by Rev. Fr. M. K. Kuriakose, Philadelphia
Our memories are reeling back to our participation in Good Friday services in our parishes. In the Orthodox Church, it is a very lengthy service; sometimes lasting up to a continuous eight hours. Many people like it that way but many still think it could be cut short. Some others think that it is, after all, a one-day in a year event, why not use the entire day in prayer and genuflections! One day in a year!
For me, Good Friday is not “a dukha” or sad Friday. Indeed there will be times of sadness when we read and chant the suffering of our Lord. The English use of Good Friday is appropriate as it is a day of ultimate goodness exhibited by the Lord. Good Friday is the pre-emptive climax of the Great Lent. There are two climaxes for the Great Lent: Good Friday and Easter. Both are equally important because without Good Friday there is no Easter, without Easter, Good Friday will not become meaningful.
Cross, the greatest symbol of the Christians, is in the center of our thoughts in this week. From mid-lent we erect the cross in the middle of the church or in a prominent place in the worship area for people to see it and meditate upon it in a special way. Cross is part of our day-to-day life. No matter what we do, we, the Orthodox, make the sign of cross to begin anything, getting up in the morning, start the day, start driving, eat meal, start our prayers etc. Cross is the beginning of everything. Cross is a constant comrade for all of us. But that cross becomes a matter of special importance during Holy Week only to create a renewed awareness of the suffering of our Lord. Thus, Cross is, therefore, a matter of veneration. We kneel down and kiss the cross to give the commitment to the Lord that I am submitting myself to this cross that is the ultimate symbol of love.
On Good Friday, it customary for us to reflect on the seven words of the Lord from the Cross.
The Seven Words from the Cross can be summarized in the following categories:
1. Jesus and others:
There are three sentences that expressed his love for others:
The prayer of forgiveness,
Accepting the thief to the paradise and
Handing over responsibility of His mother to Apostle John.
It is interesting that our Lord’s priority for others is depicted in these statements even though he is suffering on the cross. It is the true indication of love. In a situation of suffering who would ever think about others? Many would lose their temper and curse others. But the Lord in the middle of His suffering thought about others. We already know what He taught on caring for others. How can he forget that while suffering?
Some of the prominent teachings are:
“whatever you do to the least of these is that which you have done unto me”;
“do to others what you want others do for you”;
“Love your neighbor like yourself”;
“settle your dispute with your brother before you bring the offerings to God”;
“Love your enemies”;
“forgive you brother seventy times seven”;
“there is no greater love than giving one’s life for his friend” and so on.
True spirituality is not God oriented but man-oriented. We, the worshipping community, must bear in mind that our worship is oriented towards the well being of others. St. John says, "If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" Often people are confused about Jesus’ love for others has taken precedence to the love of God. This is because Jesus knew that there is no difference between love for God and love for other humans. By mistake, we think that our spirituality is targeted to God. Jesus, even on the cross, targeted his word on the well being of others.
2. Jesus and Himself:
Two of the statements,
“I thirst” and
are referring to his own personal life. The human side of the Lord is seen in these statements. The magnanimity of his suffering is that he, being God, underwent all the sufferings like a human being. Hunger and thirst are part of human life. He wanted to prove to us that in our suffering we can survive like he did.
Suffering is not an end itself. It is a positive experience of earning the favor of God. Often people who are unwilling to take even a small amount of suffering forget this lesson. We lose the favor of God simply because of our impatience and lack of understanding. Finally the Lord expresses that his mission is complete as a man. He fulfilled all the prophecies and completed all that his Father expected him to do.
3. Jesus and His Father:
Two of the statements
“Father why did you forsake me” and
“I commit my life into your hands”
are very indicative of his oneness with the Father.
Indeed, it sounds like a complaint. Jesus prayed in the Garden Gethsemane, “if possible remove the cup of suffering.” But the Father did not do anything. The Son understands the Father’s denial well. It is a rare quality we must understand.
When we are denied help or favor we normally hate that person. Here Jesus is continuing to love his Father and finally hands over his life to Father. This is the ultimate sacrifice. When someone gets the boot from the most loving person, they go crazy. Look here and see what our Lord did. Is it not a model that we must follow?
Ultimately the Cross becomes the sign of victory. The Roman Government treated the Cross as a despicable sign of suffering but our Lord converted it into a magnanimous symbol of victory, love.
May the Lord help us understand the love of God shown to us through his suffering and that we may also show our love through our suffering for others!
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