April 14, 2023

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


 The Thief

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on February 23, 1949)

Throughout His life, the Lord teaches us how we should treat our sorrows and those who cause these sorrows. Stunningly terrible, but also full of Divine majesty, were the last hours of His earthly life. With malice and hatred, but not without fear, His mortal enemies watched the torment of the Crucified One. The Lord, despite the terrible suffering, continued to love and save.

With deep attention and surprise, I listened to His meek prayer for His crucifiers: “Father, forgive them this sin, they do not know what they are doing.”

The thief crucified to His right, the Son of God more than once turned His holy head to him and with a bright, all-seeing gaze gazed intently into his eyes and heart. The thief had never seen such a beneficent look in the eyes of ordinary people. He was also amazed that he did not hear from the crucified Jesus, who was undergoing severe torment, not only cries, but not even a single groan. And more and more he was imbued with the consciousness that next to him was crucified not an ordinary person, but the One Who is immeasurably higher than all people.

He read the words on the plaque above the head of the Crucified One: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." These were extraordinary words; this was never written about the crucified, but Pilate ordered that such an inscription be made in order to annoy the chief priests and scribes, for he knew that they slandered Him out of envy. Pilate did not want to crucify Christ, he tried to save Him, because he was convinced of His innocence, and even before all the people called Him the Righteous One, but due to cowardice he did not dare to oppose the Jews, he could not change anything. And so he poured out all the bitterness of his impotence in this inscription on the Cross, denouncing not the Crucified One, but the Jewish crucifiers, saying that they crucified their king. Everyone who read this inscription was perplexed.

And before hearing that Christ calls Himself the Bread of Life, descended from heaven, many Jews grabbed stones to stone Him, considering Him a blasphemer. These words of Jesus did not fit in their minds, were unbearable and incomprehensible to them. Their minds and hearts were tormented, confused, not knowing what to believe. On the one hand, they saw the Greatest Miracle Worker Who heals the sick, commands the waves of the sea, resurrects the dead, feeds five thousand people with five loaves, on the other hand, they heard the vicious, hateful accusations of the chief priests and scribes who claimed that the Lord blasphemed and violated the law of Moses, and blindly submitted to the influence of their religious leaders.

None of them accused Christ of sins. His enemies wanted to quench their malice and hatred with mockery of the Crucified One. They approached the Cross and said: “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the Cross, and let us believe in Him. He trusted in God, now let him deliver Him, if He is pleasing to Him. For He said: 'I am the Son of God'" (Matt. 27:42-43).

The thief, hearing these mockeries, went deeper and deeper into the contemplation of the truth: “He is called the Son of God. So who is He?" Suddenly his mind was illumined with a deep faith that next to him hangs on a tree not only the King of the Jews, but someone incomparably greater than all the kings of the earth - the Heavenly King and Lord of all creation, that this is not an ordinary person, but the Most Holy of Holies, God Himself in human form. And, shocked by this realization, he was horrified by everything that was happening.

Another thief, just like the surrounding people, uttered the words of blasphemy and said: “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” The prudent thief stopped him: “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." And he timidly asked the Crucified One: “Remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:39-42).

What amazing words! The thief humbly asked the Immortal One only to remember him, the unfortunate and vile one, when He ascends into His heavenly kingdom. The thief, stained with human blood, confessed on the cross the divinity and sinlessness of the Lord Jesus, crucified with him.

Listen with deep astonishment to what a startling answer he heard from the Son of God: “Truly, truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

For his love for the truth, for his fiery faith in the Son of God and his ardent confession of His holiness, for his sudden turning to Him with all his heart, for the incomprehensible depth of repentance, in which he did not even dare to ask for forgiveness of his terrible sins, for his courageous and contrite self-condemnation who once consciously chose the murder and robbery of defenseless people as his craft, at that moment became a partaker of heavenly blessedness.

How important, how deeply comforting for us, burdened with many sins, to know and believe that even the most terrible sinner can be suddenly pardoned and gain access to the kingdom of heaven through the inexpressible mercy of God!

However, some unreasonable people, especially unbelievers, manage to reinterpret such examples of the manifestation of the amazing mercy of God according to their carnal wisdom. “Here,” they say, “a man has robbed and killed all his life, or lived in fornication, and yet he is glorified. For what? Where is the justice? Such people themselves convict themselves of spiritual blindness, ignorance of their sins, mercilessness and the absence of any concept of the essence of repentance, of what the words of the Lord mean: 'I came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance'” (Matt. 9.13).

