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…Continued from Part 3

The Dogma of Redemption (Part 4 of 7)

by St. Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky


Metropolitan AnthonySo far we have spoken about the action of co-suffering love, but now let us direct our attention to its bearers: in what feeling, in what experience is it expressed? It is evident that it is found in inner suffering for others, in co-suffering. And so we have come to the concept of redemptive co-suffering. The door is now open before us to a feasible understanding of the redemptive power of Christ’s sufferings.

The Church clearly teaches those who would partake of the Holy Mysteries that the grace of regeneration is given from the co-suffering love of Christ the Saviour. This is expressed in the words of St Symeon the New Theologian, in the seventh prayer before Communion:

Neither the greatness of my offenses nor the multitude of my transgressions surpasses the great longsuffering of my God and His exceeding love for man, but with the oil of co-suffering [compassion] dost Thou purify and illumine those who fervently repent, and Thou makest them to partake abundantly of the light and to be communicants of Thy Divinity.

These are precious words which explain the mystery of redemption and expand the significance of Paul’s words: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to co-suffer with our weaknesses” (Hb.4:15). The fourth antiphon of Great Friday Matins clearly says that Christ’s sufferings were His co-suffering for mankind: “O Thou who dost suffer for and with mankind, glory be to Thee.”

Speaking of himself as a servant of regeneration, Apostle Paul clearly expresses the truth that co-suffering (compassion) which is filled with love and zeal for the flock is a regenerating power, which gradually instills spiritual life into those hearts where it had not previously existed, just as a child receives life in the birth sufferings of the mother: “My children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal.4:19; Jn.16:21,22). In another place, the apostle writes that the spiritual life of the flock increases according to the measure that their teacher dies physically in his pastoral suffering: “Thus death is actively at work in us, but life in you” (2Cor.4:12; cp.1Cor.4:10-16).

In the prayer for accomplishing the mystery of the consecration of bishops, the successors of the apostles, the regenerating power of their service is also described as suffering (that is, co-suffering with the sinful flock), in which the hierarch represents, to the people, Christ the true Teacher and Redeemer:

As it is not possible for the human nature to bear the Divine essence, by Thine ekonomy Thou hast appointed teachers for us having a nature like our own, subject to passions, who stand before Thy throne…make this appointed steward of the episcopal grace an imitator of Thee, the true Shepherd, Who has laid down Thy life for Thy flock….May he stand unashamed before Thy throne and receive the great reward which Thou hast prepared for those who have suffered for the preaching of the Gospel.

The co-suffering love of a mother, friend, a spiritual shepherd or an apostle is operative only when it attracts Christ, the true Shepherd. If, however, it functions only in the sphere of human relations, it can, it is true, evoke tender attitudes and repentant sentiment, but not a radical regeneration. The latter is so difficult for our corrupt nature that not in vain did Nikodemos, speaking with Christ, liken this difficulty to an adult person entering again into his mother’s womb and being born for a second time. The Lord replied that what is impossible in the limits of human life is possible in the life of grace, in which the Holy Spirit descends from heaven and operates. And to grant us this gift, Christ had to be crucified and raised, as Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness, that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have life eternal (see Jn.3:13-15).

So that which grace-bearing people can do only in part and only for some people, our Heavenly Redeemer can do, and does do, completely and for all. Filled with the deepest compassion for sinful humanity during His earthly life, He often exclaimed: “O faithless and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I endure you?” (Mt.17:17). He was oppressed with the greatest sorrow on the night when the greatest crime in human history occurred, when God’s ministers — with the complicity of Christ’s own disciple, the former through envy, the latter through greed — decided to put the Son of God to death.

This oppressive grief possessed His most pure soul for a second time on the cross when the cruel masses not only were not moved to pity by His terrible physical sufferings (they could not come close to grasping His moral sufferings) but also maliciously mocked the Sufferer. One must suppose that during that night in Gethsemane, the thought and feeling of the God-man embraced all of fallen humanity — numbering many millions — and wept with loving grief over each one individually, as only the all-knowing divine heart could. Our redemption consisted in this. This is why only God, the God-man could be our Redeemer, and not an angel or a man. It was not at all because a more valuable sacrifice was necessary for the satisfaction of Divine wrath. Ever since this night in Gethsemane and that day on Golgotha, every believer, even one who is just beginning to believe, recognizes his inner bond with Christ and turns to Him in prayer, as to an inexhaustible spring of moral regenerating strength. Few are able to explain exactly why they so easily assimilated faith in the possibility of receiving new moral energy and sanctification from turning to Christ, but no believer doubts this, nor do even the heretics.

