Magnifying Christ

Christ is risen! 

8186708454_d37e3879d8_wJohn answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:27-30) 

St Diodochos of Photiki comments: 

Glory befits God because of His majesty, while lowliness befits man because it unites us with God. If we realize this, rejoicing in the glory of the Lord, we too, like Saint John the Baptist, will begin to say unceasingly, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3: 30).   (PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 89) 

If I really desire that Christ increase while I decrease, I will want to pray the Prayer of Humility (found in some Orthodox prayer books) which includes petitions that I be delivered from the desire of being esteemed, extolled, honored, praised or preferred. When I humble myself, I make it possible to magnify Christ.  God emptied Himself to become human, I have to empty myself to become god.  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross”   (Philippians 2:5-8).


Truly, He is risen! 

The Mysterious Temple 

Christ is risen! 


So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:18-22)

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” (Mark 14:58)


When we hear in the Bible about the “Temple”, we think about the Temple in Jerusalem. However, the “Temple” is also a spiritual concept in the Bible. Moses when he ascends alone up the holy mountain is shown a pattern/type of the earthly Temple as he gazes into heaven (Exodus 25:40, Hebrews 8:5). In Revelation 21:22, in John’s vision of heaven there is no temple, for the Lord God and the Lamb are the temple. And in the quote above Jesus speaks of the “temple of his body” again giving a spiritual meaning to the concept of temple.  In the book of Hebrews, Christ is presented as far superior to Moses who saw the heavenly pattern for the temple (Hebrews 3).  And, according to Hebrews, Christ enters into the real (heavenly) temple while the Jewish  Jerusalem Temple which is based upon the pattern which was revealed to Moses is only a copy and shadow of the real one (Hebrews 8). For Christians the temple as a theological mystery was far more important than the temple building in Jerusalem which Christ prophesied would be completely destroyed, and whose destruction the Christians did not lament as they saw its purpose superseded by the presence of the incarnate God, Jesus.

St Gregory of Nyssa reflects on the temple/tabernacle as a mystery:

What then is that tabernacle not made with hands which was shown to Moses on the mountain and to which he was commanded to look as to an archetype so that he might reproduce in a handsome structure that marvel not made with hands? . . .


Of what things not made with hands are these an imitation? And what benefit does the material imitation of those things Moses saw there convey to those who look at it? It seems good to me to leave the precise meaning of these things to those who have by the spirit the power to search the depths of God (1 Cor 2:10), and to someone who may be able, as the Apostle says, in the spirit to speak about mysterious things (1 Cor 14:2). We shall leave what we say conjecturally and by supposition on the thought at hand to the judgment of our readers. Their critical intelligence must decide whether it should be rejected or accepted.

[Interesting that Gregory understands the temple to be a significant spiritual concept, a mystery, which he does not want to unpack for his listeners. He thinks it better not to explicate the meanings here because all he could offer was conjecture and supposition, which he thinks better to leave up to each believer rather than for Gregory to dogmatize. The temple/tabernacle in some way reveals Christ, but Gregory thinks it best not to say much more about it, rather he is enthralled by the mystery.]


Taking a hint from what has been said by Paul, who partially uncovered the mystery of these things, we say that Moses was earlier instructed by a type in the mystery of the tabernacle which encompasses the universe. This Tabernacle would be Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24), who in his own nature was not made with hands, yet capable of being made when it became necessary for this tabernacle to be erected among us. Thus, the same tabernacle is in a way both unfashioned and fashioned, uncreated in preexistence but created in having received this material composition.   (THE LIFE OF MOSES, pp 97-98)


Indeed, He is risen!

Repent For the Forgiveness of Your Sins

Christ is risen! 

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-40)


The call to repentance is a foundational message in Christianity. Yet in practice it means different things to different people. Here is one story from the desert fathers about repentance and confession:

 An Elder tells us that a monk once fell to a serious sin. His conscience, however, reproached him, and he repented. So, he went to confess to an Elder. Because of his shame, however, he did not mention the act, but only his temptation to do it. That is, he told the Elder: ‘Father, I was troubled by this thought. Is there salvation for me?’ However, the spiritual father who heard this confession, since he was not experienced and lacked spiritual discretion, said to the sinful monk: ‘You have lost your soul.’ As soon as the brother heard this, he said to himself: ‘As long as I have lost my soul, I may as well go back to the world.’

