March 31, 2010

Sermon for Holy Wednesday

CATECHESIS 72: On the Saving Passion; and Teaching on Humility and Patient Endurance.

by St. Theodore the Studite

Given on the Wednesday of Holy Week.

Brethren and Fathers, the present day is holy and to be venerated, for from this day the Lord begins to take on himself the sufferings of the Cross for our sake, in accordance with David’s words: "Why did the nations rage and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth rose up and the rulers assembled together against the Lord and against his Christ" [Psalm 2:1-2]. They assembled together to plot an evil plan against the Master.

The deceitful Judas denied him utterly and betrays the teacher with a deceitful kiss. The Lord of all things is led away prisoner, stands before the judgement seat, is interrogated and answers; and when He answers — O fearful report! — He is struck by a slave and bears it with longsuffering, saying: "If I have spoken evil, give testimony to the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?" [John 18:23]. Then He is scoffed at, mocked, jeered at, ridiculed, spat at, buffeted, scourged. He ascends the Cross, and when He has ascended He prays for His murderers: "Father, forgive them their sin, for they do not know what they do" [Luke 23:33]. Then He is given gall with vinegar to drink, He is pierced by a lance, the Immortal is put to death.

These in brief are the Master's sufferings, and one who hears them with understanding is not angry, or embittered, or enraged, or puffed up, or arrogant towards his brother; is not envious, or filled with vainglory. Rather he is humbled, crushed, considers himself to be earth and ashes, desires communion in Christ's sufferings, is eager to be conformed to His death, so that he may have a part in the glory of His resurrection.

But you too take courage, because you have shared and are sharing in the Master's sufferings. For you see where you are. Is it not for the sake of His word and His testimony that you are in exile and persecution?[1] Have you not previously experienced prison? Have you not shed your blood under tortures? Have not some of our brothers died a martyr's death? Such then is our boast in the Lord, such our gift. But since until the end beatitude is not assured because of the ease of reversal and the impossibility of knowing what the morrow will bring to birth, stand your ground unflinching and unmoving in the Lord "striving side by side with one spirit and one soul for the faith of the Gospel, in no way intimidated by your opponents" [Phil. 1:27-6], "not giving offence in anything, but in everything recommending ourselves as God's ministers" [2 Cor. 6:3-4], by obedience, humility, meekness, longsuffering, great endurance. "For you need endurance in order to do God's will and obtain the promise. For in a little while He who is coming will come and not delay" [Heb 10:36-37]. But if He will come and not delay, why do we hate being in afflictions and do not rather choose to die each day for the Master? For it is written: "If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are unfaithful, He remains faithful; He cannot disown Himself" [1 Tim. 2:11-13].

How great joy the saints will have when they see the Lord "coming from heaven with the angels of His power" [2 Thess. 1:7], inviting them with inexpressible joy, crowning them and becoming their companion for ever and ever? What anguish will they have who have disobeyed the Gospel and transgressed His commandments? "They will suffer the penalty, as it is written, of eternal destruction, cut off from His presence and from the glory of His strength, when He comes to be glorified in His saints and marvelled at among all who have believed" [2 Thess. 1:9-10].

And so, brethren, as we contemplate and think on these things, again and again "let us purify ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" [2 Cor, 7:1], zealous for what is better, striving for what is more perfect, "hating what is evil, holding fast to what is good, loving one another with brotherly affection, outdoing one another in showing honour, not lagging in zeal, being ardent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer" [Rom. 12:9-12], that by such sincerity we may worthily celebrate the imminent Pascha, and be counted worthy to enjoy the eternal blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

1. These Catecheses were given when St Theodore and his monks were in exile from Constantinople in the reign of Michael II (820-829).