Sunday Encyclical of the Metropolis of Gortynos and Megalopoleos
Sunday, 29 March 2015
Consciously Participating in the Passion of Christ
1. This Sunday, my Christian brethren, is the Fifth Sunday of the Fast. When this week ends, Great Lent ends, as it says in the relevant hymn chanted on Friday evening: "Having completed the forty days that profit our soul." Next Sunday, which is Palm Sunday, we will enter Holy Week.
In today's Gospel reading the Lord spoke to us of His death, which He likens to a cup and to baptism. And what Christ said in today's Gospel reading to his two disciples, James and John ("can you drink the cup that I will drink and be baptized with the baptism that I will be baptized with"), He says to each of us. Our Lord Jesus Christ does not want us to merely observe His Passion, but He wants us to participate in them: to drink from the bitter cup of His death by crucifixion and to be baptized with the baptism of His blood and of His martyrdom. I pray, my Christian brethren, that this year you will consciously participate in this. For this reason, in my sermon today, I want to say two or three things about such a participation.
2. First, my brethren, we must know why they crucified Christ. He was not crucified out of weakness, as if there was no other option, but He was crucified by His own will, "voluntarily" as we say. I cannot exactly tell you some interpretation about the crucifixion of Christ, because this death was a mystery, since it was the death of the God-man. Theologians in the West wanted a human, even legalistic, interpretation of the death of Christ. And from this interpretation of theirs, namely by taking what happens in a court and transferring this to God, they presented a cruel God who wants to punish in order to calm His vengeance against the rebelliousness of people by their sins! Such an interpretation of the Passion of Christ by the Papists is horrible: Namely that God the Father saw in the Person of His Son, who became man, all of human nature, towards which He was wrathful because of their sins, so His wrath broke out against Christ who bore the sins of the world. In this way Christ "satisfied" the wrath of God for the sins of humanity! Truly, this Papist interpretation is a horrible interpretation of the Passion of Christ. I repeat, my brethren, that we Orthodox believe the death by crucifixion of Christ is a mystery and thus unexplainable. Therefore, we are limited by the general expressions given to us in Holy Scripture and chanted in our Church in its worship.
We confess that the death of Christ was His SACRIFICE to God the Father for the remission of our sins. This is what we know in general, and when our hearts are purified through prayer and asceticism, this general understanding will be understood more and clearer. We should say, therefore, and I repeat, that the death of Christ was His Sacrifice for the remission of our sins. And each time, my Christians, let us say this short prayer of thanksgiving: "I thank you, my Christ, that you were crucified for me." Of course, Christ was crucified for the entire world, but we must apply His Passion to ourselves and say that Christ was crucified for me.
3. The entire theology of the Passion of Jesus Christ, my beloved, our Church made into a hymn. These hymns are chanted during Holy Week. Such wonderful hymns, my brethren, can never be rewritten. This is why nothing has been able throughout the centuries to shake and lure them into oblivion. The songs of the world become lost and erased, but the hymns of God remain for eternity. They remain for eternity, because they were written by God-bearing people, who had within them the eternal Spirit of God. This is why their creations will not die. Therefore, my Christians, since we hear the hymns of Holy Week once a year, let us be sure to taste of them and enjoy them. Let us be sure, despite our poverty, for each of us to obtain a book for Holy Week, so that we can follow along what is being chanted by the chantor. Of course you will say to me, that even if you read them you will not understand them. Those who want to get a translation of the hymns of Holy Week, I will inform you that nearby in Kalamata the late Father Epiphanios Theodoropoulos translated the hymns of Holy Week [into modern Greek] and an elegant version of this book is in circulation. As many of you want, can purchase it.
4. We also recommend that you go to church from the beginning of the Services of Holy Week, when the Six Psalms are read, because if you go from mid-Service or toward the end of the Service, you will miss a large part of the Service and you will not be able to be delighted in the little that is left. Each daily Service of Holy Week has a train of thought, a mystical connection, that sweetens those who hear them, but an interruption and break of the Services will not be as well received. Let us be sure, therefore, that even though you are hardworking people, during Holy Week make the effort to attend the Sacred Services from the beginning.
5. Most importantly, my brethren, let us be sure, especially during Holy Week, to not have secular spillovers and joys because, in order to taste of the crucifixion death of Christ we need to have a mournful solemn atmosphere. Be careful! This is the funeral of the Great Dead One, the incarnate Son of God, who was voluntarily crucified for our salvation, for the remission of our sins!
I pray that you consciously taste of the Holy Passion of Christ, that you may consciously rejoice in His glorious Resurrection.
With many blessings,
† Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortynos and Megalopoleos