The Cross of Christ — Trampling Down Death By Death

St. Leo the Great assists us in looking deeper into the mystery of the cross. Take time to ask this question: “How does the cross actually conquer sin and death?” Of course, asking this question is not for the purpose of solving the Mystery but of providing you and me with the opportunity to participate in the operation of the cross in our own life in a more practical way. Such is the profit of “rumination” or, to use the nomenclature of Lectio Divina, “meditatio.

When our Lord was handed over to the will of his cruel foes, they ordered him, in mockery of his royal dignity, to carry the in­strument of his own torture. This was done to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: A child is born for us, a son is given to us; sover­eignty is laid upon his shoulders. To the wicked, the sight of the Lord carrying his own Cross was indeed an object of derision; but to the faithful a great mystery was revealed, for the Cross was destined to become the sceptre of his power. Here was the majestic spectacle of a glorious conqueror mightily over­throwing the hostile forces of the devil and nobly bearing the trophy of his victory.

As the crowd accompanied Jesus to the place of execution, the soldiers found a man called Simon of Cyrene, onto whose shoulders they transferred the weight of the Lord’s Cross. This action prefigured the faith of the Gentiles, to whom the Cross of Christ would mean glory rather than shame. By this substitution the atonement of the unblemished lamb and the ful­filment of all the rites of the old Law passed from the people of the circumcision to the Gentiles, from the children born of the flesh to those born of the spirit

In the words of the Apostle: Christ our Passover is sacrificed. As the new and authentic sacrifice of reconciliation, it was not in the Temple, whose cult was now at an end, that he offered himself to the Father; nor was it within the walls of the city doomed to destruction for its crimes. It was beyond the city gates, outside the camp, that he was crucified, in order that when the ancient sacrificial dispensation came to an end a new victim might be laid on a new altar, and the Cross of Christ become the altar not of theTemple, but of the world.

You drew all things to yourself, Lord, when all the elements combined to pronounce judgment in execration of that crime. Figures gave way to reality, prophecy to manifestation, Law to Gospel. You drew all things to yourself in order that the worship of the whole human race could be celebrated everywhere in a sacramental form which would openly fulfil what had been enacted by means of veiled symbols in that single Jewish Temple. Source: St. Leo the Great, Sermon 59.4-6 – Weds in HWK 444 (PL 54:339-341); Word in Season II, 1st ed.

The ancient proclamation of Pascha (Easter) is “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…” WHAT?! Death is conquered by death?! Therein lies the fulfilment of the Old Covenant  in its priestly, kingly, and prophetic aspects  – “Behold the Lamb of God!” and “Behold your King!” Power is made perfect in weakness. Life poured out in the face of, and, most importantly, at the hands of the triad of faithlessness, resignation, and fear which seeks to offer themselves as the way to preserve life, is the actual way of true life. “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth!” from a cruciform throne.

Take hold of your time today and dedicate a portion of it to the contemplation and veneration of the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made. (John 17.1-5)

Read read Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Messianic Suffering Servant ( Is. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).

God the Father is glorifying the Son and Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit on the cross yesterday, today, and forever. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleuia!!

Let God arise! And let His enemies be scattered! And let those that hate Him flee from His presence!

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

As smoke vanishes, So let them vanish! And as wax melts from the presence of fire, So let the demons perish from the presence of those who love God and sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, and say in gladness –

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord,

For you drive away the demons by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified on you, who went down to Hell and trampled on the power of the devil, and gave us you, His venerable Cross, for driving away all enemies.

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

O most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, help us! – with our Holy Lady the Virgin Mother of God, and all the Saints throughout the ages.  Amen.

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

Guard us/me by the holy and life-giving Cross and keep us from all evil. Into Your hands, O Lord, I/we commit my/our spirit. Bless us, save us, and grant us eternal life.  Amen.

God Bless you mightily on this Good Friday,

Fr. Thomas

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Great and Holy Thursday — God and Man Suffer and Love as One

St. Ephrem helps us as we seek to identify with and participate in the suffering-love of the God/Man who was/is/will identify with our suffering and participate in it “for the life of the world.”

“The evening before our Lord gave himself up to death he shared his own body with his Apostles and offered them his blood, with the command that they were to do what he had done in order to keep the memory of his Passion alive. Then a strange thing happened. Earlier Jesus had charged his disciples not to fear death. Do not be afraid of those who have power to kill ­your body, he had said. But now he himself showed fear, and ­begged to be spared the cup of suffering. Father, he prayed if it be possible, let this cup pass me by. How are we to explain this?

