Holy Friday (2018)

Holy Friday

God entered into the human condition in the incarnation – in Christ.  In Christ, God experienced sighing, sorrow, suffering and death. God takes on our human condition in order to redeem and transfigure it – not to help us escape it.  The beauty of the human condition is found in the fact that God can enter into it, as we are. God loves us in our frailty, in our fears and fragility. It is what makes us uniquely human and yet the very beings with whom God wishes to share his Divinity and to whom God gives eternal life.  In God dying on the cross we see the Divine work of creation accomplished – God sharing every aspect of our human existence. God redeems everything in our existence and shares even in our suffering and death so that we might share in His eternity. God’s death on the cross is not the defeat of humanity, but the accomplishment of God’s will that He be fully united to us.

It is finished!

We are much happier with our god in the heavens than with the man lying before us: “I do not know the man” (Matt. 26:72). We want a god who conforms to our expectations: an all powerful and all-knowing puppet-master, not one who confronts us as all-too-human, serving others, crying, dying.  Show us the Father, we ask, and it will be enough for us.  We yearn for a god who will lift us from our uncertainty, frailty, and fear, to see things from his lofty and implacable perspective, with all things in his providential control, all problems solved as if by magic.  

And in so doing, we ask to escape not only from our frailty, our suffering, and our tears, but also our joy and laughter – all the things that make up the particularly fragile beauty of human existence.

(Fr. John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, p. 64)

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Holy Friday (2017)

“Even though he was crucified in weakness, he lives through the power of God!” (2 Corinthians 13:4, EOB)

 

On many occasions in the Old Testament God appears to have human attributes, human emotions, human limits.  God takes the dust of the earth to fashion human beings and breathes into the dust of the earth to create life. God walks in the Garden of Eden. God is saddened by human evil and grieves over having created humans. And while we who have sophistication today realize God doesn’t have hands and feet and lungs nor eyes and ears, we also realize that all of these primitive anthropomorphic descriptions of the invisible, incomprehensible, and ineffable God, prepared us humans for the incarnation, when God in fact took on flesh and became human. Not just any human, but perfect human. He became what we are created to be.  And, as a human, our God takes upon Himself our mortal nature, dying on a cross for us.  Holy Friday is the day on which we contemplate God’s love for us.  God endures everything we have to endure in His creation, including suffering and death.  Divine Love knows no limits, descending not only to earth but into Hades itself to restore life to all.  With His death on the cross, God shows His love for us is complete, total and absolute.

It is finished!

Finally finished and finally completed.

Finished and completed: “Behold the man” (John 19:5), the true human being, the image of God, the one who loved us till the end, even if I do not know him and do not comprehend him.

Among the gods there is not like thee O Lord; neither are there any works like thy works (Ps. 86:8).

God’s ways are past our understanding, shattering every constraint that limits our feeble imagination.

Christ shows us his divinity, not in a superhuman–inhuman–manner, but as truly human, human in the end common to us all.

Put to death on the cross, he yet voluntarily laid down his life in love for us, showing us what it is to be God in the way that he dies as human, for us.

And so, for us mortals, he opens up the possibility to share in his life, to live the life of God himself.

If he had shown us what it is to be truly human in any other way, what part could I have had in it?

But by his death, his life lived for others, a path of sacrifice and service, in his love and compassion for us, he has shown us a more noble way still, beyond our self-aggrandizing aspirations and merely human projections. And this life has led, as it must to the grave; yet it is not bound by the tomb.”   (Fr John Behr, The Cross Stands while the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year, pp. 66-67)

God became human in order to die for us on the cross, to descend to the place of the dead in order to destroy death.  What we truly commemorate and celebrate on Holy Friday is not only the death of the Son of God, but the death of death itself.  God overthrows the tyranny which Death claimed over humanity.  

The River From Eden Yields the Four Gospels

“The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.  And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  . . .  Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;’but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:8-10, 15-17)

When I read Genesis 2, I do find Source Theory to be helpful in understanding the various currents of thoughts that make up the chapter.  Basically this theory in Biblical Scholarship says that some of the books of the Bible or chapters within a book show signs of having been written by different authors and then were placed together by an editor at some point in history.  It still is inspired Scripture and we receive the text as it is even if we can analyze it into its various parts.

