benefits, if He did not reveal before me what they cost Him. We would not understand the greatness of the Sacrifice of Christ if we did not know what He experienced in the terrible hour of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane."

On Mount Tabor, the Lord, transfigured, revealed His Divine glory to three beloved disciples: Peter, James and John. The same disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, according to the Providence of God, were to see, hear and testify about what was extraordinarily important and significant: about the immeasurable greatness of the spiritual feat of the God-man Jesus Christ.

But why were they sleeping? The simple explanation is that they were quite weary from the midnight crossing of the Kidron Stream and, as the Gospel of Luke says, they were overwhelmed with grief. But let's think, is there any special edification for us in this?

They only glimpsed the suffering experienced by the Lord Jesus Christ. He Himself, before starting to pray, departed from "them a stone's throw away" (Luke 22:41). All the terrible, bottomless depth of His prayer was hidden from their eyes. They slept, but waking up three times, according to the word of Jesus, in the bright light of the full moon they saw how He prayed, heard His terrible words - and fell asleep again.

Isn't it the same with us? The Lord commanded us: “Watch and pray so as not to fall into temptation” (Matt. 26:41), while we sleep because we are far from the Lord, sad, dejected, lazy, or simply negligent. And how many such unfortunate people who often, and sometimes completely, forget about the sufferings of Christ on the Cross and trample on the commandments of the Son of God, do not revere the Blood of the Covenant with which they were sanctified, and offend the Spirit of grace (see Heb. 10:29)! We must weep for such people: Save them, Lord!

Let us bow down with fear and trembling before the immeasurable greatness of the sufferings of Christ. Let us bow down to the Cross and sing with all our heart: “We venerate Your Cross, Master, and we glorify Your Holy Resurrection!” Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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