49978749561_0db804dd33_w[A big part of this story is that the elder to whom the monk confesses, is not very discerning and reacts harshly to the monk’s confession. The monk had not even revealed the full extent of his sin, but the elder condemns him as hopelessly lost. The monk’s decision to go back to the world is somewhat equivalent to any lay person deciding to abandon faith in Christ because they believe themselves to be so sinful that even Christ wouldn’t forgive them.]

As he was leaving, however, he thought to go to Abba Silouan, who was known for the gift of discretion, and confess his thought to him. But, ongoing to Abba Silouan’s cell, he did not confess his sinful act to him either, but confessed only his sinful thought, as he had done with the previous elder. Abba Silouan, after he had heard the monk, opened his mouth and began to tell him that, according to the Holy Scriptures, there is no condemnation for those who sin only with their thoughts. When the sinful brother heard this, he took strength in his soul and, encouraged by the hope of salvation, revealed to the Elder his sinful act also.

48087795612_b426bfddb1_w[Abba Silouan is more discerning and merciful than the first elder. He not only does not condemn the monk for his thoughts, but informs him that just thinking about sin is not at all equivalent to committing sin. The monk, with his hope in Christ revived, now confesses the full extent of his sin trusting that indeed Christ forgives sinners who repent.]

After the elder had also learned of the brother’s deed, like a skilled and experienced doctor he molded the monk’s soul with the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, showing him that there is repentance for those who willfully return to God.

After this incident, my Abba visited Abba Silouan, from whom he heard the story of the repentant brother. Thus, this monk, who had lost hope for himself and was about to return to the world, came to be like a bright star among the brothers.   (THE EVERGETINOS Vol II, pp 142-143)

[The monk’s faith in God is revived by learning of the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. He continues his discipleship holding on to the hem of Christ’s garment.]


Another thought about repentance comes from a 20th Century American novel:

“When you see that you have sinned, and you repent the sin, do not wish you had not sinned. Wish instead that God, in his mysterious way will turn your sin to a good end, for your sin is now already a part of the history of his ongoing creation of the world. To wish it away is to resist his will.” (Walter Miller, SAINT LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN, p 125)

Here the thought is that once you sin, you can’t take it back, as your sin is now part of history. What you can do is to ask God to transform your sinful deed into some good outcome, so that it doesn’t badly affect others.  Rather than just being mired in contrition, one can hope that God can miraculously turn your wrongdoing into something good.   We sing in the Akathist “Glory to God for All Things”:

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You (God) can restore a conscience turned to ashes. You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With You, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. You are love; You are Creator and Redeemer. We praise You, singing: Alleluia!


Think in terms of the Patriarch Joseph’s words in Genesis 50:19-20 to his eleven brothers who had sold him into slavery: “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” We can always hope that in the end, not just to be forgiven of our sins, but that God will be able to transform our misdeeds into good for others.

Truly, He is risen! 

Foreknowledge Not Predestination 

Christ is risen!

4263457299_d973374b2e_wMen of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  (Acts 2:22-36)

St Peter proclaims that Jesus was delivered up to be crucified “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” The notion that God is omniscient has sometimes led people, especially those in the rather late Christian tradition of Calvinism, to conclude that God has predestined all that happens in the world and thus there is no free will. Everything is simply unfolding as God has already decided. Yet, one cannot find much support for the ideas of predestination among the church fathers who pretty unanimously believed in free will and that our choices matter in shaping history and our life in the world to come. Two scholars, one not Orthodox and one an Orthodox bishop, both support the notion of free will and that the future is determined by our own choices now.


First, the non-Orthodox biblical scholar Terence Fretheim writing about the Old Testament says:

These texts show that Israel’s future is genuinely open and not predetermined. The future for Israel does not only not exist, it has not even been finally decided upon. Hence, it is not something that even exists to be known, even if the knower is God.

