Reflect Upon This at This Tomb!

A Homily for Holy Saturday

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If some unbeliever or someone unfamiliar with our Mysteries were to enter one of our churches now, he would be surprised at what is happening, as we surround the tomb of the Deceased, lamenting and sighing over Him; and at the same time, we believe that in this tomb is the source of life and incorruption. If your Savior, the unbeliever would say, is the resurrection and the life, then how could He be put to death and placed in a tomb? And if He is dead and buried, how could He grant life and incorruption? It’s one or the other—either weep, or rejoice: God does not die, and the dead do not rise!

This is what an unbeliever might say to us here and now. But, brethren, he would start saying the same things if you took him to Paradise where our forefathers once dwelt. here, one thing is done, but quite another happens. The food is eaten, as though it were good for food, and … pleasant to the eyes (Gen. 3:6), but it produces eternal hunger and eternal death. The eyes are opened, but they don’t see the tempter, beholding only their nakedness. They want to be gods, but they flee from God.

The Sacrament has two sides to it! But the first to draw aside the veil was us. The manger and the Cross were made by men. It wasn’t God Who hid from man, but man from God. Had we not fallen so far, we would have seen how they raise us up. Now it’s better not to look into the abyss of evil, so its depth doesn’t darken our vision. It’s better not to know all the ways of the Heavenly Physician, so as not to be horrified by the treatment itself. Let’s leave it up to the One Who holds power and salvation in His hands.

Why am I saying this over this tomb? Because even today there are “Jews” who require a sign, and the Greeks who seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:22-23). We preach and we will continue to do so!

For the Jews, Christ crucified is a stumbling block: Why is it necessary! Were not the Jews tempted when they were sent manna from Heaven and they asked, “What is this?” (cf. Ex. 16:15)? And weren’t you, O Jew, once healed by the sight of the bronze serpent, raised up on the cross? Tell us, how did the sight of bronze heal? How did the serpent save you from the serpents’ sting? And we’ll tell you how the Cross heals wounds and exudes incorruption and life.

For the Greeks, Christ crucified is foolishness: Why is it necessary! And it’s not for the first time that in seeing without seeing, and professing themselves to be wise, they became fools (Rom. 1:22).

In the mirror of nature, from the creation of the world, not only the wisdom of God, sought by the Greeks, is visible, but even the very eternal power and Godhead (Rom. 1:20). Did the Greeks see much in this mirror? And what they saw—was it not hidden in untruth? Did you not change the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things (Rom. 1:23)? That is why, O Greek, God was well pleased to save the faithful by the violence of His preaching, because in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God (1 Cor. 1:21).

But even among Christians there are enemies of the Cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18). There have been, there are, and there will be—but who are they? They are, first of all, people whose god is themselves. Is it surprising that there is no room for the Cross here? These people now like to make the whole world out of their circle of acquaintances: Why not look more closely into this circle? Perhaps they themselves would have seen the cross in it. Another type of enemy of the cross is those for whom, in the words of the Apostle, their god is their belly! (Phil. 3:19). With such a god there’s nothing to say about Lebanon and Smyrna: This god needs the sacrifices of Baalpeor and Moloch.1

The Son of God on the Cross: truly a miracle of miracles! The Savior of the world in the grave: the mystery of mysteries! But is it really hidden from you, O unbeliever? You say it’s incomprehensible for you, but they tell you it’s incomprehensible even for the angels. And why should you fear the incomprehensible? You marvel at nature and are in awe of it, but do you understand everything in it? And aren’t you most in awe of that which you least comprehend? You would stop worshiping a God Who is completely comprehensible.

But why argue? The goodness of a tree is judged only by its fruits. The tree of the Cross is dry, dishonorable, and terrible, but let’s look at its fruits.

Before whom, O Jew, do your Jerusalem and Temple fall, so that no stone is left upon another, so that the ruler of the world, Julian, can’t raise it up?2 Before He Who lies here dead. To whom do the Athenian Pantheon, the Roman Capitol, and Caesar, and the philosophers give way? To He Who lies here dead. Who is it that stops the Barbarians who destroyed the Roman Empire, making them forget their ferocity and start learning to be people of the Gospel? He Who lies here dead. To what peoples belong the power and authority over all the Earth? Those who believe in the name of the crucified Jesus. From which battle flags does Mohammed even now flee, before our very eyes? From those which bear the image of the Cross.

What is better for you, O Jew, than these signs? Do you not see from them that Christ, even as regards earthly affairs, is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:24)?