So Genesis 2:8-10 begins the narration of the Garden which God planted in Eden (as we see in the opening text of this blog).  This narration flows perfectly from vs. 10, continuing in vs 15-17 as can be seen above.   Between vs. 10 and 15 verses 11-14 seem to completely disrupt the narrative with no direct connection to verses 8-10 or 15-17.     If you remove verses 11-14, you see verse 15 flows seamlessly from verse 10.  This fact is accounted for by Source theory:  vs 11-14 are in fact from a different hand/narrative but have been placed into the text and so now form our Scriptures.   Here are the verses 11-14:

“Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads.  The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.  And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.  The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush.  The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.” (Genesis 2:11-14)

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Perhaps the point of verses 11-14 is to give some geographical connection between Eden and earth occupied by those ancients who composed and edited the text.  In any case they don’t add to the narrative and in some ways defy a spiritual interpretation.  The Orthodox Church however makes very interesting use of those verses in a Holy Friday Matins hymn.

“From Your live-bearing side, O Christ, a fountain flows forth as from Eden, giving drink to Your Church as to a living Paradise.  From there it divided to become the four rivers of the Gospels, watering the world, gladdening creation, and teaching the nations to worship Your Kingdom in Faith.”  

In the above Holy Friday hymn, Genesis 2:11-14 and the river flowing from Paradise is connected to the wound made in Christ’s side when he hung dead upon the cross.  According to John 19:34, blood and water flowed from the side of Christ when He was pierced with the spear.  That Gospel verse is interpreted in the hymn in the light of Genesis 2:11-14.

In Genesis 2, the narrative of Adam in Paradise (vs. 8-10, 15-17) is interrupted by unexpected mention of this flowing river which originates in Eden and becomes the source of 4 other rivers (vs 11-14).  Such river bifurcation is fairly rare in nature but where it exists sometimes waters and forms an entire delta region, a fertile crescent as it were.   The life-giving nature of these deltas – giving birth to a rich abundance of wildlife is used in the imagery of the hymn above.  But now in the hymn, Christ’s pierced side, like the Garden of Paradise, becomes the source of the life-giving river which in turn is the riverhead of the four rivers which are the Gospels watering the world.  The fourfold Gospels flow from the side of Christ bringing Good News to all nations.  The imagery is rich indeed and makes a very creative use of what might otherwise be seen as an odd anomaly interrupting the flow of Scripture.  The flow of the river from the Garden of Eden which is the riverhead of 4 other rivers helps us appreciate  the depth of the Gospel verse mentioning the flow of blood from the side of the crucified Christ.

Holy Friday 2016

On Great and Holy Friday, we encounter Christ our Lord,  as our servant, bearing our abuses, carrying out all the work needed for our salvation.  He humbles Himself to serve us and save us.  On Holy Friday we stand in awe of the God of humility and suffering, whose love knows no bounds.  Poet Scott Cairns expresses our understanding so well:

“Bearing our curse, becoming sin,

You loose us from both the burden

of the law and from our lawlessness.

 

You bruise the serpent’s head,

and snatch us from its grip. You open

the way to resurrection, shattering

the gates of hell, You slay the one

who held death’s power, give comfort

to those who honor You. You give the holy cross

by which our enemy is slain, by which

our life returns to us abundantly.”

(Scott Cairns,  Love’s Immensity, pp 31-32)

We should feel unsettled by the Cross – it is the price God pays to have us be with Him.  It represents a depth of love which is hard to imagine.  It reveals God to us in the most mysterious way.  The cross of Christ reminds us of this truth, expressed by St. Theophan the Recluse :

“There is but one road to the kingdom of God – a cross, voluntary or involuntary.” (in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, p 231)

Previous: Holy Thursday 2016

Next:  Holy Saturday 2016

Holy Friday (2015)

On Holy Friday, God’s plan for the salvation of the world is revealed. The mystery hidden from all eternity comes to light. And we see how God’s ways are not our ways.   St. Paul in his letter to the Romans shows how unlike the Roman Empire is God’s plan and Kingdom in dealing with enemies. The Roman Empire was the model of overwhelming government and military power to whom everyone had to submit.   The Empire was merciless to its enemies.   St. Paul in his letter to the Romans shows how God’s Kingdom is not of this world – for God deal with His enemies by dying on the cross for them.

