Homily On Holy Friday

by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

Given in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra In 1816

For God so loved the world (John 3:16)

"Is this the time to speak about love?" perhaps some will ask. "Now when the fruit of enmity has ripened in the vineyard of the Beloved; and when the earth trembles with fear and hearts of stone are broken, and the eye of Heaven is darkened with displeasure? Should one speak about love for the world, now when the Son of God is suffering in the world, left without comfort, and His prayerful cry, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Matt. 27:46) goes unanswered by the Father?"

True, O Christian! This is a day of enmity and fear, a day of anger and vengeance. If this is so, however, what will be our fate when the earth beneath us is no longer firm and the heavens above us no longer peaceful? Where can one flee from the quaking earth? How can one escape the threatening Heaven?

Look more carefully at Golgotha and there where the focal point of all misfortune is seen, you will find refuge. There, where the earth shook and was made to tremble and the foundations of the mountains were troubled and were shaken, because God was angry with them (Ps. 17:8), do you not see how firmly stands the unrooted wood of the Cross?

Even though they tried to detract from the very glory of the Saviour: "He saved others; Himself he cannot save"; from the very worthiness of the Son of God: "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross"; and from the very goodness of believing in them: "Let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him," do you not see how peacefully the Crucified One rests on His cross, there, where the dead do not rest in their graves?

So, let us establish in our hearts this truth, strange and fearful for the world but joyful for believers: in all the world there is nothing more firm than the Cross and more sure than the Crucified. For this reason the horror of Golgotha was spread across the whole world, so that we, seeing safety nowhere, would flee directly to Golgotha, and lie prostrate at its foot, hidden in the wounds and immersed in the sufferings of the crucified Saviour.

0 sun! What reason is there for you to hide your face from Him at midday, when the great work of darkness has already reached its midnight in your light, and when the eyes of the All-seeing One, ten thousand times brighter than your light, even in darkness see the disgrace of deicide ever so clearly? So! In your very displeasure was fashioned our instruction. You hurried to complete the visible day of enmity and wrath in order to lead us to the noetic day of love and mercy, illumined by the never setting Light of the triple-sunned Divinity.

Christian! Let darkness cover the earth! Let gloom cover the nations! Rise up from fear and confusion! Rejoice with faith and hope!

Your light will pass through the darkness. Pass through by the way where the torn curtain reveals to you the mysteries. Enter into the inner sanctuary of the sufferings of Jesus, leave behind you the outer courtyard, given to the unbelievers to trod upon. What is there? Nothing but the holy and blessed love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for the sinner and the cursed race of man.

Love of the Father - which crucifies. Love of the Son - which is crucified. Love of the Spirit - triumphant through the power of the Cross.

For God so loved the world!

Concerning such love, O Christian, allow me to be somewhat silent before you; for it is not even possible to describe it, since even the very Word of God, in order to perfectly express it, became silent on the Cross. Let this Word, and this Love grant us to be silent, and attend to this silence [of Christ on the Cross] like a mother's children together with her heart and her words can be silent and understand this silence [of love].

So then, who crucified the Son of God?

The soldiers? They were merely instruments of torture, such as the cross and the nails.

Pilate? It seems that he exhausted all means of protecting the Righteous One, and he solemnly expressed his opposition to the shedding of His blood: he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying 1 am innocent of the blood of this just person (Matt. 27:24).

The people? How could they seek the death of Him, Whom they attempted to enthrone?

The high priests? The elders? The Pharisees? They acknowledged that they had no power over anyone's life: It is not lawful for us to put any man to death (John 18:31).

The traitor? He has already testified in the Temple that he betrayed the innocent blood (Matt. 27:4). The prince of darkness? He could not even harm Job. Now he himself is condemned and driven out.

But, who better than the Crucified One can know who are the crucifiers? What, then, does He say? They know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

Caiaphas touched upon the true cause of this matter when he said, It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people; however this spake he not of himself; but being high priest that year (John 11:50,51). He sounded forth like the cymbal which was to be rung for the Temple, even though he himself did not understand his own proclamation. In such a manner, that which they did not want, could not do and did not understand, was accomplished before the whole world by those very people who did not want it, could not do it and did not understand it.