That is, God takes Moses contribution with utmost seriousness; God’s acquiescence to the arguments indicates that God treats the conversation with Moses with integrity and honors the human insight as an important ingredient for the shaping of the future.

Having made a decision or devised a plan, God consults with the prophetic leadership regarding possible insight they might having regarding the situation before God proceeds to carry that decision forth into action.  (THE SUFFERING OF GOD, pp 47,51, 52)


Second, two quotes from Metropolitan Hilarion:

Within the history of Christianity one idea that has repeatedly cropped up is that God predestines some people for salvation and others to perdition. This idea is based on a literal interpretation of the words of Saint Paul about predestination, calling, and justification, and became the cornerstone of the Reformation, preached with particular consistency by John Calvin. Eleven centuries before Calvin, the Eastern Christian tradition in the person of John Chrysostom expressed a different view of predestination and calling. ‘Why are not all saved?’ Chrysostom asks. ‘Because… not only the call [of God] but also the will of those called is the cause of their salvation. This call is not coercive or forcible. Everyone is called, but not all follow the call.’ Later fathers, including Maximus and John Damascene, speak in the same spirit. According to their teaching, God does not save certain people while ruining others; rather, some people follow the call of God to salvation while others do not. Likewise, God does not lead some people from hell and leave others behind; rather, there are some people who wish and others who do not wish to believe in him.   (Hilarion Alfeyev, CHRIST THE CONQUEROR OF HELL, pp 81)


Belief in the salvation of heathen poets, orators, and philosophers was quite popular in the Eastern patristic tradition, as is most vividly expressed by Clement of Alexandria. According to Augustine, however, many of the positive qualities of the ancient poets, orators, and philosophers originate not from ‘sober and authentic devotion, but pride, vanity, and [the desire] of people’s praise.’ Therefore, they ‘did not bring any fruit.’ . . . Augustine. … is clear that the possibility of salvation for those in hell is blocked in his perception by his own teaching on predestination…   (Hilarion Alfeyev, CHRIST THE CONQUEROR OF HELL, pp 90)

Indeed, He is risen!

The Holy Spirit in our Lives

Christ is risen! 


But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. . . . And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the Name of the LORD shall be saved.’ (Acts 2:16-18, 21) 

When the Apostle Peter preached the above sermon he referenced the prophecy of Joel promising the coming of the Holy Spirit upon all people. Below are four comments on the Holy Spirit.  In the first quote St Silouan the Athonite says we know God’s love through the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives: 

Likewise, not everyone perceives the Holy Spirit but all those who will be saved who fear God and keep his commandments, for the Lord loves us without stint, and I could not have known this love had not the Holy Spirit taught me Who teaches every good thing. (ST SILOUAN THE ANTHONITE, p 283) 


In the 2nd quote, St Silouan tells us how the Holy Spirit works in us when we repent of our sins: 

The Lord does not desire the death of a sinner, and on him who repents He bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit, which gives peace to the soul and freedom for the mind and heart to dwell in God. When the Holy Spirit forgives us our sins we receive freedom to pray to God with an undistracted mind. Then the soul can freely contemplate God and live serene and joyous in him. And this is true freedom. But without God there can be no freedom, for the enemy agitates the soul with evil thoughts. (ST SILOUAN THE ANTHONITE, p 342) 

The 3rd quote says both Christ’s incarnation and the existence of the Church, the Body of Christ, are signs of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives and in the world. 


It is important to bear in mind that the Body of Christ, both in the Christological (incarnational) and in the ecclesiological sense, became a historical reality. Through the Holy Spirit… For creation to lend itself to the Logos of God in order to bring about the incarnation would have been impossible without the intervention of the Holy Spirit. (John Zizioulas, ASPECTS OF ORTHODOX WORSHIP, p 1) 

Finally, related to the above quote from Zizioulas, we are reminded that we are to bear witness to the Holy Spirit in our lives 

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the Spirit who leads us to show in our lives that Christ is in our midst.   (John Garvey, SEEDS OF THE WORD, p 107) 


Truly He is risen! 

Mary and Her Children

 Christ is risen! 


Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.  (Acts 1:12-14) 


When Jesus, dying on the cross told His Mother, “Woman, behold, your son,” referring to the Apostle John, some have taught that He was making her the mother of all disciples. John had a mother of his own, but Jesus is declaring His mother to have a maternal relationship with all His disciples. Thus, we all honor her as Mother. As the Theotokos herself sang, “Behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). Mary’s presence with the Apostles, as in the above verses, is thus a good portrait of the Church. 


By virtue of the Virgin’s perfect obedience and full communion with the Word of God made flesh within her womb, she made it possible for all her children in the church also to receive and bear God within themselves. This carrying of God who is spirit within each Christian occurs through the paradox of intimate contact with the material. ‘Take, eat; this is my body‘ (Matthew 26;26) can only have real meaning when God becomes touchable in the incarnation. Then, and only then, is it possible for St Symeon the New Theologian to say in his prayer before communion, ‘I partake of fire, being grass, and behold a strange wonder, I am unexpectedly refreshed as was the burning bush, burning but not consumed.‘ (Daniel Hinshaw, TOUCH AND THE HEALING OF THE WORLD, p 14)

Truly, He is risen!

Great and Holy Pascha (2022)

 Christ is risen! 


The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)


Early on in church history, liturgical celebrations did not try to recreate the life of Christ, and so Feasts were seen as celebrating the Lord Himself or all that Christ accomplished for our salvation rather than just one particular event in His life. The fifty days from Pascha to Pentecost were treated as one long Feast celebrating salvation in and through Christ. The Ascension was simply part of this one liturgical celebration. One can occasionally still encounter this idea in some of the hymns of these feasts that tie all of them together. (see for example my posts – Pentecost: The Fullness of the Feast of Feasts or Midfeast of Pentecost 2020). Only through the long centuries of history do we see the Church moving liturgically to treat each feast as a separate historical event or using the entire year to ‘re-enact’ the life of Christ rather than as a continual celebration of salvation. Look closely at the Apostolos reading for Pascha above from Acts 1. We read this lesson for Pascha, yet it references both Christ’s Ascension and resurrection. The 40 days referenced are being treated in the Church as one event in our salvation: the resurrection/ascension. Salvation in Christ ties all things together, it doesn’t separate them into unrelated events separated by historical time. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) We are so used to the ‘re-enactment’ of Christ’s life type thinking, that it is hard for us to imagine a time in which Christians didn’t think in this same way.


As we celebrate Pascha, Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we celebrate all that Christ did for our salvation, and thus as in every Orthodox Feast we celebrate Christ Himself. It is the very person of Christ who is our salvation: our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Who He is makes all the difference not only in the world but in heaven as well for our salvation is dependent on His being both God and human.

“Then Cyril [of Alexandria] adds the sentence, ’If he conquered as God, to us, it is nothing; but if he conquered as man, we conquered in Him. For he is to us the second Adam come from heaven according to the Scriptures.’ This is an extraordinary statement and to my knowledge unprecedented. Cyril asserts that Christ triumphed over death because of the kind of human being he was.” (Robert Louis Wilken, THE SPIRIT OF EARLY CHRISTIAN THOUGHT, p 121)


Christ changes everything in uniting divinity to humanity, earth to heaven, death to life, Creator to creation. His victory over death is attributed as much to His humanity as His divinity!

“The Resurrection destroys the world as a tomb and reveals it as Eucharist.

The Resurrection signifies the victory of life in its wholeness, over death and hell, and offers this victory to all.”   (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING, pp 119, 144)


Because both the resurrection and salvation affect all the created cosmos, even things in nature can witness to the resurrection. Even in ancient Jewish thinking we encounter this in a question that ponders why a prayer for the resurrection mentions rain:

… the Mishnah’s question as to why one refers to the falling of the rain in the blessing concerning the resurrection of the dead. That Talmud answers: ‘because it [rain] is equivalent to the resurrection of the dead’ (Babylonian Talmud, Ber 33A…).  In other words, just as rainfall awakens new life in the plant world, so will the dead be resurrected at the End of Days.   (Adolfo Roitman, ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE, p 100; see also my post The Bread In and Of the Kingdom)

For those with eyes to see, we can experience God’s Gospel all around us.