“[St. Paul’s Letter to the] Romans holds up the promise of reconciliation with those it has cast as unrighteous. In distinction to the Roman ideology of violence where the impious are conquered and vanquished by the divinely established Romans, Paul invokes the image of the Son who gives his life for the ungodly (5.6–9). There is no war to win peace, but a death for all. Jesus, though ‘righteous’, dies for ‘sinners’ (5.8). Salvation from the wrath of God is not through obedience to laws and decrees, nor a pacifying war or threat of violence, but through the reconciling death of Jesus (5.8–9). … in Romans Paul places before his listeners’ eyes the image of self-sacrifice. Jesus gave himself unto death for others ‘while we were enemies’ (Rom. 5.10).   . . .

Paul’s model of reconciliation inserts itself into such notions of the noble death. Christ dies for enemies, and gives himself though without fault to die for sinners, that they might be free from the bondage of sin and death. The strong giving himself for the weak, the righteous for the sinner, invokes again the reversal of normal expectations of the vanquished seeking reconciliation with the triumphant. Paul’s paradoxical motif of reconciliation reverses this honorific code and as such belongs to the other paradoxical notions of a defeat as triumph explored above. The peace that Jesus offers is not then the violent peace of Rome, but a peace based on grace and divine self-giving. Here, again, iconography is important. The force of the reversal Paul invokes gains its force from a clear view Paul can assume his listeners know from the signs of imperial presence all around them: pictures of the violent pacification of Rome’s enemies as a sign of the blessing of the gods.”   (Harry Maier, Picturing Paul in Empire: Imperial Image, Text and Persuasion in Colossians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles, Kindle Location 1979-1988 and1999-2006)

Even today people believe in military power as the only way to establish peace on earth. The Islamic State for example believes peace on earth is only possible when Islam has militarily conquered the rest of the world and established one world government – an Islamic state.  And some Americans as well seem to think our nation’s greatness lies only in its military strength.   Christianity on the other hand can point to the reality of its own history and how it conquered the seemingly all-powerful Roman Empire with the invincible weapon of the Cross.   There is a warfare which is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This is the victory which Christ secures on the cross. Christ testifies against those whose way is evil, which is why they hate Him (John 7:7) despite His love for them.   Christ willingly dies for the sins of those who make God their enemy (Romans 5:10), and He dies to save even these enemies from both sin and death.

Repentance, prayer and fasting were the weapons of the early Church against the military might of the Roman Empire. Will we use them again in the world to defeat present day evil?   The victory we so need in the world is Christ’s, who has the power to overcome worldly powers as well as the powers of darkness.

Christ Humbles Himself

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:4-11)

The Lamb whom Isaiah proclaimed goes willingly to the slaughter.

He gives His back to scourging, His cheeks to buffeting.

He does not turn His face from the shame of spitting.

He is condemned to a shameful death.

He who is sinless willingly submits to all, to grant to all the resurrection from the dead.

(Matins hymn of Holy Thursday)

The Suffering of Christ and the God Who Humbles Himself

“Instead of a mighty earthly Prince expected by the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth came, ‘meek and lowly in heart.’  The King of Heaven, the King of Kings Himself, came down, the King of Glory, yet under the form of a Servant.  And not to dominate, but to serve all those ‘that labor and area heavy laden,’ and to give them rest.”   (Georges Florovsky, CREATION AND REDEMPTION, p 13)

On Holy Friday we contemplate the mystery of God’s love, power, and judgment as revealed in Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, dying on the cross.  What is God’s response to human sin?  Judgment?  Yes, but it is He who is judged and sentenced to the cross.  His judgment for humanity is mercy: He will die for our sins.   What is God’s power?  His humility in taking upon Himself the sin of the world.  What is God’s love?  His willingness to enter into creation (that which by definition is “not God”) in order to save it by uniting Himself to it and dying for it.   New Testament Professor L. Ann Jervis, commenting on 1 Thessalonians, says:

“Paul does not flesh out the nature of Christ’s afflictions as they relate to believers’ afflictions, but indications in this letter are that Paul understood the sufferings of Christ to be related positively to the birthing of the new age. For one thing, Paul chooses the word θλίψιϛ to describe both Christ’s and believers’ suffering. This word was used for a woman’s birth pangs (e.g. John 16:21) Passages in Jewish writings (e.g. 1 Enoch 62:4; 4 Ezra 4:42) and in Paul (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:3; Rom. 8:22) use the image of birthing to describe the emergence of the day of the Lord. Given the eschatological ring of Paul’s initial proclamation to the Thessalonians as he records it in this letter (1:9-10), Paul may have understood Christ’s afflictions as the pangs required to bring forth God’s new age. Those who imitate Christ share in these birth pangs. Therefore, while the good news promises eternal life (4:14-17;5:10) and escape from the wrath to come (1:10, 5:9), it also requires that now believers wait (1:10). And, in the waiting is suffering, for we are waiting for the full emergence of the new age. We are in the throes of θλίψιϛ, of giving birth. Just as Jesus’ suffering contributed to the birth of the new age, so does the suffering of believers. Intimations from 1 Thessalonians, then, are that believers’ suffering is an aspect of our participation in God’s work of bringing forth the new age. Believers share in the birthing process initiated by Jesus, and so know afflictions. ” (At the Heart of the Gospel, pp. 18-19)

The real importance of Holy Friday is that this is one of the persons of the Holy Trinity dying on the cross.   God is love and this truth is most revealed in His willingness to suffer and die for His creatures.  Biblical Scholar Michael Gorman in his profound book, INHABITING THE CRUCIFORM GOD (pp 13-33) lays out for us the theology of the crucifixion and what it reveals about the God of love who suffers in order to save His dying creation:

“The preexistent Christ’s self-emptying, self-lowering incarnation/enslavement finds a parallel action in the human Jesus’ self-humbling, self-lowering obedience to the point of death by crucifixion.  The fundamental character of the actions taken by the ‘form of God’ and the ‘form of a slave,’ by the preexistent one and the incarnate one, is the same: downward  movement.”  (p 17)

“The phrase ‘emptied himself’ in (Philippians) 2:7 . . . a robust metaphor for total self-abandonment and self-giving… That is, he ‘poured himself out,’ probably an echo of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53:12).” (p 21)

“The divine one emptied himself by becoming a slave, becoming human.  So, too, the human one humbled himself by becoming obedient to death.” (p 22)

“That is, Christ’s divinity, and thus divinity itself, is being narratively defined as kenotic and cruciform in character.  The text ‘subverts and even lampoons how millions within the Roman Empire took it for granted that somebody with the ‘form of God’ should act.  Phil 2:6-8 narrates the counterintuitive kenotic and cruciform identity of God displayed in Christ.”  (pp 25-26)

“… 1 Cor 1:18-25.  There Paul argues that Christ crucified is the counterintuitive reality of divine wisdom and power, that the cross is in fact theophanic—is the essential attribute of God while at the same time, paradoxically, being the expression of divine freedom…”   (p 27)

“But is it really the case that Christ’s self-emptying or humility hides his divinity?  Is it not rather Paul’s point that the humility of incarnation and cross reveals the divine majesty, like a transparent curtain?” (p 28)

“… render Phil 2:6a as ‘precisely because’ Christ Jesus was in the form of God and equal with God, he emptied himself…”  (p 29)

“… it indicates that God has publicly vindicated and recognized Jesus’ self-emptying and self-humbling as the display of true divinity that he already had, and that makes the worship of Jesus as Lord (i.e., YHWH, the God of Israel) perfectly appropriate.

Jesus’ exaltation is not the divine reward for his incarnation and death as God’s suffering servant (as this text is normally interpreted), but divine recognition that his suffering-servant behavior is in fact truly ‘lordly,’ even godly behavior.”  (pp 30-31)

“It turns out that God who is sovereign but also condescending in compassion (Isa 57:14-21) has been manifested in the career of the servant.  . . . The identifying characteristic of this Isaianic eternal and sovereign Lord is, henceforth, kenotic servanthood.  . . . Christ displays not only true divine but also true humanity.  Unlike Adam, he does not exploit his status as God’s image-bearer or disobey God the Father.”  (p 31)

“… a community that lives ‘in Christ’ (Phil 2:1-5) will be shaped like the story of Christ narrated in 2:6-8.  Such a community does not simply remember and imitate a story; rather, it experiences the present activity of Father, son and spirit mention in 2:1-13).”  (p 32)

“… the cross is the signature of the Eternal One.  Any other understandings of God are henceforth rendered either incomplete or idolatrous.   …. Thus if the cross is theophanic, God must be understood as essentially cruciform.”  (p 33)

 

A Walk Through Holy Week (II)

[This is the continuation and conclusion of A Walk Through Holy Week (2013).]