Let us remember Blessed Taisia, who did many good deeds for the Egyptian monks, and then, by the power of the devil, was drawn into the path of debauchery. The monks wept a lot and prayed for her, and finally, in order to save her, they sent a great ascetic to her, Saint John the Dwarf. His hot tears and fiery words about turning to the path of salvation so shocked Taisia that she fell at his feet, begging him to take her to a convent for repentance. And, leaving everything and renouncing everything, she followed the Venerable John. After dark, they had to spend the night in the desert. At midnight Saint John woke up and saw a high beam of light from heaven to earth, falling on the place where Taisia was sleeping. In this heavenly light, the Angels lifted up her soul, for she had just died, and John heard a voice: “The Lord accepted Taisia's repentance. She did not repent for a long time, but did it with great zeal and spiritual ardor."

This is what is valuable to the Lord: the strength and depth of repentance. It is not always possible to judge this by external signs, but the Lord sees into the very heart of man, into its incomprehensibly deep secrets, He alone knows what each of us has there, sees the precious among the unworthy. He directly told the prophet Jeremiah: “If you extract the precious from the insignificant, you will be like My mouth” (Jer. 15:19).

But let us return again to the prudent thief. What will we see in his heart? He was tormented by repentance so that he counted his sufferings on the cross as nothing, and therefore did not grumble like the other thief, but was ready to condemn himself to great torment. After all, he really was a villain, but, without a doubt, the miracles and sermons of the Son of God, which he may have seen and heard, sunk deep into his heart and left a deep imprint on him.

Something similar happened to another thief who lived much later, at the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th centuries. We call him Barbaros, because even the name of this man has not been preserved. He was a Muslim fanatic who killed about three hundred Orthodox, but the Lord turned such a villain to repentance in an amazing and incomprehensible way.

One day, this truly barbarian man came to a village church to kill the priest after waiting for the end of the service. But the Lord saw in his heart a barely smoldering fire of love for the Truth and opened his spiritual eyes for a while. The thief saw the angels ministering to the priest and realized that it was a man of holy life. We can judge his repentance from what happened next.

When the service ended, he confessed all his terrible sins and asked to be immediately allowed to be baptized, and then begged to be left to live with the pigs in a barn at the priest's house. Tormented by the most severe torments of conscience, repenting of his atrocious crimes, he began to consider himself worse than a beast in his soul and walked on all fours for three years, ate with pigs for three years, and then went into the forest, where he lived for another twelve years. With amazing cruelty, he punished himself with hunger, cold, all kinds of hardships and did not dare to walk upright, like all people, but only crawled or walked on his knees, leaning on his hands, like animals.

How willing he was to die for the Lord! And the Lord vouchsafed him a martyr's death. Hunters, mistaking him for a wild beast, for he was all overgrown with hair, shot him, but he, dying, thanked them for this, as if it was the greatest blessing. His holiness was so obvious that immediately after his death, the veneration of his honorable relics began, which were transferred to the temple, and began to exude a healing myrrh and perform countless miracles.

This is what repentance is – deep and unceasing to the grave; such repentance that is capable of working miracles!

What an example for us! Oh, that such a thing would happen even now to some of the unbelievers who come to see how we minister, to listen to what we read and what we preach! Oh, if only the power of God touched him, and he would suddenly believe, as this Barbarian robber believed!

But where is our repentance? After all, Divine light pours out in an unceasing stream into our hearts both from the pages of the Gospel, which we constantly read, and during services in the temple, where we constantly visit. Illuminated by this light, shall we not change, shall we not be horrified by our sins, as Saint Barbaros, and let us not exclaim with the prudent thief: “Remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom!”

Let us not unreasonably condemn the saints, like unbelievers and non-Orthodox, but let us bow before the greatness of their repentance and grace-filled example. Also, let us not lose hope in the inexpressible mercy of God, which the Lord can vouchsafe to us even at the last moment of our life, even for one word of repentance, heartfelt, whole, even for a short, but full of faith and hope, prayer for mercy and forgiveness of many of our sins. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Become a Patreon or Paypal Supporter:

Recurring Gifts

Contact Form


Email *

Message *