May 4, 2024

Homily on Holy and Great Saturday (St. John of Kronstadt)

By St. John of Kronstadt

"O Life, how can You die?" (Lamentations of Holy Saturday Matins)

Come, all creation: let us offer parting hymns to the Creator. Countless hosts of heavenly powers! All rational earthly inhabitants! Come, let us offer parting hymns to our common Creator, Who, after the most severe suffering, rests peacefully in the tomb!

Let us draw closer to Him and ask Him: “Why are You counted among the dead, Who lives in the highest, and Whom the heavens cannot contain, and now strangely lies in the tomb?” How is it that You, the immortal Creator of life, tasted death Yourself, and how was it that You were laid in the tomb? How did it happen that Your feeble but wicked creatures, people, brought You to the tomb? It is clear You deigned to ascend the cross with Your flesh, otherwise, who would dare to touch You, O Almighty? Clearly there is a great mystery here, which Your enemies and the prince of darkness himself did not know. And in fact, people did not know what they were doing to Jesus. It is clear that from this extreme condescension of Yours towards people, much good took place on their behalf, because You do everything only to increase the goodness and blessings of creatures. You must have suffered out of great need, with the most gracious and wise purpose: You “have created all things with wisdom” (Ps. 103:24), and You are “good to all” (Ps. 145:9).

Can it be that Your sufferings and Your death was not the work of Your infinite wisdom and goodness? Hear, brethren, the answer to this from the Lord Himself who suffered for us: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). Therefore this, brethren, is the mystery of the death of Jesus Christ, God and man: like a grain of wheat, if it does not die when it falls into the ground, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit; so the Savior died in order to bring the greatest benefit to people by His death, as He really did. Christ the Savior, the Son of God, took upon Himself the great task of redeeming and justifying us sinners by His suffering and death before the Heavenly Father: this is “our justification” (Rom. 4:25), says the Apostle, and therefore His death for us, with the suffering that preceded it, is a matter of God’s greatest love and wisdom for us, which no created mind can appreciate; and since this death is a matter of the wisdom of God, it is also the greatest mystery. 
What a comforting truth! The death of the Savior is a cleansing sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins,” says the holy Apostle John the Theologian, “and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He died, and His death on the cross destroyed our curse, which we deserved from the Heavenly Father with our sins. He died, and eternal death, which was inevitably supposed to befall us without a Redeemer, now no longer possesses us. He is our truth among our falsehoods; our deliverance in the time of our despair; our sanctification in the midst of our uncleanness, He is our light in our darkness; life in our death.

Does the righteous judgment of God frighten you when you present your iniquities? And “there is no peace in your bones because of your sins” (Ps. 37:4): the suffering and death of Jesus Christ will justify you before the heavenly Father. “If God justifies, who condemns? Christ Jesus died, and much more also rose again, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). Do you despair of receiving the kingdom of heaven, finding yourself unworthy of it? Exactly, none of the people are worthy of it. But Christ our Lord is worthy; He earned it for us with His priceless blood. Our dignity depends on His dignity. With His dignity He made us who are unworthy to be worthy, and by His grace, the good and man-loving Heavenly Father, by His unconditional mercy, honors people with the kingdom of heaven. You will say: I am a great sinner. But Christ the Savior “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Just don’t sin intentionally and with malice in the future. You might ask: how can I be rejoice with the saints who have shone on earth with such virtues? But the saints were also saved by the grace of Christ. If it seems like a lot to be with the saints, then pray to be at least with the thief, crying: “Remember me, Lord, when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42), and try to live as a Christian should.

Brethren, we are all sinners; but if we believe in Christ our Lord, crucified for us, and try to live according to His teaching, if we resist sin, or, although we fall, we rise again, then the death of the Savior, His stripes are our defense (Rom. 3:25). We will escape the torment of hell and be worthy of the kingdom of heaven. If we generously endure sorrows, illnesses, deprivations and various misfortunes in life and consider them to be due reward for our sins, remembering with faith and love the terrible passion of the Savior endured for us, then blessed are we: the crucified Lord will save us. But woe to those who are Christians only in name, and trample on His saving teachings by their disdain for Him, or by arrogant speculations about Him (Rom. 2:8), who live according to the will of their hearts in untruth, in uncleanness, in forgetfulness of God. They should be horrified by their terrible situation: “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). “God will destroy the wicked” (Matthew 21:41). The death of the Life-Giver will not save unrepentant sinners, but will condemn them; but sinners who sincerely repent of their sins, who have heartfelt faith in the Lord and hope in Him and who cleanse themselves from sins, will be saved by Him: with His suffering on the cross the Savior will cover their sins, committed through human weakness. O Christ our God, Who was crucified, trampling death by death, save us! Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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