The path to salvation for the ancient Israelites included sacrifice and redemption.  So too Christ’s real torture, suffering and death are for us the spiritual path of salvation.  His death on the Cross is not the result only of our sin, but also is the sign of God’s total love for us.  His death on the cross accomplishes far more than the forgiveness of our sins.  St. John Chrysostom tells us:

 “What profit came from that death on the cross?  These are the blessings it achieved: evil was destroyed, the wounds of the soul were set right by a wondrous cure and a healing beyond belief.  See how Isaiah foretold that when he said: ‘We had all gone astray like sheep.  Man had wandered in his way. The chastisement of our peace was upon him.  By his bruises we are all healed.’”  (APOLOGIST , TFOTC: Vol 73, p 206)

St. Gregory Nanzianzen (d. 391AD) offers us in his poetry an understanding of what motivates God to offer His Son in sacrifice, and what Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection:

“You descend into the valley of the dead and to the gates of darkness desiring to illuminate and shine upon the [human] race,

To raise Adam, the father of mortals, for whose sake you assumed and carried the image of the mortal.

You descend into a deep and gloomy darkness of Hades,

Having accepted death from enemies and having left your Mother sorrowful.  But the good will of the Father will slay you In order to bring salvation to others.

It was the Father’s goodness that brought you to death.

O bitter mourning! The earth receives you, O Child, when you descend to the dark gates of Hades in order to pierce Hades by the sharpest arrow.

For you descend there alone in order to take the dead [with you] and not in order to be taken by the dead

And to order to liberate all, for you alone are free.”  (in Hilarion Alfeyev’s CHRIST THE CONQUEROR OF HELL, p 61)

Christ descended into the place of the dead (Hades, Sheol) like Moses descended into Egypt to free those held captive and enslaved.  (see also Fr. Ted’s blog, Great And Holy Saturday  2010).  Christ came from heaven and was incarnate on earth precisely to go to the place of the dead and to destroy the power of sin, death, Hades, and Satan.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 387AD) offers an insight into how Christ’s descent into Hades was experienced by those enslaved to death:

“Speaking to all those who had been in chains since the beginning of the world, Adam spoke thus: ‘I hear the steps of  one coming toward us!’ And as he spoke, the Lord entered, bearing the victorious weapon of the cross… And having taken hold of his hand he said to him: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light (Eph 5:14).  I am your God, and for your sake I became your son.  Arise, you who were sleeping, for I did not create you to remain bound in hell.  Having arisen from the dead, I am the Life of the dead… Arise and let us depart from here, from death to life, from corruption to immortality, from darkness to eternal life…”  (quoted in Michel Quenot’s THE RESURRECTION AND THE ICON, p 77)

Many of the historical events recorded in the Old Testament were interpreted by the Christians to prefigure the events in the life of Christ and the salvation which He won for all of us.  Thus the Old Testament readings for Holy Saturday are best understood when they are seen to prefigure and prophesy the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  This way of reading the Scriptures began among the Jews themselves before Christ and continued to be the way the authors of the New Testament and the Patristic writers interpreted the Scriptures of Israel.   The Vespers-Liturgy of Holy Saturday morning is replete with such prototypical lessons from the Old Testament.

“The symbols of the Cross so far considered all had some reference to its shape.  There is another group which refers to the material, in which the symbolism is that of wood, and the truth expressed is still the power and virtue of the Cross.  In this group, wood is generally associated with water, so that the context appears to be a sacramental one, water constituting the matter of the sacrament, wood symbolizing the divine power communicated to it.  Since, therefore, it is the power of the Cross which acts through the water and communicates to it the power of effecting the divine operations, writers single out those cases where wood appears to be endowed with a special efficacy.

Here once again the Old Testament provides the first series of testimonia.  Thus the author of Barnabus writes: ‘Let us enquire whether the Lord took care to signify beforehand concerning the water and the Cross’ (XI,1), and gives as an example Ps. 1:3: ‘the tree that is planted by the streams of waters.’ He continues: ‘Ye perceive how He pointed out the water and the Cross at the same time. . . . Blessed are they that have set their hope on the Cross, and go down into the water’ (XI,8).   The same quotation is given by Justin (Dial. LXXXVI, 4) in a group of  testimonia. . . .

