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Christ on Trial Before Pilate


The entire life of our Lord Jesus Christ was a single continuous labor of self-abasement and suffering, a labor of patient endurance of all kinds of tribulations and sorrows. From the beginning of His days He appeared in deepest humility – born of a poor and unknown Mother and, moreover, born in a cave and laid in a manger. Soon afterwards, made known to the world by a celestial sign (the star), He was immediately subjected to persecution: King Herod sought the Child’s soul, and He, like any mortal, was forced to seek refuge from the murderer’s hand and flee to a foreign land. After His return from there, He settled down in the most insignificant town of Nazareth and continued to live in total anonymity, obedient to His supposed carpenter father, sharing the latter’s labor and poverty. The land of Galilee in which our Lord lived was filled with pagans, people who did not know God; and here, living among sinners, He constantly sorrowed over their sins and the sins of the whole world. Afterwards, when He reached the age of 30, He went together with all the sinners to John the Baptist in the wilderness, to be baptized by him. Even here the Lord showed such incredible depth of humility! Then the Creator of the world and all creatures stayed in the wilderness with the animals, and here the Master of all experienced hunger, and thirst, and was like a nobody; for 40 days He remained without food, suffering cold and hunger under the open sky. Then He was tempted by the devil, who even demanded worship from the One Who was hymned by the angels. How could the Creator, Who abundantly provides us with all delights, endure all this, and endure such humiliation from His adversary!

But there was something even more grievous than that! Now the Saviour appears before the world, brings glad tidings of great joy, – and what happens? – all the elite of this world rises up against Him and opposes Him: the scribes, the Pharisees, the Jewish priests and high priests – all turned against Him, all sought to trip Him up, if not in deed, then in word. He summons all the sons of Israel to Him, treats them as a friend, as a brother, while the wicked people do not believe Him and try to destroy Him. Especially the proud Pharisees were against Him, those hypocritical people who always tried to appear better than they were. More than any others they hated Him and made attempts upon His life; and they always treated Him with humiliation, disdain, and mockery. They considered His teaching to be flattery and deceit, His deeds to be unlawful, His miracles they attributed to the power of the demonic prince, and they even openly accused Him of being possessed. They contemptuously called Him a carpenter’s son, a Samaritan, a friend of publicans and sinners, and everywhere they persecuted Him as a great criminal and transgressor of the law of Moses. Many times they made attempts upon His life: one time they wanted to push Him off a high cliff into the abyss, many times they tried to stone Him or sent their servants to seize and bind Him. All in all, from His very birth and to the end of His life, Jesus Christ suffered, was subjected to all manner of insults, and suffered grief from all sides. Even within the circle of His closest disciples He saw and continuously suffered the presence of His future betrayer.

But the time came when He was due to manifest the greatest miracle of His Divine life, to wit: to give Himself up to death for the salvation of mankind. The merciful God had already promised the first man to send a Saviour Who would take upon Himself the sins of the world, and for that He would be stung in the heel by the serpent, i.e. He would suffer death in His flesh; however, He Himself would smite the serpent’s head, which had enticed people to sin and death, i.e. He would vanquish the devil and destroy among men the sin and death that had come through the devil. By God’s command the prophets often repeated this promise of God and revealed the mystery of it to the chosen people. Jesus Christ Himself said many times that He was to suffer and die for mankind, and that in Him would be fulfilled all that the prophets had foretold about the promised Saviour of the world.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa says: “What great deprivation – for God to be in the form of a slave! What great humility – for the King of creation to commune with our human nature! The King of kings and the Lord of lords has willingly attired Himself in the form of a slave; the Judge of the universe becomes the hostage of His underlings; the Lord of creation resides in a cave… The Most-pure and Most-whole takes upon Himself the iniquity of human nature, takes on the burden of all our poverty, proceeds even to the point of death. Do you see the measure of willingly-accepted abasement? Life tastes death; the Judge is brought to trial; the Lord of all creation is subjected to a judge’s verdict; the King of all the heavenly hosts does not turn away from Himself the hands of the executors of punishment.”

This is what our salvation cost the Lord our Saviour! These grief and constant sorrows are the price that He paid for our deliverance from sin and eternal torment! But how our Lord suffered in the last night before His death on the cross, what terrible torments of the soul He experienced during that time, – not a single tongue can say, nor a single mind imagine. However, His beloved disciples heard a little about it, and they have passed their knowledge on to us.

Our Lord’s anguish in the garden of Gethsemane

And now came the hour which had been determined at God’s pre-eternal council, the hour of which the Son of God, pondering it several days before, had said: “Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour! But for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27). And thus, when the hour came, the anguish of His soul increased greatly. At the end of the Mystic Supper and the farewell talk with His disciples, the Lord, going out of Jerusalem, was accompanied by them to the Mount of Olives. At that time the mount was covered by olive trees. Crossing the brook of Cedron that ran dark and turbid near the walls of Jerusalem, and ascending to the village of Gethsemane, the Lord said to His disciples: “Wait here, while I go and pray there.” To the right of the village a garden was spread alongside the brook, into which the Lord often went with His disciples, and now, too, He went into this garden, taking with Him only Peter, James, and John, who had seen His glory on Mount Tabor. And here He began to be grief-stricken, afeared, and anguished, saying: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Tarry ye here and watch with Me; pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” And going somewhat apart from them and kneeling, He fell upon His face and prayed that, if possible, this hour pass Him by.

In order for us not to be idle spectators of our Saviour’s anguish, let us first look at the reason why He began to sorrow so greatly and feel fear and anguish. So why was there such great sorrow in the One Who was truly the Christ, Son of the living God, of Whom we heard the angel’s tidings: He shall save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21)? But how would He save them? No one knew until the actual hour of salvation came. And in what exactly does our salvation lie? Simply in the forgiveness of our sins? But how would this satisfy God’s truth, which condemns for transgression of the law? No, Christ obviously did not come down to earth only to preach His Divine teaching. Any other divinely-inspired man could have been sent to do this, such as Moses or the other prophets, gifted by God with power to work miracles in confirmation of their words. Divine truth apparently does not wish to simply forgive sins, but wishes to expiate them with the death of the One Whom the Baptist pointed out and said: Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world. Only with such an understanding can we comprehend the Lord’s words: for this cause came I unto this hour.

Only the one who attains such an understanding of God’s truth can then be a worthy contemplator of the Saviour’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. He can then understand why our Lord began to sorrow in anguish when the hour came for Him to leave this world and return to His Father. But if anyone should further ask: for what cause? “The punishment of the world was upon Him,” informs us the prophet Isaiah, “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4). Erstwhile Adam led a blissful life in the garden that had been planted in the East; everything was good for him there among the trees of paradise, yet he deemed it not enough to know only good, but wished to become a connoisseur of good and evil, – though God had forbidden him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Expelled for that cause from paradise, he also precipitated us, his descendants, into an abyss of sin and death. For this reason the Father of the future age, Who came into this vale of tears not to seek any benefits for Himself, but to give up His soul for the deliverance of many, had to suffer all the horrors and grief that come from sin and death. One of Adams descendants had cried out prophetically: “Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me” (Psalm 55:5). The same feelings must have overwhelmed the One Who not only in word, but in deed took upon Himself the sins of mankind and for that became the object of heavenly wrath. This is why the Saviour of the world sorrowed, and sorrowed unto death, suffered so inexpressibly, was afeared and anguished! The following prophetic words applied to Him in all their power: “The afflictions of hell hath overwhelmed me; I have met with sorrow and torment.” And He could say quite justifiably to the righteous God: “Thy arrows have pierced Me, and My heart hath dried out like grass; My insides have become filled with fire, My soul is afflicted greatly, and I have languished.” But what are the sufferings of the body in comparison with the suffering of the soul! They are like drops in an ocean. It was in this manner that the beloved Son of God suffered in His soul. And He suffered as someone without sins Himself, only for our sins.

O, let us thank the merciful God, Who so loved the world that He gave up His Only-begotten Son for us, that through His suffering we might be delivered from eternal torment. For no one except Him could have satisfied God’s righteous truth, and such had been our downfall, that for our deliverance from sin and eternal torment our God incarnate Himself had to suffer the afflictions of hell, – not with His Divinity of course, but with His body and soul. Let us also know that these greatest sorrows, fear, and mortal anguish of the soul, that are rightfully called the afflictions of hell, are above all comprehension and imagination. The soul quickly languishes from them, and not a single person would agree to suffer them for even the briefest moment. It is for this reason that the Saviour of the world, as a true man, cried out in great anguish: “O My Father! If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” Show Thy fatherly mercy upon Me, free Me from this suffering, for bitter is the torment prepared for sinners. However, do Thou with Me as thou wilt.

While our Lord suffered unbearably, His disciples were asleep; this shows that the Lord’s prayer, though not verbose, was of some duration. The disciples, however, were unable to share their Teacher’s spiritual anguish: the festive paschal evening, the lengthy talk, the nighttime travel, – all disposed them towards sleep. Although the Lord had said to them: “watch with Me,” their spiritual dejection and not knowing all that was due to happen to their Teacher forced them to not so much disobey His word as to submit to their body’s frailty. Of course they would not have acted thus had they known that this evening was the last in their Teacher’s life, the last evening He was spending with them; but they did not know that. And so the Lord came up to them and said to Peter: “Simon! Are you sleeping? Could you not watch a single hour?” The very sound of these words already let Peter know that his Teacher’s heart was rent with sorrow. Then, turning to the others, the Lord said: “Why do ye sleep? Could ye not watch with Me one hour? But watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” With these last words He indicated to them that they, who just an hour ago had promised to give up their life for Him, could not even overcome their bodies’ weakness now.

Saying that, the Lord stepped away from them further into the garden and once again, falling upon His face, cried out: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me! O My Father! All is possible for Thee; let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt; not my will, but Thy will be done.” After praying thus a second time the Lord, still hoping to find support for His soul, so-to-speak, in the prayer of His disciples, approached them once again. Persuaded to prayer the first time, the disciples had actually begun this holy task; however, not feeling any special need for it and seeing by the light of the moon that their Teacher was praying and that neither He, nor they were in any danger, they did not wish to exert themselves needlessly, and so they fell asleep once more.

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane
Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

But their sleep was fitful, and at their Teacher’s approach they immediately raised their heads; however, it was enough just to look at them to be convinced that they were incapable of prayer, for their eyes were heavy, and they did not know what to say in reply to their Lord Who had several times already exhorted them to pray. Thus came to pass the words of King David: “I looked for some to take pity, but there were none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20). From the very beginning there was no one to share with the Saviour of the world the cup of His suffering: He alone had to press the grapes of God’s wrath, as notes the Prophet Isaiah.

The Agony of Christ
The Agony of Christ

There are times that are very difficult to bear even for plain sinners. How terrible were now the hours for the One Who was suffering for the sins of all sinners, beginning with Adam and all to way to those who will be living in the end times! He was now as a rejected sinner in the eyes of His Father, and He suffered so unbearably that a great change appeared in His face: bitter tears flowed from His eyes, while His face became covered with bloody sweat. And, struggling thus, He prayed even more fervently; and His sweat was like great drops of blood falling down to the ground, – so attest the Scriptures. All His emotional and physical powers were becoming exhausted, and His life seemed to be seeping out of Him; then an Angel from heaven appeared to Him and fortified Him. Fortified how and with what? Although the apostles, who saw the appearance of the Angel, do not speak of this, but since it is known that the Lord was undergoing emotional suffering, it may be assumed that the Angel comforted His soul with God’s words.

And so it was that the One Who with a single word called forth the dead from their tombs, Who healed all illness in people, but Who for the sake of our sins suffered the utmost exhaustion of life’s forces, now arose from the ground, fortified by the heavenly messenger, and looking upward into heaven said: “O My Father! If this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done!” Thus let us look at the Son of God’s utter obedience, at the great humility of His soul; for there is no conceit in it, no fainthearted rejection, nor any protest at His forthcoming fate. At first the frailty of human nature speaks in Him: may the cup of these greatest sufferings pass from Me; but His soul’s submission repeats over and over again: not My will, but Thy will be done. The desire within Jesus’ soul is holy even in its utter exhaustion! Truly the majesty of His spirit shines within Him in all its splendor.

Gazing upon the tears and being pierced by the cries of the Divine Sufferer Who has replaced us before the tribunal of God’s truth, which one of us does not notice how much effort and suffering it cost Him to deliver us from eternal torment! Thus we see the cup full of bitter sorrow, we see both the emotional and the spiritual exhaustion, the falling to the ground, the bloody sweat, we hear the agony, – and all this because of whom and for whose sake? – because of us and for the sake of us, unworthy ones! O let us fall down before our Lord, brethren, and let us cry and weep before Him for having subjected Him to such agony through our sins! Let us know at what price we have been redeemed from eternal torment! Let us also realize that had He not revealed His spiritual agony in this hour, we would not have known how costly was our salvation for our Saviour, we would not have been able to properly value the majesty of His goodness. We could have thought that His Divinity made all these suffering totally insignificant for Him, but now – O, how we must venerate our Saviour, Who had not refused to drink such a bitter cup of suffering for us!

Then, knowing as omniscient God that the hour had come in which He was to be given into the hands of sinners, the Saviour came up to His disciples and said: “ye are still sleeping and resting! Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray Me.” At that moment one of His twelve disciples appeared in the garden at the head of a crowd of people with lanterns and lights. This was Judas the betrayer.

The betrayal

The garden of Gethsemane, in which the Saviour of the world was to be found now, was one of His favorite places for visiting and nightly prayers. Whenever He stayed in Jerusalem, He usually went into the mountains for the night, particularly to the Mount of Olives, and there in the garden near the brook of Cedron He spent the nights with His disciples. So it was now, with the only difference being that one of the disciples remained in the city that evening, planning to commit a great villainy, which later became known to the whole world. Being well-acquainted with the place where the Lord often went with his disciples, Judas Iscariot, by agreement with the members of the Sanhedrin, took a detachment of soldiers and a multitude of servants belonging to the Jewish chief priests, scribes, and elders, and led them directly to the garden where his Teacher was praying. And at the moment when the Lord was rousing His disciples and saying: arise, let us be going… Judas entered the garden, followed by a multitude of people, all with weapons in their hands, with swords and staves. The iniquitous Judas was still trying to conceal his villainy from his Teacher, and in order to give the soldiers a sign as to whom they should seize, he told them in advance: to Whom I give a kiss, He is the one; take Him and lead Him quietly, so that He would not be able to somehow escape. And now with quick steps he approached his Teacher, Who was standing and awaiting his arrival. Let us also pause at the sight of this strange man, this disciple-betrayer, of whom the Lord often said to His disciples: did I not choose you, and yet one of you is the devil. Within the small community of Christ’s disciples Judas occupied the position of treasurer. He was a man of intelligence, but one who was devoted exclusively to material advantages; he was pious in appearance, but was convinced that piety was also to be used for gain. With such a disposition, he wished to become one of Christ’s disciples also for the sake of worldly benefits. He thought that being a disciple of the One Who, in the opinion of all the Jews, was due to reign over all nations, he too would attain honors, power, glory, and wealth. However, when he saw and over the course of three years became totally convinced that being the follower of a Man Who loved poverty and brought solace to beggars did not promise him fulfillment of his heart’s desires, he turned around completely, n order to gain at least some profit for his three years of service in Christ’s company. This is why his mind became clouded, and like a thief – for earlier he also kept back for himself part of what was given out to the poor – he used the cover of night to effect this deed, which earned him only a beggarly thirty pieces of silver and then led him to his end as a thief, traitor, and seller of Christ.

