April 22, 2011

"My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?"

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

Christ's fourth saying on the Cross is the cry: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46). This saying must be interpreted in an Orthodox way, within the interpretive analysis of the holy Fathers of the Church, because otherwise it can be considered heretical. This is said because there are some scholastics and rationalists who try to interpret these words of Christ by maintaining that, if only for a few seconds, the divine nature abandoned the human nature on the Cross in order for Christ to feel the pain, the suffering of His abandonment.

In the first place this saying is connected with a Psalm of David (22) which is purely christological, since it refers to Christ's incarnation and His saving Passion, and which begins as follows: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Ps. 22:1). This Psalm is prophetic, because it reveals Christ's suffering on the Cross. Christ was not repeating it mechanically, but by the repetition He was fulfilling the prophecy. Of course the prophet's vision came first, and Christ said it in order for all the prophecies which had been spoken about Him to be fulfilled.

St. Gregory the Theologian, interpreting this cry of Christ, says that Christ was not abandoned by either His Father or by His own divinity, as if fearing the Passion and shrinking from the suffering of the Christ. So what happened? By this cry Christ "stamps on Himself what is ours". In other words, at that moment Christ is speaking in our place. For we were those abandoned and overlooked and then assumed and saved by the Passion of the impassible One. And St. Cyril of Alexandria, interpreting this, says that "He abandoned understanding and forgave the passion". Christ's kenosis, which began with His incarnation, reached its highest point. And this is called abandonment.

We have emphasized in previous analyses that in Christ the divine and human natures were united unchangeably, inseparably and indivisibly, according to the definition of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. This means that they have not been separated, nor ever will be separated. And this is why we can partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. So this cry of Christ to the Father expresses our own cry at having lost communion with God through sin. Moreover, Christ was suffering for us.