Having suffered in His loving soul over our imperfection and our corrupt will, the Lord poured into our nature a wellspring of new, vital strength, available to everyone who has ever or will ever desire it, beginning with the wise thief.

One may ask: “How does this happen? Upon what does the causal bond between suffering and regeneration depend if the latter is not an external gift of God as a reward for the merits of the One? How can one explain this transmission of moral energy from a loving heart into the hearts of the beloved ones, from the Sufferer to those for whom He had co-suffered? You have presented to us factual proof that it is thus; you have confirmed it with the words of the prayers of the Church and the words of the holy fathers and the Bible. Finally you wish, from this point of view, to explain the death agony of the Saviour, evidently ascribing only a secondary significance to His physical sufferings, the shedding of His blood and death. But we still desire to know what law of existence causes this communion of the Redeemer with those being redeemed, and the influence, which we ourselves have observed, of the co-suffering will of one man upon others. Is this merely a result of a conscious submission of the will of a loved one to the will of the one who is loving, or is there something taking place here that is deeper — something objective, something that takes place in the very nature of our souls?”

“Of course,” we would reply to the latter. I have always been very dissatisfied when a collocutor to whom I had explained redeeming grace, responded from the point of view of scholastic theology, to this effect: you are expounding the subjective, moral aspect of the dogma, but you do not touch upon the objective, metaphysical (that is, the juridical) aspect. “No,” I would reply. “In the transmission of the compassionate, loving energies of the Redeemer into the spiritual nature of a believing person who calls upon His help, we find manifested a purely objective law of our spiritual nature revealed in our dogmas, but which our dogmatic science has not noticed.”

Nevertheless, before turning to the explanation of this law, one must first refute the current opinion that Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane was inspired by fear of His approaching sufferings and death. This would have been extremely unworthy of the Lord, Whose servants both after this and even before (the Maccabees, for instance) faced torments rejoicing and exulting amidst the tortures of their bodies, longing to die for Christ as if it were the greatest blessing. The Saviour knew very well that His Spirit would be separated from His body for less than two full days; and for this reason alone, he would not have looked upon bodily death as something terrible.27

We are convinced that the heavy torments of the Saviour in Gethsemane came from a contemplation of the sinful life and evil disposition of all human generations, beginning with His enemies and betrayers,28 and that the Lord’s words: “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me,” refer not to His impending crucifixion and death, but precisely to this crushing state of profound grief for sinful humanity which He so dearly loved.

Apostle Paul confirms the correctness of our interpretation, when he expresses himself relative to the Gethsemane prayer in connection with the morally regenerating action of Christ upon people as their common High Priest:

Christ did not glorify Himself to become a high priest; but He Who said unto Him, `Thou art My Son…’ Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His reverence.29

You see, therefore, that the Lord did not pray for deliverance from crucifixion and death, for then it would be impossible to say that He was heard, since He was not delivered from crucifixion and death. He prayed for relief from His overwhelming grief for sinful mankind. This grief was the “cup” that He asked the Heavenly Father to remove from Him. “He prayed saying, `O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me'” (Mt.26:39; cp. Mk.14:37; Lk.22:42). From these words it is clear that the Lord prayed, not concerning His impending sufferings, but about that which He suffered “in this hour,” the very hour in which He prayed. How, then, was He heard?

An angel appeared to Him and supported Him. The Heavenly Father heard His suffering Son, crushed by the picture of the sinful world of man, and sent to Him a witness from another world — the world of holy angels, who had not apostatized from His will nor forsaken His love. The appearance of the angel comforted Jesus and He bravely went forth to meet the enemies and the betrayer. This is the sense in which He was heard, and the further words of the apostle confirm our understanding of the Gethsemane prayer as the prayer of a high priest:

Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the cause of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him; designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Hb.5:8-10).

These words literally confirm what we wrote above: precisely that Christ’s co-suffering love appears in our hearts as a sanctifying power; and in this sense, He is our High Priest.

We can now return to the question: by what law of existence is this possible? We have seen that it is actual, which means that it is logically possible. But by what means? It is here that we see the value of Christ’s incarnation. It has been explained that only the all-encompassing God could love each person individually and grieve for him. Now we shall see that only a man could transmit his own holiness into the hearts of other men. In a word, our Redeemer can only be a God-man, which, in fact, He is.30

…continued here