When this villain approached the One Whom the Pharisees had hatefully labeled as a friend of sinners and Who truly was such, trying to save them, the merciful Teacher asked him: “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” Although the Omniscient One knew the reason for His betrayer’s arrival, He intentionally asked him so kindly, – perhaps such friendly words would still echo in the miserable man’s soul? “Rabbi” (Teacher)… the word trembled and died on Judas’s lips. “Hail, Master!” – then said the hypocrite in a trembling voice and kissed Him. O, infamous one! He greets Him as a friend and with the same kiss gives a sign whom to seize. Yet the merciful Lord only said to him: “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” But the insensate one then silently went back to the crowd of Christ’s enemies.

The Kiss of Judas
The Kiss of Judas

It was noticeable that all those who had come to seize Jesus were in the grip of an unusual kind of fear, for they knew with whom they were dealing – with the greatest of Miracle-workers! There had already been examples where fire from heaven burned up the military commanders and their detachments that had been sent to seize the prophet Elias; therefore, although they saw Judas’s kiss and knew well whom to seize, they were still bewildered as to how to proceed, – no one wished to become the first to be subjected to heavenly wrath, and so all stood immobile. Then the Lord Himself approached them and asked: “Whom do you seek?” – “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied to Him. “It is I,” the Lord said to them in a louder voice, and all those who stood before Him ran backward and fell to the ground. Such was the extraordinary power present in even the meekest words of the Lord! And it is not to be wondered at. If even His disciples sometimes felt such power within themselves that they once wished to bring down fire from heaven to burn whole villages for not accepting their Teacher, then what could not have been done to those who had come to take Him to His death, had not the Lord been merciful to His enemies. And now He simply wished to show them that He Himself was giving Himself up, and that without His will they could not have done anything to Him at all. For here was only a word from Him: it is I, – and all enemies were thrown down to the ground.

After that the Lord’s power, which had thrown His enemies down to the ground, left them, in order for them to be able to do what they wished. The armed soldiers, together with the more insolent servants, began to surround Jesus and His disciples, intending to seize them also. Then the Lord asked once again: “Whom do you seek?” – And again they replied to Him: “Jesus of Nazareth.” – “It is I,” the Lord again said them meekly; “if you are looking for Me, let them be, let them go.” And thus was fulfilled a prophecy that had been said on His behalf: “Of those whom Thou had given Me, I have not lost a single one.”

The Scriptures also mention the assembly of high priests and elders, who had apparently arrived some time after their servants. The Lord, holding out His hands to be bound, says to the high priests surrounding Him: “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves to take Me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on Me, but now this is your hour and the power of darkness. All this was done that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” With these words the Lord, like a light shining in a dark place, still tried to illuminate with the light of God’s truth the hearts of those who were obscured by evil. And this shows how the Saviour was always concerned with the salvation of all, even His enemies. But the darkness of disbelief covered the hearts of those who hated the light of truth, and neither the power of the Lord’s words, nor His instruction, nor anything else made them come to their senses and instilled the fear of God in them.

Christ is bound and led to the high priest
Christ is bound and led to the high priest

The disciples, seeing their Teacher already bound, became frightened and decided to all run away. The soldiers and the servants then led their Prisoner into the city of Jerusalem, which had erstwhile slaughtered its prophets and was now preparing to add to the measure of its bloodshed.

Accompanying our Lord now in spirit, we must weep and thank Him Who so loves us and has given Himself up for us. For who can have greater love than the one who gives up his soul for his friends? Let us also think of His enemies, of why they, even seeing all the great miracles that He had worked before them, did not believe in Him? All those who think that the Lord establishing His kingdom on earth are far from His kingdom. The Jews serve as the foremost example of this, since their general belief about Christ was that He would be their Saviour not from sins and eternal torment, but from temporal misfortunes. They imagined Him as a king and a great conqueror on earth, who would rule over all the people on earth; they expected Him to shower the sons of Israel with immeasurable riches, endow them with grand estates, and make them the happiest people on earth. With such a false belief, what were they to think when the Saviour of the world arrived not with a sword in hand, but with great meekness preaching to them of repentance, of abandonment of sin, and at the same time of renunciation of worldly goods which lead people to sin? Could they accept as king the One Who brought comfort only to the poor, the weeping, the persecuted, Who taught endurance of insult, deprivation, and sorrow? This is why they began all together to reject the kingdom of Christ, as the Lord said to them in the parable. At the same time, their leaders decided to seize Christ as Someone Who taught people not in accordance with their concepts and Who destroyed the well-being of their earthly lives. Such was the source of their enmity towards God and His Christ!

The Lord on trial before the Sanhedrin

Let us now direct our spiritual gaze toward the Divine Prisoner, Who was first brought to the old high priest Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, who headed the Sanhedrin at that time. The decrepit old man was pleased to see in fetters the One Whom for such a long time they had tried to capture. As though knowing nothing at all about His teaching, Annas demanded an explanation from Him – for what reason did He gather His disciples and what did He teach them? – wishing to condemn Him for this as an agitator and disturber of civil peace. But the righteous Lord replied to the unjust judge: “I spoke openly to the world; I always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort, and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou Me? Ask them which heard Me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I sad.” Such an answer, based upon absolute truth, should have served as the best response to the lawless judge; however, it was quite abhorrent to Him. Seeing this, one of the servants immediately struck Jesus on the cheek, saying: Answerest Thou the high priest so? But the One Who taught people to love their enemies could have endured an even greater insult, for our Lord is long-suffering and most-merciful, as the Scriptures say of Him. And here He showed this in reality, having refrained from commanding the earth to open up and swallow the iniquitous one, as the meek Moses had done in a similar case; nor did He destroy him with heavenly fire, as the prophet Elias had done many times. But – O, greatest of miracles – the Son of God endures being struck by His most iniquitous creation and merely asks the wicked servant meekly: why smites thou Me? If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil, but if well, why smites thou Me? – It would seem that such words, full of peace and truth, could have touched even petrified hearts, but here they had no effect whatsoever; after the interrogation Annas sent the bound Jesus to the high priest Caiaphas, where by this time the entire Sanhedrin had already gathered.

This iniquitous assembly of 70 members was looking for false testimony against Jesus that could serve to put Him to death, since the impious ones wanted to give their trial an appearance of lawfulness, and for this reason the hypocrites immediately began searching for perjurers who could say at least something against Him that would warrant His execution. At the same time, another event took place in the courtyard of the high priest Annas that was just as unpleasant for a soul which loved truth and abhorred lying. When the Lord was being led to Annas, Simon Peter and John followed Him from afar to the high priest’s courtyard. John was known to the high priest and therefore entered the courtyard, while Peter stood outside the gates.

Apostle Peter’s denial of Christ
Apostle Peter’s denial of Christ

Afterwards John came out and spoke with the gatekeeper, who let Peter into the courtyard, but asked him whether he was one of that man’s disciples? Peter replied simply: no, and quickly stepped away into the courtyard. There, at the back of the courtyard, the Jewish servants and slaves had a fire going, because the night was cold, and some were standing, while others were sitting at the fire and warming themselves. Peter then approached them, not only to warm himself, but also to learn of what was happening to his Teacher and how this entire affair would end. At this point he found himself in a rather dangerous situation: his timidity, curiosity, and troubled spirit soon made him an object of suspicion. Soon afterwards another of the high priest’s servants came up the fire, and seeing Peter warming himself, looked at him and asked: were you not also with Jesus of Galilee? Woman, said Peter, I do not know Him and do not understand what you are talking about. And he went out into the front courtyard; and the cock crowed. It was exactly midnight.

So what do the viper’s offspring do, as they seek the death of Jesus Christ? They gather false witnesses from all sides, they accept anyone who can slander the Righteous One; and the sought for witnesses hastily appeared, but no matter what they said, no matter what guilt and crimes they imputed to Him, they could not bring Him under the law of execution: even in their court of injustice they could not find deeds or words that would merit His being put to death. Many pointed out His violation of Saturday as a day of rest, others spoke of His disregard for ancient customs, still others made up obvious falsehoods, but the slander could not stand up to examination. Then two more false witnesses appeared and said: we heard how He used to say: I can destroy this hand-made temple of God and in three days I will erect another one, not made by hand. The Lord had oftentimes said to the Jews: “Destroy this temple, and I will resurrect it in three days.” This He said concerning His body, calling it a temple, since Divinity did in truth reside within it, and in this manner He indicated that when they would crucify Him, after three days He would resurrect His body from the dead. Although these words of the false witnesses were not enough for a death sentence, they still showed the way for discovering something in Jesus that was rebellious and disrespectful towards the temple of God. Therefore the high priest, standing up immediately, angrily said: why dost Thou not reply? Dost Thou not hear what they are testifying against Thee? But the Lord stood silently and did not say a single word in response to all the accusations. Besides, did He need to justify Himself before those who had paid out pieces of silver not to find out the truth, but only to accuse Him and put Him to death?!

Neither was there any reply to the strict command to defend Himself. Then the irritated Caiaphas undertakes extreme measures to force the Accused to say something in reply. Such a right – to force an accused person to speak and, moreover, to strictly speak the truth – belonged only to the power of the high priest, and it consisted of invoking the name of God, so that it would be impossible to stay silent without violating one’s obedience to the authorities and to God. In his role as high priest, Caiaphas pompously said: I adjure Thee by the living God – tell us, art Thou Christ, the Son of the blessed God? “Thou hast rightly said,” was the reply of the Son of God. – “I truly am that; and I will even say unto you: hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of God’s power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

This is precisely the confession that the head of the Sanhedrin Caiaphas wished to hear, but in order to hide his inner satisfaction, the hypocrite immediately pretends to be shocked – he clutches his chest and rends his satin robes, as though in great fervor on behalf of the glory of God, showing thus that he is hearing intolerable blasphemy. At the same time he cries out in a loud voice: “He is blaspheming! What further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy!” All of them, sharing the pretended horror of their master, looked upon the bound Son of man, Who called Himself Son of God, with genuine astonishment. “What think ye?” – added the cunning Caiaphas. And everyone replied with one voice: He is guilty of death.

Christ judged by the high priest
Christ judged by the high priest

Ah, what can falsehood do! And what evil deeds are committed by iniquitous people! These people who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him; and the servants beat Him on the cheeks, and shutting His eyes, struck Him in the face and asked Him: guess, Christ, who struck Thee? And they said many other abusive words to Him and tormented the Innocent One as their victim.

They could not sleep in these dark, cold hours of the night, and they vent on His innocence all their servile infamy and baseness; with His arms twisted behind Him, the lonely Saviour stood in silent torment among this wild and savage crowd. This was the first humiliation of the Son of God: Christ was humiliated, the Judge was condemned, the Holiest One became a criminal, the Deliverer was fettered!

Peter’s second and third renunciation. All that was now happening to the Lord was being witnessed by His two disciples, standing in the high priest’s courtyard and looking with anguish upon His torment. And others who were there came up to Peter and said: truly thou art one of them, for thou art a Galilean, and thy speech sets you apart. Then one of the servants, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said: did I not see thee with Him in the garden? At this point the timid disciple began to swear, saying: “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And when he said those words, the cock suddenly crowed for the second time; and the Lord, turning around, glanced at Peter. And Peter remembered the Lord’s words, which He had said to him: before the cock crows twice, thou willst renounce me thrice. And, going out, Peter began to weep bitterly.

It was dark and cold at the end of that night, and a sad gloom and joyless chilliness lay in Peter’s soul. Tears unwillingly rolled from the eyes of the one who had renounced Christ: and with a sorrowing soul, all in tears, he went along the way that had been taken by his Teacher at the beginning of that night. The Lord’s conversation at supper and His invitation to pray with Him during the night – all reminded Peter of his fault; but infinitely most painful for him were his own words that he did not know that man. – O, how can I not know Thee, my Lord, – said Peter to himself, – Thee, Who saved me when I was drowning in the tempestuous sea?! How can I not know Thee, Whom I acknowledged as the Son of God, Who called us His friends and preached to us the words of eternal life? Could I not know the One with Whom I was to ready to go to prison and to death? And now… o, most miserable hours of my life! My soul has been overcome by fear and trembling, and darkness has enveloped my villainous self; and now I cry, I cry over Thee, Lord! Without Thee I wish for nothing on earth; may tears be my soul’s nourishment throughout all my days.

Ratification of the death sentence. The night in which so many terrible events had taken place came to an end. There dawned the morning of the day in the evening of which the sons of Israel were to sacrifice the paschal lamb; everyone’s minds were occupied with preparation for the ceremonious feast. But that was not what the Jewish elders – the scribes and the high priests – were thinking about; early in the morning they gathered at Caiaphas’ place and held a second council, in order to put the Lamb of God to death.

According to the law, a criminal could not be condemned to death at a single council; thus the iniquitous ones, pretending to do everything according to the law, once again bring Jesus Christ to the Sanhedrin and ask Him: art Thou Christ? Tell us! He said to them: “Even if I tell you once more, you will not believe Me; and if I ask you anything, you will not reply to Me or let Me go.

From now on the Son of man will sit on the right side of God’s power.” These words were said with the following meaning: you are unable to be convinced of anything, and you do not wish to understand any of My words; moreover, My death is inevitable, for the Son of man has to die in order to attain the glory which He had with His Father before the existence of all creation. – And so Thou art the Son of God? – they said to Him; and to this He still replied: “You speak rightly that I am.” Then they all began saying: what other testimony do we need, for we ourselves have heard from His own lips. And, passing the sentence, they once again bound Jesus, and the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to the praetorium (house of the ruler), in order to turn Him over to Pontius Pilate. And it all came to pass as the Lord Himself had foretold: the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and scourge, and to crucify Him (Matt. 20:18-19).

Christ is led to Pontius Pilate
Christ is led to Pontius Pilate

Death of the betrayer

Jesus Christ’s sentencing to death strongly affected the soul of Judas the betrayer. He was overcome with such great remorse that, not knowing what to do, he decided upon the following course of action: he came to the judges and, giving them back the 30 pieces of silver, said: I have sinned by betraying innocent blood. But no one wanted to talk to him about it; – to the unjust judges such a confession was like an unbearable reproach, and they only replied to him: what is it to us? Look to yourself if you feel you have done something poorly.

