"The Passion of the Christ"

Recent film reviews express the sentiment and views of many Christians regarding the film "Passion of the Christ". One reviewer says, "Unfortunately, Mel Gibson is so intent on heaping unimaginable punishments on Jesus that it prevents the Passion of Christ being the transcendent cinematic and spiritual experience for which we might have hoped. Rather, in creating the suffering of Jesus in such shockingly realistic and unrelenting fashion, Gibson has deprived his hero of the very humanity central to the key mystery of Christ being both God and man. The Passion of the Christ is too one-dimensional to provide the expected exultation - too earthbound, perhaps, to soar to the heavens".

In recent interviews, Gibson has said that the purpose of his film was "to express the hugeness and horror of Jesus' sacrifice". That it does. He also said that ultimately "it is a story of faith, hope and love". To that end it fails. The message of love and tolerance is lost in the blood-spurting detail of the brutal scourging and crucifixion.

However, whatever the artistic merits of Mel Gibson's film, it clearly has had a profound effect on people already. The Passion of Jesus has been depicted in many ways over 2000 years with successive generations offering interpretations.

The effect has been to keep the story of Jesus' sacrifice alive, to give it immediacy and relevance to each generation and to promote thought and understanding. Gibson's contemporary interpretation certainly continues that tradition and will be valued by millions of people for that. However, Christ's passion and death has a quality, a weight which belongs to Him alone. It is a manifestation of God's great love for the human race. "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Why was it necessary for Christ to suffer?

Christ became incarnate to correct Adam's error. Adam received the Divine image but did not keep it, since it was obscured by the fall. Christ succeeded by His Incarnation to preserve the human image and to make the flesh immortal. Adam failed to conquer the devil and died. Christ conquered the devil and death. In order to suffer and die, Christ assumed human nature and passibility and mortality - without sin. He deified man through His own self-humbling or self-emptying. He suffered in His body to show His great love for man.

Christ's passion was voluntary. Because man could never have achieved deification it was necessary for Christ to unite the Divine with the human nature to conquer death which is the consequence of sin. Therefore man cannot conquer the devil and death unless he unites himself with Christ.

Christ reconciled man to God

After the fall, man separated himself from God. He was hostile to God. He was under the dominion of the devil and had to be brought back into communion with God. God did not need the blood of His Son to save man. He accepted it to free man from the tyranny of the devil, to sanctify man by the human nature of His Son and to provide the cure for man's immortality.

Christ's Divine and Human Nature

God is one essence but three different persons. The Son has the same essence or nature as the Father and the Holy Spirit, but He is a distinct person. He is equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. All three co-exist simultaneously. They all possess the attributes of omnipresence and omniscience. They are all associated in the act of creation and redemption. This is called the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, that there are 3 persons in one God.

An example in human nature, is the relationship between our mind, its ideas and the expression of these ideas in words.

Christ is one person, yet has two natures. His Divine nature is united with his human nature - without change, confusion or division. "Without change", means neither the Divine nor the human nature was altered, that is, neither the Divine nature became human, nor did the human nature lose its distinct attributes. "Without confusion", means that the Divine nature performs all things Divine and the human nature performs all things human. "Without division", means that the two natures never separated, so when Christ did what was Divine, His human nature followed, and when the human acted, His Divine nature co-operated. Each nature acted "in communication with the other".

For example, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ expresses fear in the face of His passion. He began to be sorrowful and deeply depressed" (Matthew 26:37-38). Because He took on a mortal body He was naturally afraid. He knew he was about to die. The soul's natural fear of death is due to the fact that there is a close connection between the soul and body and therefore when the soul is being prepared to leave the body, it is natural to be deeply distressed. Christ's Divine will yielded to His human nature to fear death. As man He was troubled by the memory of death, but as God He transforms the fear at once into boldness and through His authoritative power He invited death to come. In Christ it was a natural fear and not a supernatural fear.

Example 2, Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus because He loved him and also because He saw the corruption of human nature after sin and penetration of death. Man was not created to die, but sin introduced mortality. Christ is not only God by nature, but also man. Therefore His human nature suffered.

Example 3, Why did Jesus need to pray? Christ did not need to pray as He was always united with His Father, but He did so to identify Himself with our person and to teach us to pray and in this way to achieve communion with God. Also by His prayer, He shows that He honours His Father. Christ's human nature always obeyed and submitted to the Divine will -"Nevertheless not as I will, but as you will". While His human will differs from the Father in essence, nevertheless, it follows the Divine will and so becomes the will of the Father. Similarly, Christ teaches us to apply God's will, even if it is different from our own human will.

Example 4, Since Christ is one person with two natures, whenever one question is asked about him it must be separated into two questions, one applying to each nature:

(a) Did Christ get tired, hungry, thirsty? - in His Divine nature, no! In His human nature, yes!

(b) Did Christ die? - in His human nature He did die. But in His Divine nature He did not die.

(c) Did Christ know everything? - As God He did, since God is omniscient. But as man Jesus said that He did not know the time of the Second Coming. {Mat 24:36].

(d) Could Jesus Sin? - As God He could not have sinned; but as man He could have sinned but He did not. Jesus was "in ail points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15), that is to say, while He never sinned, He was really tempted and therefore it was possible for Him to sin - otherwise His temptation would have been a charade. Jesus possessed the power of free choice, which means whatever moral choice He made, He could have done otherwise. This means that He chose not to sin (which was always), He could have sinned as man but He did not.

Christ's Divinity remained undivided in Body and Soul

Death is a separation of the Body and Soul. Christ gave up His Soul, His spirit to His Father. "And bowing His head, He gave up His sprit" (John 19:30).

However, this does not mean that there is also a separation of the hypostatic union of the Divine and human nature. His Divinity remained undivided in Body and Soul - in spite of the soul's separation from the body. Therefore His soul descended into Hades with His Divinity in order to release the righteous men of the Old Testament from the power of death, while his Body remained in the tomb with the Divinity, without suffering, decay and disintegration, precisely because there was the unified Divinity He lay in the tomb incorruptible until the third day because His body cannot be touched by corruption because it is full of the Divine Presence.

 The righteous men of the Old Testament attained deification but death had not yet been conquered and they went to Hades. Through Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, He descended into Hades and freed them from the Kingdom of Death.

Prior to the Resurrection Christ's body was pure and chaste, but mortal and _ destructible. After His Resurrection He had an indestructible Body which never hungers nor thirsts because it is united with His Divinity.

Christ reconciled man to God through Himself. We are now able to participate in the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. 

Adapted from "The Feasts of Our Lord" by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos
from The Truth, March 2004, v. 18/3, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia,
Christian Missionary Society of the Ascension of our Lord publication, Perth, Western Australia

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