This does not mean, however, that no one was guilty of the killing of the Innocent One! No! Who could not understand, if only he desired, what even the accursed Judas understood and declared? However, had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (I Cor. 2:8).

We must point out here what an insignificant web the interlacing of these visible causes wove, which eventually led to the event at Golgotha. Why were not the first threads of this web scattered, either from the breath of God's wrath or from the wind of human vanity? Who captured the Lion of Judah with this web? How was it accomplished, that which they did not want, could not do, and did not understand, and which was so easy to understand and avert?

No! The revilers at Golgotha did not know what they were saying and the crucifiers likewise did not know what they were doing. In fact, it was not the people who reviled the greatness of God. Divine Providence was smiling knowingly at the rebelliousness of mankind, without violating its freedom, making it serve His supreme Wisdom. Evil servants did not outwit the Lord. The All-good Father did not spare the Son, so that the evil servants would not perish. Worldly enmity did not wound heavenly love. Heavenly love was concealed in the worldly enmity, so that through death, love would conquer enmity and spread light and the life of love through darkness and the shadow of death.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

It seems that in drawing near to the mystery of the Crucifixion and seeing in the sufferings of the Son of God the will of His Father, we feel more a fear of His righteous judgment than the sweetness of His love. This, however, is intended to convince us not of the absence of love itself, but only of our lack of readiness to receive its influence. He that feareth is not made perfect in love (I John 4:18), says the disciple of love. Let us cleanse and open our eyes with love, and there where they are closed from fear of divine judgment let us delight in the vision of divine love.

The same contemplator of love also states God is love. God is love by nature and the very essence of love. All of His attributes are the robes of love; all of His actions, expressions of love. In it dwells His omnipotence in all its fullness. It is His truth when He accomplishes what He desires; it is His wisdom when He creates or maintains what already exists, according to the law of truth. It is His goodness when He wisely dispenses His true gifts. Finally, love is His righteous judgment when the degrees and types of His gifts distributed or withheld are measured out in wisdom and goodness for the sake of the supreme good of all His creation.

Draw near and look at the fearful face of God's righteous judgment, and you will clearly recognize in it the meek gaze of divine love. Through sin man separated himself from the eternal source of divine love. This love is armed with righteousness and judgment. Why? In order to destroy the fortress of the division between God and man. However, just as the insignificant being of a sinner would be irrevocably crushed like a fragile vessel under the blows of the cleansing Righteous Judgment, so the inscrutable Lover of souls sends His Love, of the same Essence, His only-begotten Son, so that He, upholding all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), by taking upon Himself our flesh, except for sin, would bear both the weight of our infirmities and of the righteous judgment which threatened us.

Thus, alone having warded off the arrows of wrath sharpened for all of mankind, by His wounds on the cross He unleashes unobstructed fountains of mercy and love, causing them to inundate all the earth, which at one time was accursed, now filled with blessings, life and felicity. For God so loved the world.

If the heavenly Father sacrifices His only-begotten Son because of His love for the world, so likewise does the Son sacrifice Himself because of love for the world. As love crucifies, so also is it crucified. For although the Son can do nothing of Himself, neither can He do anything contrary to Himself. He does not seek His own will (John 5:19, 30), because He is the eternal heir and possessor of the will of His Father. He continues in His (the Father's) love, and there He receives into His own love everything beloved of the Father, as He says, As the Father hath loved Me, so 1 have loved you (John 15:9). In this way love of the heavenly Father is extended, through the Son, to the whole world; and the love of the coessential Son of God at the same time ascends to the heavenly Father and descends to the world.

Here let he who has eyes see the most profound foundation and primary, intrinsic composition of the cross from the love of the Son of God for His all-holy Father and the love for sinful mankind. One cutting off the other, and at the same time one holding fast to the other, seemingly dividing unity, but actually uniting the divided.

Love for God is zealous for God, and love for mankind pardons mankind.

Love for God requires that the divine law of righteousness be fulfilled, and love for mankind does not leave the transgressor of the law to perish in his unrighteousness.