Shine! Shine! O new Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shone on you. Exult now and be glad, O Zion. Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the resurrection of your Son.

Indeed He is risen!

The Exodus and Eschatology


“This Moses whom they refused, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ God sent as both ruler and deliverer by the hand of the angel that appeared to him in the bush. He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up.’ (Acts 7:35-38)


By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the first-born might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land; but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. (Hebrews 11:24-29)


In the Orthodox Church today a small portion of the Exodus account found in the Bible is read during Holy Week and on Holy Saturday.   The Exodus narrative is being used to help prepare the catechumens for the sacraments of baptism and Communion which they will first experience on Holy Saturday. Thus, the catechumens enter into the Church by sharing in the salvation history of God’s people as recorded in the Scriptures.  Baptism and Communion are our ways of participating in all of God’s saving events in history and thus incorporating us into the people of God.  Roman Catholic scholar Jean Danielou writes:

The Old Testament gave us an eschatological interpretation of the Exodus, showing it to us as a type of the Messianic age. The New Testament proclaims that this typology has been fulfilled in Christ, who achieved the New Exodus foretold by the Prophets, by freeing men from the power of the Devil. The Fathers of the Church, while they uphold these two interpretations, are chiefly concerned to show that the Exodus is the type of those major factors in the life of the Church day by day, that is, the Sacraments, through which the power of God continues to achieve man’s redemption, typified by the Exodus, and accomplished by Jesus Christ. The Fathers first of all show that the passage of the Red Sea and the eating of the manna are the type of Baptism and the Eucharist received on the anniversary day of the departure from Egypt, and then go on to show how this interpretation widens to include all the events of the Exodus.


It is one of the most important themes of early typology that the crossing of the Red Sea is a type of Baptism, and this will be more easily understood when it is remembered that Baptism was administered during the night of Holy Saturday, in the framework, that is, of the Jewish feast which recalled the departure from Egypt. The parallel between the historical event of the departure from Egypt and the mystical rejection of sin by the passing through the baptismal font forces itself upon us. The Liturgical connection between the water of Baptism and the water of the Red Sea is not just fortuitous: we can only insist once more on what was said of the Flood; the significance of the baptismal water lies not in it being a rite of purification, but a rite of initiation. In any rite of initiation, there is always a certain ritual imitation of the historical event. Such was the case with Jewish baptism, which in the Christian era took the place of circumcision as the initiatory rite of proselytes to the Jewish faith. G. Foot-Moore writes: ‘this baptism was neither a real nor merely symbolic purification: it was essentially a rite of initiation.’ And the purpose of this initiation was to bring the proselyte through the same stages that the people of Israel had passed through at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Even Jewish baptism, then, was an imitation of the crossing of the Red Sea and the baptism of the desert (Exodus 14: 30).


We have seen that the New Testament certainly sees in the departure from Egypt a type of Baptism. St Paul tells the Jews that their fathers ‘were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized in the cloud and in the sea‘ (1 Corinthians 10:2-11), and the Gospel of Saint John shows us how the great events of the Exodus were types of the Christian sacraments.   (FROM SHADOW TO REALITY, pp 175-176)


This is the day of resurrection. Let us be illumined, O people. Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord. For from death to life and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us, as we sing the song of victory. (Ode 1 of the Paschal Canon)

Christ Died for the Ungodly


For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

St John Chrysostom comments on the generous love of Christ who dies for us sinners (since we cannot save ourselves from enslavement to sin and death) in order to save us from death.

Let us celebrate this greatest and most shining feast, in which the Lord has risen from the dead. Let us celebrate it with joy, and in equal measure with devotion. For the Lord has risen, and together with him he has raised the whole world. He has risen, because he has broken the bonds of death.


