In the beginning of the month of April, the Church is preparing for Holy Passion Week. The Church actually sees in the sufferings of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the mystery of Her joy and happiness. Although we pray with a melancholy tune during Pascha Week, yet our hearts are exulted as we follow the Passion of the Savior, since we see the power and love of our Good Savior in His pain. Through the sufferings of our Good Savior, we see our salvation. In the pains of our Good Savior, we see our glory and our portion in the inheritance, which has been prepared for us in eternity. By His own will, and because of His love for us, Christ suffered for us .
Passion Week is the week of praises. The Church prepared a doxology, which we say during every hour of the Holy Pascha. It is through this doxology that the Church teaches us to glorify the Passion of Christ, and not lament Him. During Pascha Week, we live with Christ His holy sufferings event by event and moment by moment. We remember the stages of His many tribulations and glorify Him saying, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, the majesty forever. Amen. Emmanuel our God and our King. Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, the majesty forever. Amen. My Lord Jesus Christ. Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, the majesty forever. Amen.” During our journey with Christ through His Passion, we remember on the eleventh hour of Tuesday of Holy Pascha the plot of the chief priests and elders of the people to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him (Matt. 26: 3-4). Therefore, we add to the doxology “My Good Savior”. We also chant the hymn of “Pekethronos”, (i.e. “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever”). On the Eve of Great Friday, we add to the doxology the following, “The Lord is my strength, my praise, and has become my salvation”.
During the Holy Pascha Week, we simultaneously see in front of us the suffering Christ, as well as the Powerful Christ. In human terms, suffering and power are contradictory states, since the suffering person is in a state of weakness. As for Christ, the incarnate God, He suffered while He was in a state of power. For Christ the road of affliction was the road to glory, power, and dominion. Christ, our suffering Lord, reigned on a wood (Ps. 95). In the journey of Holy Passion Week, the Church puts in front of us the icon of Christ Who is suffering, and is powerful at the same time.
The Suffering Christ
The path of suffering started for Christ our Lord since His birth not just with Passion Week. The prophet Isaiah said of Christ, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Is. 53:3) Christ was born in a manger because St. Joseph the righteous and the Holy Virgin Mary had no room in the house (Luke 2: 7). On the day of His birth, He suffered from the bitter winter cold. Then He endured Herod’s chase and escaped to Egypt as a small child. He lived as a poor man and had no place to lay His head (Matt. 8: 20). He endured weariness (John 4: 6), hunger (Matt. 4: 2), and thirst (John 4: 7 & John 19:28). He faced the Jews’ rejection, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1: 11), thus fulfilling the prophecy which said, “I am, the beloved, rejected as a despised dead man.” (Ps. 27:21) He endured criticism and insults; they said of Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8: 48) They accused Him that by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons, He casts out demons (Matt. 12: 24), that He broke the Sabbath (John 5: 16), that He was a glutton and winebiber (Luke 7: 34), a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 11: 19), that He blasphemes (Matt. 9: 3), that He stirs up the people and perverts the nation (Luke 23: 5, 2), and that He forbids paying taxes to Caesar (Luke 23: 2). Even after His crucifixion, they said that He was “a deceiver” (Matt. 27: 63-64). Christ endured being striped, beaten, slapped, and spit on, as well as ridiculed. Finally, He endured the cross and they crucified Him with two thieves. It was a long journey, full of different forms of suffering, characterized by the following:
1. Christ endured suffering by His own will:
Christ was not forced to endure suffering; He did that of His own will. When Christ our Lord talked about giving Himself up for us, His sheep, He said, “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:18)
2. He endured suffering because of His love for us:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3: 16) “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4: 10)
3. He endured sufferings with joy:
Christ our Lord accepted suffering by His own will and because of His love for us. By His life-giving sufferings, He saved us and gave us life. For Christ, the Cross was the cause of happiness and joy, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12: 2)
4. By His suffering, Christ changed the meaning of suffering:
The Passion of Christ made us see our suffering with Christ as a gift given to us, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Phil. 1: 29) The road of suffering became for us the road to glory, “if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Rom. 8: 17) Christ suffered for our sake and granted us the opportunity to suffer with Him so we may be glorified with Him.
The Powerful Christ
As we follow the journey of Christ’s Passion, we see Him suffering not because of weakness, but we see Him powerful and stronger than those who crucified and tormented Him. As a proof of this fact, let us look at Christ’s power through the events of the crucifixion:
1. Christ knew the hour at which He will be arrested and told His disciples, “The hour has come; behold the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”(Mark 14: 41-42) Although Christ knew the hour of His arrest, He did not flee. Instead, He went to meet those coming to arrest Him, “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, ‘I am He’, they drew back and fell to the ground. Then He asked them again, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way.’ That the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.” (John 18: 4-9) Christ, the powerful One, went out to the troops and officers carrying weapons (John 18: 3). He went to them by Himself, fully aware all that will happen to Him. Although they brought along Judas to identify Him for them, Christ revealed His identity to them. So, what happened? They drew back and fell to the ground. Infront of the power of Christ, the soldiers carrying the weapons fell. Christ neither escaped nor punished them. Instead, by the power of His meekness and humility, He allowed them to arrest Him. Christ was strong at the moment of His arrest and protected His disciples so none of them would be lost. Christ, the powerful One, refused the protection of the disciples for Him. When Peter, who was full of zeal, struck and cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus, Christ told him, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Fr. has given me?” (Luke 22: 51) Christ, the powerful One, did not ask for fire from heaven to come down and destroy His enemies, nor did He ask for twelve legions of angels to protect Him, but He has trodden the winepress alone.
2. Christ was strong during His trial: Christ remained silent in front of the chief priests, the elders, and all the council who were seeking false testimony against Him in order to kill Him (Matt. 26: 63). The high priest asked Him if He was the Christ, the Son of God. Christ answered him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think? They answered and said, ‘He is deserving death.” (Matt. 26: 63-66) Christ the powerful One remained silent and when He spoke, He witnessed to His glory and might, telling the high priest, “hereafter, you will see the Son of Man.” Indeed, Christ’s power was revealed at the time of His crucifixion. In front of Pilate, Christ remained silent and did not respond to what the chief priests were accusing Him of, so that Pilate was amazed (Mark 15: 3-5). When Pilate asked Christ, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33), Christ answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18: 37). When Pilate told Christ, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Christ answered him, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19: 10-11)
3. Christ on the Cross revealed His power when He forgave those who crucified Him; He said, “Fr., forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23: 34) He led the thief on His right hand to believe in Him (Luke 23: 39-43) and He was concerned with the care of His mother, the Holy Virgin St. Mary (John 19: 26-27). When Christ yielded His spirit, the veil of the temple was torn, the earth quaked, the rocks were split, the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised (Matt. 27: 51-52) This caused the centurion and those with him to believe in Christ, “So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matt. 27: 54)
4. The death of Christ on the Cross freed mankind from bondage to Satan, released those captives in Hades who remained on hope (Eph. 4: 9&10) and opened the gates of Paradise to mankind.
During the journey of Holy Pascha Week, we praise our suffering Christ and glorify our powerful Christ saying, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, the majesty forever.” May our Lord, Who accepted suffering for our sake by His own will and defeated death, grant us the grace to experience sharing His suffering, so we may share His glory. May we always feel His power, which protects us and guards us. To Him is due all glory forever. Amen.