Justin give a collection of testimonia relating to wood: the Tree of Life in Paradise; the staff of Moses which divides the waters of the Red Sea, makes water spring from the rock, and sweetens the bitter waters of Mara; the staves thrown by Jacob into the water ducts; Jacob’s ladder; the blossoming rod of Aaron; the stem of Jesse; the oak of Mamre; the seventy willow trees that the people find near the twelve springs after crossing the Jordan; the rod and staff which ‘comfort David’ in Ps. 22:4; the staff which designates Judah; the wood of the axe thrown into the Jordan;  Justin follows up the last example with an allusion to Christ’s ‘being crucified on the tree and sanctifying us by water’ (Dial. LXXXVI, 1-6).  Finally, in a latter passage he adds the combination of the wood of the Ark and the Deluge: ‘Christians have been begotten anew (of Christ) by water and faith and wood, which contained the mystery of the Cross, even as Noah also was saved by the wood of the Ark when he was borne upon the waters’ (Dial CXXXVIII, 2).” (Jean Danielou, THE THEOLOGY OF JEWISH CHRISTIANITY,  pp 276-277)

On Holy Saturday the 15 Old Testament texts read in the Vespers-Liturgy remind us of all of these symbols and metaphors which the earliest Christians saw when they read the Scriptures.  The symbols and metaphors of the Old Testament help us to understand the reception of the catechumens into the Church on this day.  St. John Chrysostom addresses the newly baptized Christians of Holy Week in his day this way:

“Before yesterday you were captives, but now you are free and citizens of the Church; lately you lived in the shame of your sins, but now you live in freedom and righteousness.  You are not only free, but also holy; not only holy, but also righteous; not only righteous, but also sons; not only sons, but also brothers and sisters of Christ; not only brothers and sisters of Christ, but also joint heirs; not only joint heirs, but also members; not only members, but also the temple; not only the temple, but also instruments of the Spirit.”  (Theodore Stylianapoloulos, ENCOURAGED BY THE SCRIPTURES, p 118)

This blog series is now available as a PDF at  A Walk Through Holy Week (PDF).

You will be able to find all 2013 Holy Week related blogs at Holy Week 2013 (PDF) when it is available.

You can find links to all other Holy Week, Great Lent and Pascha blogs at Fr. Ted’s Blogs as PDFs.

Mary the Mother of Life

In John 19:26, Jesus dying on the cross sees together Mary, his mother, and John, His beloved disciple.   Jesus addresses Mary, his mother (Greek: metera, metri), with the words, “Woman (Gr: gunai), behold your son” (referring to John).  He then says to John, “Behold your mother (Greek:  meter).”

It is interesting to consider whether Jesus had in mind (or perhaps John the Evangelist understood the event) as bestowing a particular status on Mary and the Church.

Mary is contemplating her son, Jesus, dying on the cross.  Jesus tells her John is her son. Was Jesus “transferring” sonship to His disciple(s)?  Did He want Mary to grow in her understanding that He, Jesus, was being exalted as her Lord, and that now her sons would be those born of His death on the cross?   Did Jesus want John to understand that a new relationship was emerging from His death in which the disciples would have a new mother – Mary, now the symbol of the church?

The Greek word Jesus uses to refer to His mother – gunai – might well harken our attention back to the Book of Genesis and the creation/formation of Eve.  Adam calls the woman God made “gune” (Genesis 2:23) when God introduces her to him.  Then in Genesis 3:21 when Adam speaks her name, Eve, for the first time, this woman (gunaikos)   – Adam’s wife (!) – is declared to be the mother (meter) of all those who live.

Mary’s role at the crucifixion is changing from mere mother of Jesus, to symbolically becoming the bride/wife of the Crucified Lord and so she is being born, as is the Church from the side of Christ, as mother of all of God’s children, namely all Christians/disciples.  (Just as Eve came into being from Adam’s side).   Perhaps John has in mind (since themes from the Genesis creation story seem to pervade his Gospel) that Mary as the new Eve is the mother of all living.

For in Christ, life is given to all, and so Mary the Theotokos is called rightfully the mother of life.

“Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not only present at the cross in the Johannine narrative, she is addressed by Jesus.  She is called ‘woman’ only here (John 19:26-27) and in John’s account of the wedding feast at Cana (2:4).  This is the name given to Eve in Genesis when she is designated ‘the mother of all the living (Gen 3:20).”  (Roland Faley, “The Paschal Mystery: Reflections on John and Paul,”  THE BIBLE TODAY, March/April 2012, p 108).