Adam sinned, and died. Christ did not sin; yet he died. This is strange and wondrous: the one sinned and died, the Other sinned not, yet he died. And why was this? So that by His aid Who did not sin, he might be freed from the grasp of death, who had sinned and died. So will it happen with regard to money. Oftentimes a man will owe a debt, and not having the means to pay, he is put in bonds. Another who owes no debt, and has the means to pay, will deliver him who is liable to punishment. So did it happen with Adam. Adam was a debtor, and was held in bonds by the devil. But he had not the means to pay his debt, period. Christ was not a debtor, nor was he under the power of the devil, but he had the means to pay this debt. He came, and for the one held prisoner by the devil suffered death, to deliver him.   (DAILY READINGS FROM THE WRITINGS OF ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, p 118)


For Chrysostom the issue is that we humans by sinning against God made ourselves slaves to Death. Christ who does not sin is freed from any claims Death might have over Him. When Death takes Christ, it has shown itself to be unjust and evil, an enemy of God. As Christ voluntarily submits Himself to death in order to destroy death, so too we are to die with Christ in order to share in the resurrection.

This is the basic pattern of Christian life: one has to die with Christ, to share in His death in order to rise with Him and to share in the new life, which, as it were, shines from the tomb of the crucified.   (Matthew Baker, ON THE TREE OF THE CROSS, p 159)

On Holy Friday we remember not just Christ’s suffering, but His victory over death. We remember His death because it is through His death that we all enter into eternal life. The goodness of Holy Friday is God’s victory over sin and death. We remember this event in order to participate in Christ’s death, to be united with Him in death so that we can be united with Him in His resurrection in which He tramples down death.


[A historical note about our liturgical celebration of Christ’s victory over death on Holy Friday. Today most Orthodox churches begin reading the passion Gospels on Thursday evening. Currently the practice is to read 12 passion Gospels in what is the Matins service of Holy Friday on Thursday evening. Matins is the sunrise service of the Church, and it is a little strange that in Holy Week Matins nowadays is served in the evening.  There is a ‘pious’ explanation for doing Matins in the evening which says this is done in ‘anticipation’, but surely this is a late explanation for something that was already being done.  Moving Matins to the evening before was probably done for pastoral reasons to allow people to attend since they wouldn’t be able to attend in the morning because of work but they might come in the evening. This is a big liturgical change of the church to move morning services to the evening and tells us that liturgical change is both possible and always ongoing in the Orthodox Church. They didn’t celebrate Matins (morning prayer) in the evening in ancient times as that wouldn’t make sense.  In any case because so many hymns repeat between Vespers and Matins it seems to make little difference which service people would attend as they would get basically the same theological content in the hymns.


Additionally, now twelve Gospel lessons are read for Holy Friday Matins, but this too changed through the centuries. Thomas Pott is his book, BYZANTINE LITURGICAL REFORM, notes that in past centuries the number of Gospel readings varied from century to century and in different regions of the world. He says, “… ‘the pure Constantinopolitan tradition had only a single, ordinary orthros, without the gospels, and which, as on all Fridays of Lent, had the office of … [Ter-sext] as the only office for the day. In Constantinople, as is indicated in the Typikon of the Great Church, the Presanctified Liturgy was celebrated on Holy Friday, just as on every Friday during Great Lent”(p 182). As Potts comments the more ancient practice was to do a regular Lenten matins on Holy Friday morning without any Gospel readings and then do a Presanctified Communion service in the evening. Having a Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Holy Friday is the older tradition which eventually gets dropped in practice and today’s Orthodox piety says it is wrong to have Communion on Holy Friday even though that was the practice in more ancient times.  What happens through the centuries is that the Greek love for dramas pushed the liturgical services of Holy Week to become more like a passion play in which the liturgical celebrants are re-enacting the events in Christ’s life. In ancient Christian Jerusalem, they could move the liturgical services around the city to what they thought were the actual locations where events in the Holy Friday narrative occurred. At each location they read the appropriate Gospel lesson not following the more ancient practice of doing the usual Matins (sunrise) and Vespers (sunset). They made the services of Holy Friday “special” for the day which then called for further liturgical changes.  While earlier in Christian history, Holy Friday was about Christ’s victory over death, eventually this gets replaced with a re-enactment theme, as if we are going through the events in Christ’s life in real time.  This changed the focus of Holy Friday from Christ’s victory to Christ’s suffering and made piety focus more on Christ’s human pain then on His cosmic victory. The idea was not to leap over Christ’s suffering to celebrate the victorious resurrection but the piety came to focus on the suffering of Christ (which then spread to the entirety of Lent) and with the faithful in some way participating in the suffering (for example through fasting, long services, making prostrations, and in more extreme cases various forms of self-flagellation.)


