April 12, 2024

Homily Three on the Sunday of the Cross: The Passion of the Savior

Homily Three on the Sunday of the Cross

The Passion of the Savior

By Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)

(Delivered in 1970)
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Church, zealous for the spiritual success of its children, during the days of Great Lent deliberately invites our attention to the memory of the saving passion of Christ in order, on the one hand, to induce us to a living consciousness of the criminality and destruction of sin, which brought the God-man to the Cross, and, on the other hand, to tell us about the boundless mercy of God towards people, about the endless love of God the Father for us, who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

In the Gospel narrative we have just heard, a terrible, shocking picture of the terrible, grievous sufferings of the God-man, which He took upon Himself for the sake of love for the human race, is revealed. Before our eyes is the very image of the Life-Giving Cross, on which hangs the Divine Sufferer, crucified, with downcast gentle eyes and a loving heart. What cruel human heart will not shudder and be moved by such love of God for fallen man! Indeed, notice the purpose of the Savior's coming from heaven.

He appeared on earth to give people life, to bring the fire of love from Heaven, in order to ignite the hearts of people with this fire and, on the basis of selfless mutual love, to create on earth the Kingdom of God, a single flock, with Him, the One Shepherd, at the head, and through this Kingdom bring people into the Kingdom of Heaven. “I give you a new commandment,” He said, “that you love one another; just as I have loved you, let you also love one another. I am the good shepherd; and I lay down My life for the sheep" (John 13:34; 10, 14, 15). But, alas, the world did not accept Him: He came to His own, and not only did His own not accept Him (cf. John 1:11), but they also crucified Him and gave Him over to the most severe torment.

Let us turn our gaze to the image of the Divine Sufferer, let us gaze intently at His head wounded by the crown of thorns, at His wounds and ribs pierced by a spear, let us weigh the weight of the bodily sufferings of the Cross, and especially the sufferings of the soul, and with a sigh say to ourselves: "Yes, there is not and will not be greater suffering than the sufferings of Christ the Savior."

Everything that can make suffering unbearably cruel and impart to it an unbearable heaviness – all was united together in the torments of the Golgotha Sufferer. The most shameful and cruel bodily sufferings, combined with the most terrible spiritual sufferings – this was the only Cross that could be lifted on His shoulders, only by the Incarnate Lord of Glory.

He was subjected to the greatest humiliation, reproach and disgrace, and was proclaimed a deceiver. The Judge of the universe, the greatest Benefactor of the human race, stands as a transgressor before the unrighteous judges, His servants, and is condemned. A crown of thorns is placed on His head, He is clothed in a false purple robe, a royal reed is given into His hands for ridicule, and with the same reed He accepts the beating of the head from His created creature. He before Whom the six-winged Seraphim cover their faces in trembling, at Whom the ranks of angels dare not look, endures slaps, beating, and spitting from foul mouths. The King of glory, praised and exalted for ever, praised by the heavenly hosts, hanging on the Cross, endures blasphemy, reproach, and ridicule from His treacherous and rebellious servants.

Was it possible to invent for Him a mockery and humiliation greater than what He had suffered, although all the powers of hell had strained their minds to devise measures for reproach!

But the severity of the suffering suffered by our Lord our Savior was not limited only to the fact that it was humiliating and most blasphemous suffering. No, His sufferings also included everything that could make them terrible and cruel to the body. Almost every member of His holy body underwent its own special suffering. His most holy head was wounded with thorns and reeds, His most holy face suffered from spitting and beating. The shoulders were covered with wounds from scourging. Nail sores burned on His hands and feet (John 20:25). His taste suffered from bitterness. His rib was pierced by a spear.

But no matter how severe the suffering from the wounds covering His holy body were, they were almost nothing in comparison with the most terrible suffering of the whole body that came from the crucifixion. By the force of its gravity the body of the Divine Sufferer was drawn to the ground, and the nail wounds (John 20:25), constantly poisoned and expanded, did not allow Him to experience peace and rest for a single moment.

The suffering of Christ would have been terrible even if it had been limited only to physical torment, but it was also accompanied by the most terrible mental torment. The Savior grieved greatly, seeing the moral depravity of people, the blatant injustice and malice of His enemies. What sorrow the Divine Sufferer felt, reviewing His life, realizing His perfect sinlessness and holiness, remembering only His good deeds to people!

The severity of a person's suffering depends very much on who causes this suffering - friends or enemies? It is hard to suffer from strangers, enemies who have something against us, but it is much harder to endure persecution from people who have benefited us and are close to us. And it is even harder to suffer when enmity and hatred are dissolved by deceit and hypocrisy, take on the guise of friendship and affection, and are combined with betrayal. In all respects, the torment of the Divine Sufferer was especially difficult.

Who demanded His crucifixion? Not the pagans and not the Roman government, who did not know God at that time, but fellow Jews, a people who enjoyed the countless benefits of Christ. They put to death the One who Himself raised the dead of Israel. What injustice and ingratitude of the people that He had blessed! But not only that: one of the twelve close disciples became His traitor, having sold the Teacher for thirty pieces of silver. And that's not enough! He betrayed Him with a kiss, the most tender expression of friendship and affection. How hard it was for Him to bear all this!

At His Cross stood not those who sympathized with Him, but His enemies, who shouted furiously and rejoiced at His terrible torment. Only four courageous souls close to Him stood at the Cross: the Most Holy Virgin, Mary of Cleopas, Mary Magdalene and His beloved confidante, Saint John the Theologian.

The disciples all fled for fear of the Jews; the most ardent of them, the holy Apostle Peter, denied Him. It was as if the very Divinity of the Sufferer left Him, the Heavenly Father Himself hides His Face from His gaze... How difficult these mental anguishes were for the Savior!

Why does the Holy Gospel depict the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ with such piercing power and in such detail? Of course, not just to arouse in all of us a feeling of compassion for Him! No, for Jesus Christ, through His suffering, brought satisfaction to the eternal justice of God for the sins we have committed, and at the same time left us an example so that we would follow His footsteps.

How can we follow Him? Jesus Christ, having taken upon Himself the great task of saving the human race, voluntarily doomed Himself to all the tribulations that He had to inevitably undergo along this path. In order to save people, He endured all the abuse, suffering, even a blasphemous and painful death.

Like Him, each believer must serve both his own good and salvation and the good and salvation of his neighbors with complete selflessness. Only in this case will we follow in the footsteps of the God-man, Who stood for His cause until He bled and was obedient to the Heavenly Father in fulfilling His assignment even unto death on the Cross (see Phil.2:8). The Lord Jesus Christ, especially in His suffering, showed complete submission and devotion to the will of the Father and the greatest kindness. Although before the suffering of the Cross His soul was sorrowful to the point of death, and although He prayed that the cup of suffering would pass from Him, He left it to His Heavenly Father to fulfill this prayer or not to fulfill it.

During the time of sorrow and suffering, not a single word of complaint came out of His mouth, only the cry about His abandonment by the Father seemed to burst forth from His very soul: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!" (Matthew 27:46). He not only did not hate His detractors, enemies, crucifiers, all His ill-wishers, but also prayed for them, saying: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

With the same devotion to the will of God, which sends us the cross of tribulations and suffering, with the same kindness towards our enemies, we must endure our suffering. The Savior was crowned with glory in Heaven for His suffering, and the suffering of all true Christians, which they endure for truth and goodness, will have a similar end, if only they are transferred with firmness, obedience and gentleness to the glory of the Crucified Lord. And for these sufferings they will be worthy to hear the most longed-for voice: "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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