Distressed by such indifference, Judas immediately turned his full attention towards himself, and all his dishonesty presented itself to his mind; at this point his soul became filled with despair, and taking the money, he went and threw it onto the floor of the temple. But Satan, who had entered into him the day before, whispered to him over and over again: great is your guilt; you can no longer live in this world. And so the miserable one hurried outside the city, and there at the stream of Cedron, near the garden of Gethsemane, he hanged himself in despair. The judgment of the Almighty punished also Judas’s body hanging on the tree: the corpse fell to the ground and his belly burst open.

It was not in vain that the Lord said: woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed; it had been good for that man if he had not been born (Matt. 26:24). But why – someone may well ask – was he born then? Why did God give him life? Obviously not for him to perish in such a terrible way. This we can also see from the fact that the Lord, Who always knew who would betray Him, chose him as one of His disciples, and even one of the closest ones. Although the Lord said to His disciples: one of you is the devil; but He did not choose Judas to have him turn from an apostle into the devil; no, there was no such intention on the part of the Saviour, Who wishes all people to be saved and come to know the truth. The Lord called Judas to Him also in order to instruct him, to teach him God’s truth; and for this reason He had him by His side for three years and even gave him the power to work miracles, so that he could come to believe in the truth of Christ’s teaching. Many means were given to Judas by the Lord to become pious and virtuous; however, he had in his soul a certain illness – that love of money, which, according to Apostle Paul, is the root of all evil. This passion continued to become more and more deep-seated, continued to grow within his soul; and finally he became so attached to money, that for the sake of it he was ready to commit all possible villainy. The merciful Lord naturally used all possible means to treat the soul of the wretched disciple; this is attested to by the Last Supper: how many warnings, appeals, how many friendly words and most intense encouragement to repentance! But the heart of the money-lover was unable to absorb even a single vital and significant word; the Lord’s words were repulsive to Judas’s soul and produced only internal pain. Losing all patience, Judas finally decided to abandon the company that had become impoverished for the sake of their Teacher and was only a source of ennui to him. And so, after three years of service, he decided to sell the Teacher of this company; this hellish idea was accepted by the money-lover most willingly.

The 30 pieces of silver that had been acquired by Judas unjustly were not accepted into the temple treasury; the high priests took them and said: it is not meet to put them into the temple treasury, for they are the price of blood. After holding a council, they decided to use them to buy land for the burial of strangers; and they bought a potter’s field, as though on purpose to fulfill the prophetic words which they usually read each Saturday. And they took thirty pieces of silver – said the prophecy – the price of the appraised one, whom the sons of Israel had appraised; and they gave them in payment for the potter’s field, as the Lord had revealed to me (Zechariah 11:12-13).

It is wondrous how each prophetic word is fulfilled so exactly! Even today one can see in the environs of Jerusalem the site which was bought with Judas’s villainous recompense, as though in fulfillment of prophecy: may his homestead be empty, and may not a single living being reside in his dwelling. And thus the site has become a silent abode of the dead! The place is called Akeldama, i.e. field of blood, even to this day.

The Lord on trial before Pilate

After deeming Jesus Christ’s declaration to be false, the members of the Sanhedrin decided that His guilt warranted His being put to death, but they themselves did not have the power to execute anyone without the ruler’s permission. At that time the Jews, as well as many other peoples, were under the rule of the Roman Emperor (Caesar), who always retained power over the life of his subjects and handed it to the military commander whom he sent to rule over the country. At that time the ruler of the Judean province was Pilate, a man by no means well-disposed towards the repellent Jewish people, especially their Sanhedrin. In order to exert greater influence upon him, the members of the court decided to appear before Pilate in person, and thus Jesus was followed to the home of the ruler by all the high priests, scribes, and elders; however, because Pilate was a pagan, they did not wish to enter his house, in order not to defile themselves and to be able to partake of the paschal lamb that evening. The representative of the imperial rule, though disdained by the sanctimonious Jews as a vile pagan, came out to them onto the balcony; they informed him of the reason for the coming of the Jewish judges before him and of their request to execute the Prisoner Who had been brought to him. The Roman nobleman now had the chance, none better, to show his power over the Jewish leaders, and therefore, pretending not to notice how pressed for time they were, he took on the mien of an objective judge and asked them: of what are you accusing this man? – “If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him unto you,” – replied the elders, upset because their judgment and personal bias was not proof enough for Pilate. With this reply they indicated to him that he should not question the judgment of the entire Sanhedrin, but Pilate was not at all disposed to serve as a blind weapon of this Jewish assembly’s malice, and so he said to them: if so, then take Him yourself and judge Him according to your law. To this they replied: It is not lawful for us to put any man to death, while His crime demands execution. And then they began to slander Him, shouting: we have established that He is corrupting the people and forbidding them to pay tribute to Caesar, calling Himself Christ the king.

Pilate returned to his place, ordering the Prisoner to be brought to him. Such a gathering of Jewish elders and their hypocritical concern for Caesar’s rule over them – all seemed quite strange and made Pilate mistrust their words. On the other hand, the importance of the accusation concerning misappropriation of kingly rank did not allow him to put off the trial, and so Pilate began his inquest: “Art Thou a Jewish king?” – he asked Jesus. And the Latter asked him in turn: “Art thou saying this of thine own accord, or have others told thee about Me?” – i.e. do you think that I am planning to become king of the Jews, or are you asking because you have heard such libel about Me?

Christ before Pilate
Christ before Pilate

Pilate haughtily replied: “Am I a Jew, that I would share their dreams of the appearance of a kingly conqueror from amongst them? Thy people and the high priests have delivered Thee unto me, and there must be some reason for this: what hast Thou done?” – with what actions did You cause them to think that You intend to become their king? Jesus replied to this: “My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is My kingdom not from hence.” – My kingdom is not of this earth, it is not that dominion over all people which the Jews are expecting, and I have not promised them such. If it were so, where is My military might? I am not surrounded by anyone and, therefore, being defenseless, I was straightaway taken by the Jews.

Pilate, having no understanding about a kingdom not from hence, was quite astonished by such a confession, which he heard from the Prisoner standing before him, and Whose condemnation now depended on His reply – did He acknowledge Himself a king or not? And in his amazement Pilate repeated his question: “Thou art a king then?” And the One Who had come into this world to bear witness to the truth replied to him: “Thou sayest that I am king. To this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice.” Pilate asked at this point: “What is truth?” and immediately arose, as though not wishing to accuse himself of not knowing the truth. At that time Roman noblemen were already studying philosophy, which deals with the search for truth, and they even had a saying: you are a king, – referring to anyone who acted justly. It was in this sense that Pilate understood Jesus Christ’s royal pretensions, and for this reason he did not wish to hear any teaching on truth or justice. And going out to the Jews, he said to them: I find no fault at all in this man.

When Jesus Christ was brought out after him, Pilate, pointing to Him, repeated: I do not find any blame in Him.

Even if the members of the Sanhedrin were not short of time, this being the last day before Passover, and were not trying to hurry with the execution of the One Whom all the people venerated as a prophet, Pilate’s announcement would have still given them the greatest offense. To say that there was no blame to be found in the One Whom the Sanhedrin had condemned to death meant to declare that there was no truth in the judges, that they were capable of slandering an innocent man. One can imagine the rage into which the members of the Sanhedrin now fell! However, not wishing to reveal their displeasure to Pilate, they began to accuse Jesus even more fiercely and condemned Him for many things. They represented to Pilate the danger of His remaining alive, in view of all the followers He had; they described the chasing of the moneychangers out of God’s temple; and all of this they presented in the form of revolt against the authorities and disturbance of civil peace. According to court law, the accused was supposed to defend himself, but Jesus Christ did not utter a single word in His defense. “Why dost Thou not say anything in reply?” – Pilate asked the silent Prisoner. – “Dost Thou not hear how many witnesses there are against Thee, how many accusations?” But Jesus continued to keep silent, so that Pilate was quite amazed at such indifference to one’s own defense. And his amazement was not surprising in view of such humble silence from the One Who could have said much in His own defense! A certain tranquility in Him and inexplicable majesty of spirit did not allow one to think that He could not defend Himself; so how could one exonerate the One Who so clearly disdained Him own exoneration? – thus thought Pilate, and suddenly he thought of a way if not to save, at least to deflect from himself the judgment and the sentencing of the Innocent One to death.

When the high priests accused Jesus of being a disturber of peace and said, among other things, that He was agitating the people, teaching all over Judea, beginning with Galilee, then Pilate, hearing of the province of Galilee over which he did not rule, asked: Is He not a Galilean? And learning that He came from the province ruled over by Herod, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time, – as though wishing to show that he was not usurping the rights belonging to another ruler.

Jesus Christ before Herod

It was not easy for the Divine Prisoner, Who had spent the entire night in agony, to walk through the streets of the city in the same manner as He had been led out of the Sanhedrin, i.e. in fetters and under guard. He was followed by His accusers, who had no excuse to contest Pilate’s order, although it was quite unpleasant and even threatening for them. For it was not without fear that they walked behind the Prisoner, Who could be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, running up to see, as though it were a miracle, the Resurrector of the dead finding Himself in mortal danger. But nothing could be done about it – they had to appear before Herod in person, in order to demand the death sentence for the One Who for a long time already was seen by them as a highly dangerous adversary. And thus all the Jewish princes gathered before Herod, who had a title and was still called king among the people, as though expressly to fulfill the prophetic words: the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed (Psalm 2:2).

King Herod, the same one who for his wife’s sake had executed St. John the Baptist, had for a long time wanted to see Jesus, of Whom he even thought that He was John arisen from the dead. Now His appearance in the king’s home was so unexpected and pleasant that, seeing Jesus, Herod was greatly gladdened; he had naturally heard much of His miracles, and he now wished to see some kind of miracle. The haughty ruler imagined that now, threatened by death, the condemned Miracle-worker would reveal to Herod all the miracles of His power or His art, in order to bend Herod to mercy, and began to question Him at length. But the lawless ruler’s curiosity was not satisfied; the Lord did not respond with a single word, nor did He even show any sign of being ready to perform a miracle in order to fulfill the king’s wish. The Son of God stood there just as He had done in the desert where He was being tempted by the devil and encouraged to use His power to work miracles for His own benefit. And so Herod, too, after the joy of anticipating seeing a miracle, became greatly indignant; making use of this occasion, the high priests once again began to slander Jesus, trying to prove that He was a rebel against authority, a disturber of the peace, and without any doubt merited a death sentence. As though illustrating His enemies’ calumniation, Christ’s continuing silence served as an example of His supposed insubordination to authority; therefore, Herod immediately began to humiliate and berate Him for the fact that He, being of lowly origin and possessing neither knowledge, nor military abilities, decided to make Himself out as a king. However, even Herod believed that a man who, as he thought, wanted to be Christ with only a tendency for earthly preaching, presented no danger to the government. It seemed to him that such people merited not death, but mockery, and thus he tried to humiliate Jesus as much as possible. The throng of soldiers and commanding officers surrounding him followed the example of their ruler; the air became filled with taunts, coarse and needling insults, and the Son of man was scorned by all and derided. For His trial shall proceed in humility, as the prophet Isaiah foretold (59:3).

Having sufficiently humiliated and mocked Jesus, in addition to all his insults Herod ordered that He be dressed in a long white shiny garment, such as was usually worn among Romans by those who were assigned to an important position. Thus, thought the jeering Herod, should be dressed the one who so foolhardily presents himself as the king of the Jews; and in this garment he sent Jesus Christ back to Pilate to be tried. Through such mutual respect for each other Pilate and Herod reconciled themselves, for previously they had been enemies. The suffering Redeemer of the world had now made them friends again.

Pilate’s defense of Jesus Christ

The sun was already high, and time was passing without any success for Christ’s enemies, who were impatiently waiting to quickly finish the deed they had begun. It was unbearable for the priests and elders to drag themselves from one court to another and, moreover, without any definite hope. Irritated by the situation, they decided to apply their collective pressure upon Pilate; for besides aggressive insistence, they could not find any other strong means to influence the judge and condemn Jesus to a shameful death. And Pilate was quite aware that the arrogant members of the Sanhedrin wished him to judge according to their will, which for him, as a ruler, was totally unacceptable; for it seemed to him quite humiliating to be for the Sanhedrin simply an instrument of revenge and not of justice. This already indicated that there would be another confrontation between Pilate and the Sanhedrin, – which did, in fact, take place.

After the return of the rebellious Sanhedrin, Pilate was forced to once more judge Jesus Christ. Although he did not have a high opinion of Him, neither did he find in Him any blame meriting the death sentence. However, he was not really a lover of truth; he only wished not to be the one to condemn the Innocent One, and for this reason he had first tried to palm off Jesus Christ to the Sanhedrin for trial, then sent Him to Herod. Now Pilate was once again forced to engage in a trial that was so unpleasant for him, – and there was nothing to be done about it; and so the Roman nobleman now appeared in all the splendor with which Rome decorated its representatives. The Romans loved to use the splendor of garments and the elegance of d?cor to earn popular respect. And now the ruler of the Jewish people, dressed in silk purple robes, proudly ascended a throne made of ivory and tried with his majestic appearance to make the assembled crowd submissive to him. At that time Roman trials usually took place in the open air; for this reason the Roman governor’s judgment seat was set up outside, in the middle of a small area inlaid with marble, for which it was known as the “lithostroton,” i.e. stone pavement. Sitting down upon his judgment seat and summoning the high priests, and the elders, and the people to him, Pilate said to them: “Ye have brought this man (pointing to Christ) unto me, as one that perverteth the people; and behold, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse Him. No, nor yet Herod; for I sent you to him, and lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto Him. I will, therefore, chastise Him and release Him.” These words already show the weakness of Pilate’s truth, for he acknowledges Jesus Christ to be innocent, and yet at the same time wants to chastise Him simply in order to ingratiate himself with the Jews, being totally unconcerned with the fact that such pandering would bring undeserved suffering to the Righteous One. But even such an unjust sentence was not acceptable to Christ’s enemies: they could not bear to hear Pilate’s witness to Jesus’ innocence, and so they decisively declared that they would not be satisfied with any other punishment except execution.

