March 31, 2019
The Holy Apostle Paul says, “Brethren, I strove to know nothing among you, except for Jesus Christ, and Him crucified! Why is this, St. Paul? Why is it that you preach everywhere the Crucifixion of Christ? Why not strive to know, above all, Christ’s Incarnation? Since it was for the sake of tasting death upon the Cross for all mortal men that Christ became incarnate. Why not strive to know, above all, Christ’s miracles and healing? Since the greatest miracle, and the deepest healing came by the death of the God-Man in the flesh. Why not strive to know, above all, Christ’s Resurrection from the dead? Since it could not have happened without the Cross. Why not strive to know, above all, Christ’s Ascension into heaven, and His sitting upon the right hand of God the Father with our human body? Since the only path to heaven, and the only way for man to ascend with Christ, is through the path of the Cross.
Jesus Christ, and Him crucified—is this not the answer to every perplexity, every question, every existential pondering, and every yearning of the human mind and heart? Jesus Christ, and Him crucified—is this not the silencing of every shameless tongue, of every proud attitude, of every lawless desire, of every crime and evil? Jesus Christ, and Him crucified—is this not the greatest and highest revelation of God Himself, unfolding before the eyes of all men—both poor and rich, both simple and educated, both laborer and philosopher—is not the image of Jesus Christ crucified the greatest revelation to all of us of God the Father, the God Who is Love, the God Who watches over us, suffers with us and cares for us with a motherly love beyond compare?
Many ask in our day and age, “who is God, how can I know Him, where is He amidst all of this tragedy and madness on earth?” But if they raised their eyes to the most pure icon of our most sweet Savior hanging upon the Cross—serene, loving, meek, powerful and beautiful—if they only could see Him hanging there, and deeply gaze upon His face, would they not realize that God is in our midst? That God is with us? That God is here in every struggle, agony, pain and sorrow? Many ask in our day and age, “if God is so good, how could He allow so much evil?” But, again, if they raised their eyes, and truly looked upon the most pure image of Jesus Christ crucified, they would hear a deafening answer, or rather, a silencing question posed to them from God hanging on the Cross and enduring our death: “You ask, ‘How can I allow so much evil and sorrow and pain,’ but look at Me enduring all of it—insults, blasphemy, spitting, beating, scourging, nails in My flesh, thorns in My head, crushing agony of soul, the sorrow of death itself in My spirit, the God-forsakenness, the terrible pain of death, the rending of My soul from the body, the stench and darkness of hades.
“Look at Me,” Christ God says to His questioners, “and answer Me…how could I, Who love you, Who created you from nothing, Who purposed to make you in My very own image and likeness, Who desires you to partake of My divine and uncreated life for all eternity; how could I, Who have done no evil, Who has harmed no man, Who constantly offers salvation, Who always forgives the repentant; how could I, being free of all sin, guilt and blame, how could I, being so holy, endure your very own pain and sorrow and death which you have brought into My previously-spotless creation? How could I endure such things, without anger, without judgment, without insult, without force, calling you to heaven?”
Job the long-suffering once questioned God how He could allow such things, and his answer from God was rather a question posed to him: “Where were you when I created all things out of nothing? Where were you when My angels praised Me as I created the stars? Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”
Brothers and sisters, it is a terrible thing to question God. It is a proud and audacious business to interrogate and judge God. But this is the fallen world we live in. This is the insanity that much of mankind has come to—to place themselves in the divine judgment seat, and to accuse God for all of life’s evils; to question Him why He did this, why He did that, why He made it this way, why He did not do this or that. But if those whose souls are tormented and afflicted with such audacious questions looked with humility, silence, true love and a sincere desire for heavenly understanding, upon the Son of God and God Who created the whole universe—together with the Father and the Holy Spirit—now become incarnate, and hanging upon the Cross with stillness, meekness and sympathy for all men; if those who question God would do so, their souls would find rest. Not because someone came along and finally explained most eloquently and theologically these things, not because someone beat it into their head by Scriptural and Patristic quotes, not because someone philosophized about good and evil, freedom and providence, grace and effort. None of these things will quench the soul of those who are afflicted with the disease of shamelessly questioning God. But only Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, only this will quench the thirsting and questioning soul of mankind.
When we are in affliction, we react, we get irritable, we seek comfort in temporal pleasures. When we are in sorrow, we complain, we judge, we pity ourselves, we blame. When we are insulted or hurt by someone, we strike back, we get offended, we hold grudges, we isolate ourselves. But if we only remembered Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, if we only remembered Him in truth, and with all our heart, then our wrath would be quenched, our desires would be fulfilled, peace would descend into our hearts, divine power would strengthen our bodies, unutterable peace would clothe our minds. And then, with that silent and fervent glance at our God and Savior hanging serenely and meekly and silently upon His Cross, we would be empowered to endure all afflictions, we would rather thirst for more affliction, if only we might be able to ascend with Christ to heaven.
One glance at the most pure image of our Savior Jesus Christ hanging upon the Cross is enough to fill our souls with love for God, sympathy for men, a yearning for heaven, a desire for the invisible riches of the Kingdom of God. One glance at Christ upon His Cross with simple and child-like faith is enough to kindle our zeal for virtue, our hatred of passion and sin. One glance at Christ upon His Cross with simple and child-like faith is able to illumine us with the grace of divine vision. We see Him, and through Him we see the Father. As He said, “He Who sees Me sees the Father!” Where else do we need to look for God, for He has already appeared on earth as a Man, and ascended His Cross in the air for all eyes to see Him. And turning our eyes and hearts to Him we see the Invisible Father of all.
