April 29, 2016

The Death of Christ, A New Pathway to Life (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen clothes with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. At the place where He had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had been buried.

Christ was numbered among the dead. For our sake He was put to death in the body, even though of Himself and through His Father we believe Him to be, and indeed He is, life itself. In order to do all that was required by God, all that was involved in His having become man, He freely submitted the temple of His body not only to death, but to everything that accompanies it, to the laying out of His body and its burial in a tomb.

The Evangelist says that His tomb was in a garden and that it was new. This teaches us in a symbolic way that it is through Christ's death that we gain entry into Paradise: He entered as the forerunner on our behalf. The newness of the tomb suggests the new and untrodden path from death to life and the renewal by which Christ frees us from corruption. By Christ's death, our death has been transformed into something quite new, more like a kind of sleep. We are "alive to God now," as Scripture says, and destined to live forever. This is why Paul frequently refers to those who have died in Christ as "those who have fallen asleep."

In the past the power of death had always prevailed against our nature. From the time of Adam to the time of Moses, death ruled over all, even over those who did not sin, as Adam did, by disobeying God's command. We bore the image of the earthly man, Adam, and underwent the death inflicted by the divine curse, but when the second Adam who is divine and from heaven appeared among us, He fought for the lives of us all, purchased them by His own death in the flesh and then, having destroyed the power of corruption, He rose again. In this way He transformed us into His own image, so that the death we now undergo is of a new kind: it does not lead to eternal destruction, but is rather a sleep, full of good hope. In fact it resembles the death of Christ, who opened up for us this new pathway to life.

From the Commentary on John 12.19: PG 74, 679-82.