Pilate, not wishing to execute a man who was without blame, and not finding any means of saving His life, now sat totally perplexed as to what to do. The power-hungry governor was frustrated by the defiance of his subordinates, but there was nothing to be done – it was impossible to free on his own a man condemned by the Sanhedrin. While Pilate sat, deep in thought, the people suddenly began shouting and asking for the favor usually granted them: that is, to release one of the imprisoned criminals for the sake of Passover. This right to choose one of the criminals was given to the common people; and then Pilate had the idea to make use of this occasion in order to release Jesus. He knew that the common people were attached to Him, and that the high priests had betrayed Him solely out of envy. At that time there was imprisoned a certain robber by the name of Barabbas, who had been thrown into jail together with other mutineers for engaging in sedition and murder in the city. Pilate decided to place this criminal alongside Jesus and offer the people the choice. Calling the people to him, Pilate asked them: “Whom will ye that I release unto you – Barabbas or Jesus, which is called Christ?” It was not without reason that Pilate mentioned the name Christ, because it embodied all the fond hopes of the Jewish people, sighing for their ancient freedom and now impatiently awaiting the coming of the King – the Christ. “Ye have a custom, – continued the governor, – that I should release unto you one at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?” In other words, the governor was saying to the people, even justice itself demands that freedom be given to the One whose only blame is in calling Himself King of the Jews.

Then the high priests and the elders, seeing that the people were ready to accede to Pilate’s wish, immediately went into the midst of the crowd and began instructing it to preferably ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. They tried to brainwash the people with the following thoughts: that He represents a danger to their well-being; that He is not Christ at all, but a hypocrite and deceiver, and that the miracles He wrought were false. Who could not but see that He expelled demons with the power of Beelzebub, that the demonic forces assisted Him in everything? For when did He work miracles most frequently? – on Saturdays, contrary to the law of Moses. And what did He teach? – He criticized patristic traditions, threatened to destroy the temple, mocked all holy things, including us high priests. And how does He live? – He eats and drinks with publicans and sinners, is friendly with the Samaritans, collects followers from among despicable people. And such a man calls Himself Christ! If He truly were Christ, would He have allowed Himself to be so humiliated – tied up and standing in judgment before a pagan? Besides, who can expect the Christ to appear out of Nazareth, from Galilee, from a carpenter’s home? Can this son of Joseph really restore the throne of David? Look at this man: is He really the victorious descendant of King David, now awaiting mercy from an uncircumcised pagan? Even when He was free, He always insisted: pay Caesar his due, pay him his due! And do you not see how Pilate mocks you when he calls Him your king and asks you for His freedom? We are the descendants of Abraham, the sons of freedom, the people of God! O, may you serve the name of God by giving unto death this man who has called Himself the Son of God! May the one who says even a single word in defense of the carpenter’s son be cursed! In this manner the high priests incited the common people against Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, as the high priests’ evil counseling of the people proceeded, and Pilate sat upon his judgment seat and tried other prisoners, Divine providence provided him with yet another indication regarding the need to defend the innocent Prisoner. During the night Pilate’s wife saw a terrible dream, and immediately upon awakening she sent a servant to her husband to say: “Have thou nothing to do with that just man, do not do Him any injustice, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him.” There are no ancient accounts about what Pilate’s wife saw in her dream; however, it is known that afterwards Procula (her name) came to believe in Christ and was canonized as a saint (she is commemorated on October 27th). Her message inspired Pilate with an even greater desire to defend Jesus.

Finally the incited crowd approached the judgment seat, and Pilate asked them: “Which of the twain will ye that I release unto you?” If you do not wish Jesus released as an innocent man, then at least release Him as a guilty one, for the sake of the Passover. “Not Him, but Barabbas,” – cried out voices all around him. Then Pilate, again raising his voice, asked: “What shall I do then with the one whom you call King of the Jews?” Let Him go?!... “Let this one die, but release Barabbas,” – several voices were heard to say. “Let Him be crucified!” – shouted everyone. And for the third time Pilate said unto them: “Why, what evil hath He done? I have not found anything worthy of death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him.” But they shouted even more loudly: “Crucify Him, crucify Him! Let Him be crucified!” And they insisted, demanding with loud shouting that He be crucified; and the voice of them and of the chief priests prevailed.

The tormenting of Jesus Christ

Neither Pilate’s own acknowledgment of Jesus’ innocence, nor his wife’s warning and request were of any avail to him. In view of the people’s incessant clamor to crucify the Righteous One, it seemed a triumph of justice to Pilate to simply chastise Christ and thus save His life. For this reason Pilate took Jesus into the Praetorium and ordered the soldiers to flog Him; and so they gathered the entire regiment, and taking off His own garments, they dressed Him in a scarlet mantle that fell above the knees. Such garments were usually worn by important military people; the mantle was sleeveless and was fastened on the right shoulder. After that, in order to present Jesus Christ in the dignity of a Jewish king, the soldiers made a crown out of the thorniest and prickliest branches, and placed it upon His head. Although this crown was fashioned for the sake of mockery, this mockery cost much blood and wounds. Moreover, it seemed to the tormentors that the imaginary king lacked a scepter or a staff, and instead of it they placed a cane into the right hand of Jesus Christ. This was followed by crude ridicule and humiliation of Christ as a false Jewish king. Since respect for a king was shown by falling on one’s knees before him, these lovers of derision now did the same – they came up one by one and stood on their knees before Jesus Christ, and mockingly said to Him: Hail, king of the Jews! and then struck his cheeks and spit upon Him, and took the cane out of His hands and beat Him over the head with this cane, and then again got down on their knees and bowed before Him.

After such torment Pilate once again brought Jesus out before the people and stood Him upon a high arch or closed passage constructed over the gates. “Behold, I bring Him forth to you, – said Pilate loudly, – that ye may know that I find no fault in Him.” Then the bloodied Jesus, in a crown of thorns and a scarlet mantle, was shown to the entire people, and Pilate said to them: “Behold the man!” With these words he wished to touch the hearts of the common people, to bring all of them to a feeling of compassion for Him. It was as though Pilate said: behold how the Innocent One has been wounded only for having called Himself king! Behold how He is now humiliated for this, – His entire appearance has become ignoble and debased beyond that of all the sons of men! Gazing with prophetic eyes upon the Divine Sufferer, the prophet Isaiah cried out in ancient times: For many shall be afeared of Thee, Thy visage being so marred more than any man, and Thy glory more than the sons of men (Isaiah 52:14).

But here among the people also stood the high priests and their servants; when they saw Jesus and Pilate’s intention to let Him go, they all shouted together with their servants: crucify, crucify Him! “Take ye Him, – Pilate finally cried out, – and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” But the Jews replied to him: “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” Upon hearing these words, Pilate became even more afraid. Immediately the thought came into his mind that Jesus was some kind of demigod, as the pagans believed of some of their kings; this seemed to be confirmed by his wife’s wondrous dream. For this reason the judge, full of fear and doubt, immediately returned to the Praetorium, giving the sign for Jesus Christ to be brought in after him.

“Whence art Thou?” – was Pilate’s question; but Jesus gave him no answer. “Speakest Thou not unto me? – said Pilate resentfully; – knowest Thou that I have power to crucify Thee, and power to release Thee?” Where did the arrogant judge’s fear suddenly disappear? It had been born of shallowness, while the haughty feeling of his power over the Prisoner dispersed it straightaway. Pilate thought that even if this were the Son of God, He still ought to reply to the one who had power over Him, ought to use all possible means to escape death. But would a man who knew not the true God be able to understand how the Son of God became the Son of man, if even those who rested upon the law of Moses could not understand?! And Jesus’ silence was an example of His teaching: do not cast pearls before swine. Pilate did not receive an answer only when he asked out of curiosity, while when he was able to be instructed, the Lord always replied to him with full desire to bring him to the knowledge of truth. And now Jesus said to Pilate: “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above; therefore, he that delivered Me to thee hath the greater sin.”

Did or did not the unjust judge now understand that he had a heavenly judge above him, and that he sinned if he condemned an innocent man to death? It was only noticeable that every time Pilate conversed with Jesus Christ, he always returned to His accusers with a renewed desire to protect Him from death. So it was now too: after this last conversation with Jesus, Pilate made an even greater attempt to release Him. He probably relied on his power and undoubtedly wished to act according to his own wishes, in order for the Innocent One’s torments not to have been in vain. But what did his power avail before the multidinous and rebellious rabble, which, inspired by the personal presence of its leaders, was ready for anything and everything? The more Pilate wished to release Jesus, the louder the Jews continued to clamor for His death. Pilate decisively said: I have already chastised Him and will release Him. But the Jews cried out: “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar,” and equally does the one who defends such a man.

Hearing such ominous words, Pilate suddenly changed, led Jesus out of the Praetorium, and sat down in his judgment seat. The accusers approached him, expecting the end of the affair, and all noise was replaced by silence. It was the last hour before midday, the sixth hour according to Jewish reckoning. The sun did not stop shining both upon good people and the evil ones who were demanding death for the Son of God. Pilate once again said to the Jews with some assurance: “Behold your King!” But they continued to clamor: crucify Him! crucify Him! “Shall I crucify your King?” said Pilate once more, gazing upon the One Whom he was being forced to condemn to death against his own will. But the high priests replied on behalf of all: “We have no king, but Caesar.” Then Pilate, seeing that there was no help, and that the unrest was growing, decided to satisfy their request.

The one who just a while ago had boasted of his power and had said to the great Prisoner: I have power to crucify Thee and power to release Thee, – now sat with his head bowed down. The fierce shouting of the people, which demonstrated that they were ready for any action in case their leaders’ wishes were unfulfilled, took away from him all desire to defend the Innocent One. What can I do to defend this Righteous One? – thought Pilate. – My power is like a shadow before this rebellious crowd; and there are so few Roman troops here! What can I do with this people, so unruly in nature? Their insolence threatens even the power of Roman rule, which has no defense here except its glory. And, in fact, never before had there been such strident noise in front of the Praetorium as there was now. The number of people increased every minute, and the high priests and elders, thirsting for Jesus’ blood, were ready to seize the Victim by force from the biased judge. Nowhere else could such unrest and agitation be seen as here; all faces reflected the same hatred, all breathed with the same rage. Jesus Christ alone stood among them calm, immobile, with an indescribable expression of peace and meekness on His face. Insults, humiliation, threats – nothing could cloud His clear gaze. He stood before the judgment seat bound and surrounded by armed guards, but it seemed that His soul strained upward to the invisible throne of celestial justice.

The sentencing and the leading to death

Pilate washes his hands
Pilate washes his hands

Pilate finally had to pronounce a death sentence upon the Prisoner Whom he could not defend, but how to now defend himself, at least partially, from pangs of conscience? The bitter thought did not leave him that he was condemning an absolutely innocent person to death. Moreover, there was his wife’s plea, her extraordinary dream, his own conviction of the defendant’s righteousness. All of this was hard to bear for the soul of the pagan; and all that he did with the Innocent One seemed like a heavy sin to him. How and by what means could he pacify his conscience? The Jews had an official rite of washing their hands as a sign of their innocence in the shedding of the blood of a person found murdered; this custom was also spreading among the pagans living in Judea. And now the fainthearted judge decided to publicly turn to this rite – the washing of the hands – to show the people that he was not guilty of condemning Jesus Christ to death, and thus pacify his conscience.

“I am innocent of the blood of this just person, – Pilate said to the people as he washed his hands in water; – see ye to it”; you are forcing me to shed it, and you will have to bear the responsibility for it! The rebellious crowd, demanding the holy blood with such impudence, did not fear to reveal at this point its rebellious spirit even against God, audaciously calling for His vengeance upon itself and all its descendants. All the people shouted: “His blood be on us and on our children,” and by this they simply wished to encourage Pilate in sentencing Jesus Christ to crucifixion, not realizing that God would really punish the children for their fathers’ sins. After this the death sentence was passed upon Christ by the fainthearted judge, who so well knew Christ to be innocent, that even in sentencing Him to death was forced by his conscience to call Him a just person.

Then Jesus was divested of the scarlet robe, dressed in His own clothes, and led away to be crucified. With every minute the crowd of people coming from the Praetorium grew; among the crowd marched the armed soldiers, leading the prisoners to be crucified. Everyone wanted to know and to see who was being led to such a shameful death, to which even a damnation from God applied, as it was said in the law: cursed be all who hang on a tree. Here and there malevolent voices could be heard, accompanied by shouts and curses; and all this together was like a chorus from hell, a triumph of hatred and malice. Here, together with the noisy crowd, proceeded the well-known members of the Sanhedrin – the scribes and the Pharisees. The identity of the extraordinary Prisoner, Who was being accompanied by these proud teachers of the law and elders, was becoming increasingly known to all the people. An astonishing spectacle now presented itself to all: the One Who several days before had resurrected a man already dead for four days, Whom thousands of people wished to see on a throne of glory as the son of David, and Who had just recently been welcomed with this joyous appellation, was now, beyond all expectation, appearing before everyone in a state of humiliation and suffering, condemned and being led to death.

And who would not be astonished at this? Whose mind could ever expect such an event? This great Teacher, to Whom the Israeli people listened with delight, Who commanded nature, gave sight to those born blind, expelled demons, resurrected the dead, to Whom joyous hosannas were sung just a few days before, – this Jesus, beloved by all, was now passing through the city, carrying upon Himself the instrument of His death – a large wooden cross. Having suffered so much torture and beating during the night and day, and now oppressed by the weight of the cross, Christ was barely able to walk with slow steps towards the site of the crucifixion. Whose heart would not be filled with pity at such a sight? And many kindhearted people were inwardly distressed, but no one dared show compassion towards Christ, – all feared the prominent members of the Sanhedrin, who burned with hatred towards Him and to anyone who dared support Him.

Christ is led to crucifixion
Christ is led to crucifixion

At this point a perfect example presented itself: when the multitude of people preceding and following Christ were coming out of the city gates, a certain Simon of Cyrene, either so named or being of Cyrenian provenance, was returning from the fields, walking towards the crowd of people, and seeing Christ among the armed soldiers, being led as a criminal towards execution, he stopped in great amazement and expressed commiseration over Him. This innocent expression of compassion towards the Innocent One, as well as Christ’s fatigue and complete exhaustion of all His strength, – for tradition tells us that Christ was so exhausted that He fell under the burden of the cross, – resulted in Simon being seized and, despite the fact that this could have been onerous and quite dishonorable for him, compelled to carry Christ’s cross. Not only crucifixion itself, but even the carrying of a cross was considered among the Jews to be especially dishonorable and humiliating, so that even to say to someone the words “you are a cross bearer” meant expressing great scorn towards that person. In order that people would not think, seeing Simon carrying a cross, that he himself was sentenced to death, Jesus Christ walked directly in front of him.