Love for God strives to defeat the enemy of God, and love for mankind makes the Divinity incarnate in order to deify mankind by means of love for God.

While love for God lifts up from the earth the Son of man (cf. John 12: 32,34), love for mankind opens wide the embrace of the Son of God for those born on earth. These opposing strivings of love meet one another, are dissolved, are balanced and compose that wondrous union in which the one imploring mercy and the one judging truth meet together; the righteousness of the Divinity and peace of mankind embrace each other, through which the heavenly truth springs up out of the earth, and the righteousness of the no longer fearsome eye looks down from Heaven; the Lord gives goodness to the land and the land yields its fruit to Heaven.

The Cross of Jesus, composed of the enmity of the Jews and the rebelliousness of the gentiles, is already an earthly image and shadow of the heavenly Cross of love. Without this latter, could the former not only have supported, even until death, Him Who holds in His hand the life of all who live, but even have touched the shoulders of Him, Whom more than twenty legions of angels awaited a signal to rescue?

In vain does the dark throng take up weapons in order to take Him into captivity and bondage. Lighting its path with the fire of malice, it does not see that He is already captive and bound by His own love, which is strong as death (Sol. 8:6).

In vain does the lawless assembly cry out, We have a law, and by our law He ought to die (John 19:7), - He will die by no other law but His own law: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

In vain do the revilers repeat, If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross (Matt. 27:40), - the Son of God will reveal Himself and will not come down from the cross until He completely exhausts Himself in His special striving of love for His Father, to Whom He will finally commend His spirit, and for mankind, for whom He will shed the water of cleansing and the blood of life. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us (I John 3:16).

Delve deeply into this great teaching, O Christian, not in word and tongue, or in idle listening, but in spirit and truth. You will come finally to find the Cross so dear that you will find no sweeter satisfaction than to cry out with the God-bearing man (St. Ignatius the God-bearer) in noetic spirit, "My love has been crucified!" Divine love, acting directly on the Cross of Jesus, without doubt, imparted to it divine power; and how quickly, how abundantly and how immeasurably far this victorious power flows from it!

As Jesus Christ said, referring to Himself, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit (John 12:24). Oh, how quickly this divine seed, dying on the Cross, brings forth around it new shoots of life! See how even before the death of Jesus, from the mouth of the thief on the accursed Cross, bloom the words, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom (Luke 23:42), and this genuine flower of Paradise is carried away the same day to the Paradise of God. See how, together with the quaking of the earth and the splitting of the rocks, the pagan's heart of stone was broken and immediately ripe fruit came forth from his mouth as he confessed the Saviour, Truly this was the Son of God (Matt. 27:54).

See with what irresistible attraction those who had abandoned Jesus now gather around His Cross and Tomb! The victory of the Cross is evident especially in Joseph of Arimathea. Until now he knew Jesus as a prophet and a miracle-worker, but he did not have the courage to openly be His disciple, for fear of the Jews (John 19:38). When he learned, however, that Jesus had died the death of a condemned man, He Who was lifted up from the earth attracted him to Himself with such power that he paid heed to neither honor nor human fear, and did not hesitate to reveal his sympathy with the Crucified, even before the ruler, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43). Is it not also by this same power that the seeds that had long decayed in the garden displayed an unusual fruit: And many bodies of the saints which slept arose (Matt. 27:53)?

The farther the power of the Cross extends, the more triumphant will be its effects. It concentrates in the crucified Jesus all power in Heaven and on earth, and makes even the spirits living in Hades to feel the power of His grace-filled authority. The power of the Cross raises Him higher than all the heavens. Through Him it sends down from there the Comforter, Who would not come if Jesus had not taken the path of the Cross and had not made it a truly royal path. Then the love of God is freely and abundantly poured out into the thirsting hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit and, in spite of all obstacles, it leads the redeemed world, through the struggles of the Cross, to the universal celebration of sanctification and glorification.

Let the enemies of the Cross of Christ try to establish a new cross for His Church. With it they prepare a new victory and a new glory for the Church.

