May 4, 2024

The Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos) - 2 of 2

...continued from part one.

4. "My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?"

The fourth saying of Christ on the Cross is a misunderstood saying for many, but not for the Fathers, which is: "My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 16:46), that is, Christ said this to His Father.

This saying is a mystery, because Christ as God was never separated from His Father. Is it possible for the Son and Word of God to be separated from His Father? We know that they have the same essence, the same energy, the Word of God is of one essence with the Father. He Himself said to His Disciples that they will abandon Him and leave Him alone, but He will not be alone, because "the Father is with Me" (John 10:32).

Then why does He say "My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?" Does He say this because the two natures were separated in Christ? We know that in Christ the two natures, the divine and the human, were united in the hypostasis of the Word. Could it be, then, that on the Cross the divine nature left the human nature for a while, as some say, so that Christ could suffer a lot? This did not happen, because the Fourth Ecumenical Synod confessed that the two natures in Christ are always united ""unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably," therefore, the two natures were never separated and never divided.

Saint John of Damascus writes that, just as we have a tree that is illuminated by the sun and the woodcutter cuts the tree, but the energy of the sun that illuminates it is not cut, so it happened with Christ during His Passion. The divine is always united with the human nature on the Cross, the human nature suffers, but the divinity suffered absolutely nothing, it remained impassive.

Then how is this saying interpreted: "My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?" A very amazing interpretation is given by Saint Gregory the Theologian, a great Father of our Church. He says that with this saying, Christ "stamps on Himself what is ours," in other words, at that moment Christ is speaking in our place. For we were the ones disregarded and abandoned by God, which in fact means that we abandoned God, we ran away from Him, and then we were received and saved through the Passion of the dispassionate. At that time, that is, Christ expressed the agony of all people and spoke and suffered for all people who feel the abandonment of God, because we abandoned God.

Also, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, interpreting this, says that "He abandoned understanding and forgave the passion." That is, Christ's kenosis (self-emptying), which began with His incarnation, reached its deepest point. And this is called "abandonment".

5. "I Thirst."

The fifth saying is "I thirst" (John 10:28), which Christ said at some point. This refers to the prophecy expressed by the Prophet David in the Old Testament in the Psalms: "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; you have brought Me to the dust of death" (Psalm 16). David said this a thousand years before the Cross of Christ. Because he saw before him the Cross and the thirst of Christ.

This thirst came from the dryness of the body, because He lost blood, so it came from the loss of blood and from the loss of water, from dehydration, and it shows that Christ had a real body, He was not an illusion (Docetism), that is, seemingly and according to imagination a man, but He had a real body. And when the body loses the water it has inside, the person is thirsty. This shows that Christ was thirsty, but these things did not operate in Christ by necessity, rather He showed want and thirst to show that He had a real human body.

According to Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the flesh of Christ "suffers again in the end" "which is natural," since the pains were severe. Thus Christ "as one who suffered all things, suffers this also of His own free will." Christ had a real body, but nothing in Christ was forced.

Moreover, this saying shows Christ's thirst for the salvation of all people. That is, Christ became a man, was crucified and suffered a lot, was lifted up on the Cross and was deeply wounded, because He thirsted for the salvation of the human race. It is a reductive interpretation, beyond the real interpretation, that indeed the body was a true body and the loss of water was what caused the great thirst.

6. "It is finished."

The sixth saying of Christ, which is known to all, is "It is finished" (John 10:30). What does Christ mean by "It is finished"?

One interpretation is that all the prophecies were fulfilled, i.e. what the Prophets said in the Old Testament about Christ, everything has come true.

Another interpretation is that the work of redeeming the human race has ended. In other words, Christ on the Cross defeated death, sin and the devil, as the Apostle Paul also says, "Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it" (Col. 2:15). Christ on the Cross removed all the power of the devil. According to the sacred Zygabenos, "It is finished, it is completed, nothing is missing."