A sad and very piteous procession now trailed from Jerusalem to Golgotha. Jerusalem, the great city that during the Passover period accommodated several hundred thousands of people, was now seeing the widely honored Christ being led through its streets to crucifixion. The execution of the great Prophet amazed everyone and involuntarily drew people after Christ, and thus a vast multitude of all kinds of people followed after Him. Many were distressed and wept, inwardly remembering His benevolence to the Israeli people, how He gave sight to the blind, mobility to the crippled, hearing to the deaf, how He made the mute speak, and healed lepers, and even resurrected the dead; to all He did only good, and never did anything bad to anyone. Thus said those who wept over Christ, and nothing could restrain them from tears: neither the presence of the leading members of the Sanhedrin, nor apprehension over appearing to be an adherent of the One condemned to death, – they fearlessly wept and lamented over Him. And these were not Christ’s closest followers or His disciples, who at that time did not even dare approach Him, but primarily the women of Jerusalem and the mothers of those children who had sung hosanna to Him. As women, whose hearts were more sensitive, they could not refrain from tears, and at the sight of Christ being led to death, they gave themselves over to all the grief of which were capable their commiserating and inconsolable hearts.

Christ prophecies the destruction of Jerusalem
Christ prophecies the destruction of Jerusalem

Jesus Christ proceeded towards the site of execution in deep silence; nothing could disturb His courageous patience. Even when He was being disparaged, He did not say anything disparaging in return, and when suffering innocently, He did not threaten anyone; only the women’s pitiful lamentations drew Him out of His silence. Turning His glance towards the women weeping over Him, Christ said to them: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say: blessed are the barren, and wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: fall on us; and to the hills: cover us. For if they do these things with a green tree, what shall be done with the dry?” For Christ, Who had promised not to forget even a cup of water offered for His sake, the tears being shed over Him could not have been more precious; however, His death, so salvific for mankind, was above all weeping and usual human pity.

Not only the women, but all the Jewish people should have been weeping, for the time of their punishment was nearing, the most disastrous days for Jerusalem were approaching. Christ, in His supreme love for His fellow men, could not conceal the terrible disasters that were about to befall His poor compatriots, and now with a feeling of sincere regret He revealed the forthcoming events to those who could still believe Him. With perfect knowledge of the disasters about to befall Jerusalem, Christ said to the weeping women: women of Jerusalem! do not weep over Me, but weep over yourself and your children, for such a time of adversity is coming, that even though barrenness is considered among you to be the greatest misfortune and punishment from God, people will say at that time: blessed are the barren, who have not borne children and have not reared them in such adverse times. For there will be such anguish then, that people themselves will wish for death, will summon it as the greatest relief: for they will prefer to be covered by the earth rather than live in those terrible days. Their end will be most distressing, for if a green tree is harshly cut down and deprived of life, then what will be done with a dry and barren one?

Usually it was iniquitous people whom the prophets compared to a dry tree, those who did no good deeds, and this is why Jesus Christ, without threatening anyone, only mentioned the green tree which His enemies were so mercilessly depriving of life. After this everyone was to understand the kind of cruel death that was coming to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who did no good whatsoever, but stoned the prophets who were sent to them by God. And this was said by Jesus Christ without any offense at those who had demanded His execution; not a single word was heard against His enemies, for there were none for the Saviour of this world, since both Himself and all of them He was committing to the will of His Father, the righteous judge.

The Crucifixion

One of the hilly elevations near the western gates of Jerusalem always served as the place of execution for those who were condemned to be crucified. Here, as on a scaffold, in plain view of all Jerusalem, the executions were performed to put fear into the city’s inhabitants. This mount was usually called the Calvary; in Jewish – Golgotha. It was to this mount that Jesus Christ was brought and the two malefactors with Him. The high priests and scribes who had demanded Christ’s death followed Him to the very site of crucifixion. They feared that in their absence the fickle crowd would change its mind about the Prophet beloved by all and would free Him from death. And for this reason, when Jesus Christ was brought to Golgotha, they stood right around Him. While the soldiers were engaged in setting up the crosses, Christ stood with inexpressible mildness, like a lamb brought to sacrifice. His extraordinary tranquility set Him apart from all the other people standing nearby. Around Him, together with the soldiers stood the Pharisees with an arrogant mien; their dreadful faces exuded a kind of implacable hatred, as though the flames of hell were reflected in their eyes.

Despite the inhumanity and horror of death by crucifixion, abolished 1,500 years ago in consequence of a universal feeling of disgust, even at that time both the Jews and the Romans had customs which showed some pity towards the condemned. According to Roman custom, the condemned man received a blow under the arm, which only hastened his death, while the Jewish custom consisted of the condemned man being given wine immediately after being crucified, this wine containing dissolved myrrh – a highly tranquilizing substance. And having brought Christ to execution, the hypocritical Pharisees, always wishing to seem merciful and compassionate before the crowd, now gave the victim of their hate some wine with myrrh, but Christ, tasting it, did not wish to drink it. The wine was sour as vinegar, while the myrrh was bitter as gall. Acting purely out of malice, Christ’s enemies did all of this without realizing that they were fulfilling a prophecy foretold of Christ by the prophet David: “They gave Me also gall to taste, and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21).

Finally there came the moment – unique in all the centuries, both past and present, – the fearful moment when Christ, Son of the living God, was to be given over to terrible execution. The cross was set up on the mount, and the soldiers took off Christ’s clothes, for those who were crucified were divested of their garments; then they wrapped a wide towel around His middle and began to elevate Him onto the cross. After that two soldiers placed nails on His outstretched hands and hammered them into the middle of His wrists; blow fell after blow, and the blood of the God-man flowed in two streams from His most-holy hands. Afterwards nails were also hammered into His feet, causing excruciating pain. Now the entire body hung on the nails, and the body’s weight caused the wounds to tear more and more; blood streamed from the hands and the feet and flowed onto the ground. Thus came to pass King David’s prophecy about his great Descendant: “They pierced My hands and My feet” (Psalm 22:16).

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

And now this cross, with a man crucified upon it in excruciating agony, at the least movement suffering ever-increasing pain from the further tearing of the hands and the feet, was firmly placed by the soldiers in a previously prepared hollow, in such a manner that the feet barely missed the ground. In this way the victim was accessible to all who wished to express their hate through blows or other manner of humiliation. For many hours, hanging on the cross, the victim could suffer mockery and tormenting from passers-by, who with coarse and indifferent hearts crowded around this terrible spectacle, which should not have been gazed at, but rather wept over with bloody tears.

The suffering of a crucified man is indescribable; it is often so agonizing and terrible that anyone who was to curtail his life would be doing him the greatest favor. Just imagine the agonized condition of a body hanging on crucified hands! The slightest motion, so inevitable in life, is always accompanied by unbearable pain, while every hour the heaviness of the body hanging on nails increasingly tears the wounds, which become ever more painful, ever more burning. The crucified man is forced to moan and beg for death, and thus be tormented for a long time and die gradually.

In fact, death from crucifixion combined all that was horrible in the agony of death: vertigo, spasms, hunger, fever, frenzy, indignity, duration of suffering, fear of oncoming death, paralysis of wounds, – and all this to such a degree, that a man could not reach a state of complete unconsciousness in which he could find some relief.

The unnatural position of the body produced unbearable pain at the slightest motion; the inflamed vessels and sinews twitched convulsively in continuous pain; the gaping wounds became affected with gangrene; the vessels in the head and the stomach became filled with blood, inflated and stressed; and to all this agony was added unbearable thirst. All this bodily suffering gave rise to an extreme anguish that even looked upon death itself, this mysterious enemy at whose approach man is usually overcome with dread, as its most desirable deliverer.

And it was to such a death that Christ was condemned! Despite the fact that He had earlier been tormented and, consequently, His death should have occurred more quickly, – His suffering nevertheless lasted from midday to almost sundown, when He “gave up the spirit.”

A commiserating heart could ask at this point: if death was inevitable, why were such diverse and long-lasting torments, humiliation, agonies, and such a shameful execution necessary? Did the Father, so merciful even to sinners, not find enough mercy only for His sinless Son? Let the word of God, not man, reply to this; and that word says that all this had to happen because He gave Himself up for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity (Titus 2:14). Diverse are our iniquities – diverse is the suffering for them. For each there is a special sacrifice, for each wound – its own treatment. The first iniquity, in the Garden of Eden, which engendered condemnation and death, was followed by fear and mortal anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. Just as it contained the seed of all future sins, so the chalice of the soul’s anguish was prepared for the sins of all people. All the sins committed all over the world from the beginning of the earth to its end, all the horrors and punishments prepared for sinners were at that point laid upon the shoulders of the Lamb of God, Who took upon Himself the sins of the entire world; it is for this that His soul was anguished even unto death, so that bloody sweat streamed down His face to the ground while He prayed. However, He did not gainsay God’s truth, which demanded His death for Adam’s transgression of the will of God, nor did He protest against it, being obedient unto death on the cross. Prophetic words had already been said on His behalf: “I delight to do Thy will, O My God” (Psalm 40:8). After that began the various torments for our countless iniquities: He was tied and bound – for our self-will; He was brought to judgment and at the first trial slapped on the cheek – for our hypocrisy before others; then He was again beaten on the face and mocked as a false Christ – this was for our pride and vanity, for our vaunting of ourselves.

Afterwards He was judged by a pagan judge, and although this latter did not find any blame in Him, yet in order to please sinful people he ordered Him to be scourged, and thus all manner of humiliation, the crown of thorns, the hitting, the spitting upon, the beating over the head, – all of this was for our countless iniquities, for our wickedness and hardheartedness. And, finally, He was given vinegar with gall to drink – this was for our lechery, for our intemperance in food and drink; and He was bared – this was for our excessive adornment of ourselves; and He was raised upon the cross in disgrace before the whole world, and His most-holy body was crucified with iron nails – this was for the shamelessness of our flesh, for all our sensual delights and lustful desires.

At this point we should stop and look at ourselves: are we not as unwise as those who gave Christ over to be crucified? Many of us are trying to gain as much knowledge as possible, but do not wish to know what everyone should know. And what is it that each one of us should know? What can be more important for us than the knowledge of how our Lord and Saviour suffered for us? How have we been saved from condemnation? Only through the suffering of Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us not disregard this salvific knowledge, let us ponder the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. I will contemplate Thy greatest miracle, O Lord, which Thou hast done for my salvation – Thy great suffering, especially since it reveals the extraordinary wealth of Thy love for humans, Thy divine meekness and absolute holiness, Thy sinlessness, O Lord.

Besides all the torments on the Cross, the Lord also suffered the agony of the crown of thorns, of which the high priests did not wish to relieve Him. O wonder-filled sight! The One Who could call upon hosts of angels for assistance, could even create them, – was being voluntarily subjected to such terrible torment! Unbearable torment due to the insufferable folly of man! Yet, instead of moans and complaints, to the amazement of all a prayer for His crucifiers issued from the lips of the Crucified One; they saw the suffering Christ, gazing from the cross up into heaven and asking forgiveness for His enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Hearing such words from a crucified man, who would not recognize in Him the Saviour of all men? But even now the high priests did not want to understand that Christ was the true Son of God, that He was asking God to forgive them and not destroy them as erstwhile He had destroyed Dathan and Abiram, who were engulfed by the earth for agitating against Moses. Without Christ’s prayer the earth would have engulfed these, too; for this reason the One Who was overflowing with love prayed, thus saving their lives.

Thus let us gaze with pure eyes upon the suffering Christ; let us know that not only the Jews, but all of us are pitiless tormentors of Jesus Christ. For the Father had given Him up, as it was said, for our sins; and He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). But whoever does not wish to come to his senses, watching Christ’s suffering, and continues to fearlessly commit sin, to live without fear of God: will not such a one be numbered among the crucifiers of Jesus Christ? For whoever transgresses does no more than sentence Christ to death in his heart or, as it said in the Scriptures, crucifies the Son of God a second time.

Events at the Cross

As Christ was being crucified, two thieves were crucified at the same time. The thieves’ crosses were placed one on the right and the other on the left side of Christ; this was done at the express wish of Jesus’ enemies, who thus wished to show Him as the most criminal among criminals. However, in trying to blacken Christ’s innocence with their falsehood, the enemies, not even knowing what they were doing, contributed to an even greater confirmation of the truth, for it was said in a prophecy about Christ: “His soul was given up unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

After the crucifixion, the soldiers immediately began to divide among themselves the clothes of the crucified; Christ’s outer garments were divided into four parts, one part for each soldier; but it was decided not to tear up His robe, which was woven as a single piece from top to bottom, but to cast lots for it. Yet even this seemingly insignificant circumstance becomes quite noteworthy, because even this was foretold in the psalms of King David: “And they parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). With such accuracy did God’s Providence depict several centuries in advance even the smallest instances of Christ’s suffering.

When crucifixions took place, small wooden boards were hammered to the cross over the heads of each crucified person, stating their name and crime. Over the head of Jesus Christ Pilate ordered the following superscription to be affixed: Christ of Nazareth, King of the Jews. This superscription was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, because, besides the Jews, there were many Greeks and Romans in Jerusalem. By means of such a superscription Pilate wished to show that this constituted the entire accusation – that the Crucified One was acknowledged as the King of the Jews, or Christ. However, reading these words, many people could possibly conclude that this was actually the expected Christ, Whom the Jews had been unable to protect from the Romans or had betrayed Him themselves. Seeing such a superscription, the high priests immediately became indignant over it, because they thought that the pagan Pilate was mocking their humbled authority and the Jewish people. It seemed to their minds that Pilate was saying with this superscription: this is how I deal with Jewish kings! Therefore, they straightaway hurried over to Pilate with the request that he change the writing – you should not, they said, write: king of the Jews, but rather: I am the king of the Jews; this will show that we do not acknowledge Him as king, but that it was only He who called Himself king. But Pilate, wishing to revenge himself on them for having forced him to condemn Christ to death, answered them with absolute power: what I wrote, I wrote. Of course this was all being done unconsciously, but in reality it was actually being established that Christ was King, and the superscription in three languages confirmed this, according to the law of Moses: in the presence of two or three witnesses let every word stand. In general, in everything that happened to Jesus Christ, it could be seen that Providence itself, without violating human will, was directing all affairs and accomplishing its destinies. It seemed that everything was taking place by chance, each person was acting in accordance with his will, yet at the same time the visions and the words of the prophets were coming to pass, and eternal truth was being fulfilled.

Let us see what happened further. The messengers to Pilate were forced to return to Golgotha and leave the same superscription; then the high priests’ indignation at such humiliation of their authority turned against the innocent Christ Who was hanging before them on the cross. Even earlier, passing in front of the cross, they tried to poison the moments of His suffering with their malicious mockery; and now they made an even greater attempt to humiliate Him. While the people stood and watched in bewilderment, – for it was sad to see a righteous person crucified, and the people knew that for a long time even Pilate had not wanted to condemn Him, and that the high priests were the sole cause of it all, – the scribes and the Pharisees, as though wishing to account for their evil deed, passed before Christ’s cross, wagging their heads and saying loudly, so that the people could hear: “Eh! Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Thus mocking Him, they also reviled Him, turning to one another and saying: “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! Let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God. If He be truly the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, for us to see and believe, and we will believe in Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He is pleasing to Him, for He said: I am the Son of God.” With these last words they almost deliberately repeated the words of King David, who with his innocent suffering foreshadowed his Descendant, saying in his psalms: “All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they speak with their lips, shaking their heads, saying: He trusted in the Lord that would deliver him; let Him deliver him, if he is pleasing to Him” (Psalm 22:7-8). So truly were prophetic words fulfilled in the words and actions of the very people who said and did them! And it was precisely here, at the cross, that the rays of prophetic contemplations, scattered throughout the Scriptures, became centered.

