Flee the Noose of Despair

A Homily at Holy Thursday Matins

Giotto di Bondone. Judas's betrayal. Giotto di Bondone. Judas's betrayal.

My beloved flock, by God’s mercy the first half of Holy Week has finished and we have entered directly into the days of the Divine Passion of Christ. We have heard mournful chants, lamenting the moment when Judas the betrayer ripened in his intent and went to betray his Divine Teacher. He confers with the Jewish assembly: “What will you give me if I deliver Him to you?” They consulted amongst themselves and gave the assessment: “Thirty pieces of silver.” As the brothers of the Righteous Joseph once betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver, so the Savior is betrayed by Judas for thirty pieces of silver, for he was a thief. He greatly loved money and always went everywhere with the money box. But the Jewish Sanhedrin feared the people. It had to commit its vile deed secretly at night—to take the Savior into custody and condemn Him to death.

This morning we joyfully reflected upon the sinful woman, the harlot who repented and was forgiven by God, and in the evening we mourn the ruin of Judas. The holy fathers argued that his betrayal did not finally kill Judas. If after the Resurrection he had fallen to his knees before Christ and entreated His forgiveness, the Lord would have forgiven him, seeing his sincere repentance, for the mercy of God is unbounded. His despair ruined him. Judas understood what he had done when he saw the Savior bound hand and foot (as He is depicted in the ancient image), condemned, beaten, and spat upon. He despaired: “What have I done?!” He hadn’t the spiritual strength to repent, to fall down at Christ’s feet with the words, “Lord, forgive me!” and he went and hanged himself.

This is what killed him—the noose of despair.   

We also commit the sin of Judas nearly every day—we betray our Teacher, Lord, and Savior by our sins! Sometimes we begin to realize this, and we don’t immediately let out a sigh of repentance, but of despair: “God won’t forgive me for what I have done!” This is a demonic delusion. It’s demonic madness before God. Lord, preserve me from it! You will realize the severity of your sins—make haste to the Lord, weep, repent, eat dirt for your sins! The Lord is merciful! But despair leads to Hell. Remember this always. No matter how sinful you are, never fall into the bonds of despair. God’s mercy is without end, and I repeat to you all—it is limitless! God forgives even the greatest transgressors if they repent. Teach us, O Lord, to know the unworthiness of our lives and to ever sincerely repent. Never fall into despondency and despair; never commit this terrible sin of Judas!

Holy Thursday has already arrived according to the Church typikon. Tomorrow is the day of the Mystical Supper. Today the holy Gospel proclaimed to us about this event, how Christ met His last Passover on Earth with His disciples, how He instituted and celebrated the first Divine Liturgy, transforming the bread and wine into His Body and Blood, that all who eat them might have eternal life. We’re all preparing to become partakers of this Divine meal tomorrow. The table is already prepared, the upper room of the altar is carpeted, the snow-white altar is ready to receive this Divine meal. And may our souls be prepared for this Great and Divine meal, this Divine Mystery, this Divine Liturgy.

We comprehend our unworthiness, we comprehend our vices and sins, but we are coming to Thee, O Lord! We are coming as penitents, aware of our unworthiness; we are coming to Thee, O Lord! We are Thy children, O Lord! Turn us not away from Thy face, but have mercy upon us all, O Lord, according to Thy great mercy! Soften the callousness of our souls; melt the coldness of our hearts, O Lord! We are coming to Thee! And grant, O Lord, that all of us might come to Thee tomorrow with warm, kind, and joyous hearts, to approach this holy and Divine snow-white table, to approach the holy chalice, to be communicants of the Body and Blood of Christ. But I will forever remind you: Judas also was a participant in the Mystical Supper. May none of you become this Judas! Do not betray your Lord and Teacher by your unworthiness! Amen.

May the Lord grant you to confess peacefully, to prepare yourselves, to rest in the glory of God and to peacefully pray tomorrow on the Holy Thursday of the Divine Passion of Christ. Tomorrow at six in the morning we will have morning prayers, without reading the Midnight Office. After Matins, we will immediately serve the Hours and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great with the evening Divine Passion of Christ. Let everyone commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ during the Liturgy. God will judge our worthiness or unworthiness, and our hearts, and our consciences as the incorruptible Judge. I only ask: Do not justify your own sins, as if someone else is guilty of something. We ourselves are guilty of everything! I judge according my own self. We ourselves have led our loved ones into temptation and then we even shift the blame onto them. It’s a very serious sin! Come to your senses, you fools! Let us correct ourselves, while God is yet longsuffering with us all!

At 2:00 PM we will serve Small Vespers immediately followed by Matins with the reading of the Twelve Gospels of the Divine Passion of Christ. It’s a difficult, intense day. Help us, O Lord! I especially ask you to guard your tongues, or I’ll leave the church and immediately find two grandmas standing, hissing at each other, egging each other on, and chattering on. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth! Silence. Awe. Not some evil silence, but a reverential awe before the greatness of these holy days.

Schema-Archimandrite Zosima (Sokur)
Translated by Jesse Dominick

Batjushka Zosima


Santosh Samuel4/5/2018 4:17 am
Thank you Fr. Zosima for this inspiring article. I intend to use it as a prayer on a regular basis -- i've been guilty of giving space in my soul to this demon many a time, and have had to suffer grievously for it. It is only His grace that has prevented me from sinking.
Please keep me in your prayers Father.
Anthony 4/4/2018 7:13 pm
We should never lose hope. No matter what we do, no matter how far we fall, no matter how often we are injured and hurt—we should never ever despair or lose hope! Thoughts of doubt persist: “How long will God wait for me?” Rest assured that as long as God is allowing you to live, it is a guarantee from Him that He is waiting for you! You cannot deny God the prerogative to wait for your repentance. With this hope and courage in mind, let us approach the majestic throne of God’s grace. We have innumerable brilliant examples of people who repented, who were previously living far away from God, but who later returned and were not simply saved but reached great heights of holiness - Geron Efraim
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