May 20, 2023

The Stone of Christ's Tomb (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

After the crucifixion and the death of Christ, the events of the burial followed. According to the Evangelist Mark, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected man of the council, asked Pilate for the Body of Christ. And after wrapping the Body of Christ in a clean shroud, he then "laid it in a memorial, which was hewn out of stone" and immediately after that "he rolled a stone over the door of the memorial" (Mark 10:46). Thus, the Body of Christ which had not been separated from His divinity, at the moment when His soul together with the divinity was in Hades, was inside the new memorial and was covered by a large stone.

The problem of the large stone puzzled the thoughts of the Myrrhbearing women, when they went to the memorial on Sunday morning to anoint the Body of Christ with perfumes. And in fact, as they were advancing towards the memorial, they said: "Who will roll away the stone from the door of the memorial?" (Mark 8:3).

This question of the Myrrhbearing women, I believe, is a modern issue that needs to be addressed, but also to be answered. Many people today are prevented from approaching Christ by a large stone that comes between them and Christ. I would like to identify a few points on the basis of two patristic interpretations of this fact.

The first patristic interpretation is that of Saint Gregory Palamas. Analyzing the case of Mary Magdalene, who came to the memorial and there she was found worthy of the great gift of meeting the resurrected Christ Himself, he writes that the Orthodox church is a type of that cave. In fact, the sacred temple has greater value and importance than that cave, because it has the place where the Master's Body is placed, and this place is the Holy Bema and especially the Holy Table. Inside the temple, the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist is completed, which is the basis of the mysteries, but also of the spiritual life of the faithful. He who comes to the sacred temple and stays until the end, and indeed he who seeks to focus his attention on God, will not only hear the angels explain to him the words of the divinely-inspired Scripture, and of course these are the Clergy who analyze the word of God, but he will be found worthy to see the resurrected Christ Himself. Because, as Saint Gregory Palamas says, he who sees with faith the Holy Table and the bread of life that is on it, "sees the enhypostatic Word of God." [...]

The second patristic interpretation for the Master's memorial is that of Saint Maximus the Confessor. The Saint writes: "The Master's memorial is perhaps either this world or the heart of each believer." Both the world and the heart of man are a Master's memorial, because they accept the energy of God. [...]

Who, then, is this stone that is at the door of the heart and covers the Master's memorial, which is our heart? One can observe many things on this subject. Mainly I would like to highlight the following.

A great stone is reason and the senses. These do not allow the nous to enter the Master's memorial. [...]

Speaking about the Master's memorial, but also about the large stone that covered the memorial and occupied the thoughts of the Myrrhbearing women as they walked towards it, two realities should not escape us.

The first is that any stones, that is, the difficulties that present themselves in our lives, do not at all prevent Christ from making His presence felt. Christ overcomes all external problems. And just as He Himself was born without destroying the Panagia's virginity, so He was resurrected while the "memorial was sealed." And in fact, outside the memorial were the soldiers guarding it, all human power and strength. Thus, despite the existing social, political, and perhaps ecclesiastical difficulties, Christ reveals Himself to those who seek Him and desire Him. This is said with the thought that many people in our time like to lay the blame for their horrible situation on the existing social, political and ecclesiastical conditions. However, we must know that absolutely nothing prevents Christ from making His appearance and filling man with life, if, of course, man wants it. No stone, no matter how strong it is, can become an obstacle to Christ.

The second reality is that despite the existing stone, we must proceed to the memorial to find the resurrected Christ. The case of the Myrrhbearing women is remarkable. While they know the great difficulty of the existence of the stone, they nevertheless proceed. Thoughts do not prevent them. And, in fact, while they are advancing with bravery, faith and courage, immediately approaching, "they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away — for it was very large" (Mark 16:4). God helps those who want to walk with courage towards theosis and smooths their path, makes their path passable. These people constantly see the "change of the right hand of the Most High." However, if we consider that the stone is both reason and the senses, as I mentioned before, then we should also make an effort to detach ourselves from their dominance. Of course, this effort is not only human, but is done with the energy of divine Grace, since God is the energizer and man is the synergizer. After all, Saint Maximus writes epigrammatically: "For by grace, not by nature, is the salvation of those who are saved."

And we modern people, disappointed, spiritually dead, despairing of many things, are looking for the resurrected Christ. We want to enter the Master's memorial, which is the Church with its ascetic and sacramental life, and we also want to enter our heart, to find this secret treasure. When the human nous enters there, it will find calmness and inner peace. However, we encounter many stones that hinder us on this path. We must know that we have a duty to walk, and then we will see the removal of these stones and we will hear the word of the Resurrection and we will see the risen Christ Himself.

The modern stones may seem large, but in relation to the power of the resurrected Christ they are weak and small.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, May 2018. Excerpts from the book The Commonwealth of the Cross. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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