Christ on the Cross
Christ on the Cross

Seeing the Jewish leaders’ continued mocking of Christ, the Roman soldiers who were guarding the cross also began to revile Him as a pretender, and coming up to Him as to a king, offered Him vinegar and said: “If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself.” And it was not only the Jewish elders and the Roman soldiers who thus reviled Christ, but even one of the thieves who were co-crucified with Him. “If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us,” – so spoke one of the hanging malefactors.

Amid such universal frenzy, when everyone mocked Jesus Christ and reviled Him, when none of those around Him wished or dared to say even a single word in His defense, amid this general disbelief in Christ, God’s power raised up a defender of His innocence and His Divine majesty, and from a source one could least expect – from one of the crucified malefactors. While one of the hanging thieves tried to humiliate Him, the other one, on the contrary, rebuked his mate, saying: “Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we have been condemned justly, for we have received the due reward for our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss.”

Thus the wise Dismas (the name of this thief) spoke of Jesus Christ, proclaiming His innocence; and suddenly his heart became illuminated with the light of God’s truth, and his mind was struck as by lightning with the thought of saying to Christ: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Thus the wise thief thought and spoke, expressing heartfelt belief in Christ as the true Lord and King of glory, Who had been awaited by the people of Israel. O, how great was the faith of this truly wise thief! To see a crucified man and confess Him as the Lord; to see a man dying such a disgraceful death and to believe absolutely that He would be an eternally-reigning King: such was the fruit and the crown of supreme faith in Christ!

Of course, one could also say that at that time this confessor of Christ, like all the other Jews including Christ’s disciples, thought of His kingdom in a somewhat imaginary fashion, assuming that it would be established on earth. However, his faith was genuine, and he was absolutely certain that Jesus was the true Christ, Son of the living God, and was definitely either immortal or the conqueror of death. At the same time Dismas demonstrated the kindness of his heart – he advised his mate not to humiliate Christ, but to pity Him as an innocent man unjustly condemned. And for the Lord, Who promised to judge us for every idle word and, consequently, to reward us for every kind word, such heartfelt compassion for Himself could not be forgotten, and so the wise thief’s Divine reward was announced before everyone. Moreover, heartfelt belief in the Lord and hope in His mercy were the most precious things for Christ, according to Whom whosoever believeth in Him would not perish (John 3:16). And thus, while the high priests demanded from Christ that He rather save Himself and not others, He continued even from the cross to save those who believed in Him; turning His serene and loving gaze upon the wise thief, Christ said the following words to him: “Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.”

Besides these events, which demonstrated that the Jesus hanging on the cross was Christ, there were also omens in nature that showed Him as the Lord of all. It was midday when Christ was raised onto the cross, but a gloom obscured the air; at first it was thought that this would soon pass, as happens during a solar eclipse, but when it was seen that the darkness was not abating, but was even increasing, then many began to realize that this was a sign of God’s wrath. And it was truly a sign from God, because it had been foretold in a prophecy: And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day (Amos 8:9). The city, which had been so noisy throughout the entire morning, now became dismally quiet; the darkness terrified everyone. The people who stood in awe before the cross, waited only for the moment when the King of the Jews would come down from the cross, as the high priests had said: let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him. Thus even Christ’s enemies were ready to believe in Him, if only God would help Him be delivered from the cross.

The Mother’s Anguish

The time now came when the prophecy foretold by the righteous Simeon to the Mother of God was fulfilled: Yea, a sword shall pierce through Thy own soul also (Luke 2:35). The One Who was destined to have the greatest glory in heaven after Her Son, was forced to bear the greatest anguish on earth because of Him. And thus, besides the fact that all Her life Her meek heart was struck by the revilement, the persecution, and the blasphemy that greeted Christ everywhere as He preached, who can measure the anguish and sorrow of Her holy soul when She saw the pre-eternal Son of God, Who had taken flesh from Her as though solely for suffering, hanging on a cross? O, how deeply pierced was Her maternal heart, created for love for the beloved Son of God! No one can even imagine it, for who could love as much as the Most-pure loved Her Son and, consequently, suffer as much as the all-holy Mother?! At that moment She endured more pain than all the martyrs, suffered with Her heart more than all the people. For She loved Her Lord more than anyone else ever could.

For the loving Mother even the first news of Her Son’s being seized for trial was like thunder, piercing Her heart unto death. All the wounds given Him by the tormentors’ blows; the thorns that pierced His head; the spitting upon, the hitting, the beating over the head with a cane; and finally the blows of the hammer, pounding nails into His hand and feet, simultaneously penetrated Her heart and pierced Her soul. O, if only She could somehow alleviate the suffering of Her Son, relieve Him of the crown of thorns, hold up His head, which had fallen forward under the burden of torment!... But having no possibility of helping Him Herself, She also did not see anyone who was moved by Her Son’s suffering, who could alleviate some of His pain; on the contrary, all She heard was iniquitous mouths all around, pouring forth revilement against Him.

The Mother of God at the Cross
The Mother of God at the Cross

Finally, when the obscuration of visible light chased the gloomy souls away from the cross, the most-holy Mother approached Her Son, and what did She see? – alas, how terribly had human iniquity wounded His entire body! From head to toe there was not a single untouched spot upon Him: the face was bloodied and beaten up; the mouth, the eyes, all was caked with blood; the hands and feet all wounded and pierced through. Blood was still pouring from everywhere – from the head, from the hands, from the feet; He was entirely covered with His blood, beaten up, wounded, divested of His garments, and hung on the cross in disgrace before the whole world. Gazing upon all of this, how did She endure such indescribable anguish of heart and such cruelest sorrow?

Descent from the Cross
Descent from the Cross

Seeing His Mother’s torment, the Saviour expressed His filial love for Her. Here at the cross, together with Her stood the disciple of Christ whom extreme love for Him had brought even to this dangerous place; this was the very disciple who had lain next to Christ at the Mystic Supper. Indicating him with His gaze, Christ said to His Mother: “Woman, here is Thy son.” And to the disciple He then said: “Here is thy mother.” The disciple fulfilled this will of the dying Lord with absolute exactitude: from that time on he took Her into his home and cared for Her like Her own son until Her very dormition (approximately 15 years).

Languor of spirit and the death of Christ

There came the dying moments of the One Who had suffered torment on the cross and prior to the cross, Who had already been exhausted by inner suffering to the point of sweating drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, Who was many times struck on the face and hit over the head with a cane in the Sanhedrin and the Praetorium, and Who, finally, during His agony on the cross, suffered pain from wounds, heaviness in the head, and languor of the heart; all of this, following so quickly one upon another, could soon curtail and did curtail the life of the Divine Sufferer.

The Burial of Christ
The Burial of Christ

It is well known that of all types of mortal suffering there is nothing more agonizing than death on a cross. With all the strength of spirit and obedience to the will of the Father which the Son of God showed through all His suffering, even He was unable to silently bear the final torments on the cross. In these terrible moments He found Himself deprived of all help, even that of God, deprived of all His mercy; and this was the greatest agony for His most-holy soul. Even in hell there is no greater torment that God’s abandonment of the sufferers; and to all of this the beloved Son of God had to be subjected!

And thus, in the midst of the abyss of spiritual and physical suffering, in the midst of the final agony and spiritual loneliness, He finally cried out in a loud voice: “Eli! Eli! lama sabachthani” – which means: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?... Who can fully comprehend the sorrow, the inner torment of the God-man? For the Most-holy to suffer from the wicked, the Creator at the hands of the creation, to suffer for the ingrates, for the very ones responsible for the suffering, to suffer for the glory of God and to be abandoned by God: what an immeasurable abyss of suffering! But not a single fainthearted word issues from the lips of the Son of God, no lament, no protest that God has allowed His Son to suffer so cruelly for the sins of mankind. On the contrary, repeating lovingly the words: My God! My God!, He rues only His terrible condition, but expresses no complaint against God.

Lamentation over Christ
Lamentation over Christ

And what do we see? Even such a prayerful cry on the part of our suffering Saviour, worthy only of pity, spurred the insane people around Him to new mockery! They misinterpreted His words through similarity of sounds and said: “See how He is calling Elias.” The Jews believed that the prophet Elias would appear on earth right before the arrival of Christ; therefore, by means of such mockery over Christ they were telling the people: look, He is dying, yet He is still trying to pass Himself off as Christ: see how He is calling Elias to Him!

The God-man’s dying agony was also compounded by thirst, the harbinger of imminent death of the crucified. Due to the outpouring of blood, the body’s inner heat increased extremely, and the thirsting sufferer asked to drink: “I thirst!” – He uttered in a dying voice. The heart of one of the soldiers was moved by this piteous cry; he immediately took a sponge, soaked it in a vessel with vinegar, which was standing nearby to slake the thirst of the crucified, and raising it up on a reed, he applied it to the Sufferer’s lips. Even here the enemies were not ashamed to repeat their mockery: “Wait, – they shouted, – let us see whether Elias will come to save Him.”

Now everything that had been said in the psalms and the writings of the prophets came to pass in regard to Jesus Christ with absolute accuracy, so that the words uttered several centuries before seemed to have been written right at His cross. For example, King David said in his psalms: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? They that hate me without a cause have increased… My heart has been subjected to reproach and suffering: and I looked to some to take pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. For like wicked dogs they have compassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet, they stretched out my entire body, and they stare at me with disdain. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. I am like a worm before them, and no man: a reproach of men, and despised of people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shake their heads, saying: he trusted on the Lord; let Him deliver him, if he is pleasing to Him. The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death have taken up dwelling within me. My strength has become poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My tongue cleaveth to my jaws, and I am nearing death. They give me also gall to taste, and in my thirst they give me vinegar to drink” (from Psalms 22; 69; 18). All of these words now came to pass in regard to Jesus Christ.

And when He tasted of the vinegar, He said: “It is finished.” And then, gazing up into heaven, He cried out in a loud voice: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” And having said this, He bowed His head and gave up the spirit. Thus ended the life on earth of the One Who only came here to suffer and die for mankind.

But God’s mysteries were not concealed from those who reasoned spiritually. God not only announced through the lips of all His holy prophets, but revealed in other ways and showed in many examples the forthcoming life and death of the promised Redeemer of the world. Thus the innocent Abel, the first righteous man on earth, is killed by his brother as a sign of how the supreme Righteous One, being totally innocent, would be killed by His kindred. Abraham, who out of love for God sacrificed his only son, serves as an image of how God Himself so loved the world, as it is said, that He even gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish (John 3:16). Joseph, beloved son of Jacob, sold by his brothers into alien captivity for 30 pieces of silver, clearly symbolized Christ, Who was betrayed by His disciple and His Jewish compatriots. The serpent which Moses hung up on a cross to save from death those who had been bitten by snakes in the desert symbolized the crucified Saviour of the world. Pointing this out, the Lord said even before His suffering: just as Moses lifted up a serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up. The killing of animals as a sacrifice to God for the sins of men represented the death of Christ for the salvation of the world. The burnt offerings themselves, performed by law outside the camp, indicated the death of Christ, which took place outside the city. Such were the many prophetic images of the suffering and death of the God-man. God revealed this to men from ancient times, and also sent many prophets who foretold of the Saviour and of all that was due to happen to Him. And everything that God revealed from the beginning of time and spoke through the lips of all His holy prophets came to pass in regard to Jesus Christ with absolute accuracy. Moreover, the death of Christ was attested to by fearful events in nature, which occurred at the moment when the Son of God gave up His spirit to God.

Fearful events

The signs of God’s presence upon Mount Sinai seemed awesome to the Jewish people, when the mountain spewed smoke and became covered with dark clouds, when thunder rolled and shook the very foundation of the mountain. “Yet once, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land” (Haggai 2:6), – said the Lord through His prophet, – and now, with the death of Jesus Christ, the earth suddenly trembled, and the stony cliffs cracked in many places. Golgotha still stands with such a crack to this day.

It was fearful to see how all of nature trembled, as though having reached its end; from the earthquake or some other divine force even the veil in the altar, which was affixed to the entrance into the holy of holies, was rent in twain. Seeing this awesome manifestation, all the people became frightened, and beating themselves in the chest, fearfully returned home. The centurion, head of the Roman guard, who stood near the crucified Christ, seeing such terrifying events in nature became frightened and said: “Certainly this was a righteous man; truly this man was the Son of God.” And not only the centurion, but also the other soldiers who were watching over Christ with him, frightened by the great earthquake, repeated: “Truly this was the Son of God.” The Lord rightly said: “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he” (John 8:28).

“Know therefore and understand, – said the prophet Daniel, – that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem, after threescore and two sevens (i.e. 62 seven-year spans) shall the Messiah be cut off” (Dan. 9:25-26). And so this prophecy came to pass in the time indicated; the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders, having condemned Him, fulfilled the words of the prophecy that were read every Saturday. And not finding any guilt in Him worthy of death, they talked Pilate into killing Him.

Had they been wiser, perhaps at that moment they could have understood that it was not a common man whom they had killed, for there could not have been such terrible manifestations if He were like other people. But they were so blinded by envy that they did not even wish to know how badly they had acted in killing Jesus Christ, although in the parable of the evil vineyard tenders He taught them not to do so. There He clearly presented the evil deeds of their fathers, who had beaten up all the prophets sent to them from God, and said that they, too, would commit the deeds of their fathers. For when God sent His Son to them, seeing Him they said: let us kill Him, and the inheritance will be ours. And seizing Him, it says in the parable, they led Him out of the vineyard and killed Him. Thus Jesus Christ foretold them even the very place where they would kill Him. And finally He pointed out the prophecy itself, saying: Have you never read in the Scriptures: the stone which the builders refused has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:22-23).

The Mother’s Lament

The day on which Christ suffered and died was the last day before the Jewish Passover, and Christ’s killers, not wishing to leave the crucified men on the cross in order to avoid unseemliness for the holiday, asked Pilate to quicken their deaths by breaking their knees and to take them down from the cross. And thus for the sake of the Sabbath, a day of solemn rest, the crucified men were forced to suffer new agonies. The soldiers sent by Pilate came and broke the bones of the legs of both the one and the other thief. Coming up to Christ and seeing that He had already died, they did not break His legs, but instead, for further confirmation of death, one of them pierced His chest between the ribs; and immediately there poured forth blood and water, the mortal liquid which only issues from the deceased. And even this event clearly prophesied of Christ: “And they shall look upon the One they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10).

