Christ’s death on the cross does not prevent us from suffering in the world, but does give meaning to that suffering. His death on the cross has everything to do with God’s judgment of the world, judgment of sin and of sinners. God condemns sin and death. In Holy Week we face up to our own sins as we contemplate Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation. St. Dorotheos of Gaza (d. ca. 560AD) offers an edifying story for us to consider about living in the world and how God’s judgment might work.
“I remember once hearing the following story: a slave ship put in at a certain port where there lived a holy virgin who was in earnest about her spiritual life. When she learned about the arrival of the ship she was glad, for she wanted to buy a small serving maid for herself. She thought to herself, ‘I will take her into my home and bring her up in my way of life so that she knows nothing of the evils of the world.’ So she sent and enquired of the master of the ship and found that he had two small girls who he thought would suit her. Whereupon she gladly paid the price and took one of the children into her house.
The ship’s master went away. He had not gone very far when there met him the leader of a dancing troupe who saw the other small girl with him and wanted to buy her; the price was agreed and paid, and he took her away with him. Now take a look at God’s mystery; see what his judgment was. Which of us could give any judgment about this case? The holy virgin took one of these little ones to bring her up in the fear of God, to instruct her in every good work, to teach her all that belongs to the monastic state and all the sweetness of holy commandments of God. The other unfortunate child was taken for the dancing troupe, to be trained in the works of the devil. What effect would teaching her this orgiastic dancing have, but the ruin of her soul? What can we have to say about this frightful judgment? Here were two little girls taken away from their parents by violence. Neither knew where they came from; one is found in the hands of God and the other falls into the hands of the devil. It is possible to say that what God asks from the one he asks also from the other? Surely not! Suppose they both fell into fornication or some other deadly sin; is it possible that they both face the same judgment or that their fall is the same? How does it appear to the mind of God when one learns about the Judgment and about the Kingdom of God day and night, while the other unfortunate knows nothing of it, never hears anything good but only the contrary, everything shameful, everything diabolical? How can he allow them to be examined by the same standard?” (DISCOURSES AND SAYINGS, pp 133-134)
St Dorotheos goes on to warn against judging others because we don’t always know their life story and the causes of their evil behavior. He also tells us we need to pay attention to our own lives, and to what we have been given as Christians and what we have done with what was given to us. God’s final judgment of us will be based not on whether we sinned less than others, but on what we did with what we were given – resources, talents, wealth, opportunities, or limitations. Holy Week calls us to remember how we will be judged so we can now change our lives.