The Passion of Christ

A Lenten homily given on February 25/March 10, 1985

Why the Jews Turned Against Christ

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) Archimandrite John (Krestiankin)
The time has come for us, my beloved friends, for especially deep remembrance of the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we are celebrating the first Passion service[1] of the year, and I will allow myself to say a few words, to concentrate all of our attention upon the Gospel account of our Savior’s sufferings.

On the Cross, the holy icon before we now stand with deep reverence, occurred the redemption of the human race from the reign of sin! God was reconciled with people.

We know that because the first man and woman fell into sin, God distanced Himself from people for a time. But He gave mankind a promise that He would come to earth as the Messiah, Who would reconcile God and man, and restore the former relationship. Now, this time has come. The Son of God has come to earth—the promised Messiah. Christ the Savior has come to earth to return to people their lost dignity of sonship.

But in their separation from God, peoples' hearts had hardened, and when Christ the Savior came to earth, many Jews did not accept Him as the promised Messiah. Not only did they not accept Him and the new divine teaching He brought, but they rose up against Him and gave Him over to a shameful death.

How should we understand or explain this terrible event?

The leaders of the Jewish people were expecting the restoration of purely ordinary, earthly rights to their people. They were not interested in the people’s spiritual rebirth, nor were they thinking about reconciliation with God from Whom they became more and more distant due to their hard-heartedness and egoism. Moreover, they taught their people from this disposition. But the Son of God, Who came to save perishing mankind, brought to earth a divine teaching, which would completely change man’s spiritual countenance.

Following after Christ were people who were spiritually hungry because of their distance from God. People were drawn to Him by His teaching about boundless love and truth.

He taught meekness and humility… He worked unprecedented miracles… People asked each other, “Who is He?” For never in Israel had there been a prophet greater than this… And they wanted to proclaim Him their king. But He did not want this.

When the Pharisees and scribes saw that Christ was attracting more and more people, they feared losing their own influence, and succeeded in turning the Jews against Him. This was not difficult to accomplish. Ecstatic over His teaching and amazed at His miracles, the people did not delve deeper into the teaching, and therefore became blind instruments in the hands of Christ’s enemies. Meanwhile, Christ sternly rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for distorting the law, corrupting the people, and abusing their status. The Pharisees slandered Christ, accusing Him of violating the Law of Moses and teaching the people to do the same.

The prophecy of St. Simeon the God-Receiver was coming to pass: Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many (Lk. 2:34). Who fell?

The proud, vain, ambitious, and self-seeking leaders of the Jewish people! They should have accepted the divine teaching of Christ before all the others and become His disciples. But their abstract thinking prevented them.

The Jewish people were not capable of deeply analyzing and correctly understanding the enmity between the Pharisees and the Miracle-Worker Who had appeared. They tended to follow their leaders blindly. That is why they showed themselves capable of attacking the One Who had only done good, before Whom they stood in awe, and Whom they had decided to declare their king.

That is why the Jewish people turned against their Messiah, their Savior, Whose coming had been foretold by the prophets. Scarcely attentive to the ways of God, having stifled their own higher spiritual needs, the people did not recognize in the new Teacher the Savior of the world; and at the suggestion of their leaders, betrayed Him to a shameful, cruel death.

But the Lord and Savior unmurmuringly fulfilled the mission entrusted to Him of redeeming the human race. He reconciled us with God. He made us once more beloved and close to Him.

However, my friends, immeasurably great was the weight of the Cross that the Savior took upon Himself! Bitter was the cup He drank.

Mentally following the Lord on His way, beginning from Mt. Sion, to the Garden of Gethsemane, then to the judgment of the high priests, to King Herod, to Pilate, on the road to the place of crucifixion, and on Golgotha itself—we see that His suffering began from the very beginning of this sorrowful path. And the Divine Sufferer Himself felt the weight of this painful podvig He had taken upon Himself. He already began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, about which He spoke to His closest disciples: My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death (Mk. 14: 33–34). Then He began to pray to His Heavenly Father.

Intense was His prayer to God. Sweat as blood appeared on His face. Before Him waited even greater suffering. Golgotha awaited Him. This was the place of execution for the most serious criminals, murderers, and evildoers. Before the innocent and sinless One waited not only excruciating physical pain, but also emotional suffering from the shame that He would soon bear.

We might ask, “Why was He raised upon the Cross? What was the reason for such an inglorious death?” There are no accidents. In the Old Testament Scripture is written, For every one that is hanged on a tree is cursed of God (Deut. 21:23).

By ascending the Cross, the Lord Jesus Christ showed that through His death He has removed the curse that hung over the whole world; He has taken upon Himself the sins of the world, and there is no longer a wall separating people from God.

The shame of human sins and vices has been washed by the Divine Savior’s death.

But that is not the only reason for the Savior’s suffering on the Cross. They were horrible sufferings. Human words cannot express their power and depth... Toward the end of His torturous hours, His close ones abandoned Him. He was tormented in the fires of death agony all alone… All around Him were expressions of hatred and mockery… He called to heaven, to His Heavenly Father, but even the heavens were silent.

According to His humanity, He was abandoned in those minutes by His Father.

This means that the power of human evil and sin were so great that such horrible a punishment was needed to redeem them!

The cup of sorrows was so bitter, that at the end of His suffering it forced a terrible shout of agony from His lips before death: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me! (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). The dying One expressed not resentment or despair; He was rather portraying the immortality of His sufferings and self-effacement in the flesh. But how great is the love God has shown us by giving His Only-Begotten Son to such torture!