And you, ancient or modern Greek, are in need of wisdom: Come and see (Jn. 1:46). Do you see how your philosophers—those people who, in their secret gatherings, mock nothing so much as idols and gods—fall before idols on the squares of Athens? We don’t harshly condemn their weakness: Life is more precious than philosophy. But accept that your philosophy has no power to do battle with superstition, and look what happens. In less than five centuries, there are less than five idols in all the Roman Empire. Where are they and who slew them? The philosophers? There aren’t even five philosophers in all of Rome, and those who are, are for idols. The idols fell from the preaching of the Pauls and Apolloses!

Is this not wisdom, O Greek?

Listen again to what your divine Plato says. “The true God,” he says, “is difficult to find, and even were someone to find Him, the Father of nature mustn’t be spoken of with everyone.” That is, O Greek, your Plato wants to know God alone, for himself only: As for the world, let it remain ignorant of Him! Such a philosophy would not be of much use to mankind. But fortunately, there were people found who were more courageous, with more love for mankind than your Plato. Look what happens. Not one century passed after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, and the Barbarian and the Scythian began to theologize. Little children learn things about the Father of nature and of men that the academies and porticos never even dreamed of—and all this was brought about by the twelve Galilean fishermen!

Is this not wisdom, O Greek?

Thus, the wisdom of the Cross was justified of her children (Mt. 11:19) and of her works before the whole world! And it will be yet justified! The new Greeks will be put to shame as were the ancients. The broken cisterns of natural wisdom, no matter how much they are dredged, will not yield living water (Jer. 2:13). Without the Son, they won’t know the Father. He is known only by him to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him (Mt. 11:27). And the Son reveals Him only from the Cross.

But enough about the Jews and the Greeks—it’s time to turn to you, true Christian. You ask not for signs, but the Lord gives them to you without asking. You seek not wisdom, but it comes to you itself. You yourself are a great sign and great mystery to the world.

In fact, Christian, the eyes of your heart have been opened (Is. 42:7), while those eyes in all men of the flesh are closed; and you see the vanity of all that is great and glorious in the world; you see it and count it all as dung, that [you] may win Christ (Phil. 3:8). Is this not a sign? For you there is no fear of death, such that if you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, [you] will fear no evil (Ps. 22:4). Is this not a sign? You find nourishment and sweetness in what is tedious and burdensome for lovers of the world; and conversely, you are bored and burdened by what they have been chasing all their lives. Is this not a sign? At times you feel within yourself the powers of the world to come (Heb. 6:5), you soar in the spirit over the whole world, and you are one with Him Whom [your] soul loveth (Song 3:1). Is this not a sign?

It cannot be that you would be without wisdom. Oh, the Lord knows how to enlighten and guide those who know how to listen to Him and are ready to do what they hear. Undoubtedly, you have at times heard within yourself that very Teacher Who makes apostles out of fishermen. Or perhaps you have already received the anointing of the Holy One, and those who receive it need not that any man teach [them], for the anointing teacheth [them] of all things (1 Jn. 2:27).

How could you, Christian, after this, doubt that the crucified Lord is truly God’s power, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption for the salvation of everyone who believes (1 Cor. 1:24, 30), when He in fact wrought all this for you long ago? This would mean doubting in your own mind, which is Christ’s (1 Cor. 2:16), in your own heart, which is Christ’s (Eph. 3:17), and in your own life, which is Christ’s (Col. 3:4).

And if, beloved, Christ hasn’t wrought all of this for you, if your Christianity hasn’t become your whole life, if your faith consists in words, outward acts of worship, and transitory feelings, then let it be known that you are not much different than the Jew and the Greek. What use is it for you to have a precious treasure in your hand if you don’t use it and you remain a pauper as before? What use is it to see right before your eyes a wonderful remedy for all ailments if you don’t take it, and so continue to suffer mortally? Christ saves us all, but not when He remains only in the Gospel, or on the Shroud, or in Heaven—He saves us when He enters into our hearts, unites with our spirit, and becomes the beginning of all our life and all our actions. Reflect upon this at this tomb!


St. Innocent of Kherson
Translation by Jesse Dominick


1 Baalpeor is the Moabite god that the Israelites worshiped in Shittim (Num. 25:3), which was associated with licentiousness. Moloch is a pagan god associated with child sacrifice (cf. Lev. 18:21).—Trans.

2 Julian the Apostate, a fourth-century emperor of Rome, attempted to build a third Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, believing this would disprove Christianity. However, his plans were thwarted by a series of seemingly cataclysmic events, when fire burst forth from the foundations, along with a great earthquake, preventing the workers from completing their work. The project was abandoned. Some accounts say that the Sign of the Cross appeared in the sky and on the workers’ garments.—Trans.

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