Also, "It is finished" shows that Christ reached the final point of kenosis, it shows the extreme humility and the extreme emptying of the Son and Word of God. That is, the fact that Christ became human, the fact that He took on human nature, extremely pure, however mortal and suffering, this is the great emptying (kenosis) of the Son and Word of God, and then with the Crucifixion He reached the climax of the emptying (kenosis). This is what the Apostle Paul writes, that Christ is God and "made Himself of no reputation, emptying Himself in the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:7-8).

This is the extreme humility of Christ, it is the great theology of kenosis, the great theology of humility. That is, in order to become a real theologian, one must reach extreme emptiness. As long as one empties himself of all worldly things, of all human things and lives the emptying as love, because this emptying of Christ on the Cross expressed the very great love of Christ for man, so this emptying, this great humility, is the supreme theology.

7. "And Jesus cried with a loud voice: 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit'."

And finally, the seventh saying of Christ that is mentioned by the Evangelist Luke is: "And Jesus cried with a loud voice: 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit'" (Luke 23:46).

Christ shouted very loudly. This is strange, because after so much suffering with the Passion and the Cross, where blood is shed, Christ has so much power. Usually, when someone's soul is departing, as we say, when the soul prepares to leave the body, then it is in complete weakness. Here we see that "Jesus cried with a loud voice: 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit'." Here "cried with a loud voice" shows that Christ dies on the Cross "in a despotic way" and not as a man.

Then, it shows that He surrendered His spirit, His soul to His Father. This is the first time this happened. Until then, when souls left people's bodies, the devil intercepted them and took them to Hades. This is the first time that the soul does not leave the body on its own, nor is it taken by the devil, but is delivered by Christ Himself to His Father.

This saying, of course, is connected with the word of Saint John the Theologian, in his Gospel, which says: "And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit" (John 8:30). That is, Christ bowed His head and surrendered His spirit, as God. And this is completely different from what happens to other people. In people, first the soul leaves and then the head loses stability and tilts. Here Christ first bowed His head, and then voluntarily as God gave up His spirit, that is, the soul did not go out on its own, and it was surrendered to the Father.

This is explained by the Fathers of our Church. For example, Saint John Chrysostom writes: "Not because He exhaled did He bow His head, as it happens with us, but having bowed His head, then He exhaled." The sacred Zygabenos writes: "When He willed, then He died." Saint Theophylact writes that we "first exhale, then we bow our heads," while Christ "first bows, then He exhales." This means "that He is the Lord of death and has authority over all He has made." Saint John of Damascus writes that death obeyed God's command as a servant and approached with fear and terror. Saint Gregory Palamas writes that the Cross of Christ is the hook by which the devil and death were captured.

* * *

These are the seven sayings of Christ on the Cross and this shows the whole theology of the work of Christ, that is, what Christ came to do in the world, but also the theology of the Passion and the Cross of Christ. This shows the "theology of the Cross" and the "theology of glory".

When one carefully studies these seven sayings of Christ, one sees a powerful theology that was expressed in the darkness that fell at that time on the whole earth. This means that, when we too are in darkness from sadness, from suffering, from distress, from the deaths of our loved ones, if we are connected to Christ, then our words will have great power. Then we will have very great faith and when the soul leaves the body in Christ, it will leave not with despair, but with the hope of a meeting with God.

Therefore, in whatever darkness we find ourselves, when we are connected to Christ, we have great power and we defeat death and the devil. In every difficult moment, our words must be theological, to endure in eternity. Then we are friends of Christ.

The Cross of Christ is "the seat of Orthodox theology" (Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov), it is the theological pulpit of the Orthodox Church. When we too are crucified with Christ, then our words are theological.

This means that we forgive our enemies, we love the Most Holy Theotokos and Saint John the Theologian, we recognize Christ as the true God, we live the extreme kenosis of love for all people, we thirst for our salvation and the salvation of our brethren, we complete our lives well, obeying the will of God, and finally surrendering our soul to God.

Crucified with Christ, we are at rest, we have fullness of life, according to the words of Saint John Chrysostom: "For this reason we are not widows, we receive the bridegroom; we do not fear the wolf, we have the good shepherd." That is, crucified with Christ, we do not have spiritual widowhood, because we have a Bridegroom, we are not afraid of the devil, because we have a Good Shepherd. This is a matter of spiritual celebration.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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