Yesterday we venerated the Shroud, which is the symbol of the death of Christ. We worshipped the forbearance of the Lord, His passion, His sacrificial love for all people. How hard it is to connect what we do now, venerating the Cross and the Shroud, with what happened then when on a rough wooden cross, after many sufferings, Christ died in the flesh. Before that terrible execution Christ spent the night face to face with impending death. He prayed to the Father: “Let this cup pass from me,” but then, having strengthened in spirit, He says to the Father: “Your will be done.” And then we hear in the Gospel how He was tortured and beaten for a long time and He, in His, humility was dying a slow death on the Cross, without uttering a word of cowardice and reproach. The only words addressed by Him to the Father at that moment were the words about His tormentors: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
The events of the Passion of the Lord pass before us, and all that happened to Him because of His love for people. Before that, Christ said to his disciples: “No one takes my life away from me – I freely give it.” He fulfilled the work of our salvation to the end, but what is the cost of this saving love for people!
The death of Christ tells us about the joy of His Resurrection, but today we see His mother weeping at the Cross, that Most Pure Virgin, Who brings the priceless sacrifice as a gift to the people – her Son – for the salvation of the world. She loved her Son like no one else in the world. He dies, and She, filled with compassion, dies together with Him and in Her longsuffering forgives the murderers of Her Divine Son, so that later she can have the right to pray before Him for our salvation. The Most Holy Mother of God received that right through participation in the death of her Son on the cross!
Then the body of the Lord was removed from the Cross by His disciples, who had previously kept discipleship secret, but now, in the face of death, they came forth without fear. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus carried the Lord’s body to a cave in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And now we have the Shroud before us, where His Mother and disciples are depicted besides the body of Jesus. When we kiss this sacred object, let us do it is with great reverence and trembling, considering carefully with all our soul that the horror of Christ’s death is based on one thing: on our sin, and each of us who sin is responsible for this death, for it happened because we lose the fear of God and depart from His commandments. Looking at the Shroud, let us hear the cry of the Mother of God, let us feel the horror of His disciples, the grief and groan of the whole earth.
Let us thank God for our salvation, which was bought by Jesus Christ and the Mother of God at such a high and terrible price and which is so accessible to us, but which we sometimes pass by indifferently. Let us sing glory to God for the Cross, for death, for the fact that death is no longer the end for us, but only a sleep of dormition, the beginning of eternity.
Today we are in the silence of the most blessed Saturday, when the Lord rested in the flesh from His suffering. All the most terrible and painful ended, and, looking at His body, depicted on the Shroud, we can be imbued with a sense of peace and tranquillity. The Lord descended into that abyss and depths of hell, where there is no God and no hope. When He entered that place, hell shook and was horrified, and a miracle happened – hell lost its power and was defeated. In the Resurrection of Christ, heaven, earth and hell were filled with light. When the Conqueror of death, Jesus, appeared in hell, all its captives were illuminated by the light of Christ and the righteous who had been waiting for Christ came out of the dark captivity after the victorious Shepherd. Jesus Christ, by His Divinity, His Cross, His Light, bound the dark and evil power of the devil, freeing the entire enslaved human race.
Before the Resurrection of Christ, death was terrible for man, it separated him from God and his loved ones, and after the Resurrection, immortality shone forth, and instead of death, man gained dormition and eternal life. “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55), the Apostle exclaims with triumphant joy.
Saint Gregory Palamas writes in his sermons on the Great Saturday: “By His sacrifice, Christ freed us from the bondage of the devil and death, having given His blood for redemption. He redeemed us from guilt, forgiving us our sins and tearing apart their recording on the Cross. He redeemed us from the tyranny of the devil, who turned out to be tightly bound, exposed for affront by the Cross of Christ. ” Further the Holy Hierarch continues: “Let us also, imitating Christ with our righteousness, overcome the prince of darkness, repel his attack and incitement to evil passions. And although Christ defeated and bound the chief of evil, driving him out of human souls, yet he allows him to attack from without, so that the renewed man, living according to the Gospel of Christ, in virtue and repentance, enduring suffering and thus tempered, prepared himself in this age for the acquisition of future heavenly blessings. “
The death of Christ forever removed from hell everything that is able to live, it abolished the horror of enslavement by death. And now we call death dormition, that is, temporary sleep. Suffering of Christ sanctified our earthly suffering for righteousness and faith, replacing the wrath of God with the hope of salvation in the Kingdom of eternal glory. What is our coffin now? This is no longer a dreary, terrifying place of decay, but a blessed bed of dormition, on which our body, burdened by life’s struggle, rests until the joyful morning of the Resurrection. The grave of a righteous is God’s field, on which perishable things are sown in order to rise up into incorruption. And when a righteous person passes away from life, he does not go into the abyss of abandonment by God and despair, but to God, who loved us so that He gave His Only Begotten and Beloved Son as a sacrifice, so that we would believe in His love. He died so that we believe that we are loved by Him, and therefore we can, by dying with Him, be resurrected with Him for eternal life, throwing off, everything that is perishable and temporary from our souls, like old clothes.
Now we see in death not dead and dry bones, fear and hopelessness, but the joy of the future Resurrection, full of life, and victory over death. We can already glorify the Resurrection in front of the Shroud, which depicts the long-suffering body of Jesus, who conquered death. And we will soon celebrate this victory and triumphantly sing, waiting with hope and joy for the moment when this Easter message will reach us, when the victory song of the Resurrection of Christ will ring out in all churches! May the Lord help us in this!