The Flame of Love for man

by Fr John Scherstobit

It is well known what James and John asked of Christ, when, travelling towards the Passion, he entered Jerusalem. "We want" they told him "to do us this favour which we ask of you". Christ asked them: "What do you want me to do for you?" and they answered: "We want you, now that you will become king and will sit on your royal throne, to place us on either side of you" One on the right and one on the left.". Christ's reply is also well known. "You don't know what you are asking".

The disciples did not know that the throne onto which Christ was to be seated was,he Cross and if he had granted them their petition, they would have had to take the place of the two robbers. But because Christ did sit on this throne, he can understand and have sympathy for mankind. Having previously, according to his divine incarnation, clothed himself with human nature and having become like us in every way, without falling into any sin. He now climbs onto his throne, the Cross, and will end up at the last limit of man's fall, death, and he will taste the utmost pain of death. From there, taking man he will guide him, by his Resurrection and the Ascension to the right hand of God the Father and will return him to where he was previously". In this way the throne of Christ is seen not as a throne of glory, but a throne of service and salvation. His desire for the great sacrifice is a flame, the flame of love for man.

"I have to be baptised in the baptism of my martyrdom, he says, and I am overtaken by desire and the. impatience of when this sacrifice will take place, so that soon the fire of faith and divine zeal can spread all over the world".

For the sake of man, the Lord accepts the Cross. Even more he desires and pursues it. In the liturgical texts of the Church we often see written, that the Passion of Christ was voluntary. Nothing was forced onto Christ, he was not enslaved, everything was free. As the incarnation of the Word of God came into being with the will of the Son, but also with the goodwill of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit so also it happens with the Passion of Christ.

From the teaching of the holy Fathers we know that the incarnation of the Word was the precedent will of God, which means that God had previously decided and planned the incarnation of the Word, independently from the fall of Adam. This is theologically acceptable, because man would never have been able to reach theosis, unless there existed the certain person, in whom there would be united, both divine and human nature without change, without confusion, inseparable and indivisible. That which entered after the fall of Adam are, The Passion, the Cross and the death of Christ, because after the fall of Adam, death came into the world. Therefore Christ received a mortal and fallen body of his own free will. St. Gregory the Theologian states that the Father has no need for, nor asked that the blood of his only-begotten Son be spilled, but in the end he accepted it, so as to free man from the tyranny of the devil, to sanctify man with his human nature and to bring back man into communion with God. St. Nicholas Kabasilas insists that Christ offered his wounds and Passion to man, so as to buy man's will; this is because man, enslaved by the devil, had to fight the devil and be victorious over him. This is exactly what Christ did. With his sacrifice Christ gave strength to human nature and will so that man, in Christ, could prevail over the devil and overcome death.

After Christ had freed Adam from the devil and death, he gave the ability to each person to prevail over the devil in his/her personal life by the Lord's power. If our will and our whole nature is not strengthened by the Grace of the Risen Christ, we cannot struggle against and prevail over the devil. The punishments in the Old Testament, the law, the Prophets, the signs and changes on earth, in the sky etc., could not heal man from the various passions and idolatry, therefore a "stronger medicine" was needed. This stronger medicine is the Word of God, who became incarnate and died for man (St. Gregory the Theologian).

The first Adam was not able to prevail over the devil, and died. The new Adam, Christ, prevails over the devil and death which was a result of sin. If man wishes to unite himself with Christ, he can prevail over the devil and death. "By death you change the mortal, and by burial the corrupt; for in god-like manner you make incorrupt and immortal the human nature you took".

In this way he gave every man the ability to change their human nature in union with Christ.

The Passion and the sacrifice on the cross of Christ are a revelation and an expression of the great love of God to humanity. The Lord himself said: "for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that every one who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 NLT). The honoured Cross is the divine altar on which the most high sacrifice of the God-man was offered. The holy Gospel insists not only that Christ died for our sake but that he died a death on the Cross. The, up until then, wood of shame was changed to an altar, on which the incarnate God was placed as an all-holy victim, showing the wood of shame as a measure of love. Christ's depth of humility shows the height of his love, "He does everything so as to save mankind". Christ is the Great High Priest, Who became incarnate and offered himself as the sacrifice, pouring out his own Blood for the life and salvation of the world. The honoured Cross which is exalted, especially on its feast day (14 September), is simultaneously an altar and a throne, a throne of service and salvation.

Let us venerate our Crucified Lord, so as to receive mercy and grace. His desire for the great sacrifice is a flame, the flame of love for man.

translated by Katerina Tsakiri,1997
in PIRAEKE ECCLESIA, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

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