Now Christ hung on the cross lifeless and inanimate, but His intimates did not leave Him; they gazed from afar at all that was happening to Him. These were all women – Mary Magdalene, and another Mary, mother of James and Josiah, and Salome, mother of the Zebedees, and many others, who had followed Him and served Him when He preached in Galilee, and who finally came to Jerusalem together with Him. There is no doubt that they were now weeping bitterly over their dead Master, Whom they respected and loved, but bitterest of all was His Mother’s lament.

The burial and the guard at the tomb

In order to show contempt for the bodies of the crucified, according to Roman law they were not buried; however, if someone wished to bury a crucified man, he had to ask permission for this from the governor himself. At the time when the crucified Jesus Christ gave up His spirit, and the earth trembled, causing dread among the people, a certain respectable-looking elder came to Pilate’s house. The ruler’s house was silent and hushed, as the morose governor sat deep in thought. The elder bowed before him with tears in his eyes: my name is Joseph, – he said respectfully, – and I am a member of the Sanhedrin. I pray thee, sir, to allow me to take the body of Jesus and bury it. – Has He died? – He has already died. Pilate was surprised that He had died so quickly, and summoned the centurion who guarded the crosses. When the latter came, Pilate asked about Jesus: how long ago did He die? And receiving his answer, he ordered the body to be given to Joseph.

It was already evening; the earthquake had ceased, and darkness had left the face of the earth; the sun once again showed its rays on the western horizon. Then two notable members of the Sanhedrin came to the hill of Golgotha: one of them – Joseph of Arimathea, an honest and just man, who did not take part in the council and actions of Christ’s killers; and the other one with him – Nicodemus, the one who had come to Jesus in the night, and in the council, when Jesus was being condemned in absentia, he said: Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth (John 7:51)? Both of them were Jesus’ secret disciples, awaited the imminent coming of Christ’s kingdom, and were certain that the great Miracle-worker was none other than the King of Israel. The only shortcoming of their faith was that they, fearing to be expelled from the Sanhedrin, kept their regard for the Master hidden from others. Now, however, scorning any shame in showing themselves adherents of the Crucified One, they decided to give due respect to His mortal remains before all people. Those who came with them brought all that was required by Jewish custom for a magnificent burial.

As prominent and, moreover, exceedingly wealthy individuals, Joseph and Nicodemus brought many fragrant substances for Christ’s burial; with such an effort they wished to recompense Him for the ignominy He had suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin. The burial cloths were of the finest and most expensive material, and Nicodemus brought with him approximately one hundred pounds of a fragrant mixture composed of myrrh and aloe. And thus these noble and respected persons were the first of all people to honor the Crucified Lord. As soon as they arrived, the nails were removed from His hands and feet, and His body, taken down by Joseph, once again found itself in a loving and friendly embrace. Now only the lament of Jesus’ humble adherents was heard around the lifeless body, only their weeping was seen.

However, the evening’s coming to an end did not allow them to tarry with the burial, and the body, washed with pure water, was wrapped in a shroud (a wide and long cloth) that had been abundantly anointed with fragrant oils, as was the custom in Jewish burials. The head and the face of the deceased were always wrapped up in a special narrow cloth, and the body, thus encased, was laced up. In this manner the body of Christ was carried to the sepulcher.

The Jews did not bury their dead as we do – they did not lay them down in pits, but placed them in caves hewn out of stony hills. The entrance into such sepulchers was not made too wide and was closed off with a large stone. Such a sepulcher had been prepared by Joseph for himself in his garden, one end of which abutted upon Golgotha itself. Within 50 steps of the place where the crosses stood, the resting place for Christ’s body was now ready. Here it was brought and placed in this new sepulcher on a prepared stone bed (like a ledge). The women who had stood at the cross now sat in the garden opposite the sepulcher; they watched everything silently, without moving. Finally a large stone was laid against the entrance to the cave, in order to protect the body from animals and grave robbers; and everyone hastened to depart from the sepulcher, for the Sabbath had already come, and a terribly mournful, terribly heavy night for all who loved the Lord.

Although the Lord now lay lifeless and inanimate, His enemies still could not calm down. Despite the great feast of Passover, they gathered together on the evening of the day following the crucifixion of Christ and asked Pilate: “Sir, – they said to him, – we remember that the deceiver said while He was still alive: after three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say unto the people: He is risen from the dead; so the last error shall be worse than the first.” Pilate, however, in view of their recent humiliation of his authority, was in no way disposed to listen to them, and said therefore: “You have your watch (temple guards); go and guard the sepulcher as you wish.” And they went, and for greater certainty they sealed the stone to the entrance of the sepulcher, and they set a watch, sternly ordering them to vigilantly guard the One Who, in their opinion, could disturb the peace of all Judea. Thus the spite of Christ’s enemies did all that was possible to attest to the truth of His resurrection.


The Resurrection
The Resurrection

When the Son of God gave up His spirit on the cross, then with His spirit He descended into hell and preached salvation to all the righteous ones who were there and awaiting His coming. For until the sacrifice for all sins was made on the cross, the souls of all the patriarchs and the prophets remained in the darkness, continuously awaiting salvation from God. And finally the ray of Divine light shone in Hades, and to those who were sitting in the darkness and the shadow of death there appeared the One Who, even while hanging on the cross and resting in the tomb, was yet at the same time on the heavenly throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When the souls of the languishing righteous ones saw their Deliverer, they greeted Him from all sides with joyous exclamations.

And then the Lord first relieved of his misery the poor soul of the forefather; the righteous ones saw this and rejoiced. Then He severed the bonds of all who had cried out to the Lord in their sorrow and took them with Him out of eternal darkness. One can imagine with what joy they cried out then: death! where is thy sting? hell! where is thy victory? Now Christ’s Church sings to Him all over the world: Though Thou didst descend into the tomb, O Immortal One, yet didst Thou destroy the power of Hades, and didst arise as victor, O Christ God.

Was it possible for the vanquisher of Hades not to also be the vanquisher of death? The Son of God said while He was still on earth: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice; and shall come forth, they that had done good, unto the resurrection of life (John 5:29). When the Lord came out of the sepulcher, then, as the Gospel tells us, the graves opened up and many bodies of deceased saints arose. And the Church sings: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling upon death with death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.

But already the Saturday passed in which the Lord rested from all His efforts, and the third day of His death arrived. For the people of this world, Christ’s work seemed to be over with; and for the sons of light nothing seemed to lie ahead as well. Everyone thought that for the Crucified One to come back to life was more impossible than for the river Jordan to turn back its flow. But the One Who had created everything out of nothing could easily bring with Him into eternal life all those who believed in Him. Such is the power of God, and such are the wondrous deeds of our Lord! The Evangelist Matthew reminds us that just as upon Christ’s death the earth trembled, so did a great trembling of the earth occur after His resurrection. He arose and left the sepulcher unseen by any mortal, and without disturbing the seals on the tomb. He kept them intact and informed the world of His resurrection through an angel, who was visible to the guards as he came down from heaven, approached the sepulcher, rolled back the stone from the entrance, and sat down on it. His countenance was bright as lightning, and his raiment was white as snow. Seeing him, the guards on watch trembled and became as dead men.

At almost the same time, early in the morning, while it was still too dark to be seen by Christ’s enemies, Mary Magdalene, and another Mary, the mother of Jacob, and Salome, and several other women went to the sepulcher; they went with the fragrances they had prepared, in order to further anoint the Lord’s body. They did not know that the sepulcher had been sealed the previous evening, and that a watch had been set on it, so they were only concerned with one thing, discussing it among themselves: who will remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us? For the stone was great indeed. It was already light when they came up to the sepulcher; and they saw that the stone was already rolled back from the tomb. They entered and did not find the body of Jesus Christ, and so their hearts became constricted with bewilderment and sorrow. Magdalene, as the leader of the group, immediately left all of them at the sepulcher and ran off to Christ’s disciples. She came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them: the Lord has been removed from the sepulcher, and we do not know where He was taken. Hearing such unexpected news, Peter and John immediately got up and hurried over to the Lord’s sepulcher.

Meanwhile, the women standing at the tomb and sorrowing over their loss, suddenly saw a youth in white garments, sitting on the right side of the entrance to the tomb, and they became afraid. But he said to them: “Do not fear; you are seeking the crucified Jesus – He is not here; He has arisen, as He had told you earlier. Approach and look once more at the place where the Lord lay.” And when they bent over and tried to see whether the Arisen One was perhaps within the sepulcher, they noticed another youth, in the same kind of shining garments, and became even more afraid. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? – said the other one. – He is not here; He is risen. Remember how He spoke to you, when He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of man was to be delivered into the hands of sinners, and be crucified, and rise again on the third day.” And they remembered His words, and believing now the angel’s tidings of His resurrection, they were overjoyed. “Go, – continued the angel who sat at the entrance to the tomb, – and tell His disciples and Peter that He has risen from the dead, and that He will meet you all in Galilee; there you shall see Him, just as He had told you. Now I have told you all you need to know.” And coming out of the tomb, they ran with fear and great joy to tell the disciples.

Peter and John did not walk, but rather ran towards the sepulcher; but the latter, being much younger than the former, arrived at the tomb first; however, he did not enter it himself, but leaning forward, saw only the burial sheets lying there. Then Peter arrived, and they both entered the sepulcher. The shroud and the cloth which had been wound around Jesus Christ’s head were lying separately; the cloth was folded; all of this showed that the body could not have been taken away. Otherwise, why bare it? why leave a costly shroud behind? And in the heart of the beloved disciple there emerged the certainty that his Master had come alive. But Peter became thoughtful and left the sepulcher, wondering within himself about all that was happening. And so these disciples went back to their own place.

Appearances of the Risen One

Mary Magdalene hurried after the apostles to the sepulcher. Arriving there, she stood at the tomb and wept. The sun had already illuminated the environs of Jerusalem, and the weeping woman stooped down to look into the sepulcher, hoping to somehow see the body of the beloved Lord. And suddenly – O wondrous vision! – she saw two angels sitting there, dressed all in white, one at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the Lord’s body had lain. “Why weepest thou?” – said a voice from inside the sepulcher. “They have taken away My Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him,” – replied the weeping woman. At that moment the movement of someone approaching was heard behind her, and turning around, she saw someone standing, but did not recognize Him; this was the Lord. Her tears prevented her from seeing Him clearly, yet to believe that this was He was even more impossible, and so she took Him for the gardener, deciding that no one else could be in the garden so early in the morning. “Why weepest thou? – said the compassionate voice, – whom seekest thou?” – “Sir! – replied Mary to the supposed gardener, – if thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Not receiving any answer to this, she once again turned towards the place where the precious body had lain. “Mary!” – resounded behind her the familiar voice; and turning around, she cried out: “Master!” and with indescribable joy threw herself at His feet. But the Risen One said: “Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren and say unto them – I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God; tell them that I shall ascend to God My Father and your heavenly Father.” This was the first appearance of the Risen Lord – and to whom? – to the great sufferer who had been tormented by evil spirits and from whom the Lord had expelled seven demons.

Meanwhile the other women were coming back from the sepulcher, and while they were still on their way, Jesus suddenly appeared before them with the greeting: “Rejoice!” And their hearts were immediately filled with heavenly joy; they surrounded Him from all sides and fell down at His feet. Then the Lord said to them: “Fear not. I am not yet leaving you. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee; there they shall see Me.” It was hard for the myrrh-bearing women to leave the Lord, and they would not have resolved to do so, had He not commanded them to tell of Him and to be as apostles for the apostles themselves.

There was still one more heart left, wounded by grief more than all the others, which required to be comforted; and thus soon afterwards the Lord appeared also to Apostle Peter, but this appearance has not been described in detail. In His mercy the Lord appeared to this disciple, whose heart was rent with deep sorrow over his infidelity and onerous sin; and thus joy, great joy enlivened the soul of the sorrowing and bitterly weeping son of Jonas.

The pernicious news

While news of Jesus Christ’s resurrection was secretly spreading around Jerusalem among His faithful followers, Satan did not hesitate to do the opposite through his own servants. As the myrrh-bearing women were returning from the sepulcher, some of the guards came back to the city and reported to the high priests all that had occurred. Although it was hard for the murderers of Christ to transmit such ominous tidings to one another and to hear such a bitter truth, but what was to be done? – they had to protect themselves. And so, gathering together with their elders, the entire assembly of evildoers took counsel.

Hearing the guards’ assertions and oaths, and in view of their detailed and veracious story, it was impossible not to believe them; but how to acknowledge the truth and publicly announce that this Dead One had somehow come alive? O, this was too fearful! Something else had to be done, since this was not to be believed. And so, with unanimous agreement, they decided to employ their usual means – bribery, and to set into motion their beloved lies. Summoning the guards, they gave them sufficient gold and silver, and did their best to convince them to admit to being guilty of incompetence and idleness, saying to them: say that His disciples came in the night and stole Him while we were sleeping. – Advice truly worthy of the supreme judges of Judea! – And what if the procurator himself hears of it? – O, we will talk to him and shield you from trouble!

Taking the money, the guards did as they had been taught, and the rumor spread among the residents of Jerusalem that the disciples of the Crucified One had stolen their Master’s body. And who knows of it? – well, the guards; they are saying: “we attest to the fact that Jesus’ disciples took away His body, and we are not lying. For while they rolled off the stone and took away the body, we were all sleeping soundly, so that we did not see or hear anything.” What kind of witnesses are these? And if this had truly happened, why were the guards not punished? why were the thieves not searched for? But there is another rumor in the air – that Jesus has arisen; how to acknowledge that which the high priests themselves feared originally, when they said to Pilate: the sepulcher must be guarded, so that the disciples would not steal the body and then tell the people that He had arisen from the dead; and the last lie would be worse than the first? And now they themselves have allowed this to happen… And thus, despite the obvious lie and the fact that the guards were not punished for what was a great crime on their part if their words were true, even to this day the Jews prefer to believe the sleeping witnesses rather than truth itself.

A wondrous revelation of the truth

Pernicious people always demand omens, but not so the righteous ones, the ones who believe in Divine truth; for this the faithful are granted infinitely better witnesses than the bribed guards. And our Lord – how wondrous He is in His truth! How majestic and varied are the means He employs to reveal His truth! From a multitude of witnesses the holy Evangelist Matthew presents us with the truth that when a great earthquake occurred before Christ’s resurrection, the stones cracked and the sepulchers opened up, and then many bodies of departed holy people came to life; and coming out of the sepulchers after His resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. What a wondrous event and, at the same time, awesome manifestation of the power of the Risen Christ, the Life-giver! How amazing it was for mortals to hear of what the Lord had done in hell for the souls of the righteous ones, how He freed them from corruption! And all of this was heard by many righteous people, and not only from one or two, but from many holy witnesses. This is how God’s truth is revealed!

