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April 19, 2021

Fifth Sunday of Great Lent - The Cup (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"The cup that I drink you shall drink." (Mk. 10:39)

The two disciples asked Christ for glory by human standards, having in mind that His Kingdom is physical. But Christ, correcting their erroneous belief, indicates the real and eternal glory that enters through the "cup", which is the Passion and the Cross. He Himself was glorified through the Cross and His disciples will be glorified through the cross. We will try to analyze this truth, that is, the "cup" is the glory of the Church.

The "Cup" of Christ

Undoubtedly, when the Lord said "the cup that I drink" He meant His Passion culminating in the Cross, which He endured for the salvation of mankind. Saint Maximus the Confessor says that ancestral sin consists in the sin of choice (pleasure) and the sin of nature (suffering).

The Lord, in His incarnation, assumed the pure and undefiled human nature (sinlessness) as it was before the transgression, but also the perishable nature of mankind after the transgression, since He became "a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13).

The Lord voluntarily accepts death, pain, suffers unjustly and in this way heals human nature, condemning voluntary and natural sin. According to Saint Gregory the Theologian, "He was tempted to be victorious, dishonored to be glorified, died in order to save."

This is the saving energy of the Passion of Christ. Thus the bitter "cup" of Christ became very sweet for us. Salvation came through the Cross. We must emphasize again the truth that the Lord walked voluntarily and silently towards the Passion, as Isaiah prophesied: “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth”(Is. 53:7-8). This voluntary and silent approach was the healing of human nature.

The "Cup" of the Church

We know that the Church is the mystical and true Body of Christ. This means that the passion of the Head in favor of the body is also a passion of the body along with the Head. "The passion of Christ is also the passion of the Church, just as the resurrection of the Head is the spiritual communion of the whole Body of believers." Orthodoxy always experiences the "cup" of Christ.

There are many points that can be emphasized in this regard. First of all, the whole life of Orthodoxy is one of crucifixion. It has been rightly observed that its apophatic theology, without being separated from the cataphatic, is the "Golgotha of the intellect". The organization of Orthodoxy is not done by human criteria, but has a Trinitarian character. It is an expression of love, which is kenosis (self-emptying). The Divine Liturgy is a most complete offering. The Orthodox icon aims at the transformation of the external senses. Her spirituality is associated with high humility, with voluntary death.
Orthodoxy always accepts persecution. There is no Local Orthodox Church, in any part of the world, that is not persecuted by the secular mentality. Only in each place the type of persecution differs and no one knows which is the worst - the obvious and the direct or the hidden and indirect. We leave this to God's judgment and mercy.

However, the Orthodox Church is crucified for this and resurrected. This is the criterion of its authenticity, that is, that it is connected with the Crucified and Risen Christ. For all human wickedness campaigned against Christ. When a Church rejects martyrdom, voluntary crucifixion, and seeks earthly glory and worldly prominence, when possessed by the passion to crucify rather than be crucified, it shows that she has lost the true communion with Christ Who offered Himself without resistance to martyrdom.

The "Cup" of Christians

What applies to the Church also applies to true Christians. The criterion of authenticity of our ecclesiastical status is the experience of the Cross. The Lord said, "The cup that I drink you shall drink." This happened to the disciples. They were despised, persecuted, suffered everything and martyred. Those of them who did not die as martyrs are not because they did not have the Grace of Martyrdom, but because the proper conditions were not given. However, everyone lived as a martyr.

Thus Christians are associated with the "cup". When we talk about "cup" and crucifixion death we do not just mean the sufferings of life that we all have and face. Maybe this is also a kind of cross. But we mean something more.

Cross is the struggle for our liberation from the inner tyranny of the passions, for the transformation of our inner world, so that all our forces serve God. Because there are no evil forces within us that we must eliminate, but perverted ones that we must transform. Saint Isaac says: “The way of God is a daily cross. No one ascended to Heaven through comfort."

Cross is not to take into account the praises and dishonors that the world gives us. Saint Makarios the Egyptian sent a brother who asked him what he had to do to be saved to the cemetery to first accuse the dead of being sinners and then to praise them as saints. When he returned he asked him if the dead reacted in both cases. To his negative answer he said: "Did you see how much you humiliated them and they did not respond to you and how much you praised them and they did not speak to you at all? Likewise become dead, if you want to be saved. Do not take into account the injustices of people nor their praises, like the dead. Then you can be saved."

Cross is also the love we must show to others. Love by nature is a self-transcendence of the ego, a kenosis, a cross. Christ was crucified and showed His love for us. And we are crucified daily to show our love for others. The Orthodox do not resist in a worldly way to the power that falls on him. He "fights" with love. He is unarmed and armed. He is crucified on the wood of love and being crucified he is truly free, he has the greatest power.

Cross is finally the martyr's death in favor of the truth of the Faith. The saints, because they experienced the faith and knew its value, accepted voluntary death instead of desecrating it or denying it.

The "cup" (the cross) is the common lot of all Orthodox. With the cross we are ensured greater victory and eternal triumph. This is contrary to secular criteria, that is, with resistance we give the other the opportunity to prepare for a greater attack. Of course it can be observed that to endure, to love, to not resist is madness. In response we say that the whole Christian life is a healthy foolishness. It is a Rational madness that cures our own imbalance and the irrational madness of the world.

Source: From the book Όσοι Πιστοί. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.