April 23, 2022

Fourth Homily for Holy and Great Friday (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Homily Spoken Before the Holy Epitaphios of Great Friday
By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on April 23, 1954)

With sinful hands we, the servants of God, carried the holy shroud before you. It is not only holy, it is terrible, for it depicts the naked dead body of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, executed by His accursed enemies. How could this crime, the most terrible of all the crimes of the human race, have been committed?! Why did not the Son of God implore His Father to send legions of angels to slay His accursed enemies, who thirsted for His blood?

With our strength, our mind and heart, we would never have found the answer to this terrible question. Let us look for someone who could explain this inexplicable thing to us. Who will we find?

Let us remember the pure-hearted Nikodemos, the secret disciple of Jesus Christ. Come to us, blessed Nikodemos, and tell us what you heard that night from the Lord Jesus. Nikodemoss answers: “I heard from the Lord Jesus a terrible, but also a joyful word. He told me: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Oh, our Lord, Lord! Blessed Nikodemos tells us that the cause of Your terrible death was the incomprehensible love of Your Heavenly Father for the perishing human race, that faith in You will give eternal life to those who are perishing but saved by You.

But we still don't understand everything. Let us ask the holy apostles.

O you, beloved of Christ, Apostle John, and you, great Peter, who confessed Jesus as Christ the Messiah, add to what we heard from Nikodemos, from the treasury of your knowledge of Christ.

We hear a precious answer from the Apostle John the Theologian: “God's love for us was revealed in the fact that God sent His Only Begotten Son into the world so that we would receive life through Him. This is love, that we did not love God, but He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

Great thanks to you, holy apostle of Christ, for your answer, for you not only vividly and strongly confirmed what we heard from Nikodemos about God's boundless love for us, but also revealed to us that the cause of Jesus' death was propitiation, great mercy towards us by the great God, who is love,  through His condescension and forgiveness. He did not demand the blood of His Son to quench His wrath against sinful humanity, but the Blood of Christ was shed because God had mercy, He had mercy on us.

It was not for this that a sacrifice was needed so that God would have mercy, but a terrible sacrifice was brought by Christ because God had mercy, He had mercy on us.

Come you too, blessed Peter the Apostle, and add your holy word to what we have just heard from the great Apostle John.

He also came, and we hear his holy word: “You were not redeemed with corruptible silver or gold from the vain life that was delivered to you from the fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, like a spotless and pure Lamb” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

You explained to us, Saint Peter, from what exactly we were redeemed by the Blood of Christ - from the vain life that we inherited from our fathers, from life in the vanity of the world, the life of the soul, and not the spiritual, in oblivion of the greatest tasks of our life.

This will be further explained to us by the holy angel, who spoke in a dream with the righteous Joseph, the Betrothed of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Come to us, holy angel, and repeat what you said to Joseph.

"I told him that the Blessed Virgin is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, 'she will give birth to a Son and they will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins'" (Matt. 1:20-21).

We bow to you, holy angel, and sincerely thank you, for you have explained to us that the vain life given to us from the fathers is a life in sins, and that Christ saved us with His blood from the power of the devil, whom we pleased.

Here we talked with blessed Nikodemos, with the great apostles and even with the holy angel.

Let us now dare to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and hear from Him words incomprehensible to the world and hidden words, before which the words of the apostles and the Angel pale: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; but the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world... Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have life in you. Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My Flesh is truly food, and My Blood is truly drink. Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:51:53-56).

Here is the deepest and most holy meaning of Christ's sacrifice: He gave His flesh to be put to death and shed His Blood so that in the great mystery of Communion we would eat His Flesh and drink His Blood; so that the molecules of His Body become the molecules of our flesh and His holy Blood, together with our blood, flows in our veins; so that in this way we become involved in God-manhood and He will resurrect us on the last day as His children.

With what shall we, poor ones, repay Him for His immeasurable love and His terrible sacrifice - with what?

He Himself answered this question for us: "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Let us pour out our love and our tears on His dead body, which lies before us on the Holy Shroud, and let us direct all the strength of our soul, first of all and most of all, to the observance of His commandments. Amen.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.