Malankara World

Passion Week (Holy Week)

Our Lord's Passion

by Dn. Jeevan Puthiamadathil

The final week of the Great Lent is called Holy Week or (more accurately) Passion Week. However, what does the word "passion" mean? The definition most people are familiar with is "emotion or ardent love". However, the word originally comes from the Latin word "passus", which comes from the pati and patior, which means "to suffer". As such, when we say that our Church commemorates the week of Jesus' Passion, we are saying that we are commemorating His Suffering.

Often times, we summarize or think quickly that Jesus Christ died for our sins and, as a result, we received salvation. One must not be so quick about it, but should realize that He SUFFERED and died. It says so in the Nicene Creed, which is the summary of our beliefs – "And He was crucified for us in the days of Pontius Pilate, and He SUFFERED, died and was buried". The prophecy of Isaiah is very clear about this (Chapter 53):

He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (v3);
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities (v5);
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief (v10).

Jesus Christ's suffering, or passion, was immense and truly indescribable, but we can say that He endured three types of suffering: emotional, physical, and most importantly, spiritual. Because He was truly man, along with being truly God, He genuinely experienced that suffering.

There were several examples of Jesus' emotional passion. Judas, one of the chosen 12 and a close friend, betrayed Him. His prayer at Gethsemane we one of anguish (before He starts his prayer, He says to his companions, Peter, James, and John in St. Matthew 26:38: "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me."). St. Luke, a doctor, describes the prayer of Christ in detail (Luke 22:44): "And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

Either He was sweating in large drops or His emotional suffering manifested itself into a physical symptom called hematidrosis – blood actually mingled with sweat. Additionally, St. Peter, one of Jesus' closest friends, denied knowing the Lord. It says in that same chapter of St. Luke – verse 60-61: "Peter said, 'Man, I do not know what you are saying!' Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter." There was also the mocking Christ endured during the trial – our prayers emphasize that Christ, through whom all creation was made, was lowered to being humiliated by those He created. These are just a few examples – the list describing His emotional passion is significant.

Now think about the physical suffering Christ endured. Think back to the movie "The Passion of the Christ" – one great aspect is that it brought realism to Christ's physical suffering. When the movie came out, many people spoke about how it is overly violent and unnecessarily brutal; yet the movie brought a visual realism to Christ's physical suffering. The truth is that He really suffered physically.

Typically, people who are crucified aren't flogged. When Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged, he was hoping to appease the crowd, thereby allowing him to release Jesus and not order the death of an innocent man. In terms of the flagellation (flogging), He was probably tied to a column and whipped with strips of leather, with the leather having bits of bones and lead that caused the flesh to tear; as a result Jesus must have lost massive amounts of blood. Then imagine having to carry the cross, at least part of the way, after having gone through that punishment (He couldn't physically go the entire way – that is why Simon of Cyrene was needed). Then imagine being nailed to the cross and unable to support your own body weight.

There are a few prominent theories about how Christ physically died. Some say that He died of dehydration because of all the blood He lost when He went through the flagellation. Others say that He died of asphyxiation – where He basically died because He couldn't breathe. That may be why all of His final seven sayings on the cross were all very short. He would have had to put pressure on His feet, which were nailed to the cross so He could lift Himself to get the breath to say those things. Crucifixion was truly a cruel and unusual punishment that the Romans used to serve as a warning and rarely used.

The final and most important suffering that Jesus went through was spiritual. In St. Luke 23:44-45, it says, "Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened." That would have been from around 12 noon to 3pm – midday, when the sun is at its highest point. Jesus has always been considered light. In St. John 8:12, it says, "Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, 'I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.'" Yet there was darkness for three hours. This is the physical manifestation of the spiritual suffering that Jesus went through.

In Psalm 51, we pray: "Hide Your face from my sins." Since Jesus bore all of man's sin, God had to turn His face away from Jesus. Christ bore the sins of all mankind – yours, mine, our forefathers, the future generations – all mankind. And what does sin result in? It results in separation from God (Isaiah 59:2) – that is what Christ experienced on our behalf. According to St. Augustine, because Jesus bore the sins of mankind, the Son was separated from the Father. It's almost as if the Trinity was broken – it's a mystery beyond human comprehension. This separation is illustrated in one of the final sayings of Christ. He cries out: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" Which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In all of Jesus' other prayers, He refers to God as Abba or Father – this time, He calls out to Him as "my God".

Going back to "The Passion of the Christ", before the movie even came out, there was huge amount of controversy about how it was anti-Semitic. There is truth that the Jewish leadership – including the high priests Caiaphas and Annas – put Christ on trial before the Sanhedrin and called for His crucifixion. And the brutality that Christ went through was a Roman form of punishment. But at the end of the day, He died for the salvation of all mankind. It's for us that He died – for our sins – we are the ones who killed Christ. In a particularly telling scene of "The Passion of the Christ", Mel Gibson, the director and producer of the movie, makes a cameo. There is a close-up of hands nailing Jesus to the cross – those hands are Mel Gibson's. He later says this: "It was me that put Him on the cross. It was my sins [that put Him there]."

This suffering was all in fulfillment of the prophecy and the establishment of the New Covenant. Jesus Christ was the true and perfect Passover Lamb – the last sacrifice that required the shedding of blood.

However, remember that this isn't to be a sad story – it's a story of victory. We all know what happens – Christ is resurrected! Jesus' final words on the Cross in the Gospel of St. John (19:30) are, "It is finished!" Why are those words of victory? It's because atonement has been made – the sacrifice has been completed.

In the Syriac Orthodox Faith, our Good Friday Holy Liturgies run the course of the day as we commemorate Jesus' moments from the arrest all the way until His death on the Cross and the burial of His body. It is a long day of prayers, but please take the time to contemplate the passions of our Lord Jesus Christ – these passions that He endured on our behalf – to bring us salvation.

Please commit yourself to Him and to remember that as Christians, we have crucified ourselves with Him. Remember the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians (5:24-25): "And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."

May the Good Lord bless us as we contemplate His Passion with the knowledge of His Resurrection.

See Also:

A Thought for the Passion Week!
When we attend the Passion week services, it gives us opportunity to remember and meditate on the love of Christ, His sufferings and His crucifixion more than other days.

Blood and Water From His Side by St. John Chrysostom
If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt.

Meditation on the Day of the Cross
During this Holy Great Lent, we need to humble ourselves prayerfully to learn at the feet of the two crucified criminals of Calvary, who are often scornfully dismissed as being among the lowest of the low.

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