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Treasures of the Fathers: The Day of Good Friday of the Holy Pascha

"Why The Cross?"

But if any honest Christian wants to know why He suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good.

He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and how could He "become a curse," [Gal. 3:13] otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written, "Cursed is he that hangs on a tree." [Gal. 3:13]

Again, the Lord’s death is the ransom of all, and by His death "the middle wall of partition" [Eph. 2:14] is broken down, and the calling of the nations is comes about. How could He have called us to Him, if He had not been crucified? For it is only on the cross that a man dies with His arms outstretched.

Here again, we see the fitness of His death and of those outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself.

Even so, He foretold the manner of His redeeming death. "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Myself." [John 12:32] Again the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race, who having fallen from heaven, endeavors with the other evil spirits who shared in his disobedience both to keep souls from the truth and to hinder the progress of those who are trying to follow it.

The Apostle refers to this when he says: "According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience." [Eph. 2:2] But the Lord came to overthrow the devil, to purify the air and to prepare "a way" for us up to heaven, as the apostle says, "through the veil, that is to say, His flesh." [Heb. 10:20].

This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, than by a death in the air, that is, on the cross? Here again, you see how right and natural it was that the Lord should suffer for us; for being thus "lifted up," He cleansed the air from all the evil influences of the enemy.

"I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven;" [Luke 10:18] He says; and thus He re-opened the road to heaven, saying again, "Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors." [Psalm 24:7] For it was not the Word Himself Who needed an opening of the gates, He being Lord of all, nor was any of His works closed to their Maker. No, it was we that needed it, we whom He Himself carried up in His own body–that body which He first offered to death on behalf of all, and then made through it a path to heaven.

Paul knew of [Him when] he said to the Corinthians, "I determined not to know anything among yon save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Wherefore, formerly [the disciples] proclaimed Jesus as the doer of certain things, and the teacher of certain things; but now when Peter confesses that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God, as He did not wish it to be proclaimed already that He was the Christ, in order that He might be proclaimed at a more suitable time, and that as crucified, He commands His disciples that they should tell no man that He was the Christ. And that this was His meaning, when He forbade proclamation to be made that He was the Christ, is in a measure established by the words, "From that time began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders," and what is annexed; for then, at the fitting time, He proclaims, so to speak, to the disciples who knew that Jesus was Christ, the Son of the living God, the Fr. having revealed it to them, that instead of believing in Jesus Christ who had been crucified, they were to believe in Jesus Christ who was about to be crucified.

But also, instead of believing in Christ Jesus and Him risen from the dead, He teaches them to believe in Christ Jesus and Him about to be risen from the dead. But since "having put off from Himself the principalities and the powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over in the cross," if any one is ashamed of the cross of Christ, he is ashamed of the dispensation on account of which these powers were triumphed over; and it is fitting that he, who both believes and knows these things, should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which, when Christ was crucified, the principalities–among which, I think, was also the prince of this world–were made a show of and triumphed over before the believing world. Wherefore, when His suffering was at hand he said, "Now the prince of this world has been judged," and, "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out," and, "I, if I be lifted from the earth, will draw all men unto Myself; " as he no longer had sufficient power to prevent those going to Jesus who were being drawn by Him.

+ Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, §25

Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

April 9, 2009