Christ’s mission on earth, that is, what He had to endure leading up to the crucifixion and His suffering on the Cross on Golgotha, is a great Mystery. Man can never grasp, let alone fathom, the depth of this Mystery. For when the Lord fulfilled His Mission, He endured something that a normal man would not be able to endure at all. We can see the extent of the torment that He was going through from what happened in the garden of Gethsemane just before His suffering was to take place. It seemed at that point that He Who had come to the world to save mankind was as if withdrawing in horror from this mission and was praying to His Heavenly Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Mt. 26:38). This is how terrible it was!
Even earlier, after the Savior’s entry into Jerusalem, His lips had let out a cry of grief, “Father, save Me from this hour!” but He immediately went on to say, “But for this purpose I came” (Jn 12:27) precisely to this hour of suffering. The Holy Fathers tell us, and Metropolitan Anthony of Blessed Memory especially liked to say, that this task of redemption had two parts. The first took place in the garden of Gethsemane. Our Savior was in such a state of agony that He was sweating blood. In order that He would not fail and be undone by His human nature, His Heavenly Father sent Him an angel to strengthen Him. Vladyka Anthony points out that this was His commitment to pastoral love and compassion. As Almighty God, He knows everything of what we call the past, present, and future. Considering all this and wanting to redeem us from sin, He received every one of us into His Most-holy Soul, with all our sins, failings, and incorrigibility. He took everyone’s suffering and pain upon Himself because He is the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”. In His limitless love, by taking mankind upon Himself, He made our sins His, as if HE had committed them. This was not just a superficial formality, but a true reception by Him of our sinful nature and our sins. That is why He fell on the way to Golgotha, why He fell under the weight of His Cross, unable to stand, because He was literally carrying the sins of the whole world in order to destroy them by nailing them to the Cross.
This was the Lord’s commitment to pastoral love, when He wept for each of us and our falling into sin and falling away from Him, and then He went up on the Cross. He offered Himself as a Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, slain as an unblemished Lamb.
We often hear the question, “Why did there have to be such a Terrible Sacrifice? Yes, mankind was under the power of the devil, but God is All-powerful. He could have easily just freed people from the power of the devil and driven him away”. The Holy Fathers point out that the Lord is just to the utmost. His justice extends to all His creatures, even to the devil who is the enemy. The Holy Fathers say that when man was tempted in paradise it was of his own free will that he went over from God to Satan. It would be a different matter if the enemy had forced him to do this. From the Gospel we know how summarily the Lord dealt with evil spirits when they forcibly and lawlessly possessed a man. He commanded, “Be silent, and come out of him!” He merely said this and it was done. But in this case when man went over to Satan of his own will, the Holy Fathers say that if the Lord simply used His Almighty Power and took man back from Satan, at the Final Judgment Satan could say to Him, “You are not just! They are mine, not Yours, for they came to me willingly”.
Remember the Lord’s words in the Gospel, “Whosoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mk. 8:34), that is, if you wish to follow Him, if you wish to get out from the dominion of the devil and go over to the Lord’s good dominion, take up your cross and go after Him. That is why a Christian must always bear a cross in some way or other. Besides, in our present time, dear brethren, a person need not seek out a cross for himself, for life has gotten to the point that any Christian who wants to be faithful to His Savior and who truly wants to live in a Christian manner, according to the teaching of the Church and be obedient to it as his wise instructor and guide, then he already has a cross to bear, and quite a cross, at that! The world has lost its senses and has gone so far away from any Christian foundation that a Christian is indeed a cross-bearer at every step of the way. We all need to keep this in mind.
Remember the sad event in the life the Apostle Peter when he swore three times with an oath, “I DO NOT KNOW THE MAN” (Mt. 26:70-74), that is, our Lord and Savior. It was only a few hours before at the Last Supper that he vowed to follow Him to the death. We do not bring this up to condemn the great apostle, for we know what he became later – the pre-eminent apostle, that is, the apostle of the apostles! Yet, this was allowed by God as a difficult lesson in humility. He had said very confidently at the Last Supper, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Mt. 26:33). None of the other disciples denied the Savior, only Peter.
We should always remember this example of human failing so that it teaches us to never rely on ourselves. If we indeed wish to be faithful to our Lord and bear our cross, we must always remember that we cannot do this without His help. Without the Divine help of our Savior Who said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5), we are doomed to merely well-intentioned efforts and nothing can be accomplished! Therefore, in the face of everything in this faithless world, every time your conscience prompts you to take up your cross like our Savior did, above all ask Him for strength, for He Himself grants the courage and power to be faithful to Him, as He said in the Book of Revelations, “Be faithful until death!” (Rev. 2:10). Amen.
St. Metropolitan Philaret of New York, Sermons, Vol. II, pp. 53-55