The answer is that our Lord’s petition was wrung from the human weakness he had made his own. There was no pretence about his incarnation; it was absolutely real. And since the donning of our poor humanity had made him puny and defenceless, it was only natural that he should experience fear and alarm. Eating to alleviate hunger, showing weariness after exertion, and revealing human weakness by the need for sleep were all the effects of his taking our flesh and clothing himself with our infirmity. Consequently when the moment of death drew near, he necessarily experienced the ultimate frailty of our human condition; he was gripped by a dreadful horror of ­dying.

It was then that Jesus said to his disciples: Stay awake and pray that you may be spared the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And in answer to our question he might well say: ‘When you are afraid, it is not your spirit that trembles but your human ­weakness. Remember then that I myself tasted the fear of death in my desire to convince you that I truly shared your flesh and blood.’

A further answer to our question is that Jesus wished to teach his disciples how to commit themselves to God both in life and in death. His own divine knowledge made him supremely wise, yet he prayed for what his Father judged to be expedient. How much more ought we ignorant men to surrender our wills to God’s omniscience!

We may also tell ourselves that we too were in our Lord’s mind as he prayed. In time of temptation our minds become confused and our imagination runs riot. By persevering in prayer Jesus was showing us how much we ourselves need to pray if we are to escape the wiles and snares of the devil. It is only by constant prayer that we gain control of our distracted thoughts.

Finally, there is our Lord’s desire to strengthen all who are afraid of death. By letting them see that he himself had expe­rienced fear he would show them that fear does not necessarily lead to sin, provided one continues to resist it. This is the force of our Lord’s concluding prayer: Not my will, Father, but yours be done. He is saying: ‘Yes, Father, I am ready to die in order to bring life to many.’” Source: St Ephrem of Syria, Diatessaron 20.3-4, 6-7 (CSCO 145:201-204); Word in Season II, 2nd ed.

Plumb the depths of your heart and from that Holy of Holies, watch and pray by the power of the Holy Spirit…

Fr. Thomas

Our Weakness and God’s Strength

“Blessed is the man who knows his own weakness, because this knowledge becomes to him the foundation, root, and beginning of all goodness. For whenever a man learns and truly perceives his own weakness, at that moment he contracts his soul on every side from the laxity that dims knowledge, and he treasures up watchfulness in himself. But no one can perceive his own infirmity if he is not allowed to be tempted a little, either by things that oppress his body, or his soul. For then, comparing his own weakness with God’s help, he will straightway understand the greatness of the latter. And again, whenever he looks over the multitude of his devising, and his wakefulness, his abstinence, the sheltering, and the hedging about of his soul by which he hopes to find assurance for her, and yet sees that he has not obtained it; or again, if his heart has no calm because of his fear and trembling: then at that moment let him understand, and let him know that this fear of his heart shows and reflects that he is altogether in need of some other help. For the heart testifies inwardly, and reflects the lack of something by the fear that strikes and wrestles within it. And because of this, it is confounded, since it is not able to abide in a state of surety; for God’s help, it is said, is the help that saves.

When a man knows that he is in need of divine help, he makes many prayers. And the more he multiplies them, his heart is humbled, for there is no man who will not be humbled when he is making supplication and entreaty. ‘A heart that is broken and humbled, God will not despise.’ (Ps. 50.19) Therefore, as long as the heart is not humbled, it cannot cease from wandering; for humility collects the heart.

But when a man becomes humbled, at once mercy encircles him, and then his heart is aware of divine help, because it finds a certain power and assurance moving in itself. And when a man perceives the coming of divine help, and that it is this which aids him, then at once his heart is filled with faith, and he understands from this that prayer is the refuge of help, a source of salvation, a treasury of assurance, a haven that rescues from the tempest, a light to those in darkness, a staff of the infirm, a shelter in time of temptations, a medicine at the height of sickness, a shield of deliverance in war, an arrow sharpened against the face of his enemies, and, to speak simply: the entire multitude of these good things is found to have its entrance through
prayer.

From this time forward he revels in the prayer of faith, his heart glistens with clear assurance, and does not continue in its former blindness and the mere speech of the tongue. When he thus perceives these things, he will acquire prayer in his soul, like some treasure. And from his great gladness the form of prayer is turned into shouts of thanksgiving… And from this vehement inner ardor, since he is very greatly moved by astonishment at this comprehension of God’s graces, he suddenly raises his voice in praise and glorification of Him, and sends up thanksgiving; and he moves his tongue which being held with great awe…

All these good things are born to a man from the recognition of his own weakness. For out of his craving for God’s help, he presses on toward God by the petitions of his prayer. And to the extent that he draws near to God in his intention, God also draws near to him through His gifts, and will not take His overshadowing away from him, on account of his great humility…” The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Homily 8, pgs. 185-187