This is divine vision; this is the greatest miracle; this is true theology; this is grace. This is the most sublime and mystical revelation of God which transcends beyond compare the Burning Bush, the Manna in the wilderness, the Chariot of Ezekiel, the Vision of Daniel, the miracle at the Red Sea, the contemplation of Isaiah. The revelation of the God and Father of all in Jesus Christ, His Son, and Him crucified, is the height of all wisdom, the summit of all power, the greatest teaching, the finest education, the philosophy of philosophies, the fishermen’s theology, and the salvation of those who praise God in faith and love and fervent soul.
Where is God in my trials, in my darkness, in my sorrows, in my pain?—we cry and ask. But if we lifted our eyes to Christ on His Cross we would know straightway where God is. He is with us, beside us, and more than this, within us. His only desire is our salvation, our transformation, our conforming to His likeness, and our eternal life. More than a glutton who loves food, more than a person inflamed by any passion, more than any artist loves to create, more than a mother prays for her children, more than a father cares for his son, more than any desire of all men for anything whatsoever is the great thirst, and longing, and passion and love that our God has for our eternal life in Him.
“I don’t know God,” we might say; “I can’t see Him or feel His presence,” we might say; “I don’t have strong faith, I don’t really know if He still cares for me, loves me, is with me,” we might say. But again, if we simply lifted, with silent tongue, stilled mind, a simple and God-desiring heart and a hushed soul, if we simply lifted our eyes and hearts to Jesus Christ and Him crucified upon His Cross, beholding Him weak and broken, yet mightily serene and all-conquering; if we gazed upon Him with silence and faith, then our souls would find that He is here with us, suffering with us, helping us invisibly, supporting us lovingly; He is always here and will always be with us unto the ages of ages, even as He said. And He is Truth Himself, therefore He cannot lie, His word is sure, He is with us as He said.
The Saints say that Christ suffers more than we do. Our sins torment us? They torment Him even more. Our guilt oppresses us? He is crushed all the same. Our sorrow gives us the taste of death? He knows even more how deadening and life-corrupting our sins are than us. We are in agony? He was in agony, and He is agonized by your agony, and He is suffering with you and more than you, helping you to endure, and seeking to turn your consciousness to His ever-present love. He knows more than all men the weakness of human nature. He knows more than all the unnatural coldness of death. For He is Life Himself, yet He tasted our death. He knows more than anyone the sins of all mankind. He suffers more than all men suffer combined. Because He alone knows the extent of mankind’s God-hating and soul-destroying sinfulness, and He alone knows the depths of its stench and pain, because He is spotless, sinless, all-holy and pure.
There is no place He is not. And to prove it to us, He has become a Man. He was a delicate Child. He grew up as a young man. He worked with His hands. He was obedient—the King of all, the God and Master of all—was obedient to His parents. He wept with the sorrowful. He healed the sick. He chased down the demon-possessed and freed them from the devil. He rejoiced with the simple and God-loving. He hungered, He wept, He had friends, He was betrayed by an intimate, He was forsaken by His closest ones, He was misunderstood by His relatives, He was hated by His fellow-countrymen, He—the loving God and Creator of all, came to His own, and they knew Him not, they hated Him, mocked Him, killed Him upon a Cross between two criminals. He even descended into the deepest parts of dark and gloomy hades, enduring its wretchedness, and He saved the captives who longed for many ages for this moment, taking them by the hand into Paradise.
Yet He still offers salvation to all the world. Don’t think that all of those who hated and cried out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”—don’t think that all of them remained dead in sin. Many of them saw His love, His meekness, the earthquake, the darkness, His crying out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Some of His coldest murderers saw and heard all these things, they mourned for their blindness, they repented, they recognized Him as God, they confessed Him as Sinless Savior of all men, and turned with their whole heart to Him, and—the greatest miracle of all—He received them as His own, He forgave them, renewed them, saved them and adopted them as divine children of the Most High God.
Some became apostles—such was the former murderer, blasphemer, and persecutor Saul, who became the Great Apostle Paul. Some became martyrs, some virgins, some ascetics. Some traveled land and sea to spread the name of Christ. The Saints who clung to Christ Crucified and Resurrected were enlivened, empowered and became miracle-workers, healers, lovers of all mankind and gods by grace, reborn by the grace of the Only God of gods.
Will He then forget us? God spoke through Isaiah, “I was found by them who did not seek Me.” And the demon-possessed, who had no friends, no one to take care of them or intercede for them, Christ God ran to them and saved them by His own love, omnipotence and sovereign action. Will He then forsake us, who at least seek and yearn for His presence night and day with our hearts? Is He unfeeling? Is He blind? Is He deaf? Is He insensible? Is He a God and Father Who does not hear us crying out to Him, yearning for Him constantly to know Him more?
Jesus Christ and Him crucified—this is the answer to all of our doubts and questions and perplexities. Let us pray to Him. Let us fall down before Him, in body and soul. Let us confess our sins and His sin-destroying abilities. Let us weep and cry to Him! And let us love Him with all our hearts and lives; that we might be knit together more and more in love and divine union in Him, and constantly grow into Him by our repentance, our confession, being nourished by the Holy Scriptures, Divine Services and Most Pure Mysteries of Christ;
To Whom, with the Father and the All-Holy Spirit, be glory, honor, majesty, wisdom and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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May 12, 2019
April 14, 2019
We have now reached the end of the most eventful week of the Forty Day Fast, as we celebrate the life of our venerable Mother, Mary of Egypt.
The details of this life are well-known to any faithful Orthodox Christian. They are not very complicated: the chief of sinners becomes the greatest of saints. This story has repeated itself many times throughout the life of the Church. But St. Mary’s life is without doubt one of the clearest and most striking examples, rivalling even the wonderful and unlooked for conversion of the Apostle Paul. As with the great Apostle, so with St. Mary, we see our Lord Jesus Christ show[ing] forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting (1 Tim. 1:16).
March 24, 2019