Originally, on Holy Friday they were simply doing the canonical daily matins in the morning and Vespers (with Communion) in the evening. The services became more complex and more a dramatic re-enactment of events as the centuries wear on. Potts reports that an early 11th Century document shows they read 11 Gospels, while the earliest known lectionaries (those of Armenia and Georgia) show 7 and 8 Gospel readings respectively (pp 174-175).  Liturgical practice changes through the centuries to meet pastoral needs, and really should continue to do so. There is no reason to assume that what Orthodox parishes are currently doing must always be done because what is currently done is a change from the more ancient practices. The Orthodox today can evaluate what their current pastoral needs are and how best to teach or evangelize people in the modern era by adapting to current needs. However, today many in Orthodoxy seem to prefer an almost monolithic liturgical conformity throughout the Orthodox world (but probably only if it conforms to what they are currently doing in their parish). Whereas the ancient Church had much more diversity in practice as can be seen in any history books about the development of the Orthodox liturgies. The unity of Orthodoxy is not in its liturgical conformity but is supposed to be in the members love for one another.]

The Bread Of and In the Kingdom 

Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God (Lk 14.15). 


Blessed are those who are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19.9). 

On Holy Thursday we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist by our Lord. St John of Damascus comments on the events of Holy Thursday and why they are essential to our salvation and relationship with God: 

Because we are composed of a dual nature, soul and body, we need a dual birth and dual nourishment. 

We receive our birth by means of water and Spirit, that is, by Holy Baptism. We find our nourishment in the bread of life, that is, in Jesus Christ himself. 


When the moment arrived for him to undergo death for us of his own free will, in the night in which he was to be handed over to his enemies, he established a new covenant with his disciples, and through them with all those who believe in him. 

He washed his disciples’ feet, offering in this a symbol of Holy Baptism. Then, breaking the bread, he gave it to them, saying: ‘Take and eat; This is my body which will be broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.’  In the same way he gave them the cup with the wine and the water, saying: ‘Drink, This is my blood. 

If sky, earth, water, iron and air have been created by the Word of God, so much more certainly this noble being called humanity has been formed by him. And if the Word himself became flesh by the pure blood of the Virgin, will he not be able to make the bread his body and the wine and water his blood? 


In the beginning, God said: ‘Let the earth bring forth green grass.‘ And so after that the earth, watered by the rain, in obedience to God’s command, brings forth its fruits. 

Then God said: ‘This is my body, this is my blood,’ adding: ‘Do this in memory of me.‘  After that, all the mystery takes place, thanks to his all-powerful Word, and proclaims its faith in the Lord. 

It is a new kind of planting. The rain comes down on it, that is to say, the power of the Spirit comes down, and overshadows it.   (DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, pp 335-336) 


[A side note: I find it more than a coincidence that John of Damascus mentions rain in this quote above as he begins to discuss the Eucharist, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Resurrection. The quote would be just as meaningful without reference to rain, so I think his mentioning rain is significant. Jewish scholar Adolfo Roitman writes that the Talmud calls rain a sign of the resurrection because in the spring, rainfall awakens the plant world to new life (ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE, p 100). The first few lines of Psalm 68 are famously sung at the Orthodox services for Pascha (the Resurrection, Easter): Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered. This Psalm too makes mention of rain:  

O God, when you went out before your people, 

when you marched through the wilderness, 

the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain 

at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, 

at the presence of God, the God of Israel. 

Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; 

you restored your heritage when it languished; 

your flock found a dwelling in it; 

in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

(Psalm 68:7-10) 


Rain is presented as a sign of God’s presence and goodness for it gives life and causes new growth to appear – it is both refreshing and renewing.]