Let the wise men of this age declare the preaching of the Cross... foolishness; it will be foolishness only for them that perish.

Let the Jews, of old or of today ask for signs, not recognizing the signs performed before their eyes.

Let the Greeks seek after their own wisdom there where they should actively believe the Wisdom of God.

The true Church will always preach Christ Crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, and He will always be God for those who are called, ...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:18-24).

Finally, let those evil times begin when men will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside unto fables (II Tim. 4:3,4). Apostasy follows in the footsteps of false doctrine and dries up love itself through an increase of lawlessness.

Corresponding to these events the power of the Cross, as in a second crucifixion of the Lord, will penetrate all of mankind and nature with a new abundance. It will shake all the earth and destroy in it what is firm, overthrow that which has been raised up, and darken that which shines, not so much in vengeance to the enemies of God, who usually provide for their own destruction, but to quicken and complete the attraction of everything to Him Who was lifted up from the earth.

In the same manner love, like the oil prepared by the wise virgins, imperceptible to the foolish, will be maintained until the appearance of the much awaited Bridegroom, and then it will burn with a flame seven times brighter on the wedding day of the Lamb. Love will be maintained in Heaven and earth, and faith and hope will pass away, and God will be all in all (I Cor. 15:28), since there will be love in all God-bearing hearts, poured forth in them by the Holy Spirit through the wounds of the Cross.

Here, Christian, is the beginning, the middle and the end of the Cross of Christ - it is all the love of God!

Just as in this physical world, wherever we look, to the north, south, east or west, our gaze meets the immensity of heaven, so also in the spiritual realm of mysteries, in all the dimensions of the Cross of Christ, contemplation vanishes in the boundless love of God.

Let us cease the impertinent silence concerning this. The more the preaching of the Cross is declared, the more the bodily tongue keeps silent, and the worldly eye of the mind is blinded from the abundance of the heavenly light of the Cross.

May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, to comprehend in this inscrutable, cross-filled life the one love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph. 3:14-19).

However, let us remember that if we are Christians not only in name, or if we desire to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, then we have our cross, according to the commandment, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me (Matt. 16:24). Since our cross must be like the Cross of Christ, is it not comforting to think now that our cross must also consist of the same love?

So, Christians, this cross from which lovers of the world flee as from a tormentor, and because of which the very ones who carry their cross often groan, mostly because through ignorance, faintheartedness and inexperience they exaggerate the easy and light burden of Christ with personal difficulties - this fearsome cross is composed entirely of love. What can be more comforting? It must consist entirely of love. So let each of us now bring our small cross and compare it to the great Cross of Christ, in order to see if it is like the original; for we must know that every cross not like the Cross of Christ will not lift us from the earth, but will fall with us, and be consumed under us in the fire of Gehenna.

Therefore, let us look once again at the Cross of the Lord. This love of the heavenly Father crucifies for us His only-begotten Son. How does our love conform to this? Do we perform the work of Abraham (Gen. 22), offering on the altar of love of God everything we love, without hesitation, without reservation, without expecting anything in return? This love of the Son of God causes Him to give Himself over to crucifixion, not only into the hands of His Most-holy Father, but into the hands of sinners.

Has this love taught us the absolute acceptance of divine fate, by which we, like Isaac, would always be ready to be a sacrifice whether for the glory of God, our personal purification, or for the good of our neighbors? This love of God, poured forth by the Holy Spirit, fills the heights and the depths, and embraces time and eternity, in order to mingle and transform that which was hardened and killed through enmity with God in life-bearing and blessed love. Is our love able to conquer evil with good, bless those who curse us, pray for those who crucify us and not know one enemy in the entire world even if we have never gained one friend from the world?

We will not add any more questions. Now let the conscience of each of us speak. It will certainly declare to us now, or later, either the sorrow awaiting the enemies of the Cross, or the victory, peace and glory of those who love the Cross, according to the judgment of the Lamb of God, sacrificed on the Cross, to Whom from all creation be blessing and honor and glory and power for ever and ever (Rev. 5:13). Amen.

From Vol. I of Sermons and Talks by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, pp.89-98

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