O Lord, how can we thank Thee? What debtors we are to Thy divine holiness and purity, to Thy sufferings. Do you hear, my dear ones, what the lips of the dying Savior utter, about what He prays to His Heavenly Father? Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Lk. 23:34). From His dying heart, from lips growing cold, prayer flows for His enemies, a stream of divine love for the sinful world.

Can we hear these words without trembling?... For whom is the dying Savior praying? For those who condemned Him to death. Throughout His earthly life, the Lord was surrounded by people—And there followed him great multitudes of people (Mt. 4:25); gather around Him were an innumerable multitude of people (Lk. 12:1), and thronged him (Mk. 5:24). His close disciples never left Him. But when He was taken before the judgment of the lawless high priests and Pharisees, He was alone… Where were those people who previously surrounded and thronged Him? Where were those He had healed, and the multitudes who heeded Him? Where were His disciples? Where was Peter, who had promised to follow Him always?

At the judgment, there was no one. No one witnessed to the Lord Jesus. No one uttered a single word in his defense or justification. Christ stood alone before His judges. He needed no witnesses; He Himself bore witness unto the truth (Jn. 18:37)… He bore witness that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (Jn. 3:16).

We know that it was Divine will. But our heart—the human heart—remains as if unsatisfied: could there really not have been a single person with the resolve to say a kind word for the Lord before His judges, or testify in His defense?.. We are shocked by this spectacle of the ingratitude, blindness, madness, and cruelty of Christ’s contemporaries.

Alongside the kind and meek face of Christ, we are stricken by the hatred and wrath with which the high priests, the scribes, and the people persecute the Righteous One. We are stricken also by the fury and madness with which the crowds cry out to Pilate, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The Jews’ rage was so great that it even perplexed the pagan Pilate.

Not finding any guilt in Christ, Pilate tries to release Him, to awaken in the Jews if not some awareness of their mistake, then at least some human compassion for an innocent man. He washes his hands before the crowd as a sign that he is innocent of the Righteous Man's death. But this only arouses greater frenzy, and the crowd cries out, His blood be on us, and on our children (Mt. 27:25). The loving and meek Savior silently looks upon the people's madness. There is grief in His most pure eyes… Was it not these same people who only recently followed Him in droves, who listened to His teaching, brought Him their sick—and He healed them? Did not these people meet Him and walk alongside Him, shouting jubilantly, Hosanna to the Son of David! (Mt. 21:9)?

How could these people have forgotten His signs and wonders, His exalted teaching?

Pilate gave in to the people's demands. The Lord and Savior is already nailed to the Cross. The wounds from the nails cause pain and suffering. Blood flows from his wounds. On His pure face are streams of blood. The crown of thorns wounded His sacred head, and blood is oozing from those wounds. The human heart constricts from pain merely at the sight of the Crucified One. But the hard-hearted Jews are not touched by this picture. Walking past Golgotha, they continue to blaspheme God, increasing the pain of the crucified Christ with their evil mockery, while the sinless, innocent Sufferer meekly asks His Heavenly Father, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. The Lord prays to His Father for those who betrayed Him to crucifixion… He prays for those who crucified Him, fulfilling the commands of their superiors, while they, perhaps, really didn't know who they were crucifying… He prayed for you and me, my dears; for we also continue to crucify Him…

Over the course of our conscious spiritual life, we have heard and read many times in the Holy Gospels about humanity's cruel and terrible crime against the Son of God. We have heard also about the Savior's exceedingly great love and compassion for people.

Each time, this leaves an enormous impression on our souls. It evokes contrition over our sins. Let us examine ourselves, my dears! The Jewish people did not know the truth. But we know it! We are baptized and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. From our childhood days we know well what is good and what is evil. And knowing this, we often consciously take the path of sin. Dear ones, we must repent of this and pray to God for forgiveness. Only, the words of our prayer should be different. However ashamed we are to admit it, we should say, "Lord, we knew that we were doing wrong, we knew what we should have done, but we nevertheless did what was wrong and not pleasing to Thee. Forgive our sins, out of Thy love! Forgive us, knowing and understanding that out of the weakness of our nature, we continue to crucify Thee!" Beholding the icon of the Lord's Cross, we should examine ourselves—are we emulating by our conduct the Jews, who in those distant times rejected Christ's exalted teaching about love and compassion for all? Let each of us examine ourselves—do we have love in ourselves? Do we sincerely perform acts of mercy? Do we feel burdened by our personal cross, sent to us by God? Remember, my dear ones: the name of Christian, which each of us bears, obligates us to emulate Christ without murmuring, and to joyfully carry the cross that God sends us.

We are redeemed by the great sufferings on the cross of Christ the Savior. Through baptism, we have entered the Church of Christ. But if we are not true Christians in life, our baptism does not give us the right to eternal blessed life in the Kingdom of God. And so may the Cross of Christ, before which we pray during Great Lent, not only remind us about the events of almost 2,000 years ago, but let it also instill in us the sincere desire to live without wounding anew the Lord Who suffers for us. And may the Lord, seeing the sincerity of our good intention, strengthen us on this path of His omnipotent grace.

We mentally fall down before the Cross of the Savior, and venerate the Divine wounds that healed the whole world. And may God grant us to leave the church today with renewed souls, with hearts full of love, and with a firm intention to emulate Christ the Savior through our lives.

Archimandrite John (Krestiankin)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

3/18/2011

[1] The Passion service was celebrated in the Pskov Caves Monastery on the first four Sunday evenings of Great Lent. It is a rite, a local tradition, that commemorates our Lord’s suffering on the Cross.

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