Other appearances of Christ

On the first day of His resurrection, besides His first three appearances, Jesus Christ also appeared to two of His disciples from among the seventy, who were walking to the village of Emmaus, which stood about sixty furlongs from Jerusalem. Slowly they walked along the high steep hills to the west of Jerusalem, and with sorrowful hearts they talked between themselves of the crucifixion of their Master that had occurred a few days ago. It is not easy to remember the days of adverse events; however, a heart wounded by grief loves and sometimes finds solace in such discussions. Thus these two disciples – Luke and Cleopas – tried to find comfort along the way in remembering the sad events; and at that moment they were approached by someone walking faster than they. They looked at Him and did not recognize at all that this was the subject of their discussions. “What is this event, – the Stranger asked them, – which you are discussing as you walk along, and why are you so sad?” One of them, by the name of Cleopas, said to Him in reply: “Art Thou the only stranger in Jerusalem who hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” And He said to them: “What things?” Then they told Him about what happened with Jesus of Nazareth, Who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; how our high priests and rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death and have crucified Him. But we had hoped that it was He Who was to redeem Israel from all its misfortunes and enemies. And now it is already the third day since all this took place. Yet some of our women have astonished us: they went early to the sepulcher and did not find His body, and coming to us said that they had seen angels saying that He is alive. Then some of us went to the sepulcher and found it even so as the women had said; but Him they saw not.

Christ on His way to Emmaus
Christ on His way to Emmaus

Then the One Who used to amaze everyone by teaching as someone with power, and not as the scribes and the Pharisees, opened His lips. And now with the same Divine power He began to say to His disciples: “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses, He expounded unto them from all the prophets all the things said about Him in the Scriptures. And while they were conversing, they approached the village to which they had been going; and He made as though He would have gone further. But they constrained Him, saying: “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in and remained with them. The meal was served, and He, as an honored guest, was asked to sit in first place. And it came to pass, as He sat with them, that He took the bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were suddenly opened to see their Master, and they recognized Him; but at that very moment He became invisible to them.

Then the remaining disciples began saying to one another: “Did not our heart burn within us, and did we not enjoy listening to Him when He talked to us along the way and explained the Scriptures to us?” And rising from their supper, that same hour they returned to Jerusalem, where they found all the apostles and all those with them gathered together and saying that Christ was truly risen and had appeared to Simon. Then these two described all that had happened along their way, and how they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.

In the evening, as each of the apostles was judging the visions of the Risen One in his own way, Jesus Christ suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them: “Peace be unto you!” These words cast all of them into a state of silent amazement; they all became hesitant and frightened. However, the spirit of disbelief had not yet left many of them, who ascribed all the visions of Christ to imagination. For this reason Christ berated them for their disbelief and hard-heartedness, for not believing those who had seen Him resurrected. But even now doubt restrained many of them from believing in truth itself; they thought that they were seeing the Risen One not in body, but only His soul; even more so because the doors of the room in which the disciples were gathered had been locked for fear of the Jews. “Why are ye troubled, – the Lord rebuked them, – and why do such thoughts enter your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet; it is I Myself; touch Me and examine Me, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.” And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet.

O with what joy the disciples then rejoiced, seeing the Lord alive in the flesh, and before their eyes were the wounds on the hands, and the feet, and the side! While they were still wondering and for joy not yet completely believing in His resurrection, He asked them: “Do you have any food here?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and a honeycomb. And He took it and ate before them, to verify that He was in the flesh. Then He said to them: “These are the words which I spoke unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning Me.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them: “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.”

Then again He said to them: “Peace be unto you; as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” And saying this, He breathed on them and said to them: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” And after that He once again became invisible.

Such is the mystery of the kingdom of God – the forgiveness and non-forgiveness of sins. This mystery of the power of the Holy Spirit acts even unto this day in the successors of apostolic power. Believers in Christ are saved from sin and torment by His Divine power.

Confirmation in faith

The purpose of Christ’s appearances was to assure His disciples of the truth of the resurrection, in order to strengthen their true understanding of Him as the Son of God.

One of them, by the name of Thomas, was not with them when Jesus Christ appeared before them in a house whose doors were locked. When Thomas arrived, everyone told him with the liveliest joy about this appearance of Christ; but in vain did they assure him: we have seen the Lord. Thomas decisively declared: unless I see on His hands the wounds from the nails, and place my finger into the wounds, or my hand into His ribs, I will not believe. A day passed, two days, a whole week, but the distressed Thomas’ doubt remained unresolved: Thomas was still tied down by his disbelief, remaining set in his opinion. After eight days passed, and all the disciples were together and Thomas with them, and when the doors were likewise locked, Christ suddenly stood among them and said: “Peace be unto you!” Then, turning to Thomas, He said: “Extend thy finger and test My hands, extend Thy hand and place it in My ribs, and do not be an unbeliever, but a believer.” Then Thomas cried out to Him with awe and piety: “My Lord and My God!”

Christ confirms Apostle Thomas in faith
Christ confirms Apostle Thomas in faith

And the Lord confirmed him in his faith and said to him: “Thou hast believed, because thou hast seen Me, but blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Let us stop here and ponder: why was it that even the first disciples of Christ did not suddenly come to believe in His resurrection from the dead, nor all of them together at the same time? Why did the later ones become the first, so-to-speak, in the absoluteness of their faith? An examination of this merits every person’s attention!

The first tidings brought by Mary to Christ’s disciples after His resurrection were that the Lord’s body had been removed from the tomb. These were sad tidings.

Because of this news, two of the disciples go to the tomb and see only the burial sheets, but lying folded in an orderly manner. In the heart of the disciple who was beloved by the Lord and loved Him in return there arose the thought that the body could not have been taken away when the burial sheets remain in the tomb; and he was secretly filled with the certainty that the Lord had arisen. Thank God! Already there comes the dawn of the rising Sun of God’s truth, Which is due to illuminate the entire universe.

Christ is risen! – say the Lord’s angels to the myrrh-bearing women standing at the tomb in bewilderment. – Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. Look, the place where the Lord was lying is now empty. – And the myrrh-bearing women hurriedly ran away from the tomb in awe and great joy.

Christ is risen! He is already standing behind Mary, who is weeping at the tomb, and says to her: why dost thou weep? whom dost thou seek? But in her sorrow Mary does not recognize the Lord’s voice; she looks at Him, but her eyes, full of tears, do not allow her to properly see the One Who is risen from the dead. She complains to Him that His dead body had been taken away, and looking at the empty tomb, she weeps inconsolably over the loss. But he says one word: Mary! and everything changes in her soul that had been gloomy with grief; she cries out ecstatically: Master! and with inexpressible joy falls down at His feet.

Christ is risen! What joy! But even these joyous tidings do not suddenly take over the grieving minds of Christ’s disciples. In vain does Mary tell them that she had seen the Lord: they do not believe her, they argue with her, while those who have the first inkling of faith remain silent. And now two of the disciples who had heard of the empty tomb and of the women’s extraordinary tidings of Christ’s resurrection are walking along; but, not believing in the tidings, they are walking sorrowfully and thinking of the fact that their hope in the Redeemer has been in vain. And suddenly He, the One Risen from the dead, is walking with them Himself; and since they do not recognize Him, but share their bewilderment with Him, He graciously converses with them and explains all the prophecies concerning Christ to them. And only when their hearts warm up to His words, when out of love for Him they keep Him with them, invite Him into their house, offer Him a meal, and He Himself, blessing and dividing up the bread, gives it to them, – only then do their eyes open, and they recognize Him.

Christ is risen! Christ’s disciples have already heard these glad tidings not only from the myrrh-bearing women, but also from Peter, to whom the Lord had appeared, and from the two disciples who had returned, but they did not wish to believe even so many witnesses, thinking that death could not have been vanquished so quickly by the One Who had died on the cross. And so Christ Himself comes to them through locked doors and says: Peace be unto you! But even now, despite their joy, they do not quite fully believe, thinking that they are seeing His spirit. And the Lord shows them the wounds on His hands and feet from the nails, in order to convince them that it is He Himself.

They describe all of this to the lagging Thomas, who maintains his disbelief; the latter does not even wish to think that Christ has risen, unless through the touch of his own fingers he learns the entire truth of the resurrection of Christ’s body. And he was not convinced until he actually touched the wounds on the hands and the pierced rib; only then was he able to comprehend that Christ had truly risen, and that He is the Lord God.

From all of this we can see how strongly our nature is infected with disbelief in Divine revelations. Even from the very beginning, as we know, mankind was given over to death by reason of its disbelief in the Lord’s words. No one, therefore, can please God without first having genuine faith in Him – that He is the true God, righteous in all words, and that He saves all those who seek Him and hope for salvation from Him. All of this we now see in actual fact.

Moreover, do these events not also show us who is the quickest to acquire belief and to know the Lord? The first and quickest to know is the loving heart, while the mind is slower and much tardier. Just the signs and traces of the resurrection were enough to cause the heart of the loving John to become convinced of Christ’s resurrection. Just one word was enough to make Mary’s loving heart recognize her Lord and Saviour. But how many proofs and means were necessary to convince the mind! And how much time was needed for the unreasoning and unbending disciples to become certain of the truth! But even then the mind would not have believed that which is above its understanding, were the heart not filled with love for the Lord; because only love for Him finally overcomes all impediments to faith, all the doubts of false reason. The Lord opened the eyes of the two disciples only when their hearts became filled with love for Him; and only then, when the disciples’ hearts were overjoyed from the Lord’s presence, did the Lord open their minds, in order for them to comprehend the word of truth. But as before, so now, too, do only those who love the Lord recognize Him, as it is said in the Scriptures: “Every one that loveth, knoweth God; he that loveth not knoweth not God” (1 John 4:7-8).

Whosesoever heart loves the Lord Jesus, such a one knows Him and truly believes in Him that He is our Lord God; and only to such a man does the Lord reveal Himself, as He said: “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

Thus even now the Lord promises to manifest Himself to all who love Him; for this one only needs to keep His commandments, for He said: he that loveth Me shall keep My commandments. Therefore, let us live by the Lord’s commandments, and then we will surely come to love Him and to know His great kindness to us. In fulfilling the will of God, man arrives at knowledge of God; this is why not all people suddenly acknowledge Jesus Christ as the true God. However, even the last of them, when they try to fulfill the Lord’s commandments with their whole soul and body, may attain no less a comprehension of their God the Saviour than those who were first to arrive at true knowledge of God. Apostle Thomas serves as a precise example of this.

Further appearances

Jesus Christ once again appeared to His disciples in the following manner: one time Peter, James, John, Thomas, Nathaniel, and two others were together in their homeland – Galilee. Peter said: I will go fishing; we will go with you, too, – said the others; and they immediately all went together. After coming to the Sea of Tiberias, they got into a boat and went out, but no matter how many times they cast their net, they did not catch anything that night. When morning came, they saw someone standing on the shore, but no one recognized that this was Jesus Christ. “Children, – they heard a voice say, – have ye any meat?” And they replied to Him: “We have nothing.” “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.” They cast the net and were unable to draw it in for the multitude of fishes.

“It is the Lord Himself,” – said John, turning to Peter, and the latter immediately girded himself, jumped out of the boat, and swam for the shore, which was not too far away. The other disciples came by boat, dragging with them the net with the fishes. When everyone stepped ashore, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. The Lord told them to bring along some of their catch; and Peter went and drew ashore the net, full of great fishes, of which there were one hundred and fifty-three. And for all that there were so many, the net was not broken!

After the fish had been fried on the fire, the Lord said to the disciples: “Come here and dine.” When all of them sat down, He took the bread and the fish and gave to them; and not one of them dared ask – who art Thou? – knowing that it was the Lord. While they were eating, the Lord turned to Peter and said: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” With these words the Lord was saying to Peter: you know that the one who is forgiven the greater debt, loves the more.

Peter replied: “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee,” – I love Thee ardently, wholeheartedly, for Thy mercy to me, the greatest sinner of all. And the Lord said to that: “Tend My lambs,” – be once again a shepherd to those who are obedient to My word, be a kind and compassionate shepherd, as I am to thee.

The meal continued; the hearts of all the disciples burned with love for the Lord; all had one thing on their mind – how they had abandoned Him in His hour of sorrow, how they all had run away from Him. But more than in anyone else, a wellspring of vibrant love filled the heart of Apostle Peter, whom the Lord, despite his rejection of Him, once again reinstated within the rank of the apostles. “Simon, son of Jonas! – said the Lord yet again, – lovest thou Me?” “Yea, Lord! – replied Peter, – Thou knowest that I love Thee.” “Tend My sheep,” – said the Lord to him a second time.

They all continued to sit and eat in silence, and there was a single thought in each one’s soul; each disciple was ready to say: my sin is always before me. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” – was heard the question a third time, cancelling out Peter’s triple rejection. This question grieved Peter; with tears in his eyes he looked upon the Knower of hearts and replied sorrowfully and remorsefully: “Lord! Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” The Lord then said to him once more: “Tend My sheep,” and then added: “Verily I say unto thee; when thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest, but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldest not.” This He said, signifying by what death Peter would glorify God.

When the meal was over, everyone got up. Turning to Peter, the Lord said: “Follow Me,” – and he went. Along the way, seeing John coming after them, Peter asked the Lord: “Lord, and what about him?” – what will happen with him? “If I will, – replied the Lord, – that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me.”

Afterwards, misunderstanding the true meaning of these words, the apostles began assuming that John would not die; but the Lord did not say that he would not die, – as John himself remarks, – but only said to Peter: what is it to you, if I wish him to remain until I come? And, in fact, the others’ supposition did not come true: John died an ordinary death, at a venerable old age, while the others were martyred for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

After that the Lord appeared to His disciples once again in Galilee. For that He commanded them to gather together on one of the mounts of Galilee; and at the assigned time there assembled over 500 believers in Jesus Christ. When they saw the Lord approaching them, the majority of the faithful, together with the apostles, bowed to Him as God; but some remained doubtful – should they offer Him such worship? Coming up to them, Jesus Christ said: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

The Lord God has shown us many reassuring truths after His resurrection. And what wondrous love has He shown to all who were weeping over Him! How comforting were His appearances to all who believed in Him! After His disciples were already entirely convinced of His resurrection, but not knowing what to do, returned to their former work, and when they were in need of sustenance after having labored fruitlessly, the Lord Himself prepared all that was needful to them – the fire, and the bread, and the fish; and, at the end, He miraculously rewarded them with an abundant catch, and thus He showed that they would not be laboring in vain when following His will.

Does not all of this show the Risen One to be wondrously providential, a loving benefactor, and a merciful helper to all the faithful in all their sorrows and needs? And what is most comforting for us? The fact that for all believers in Him and for all times He remains such as He had been for His disciples after His resurrection, because Apostle Paul openly says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Even now He remains for all true believers in Him the same as He had been for His first disciples. The only difference is that to them He appeared visibly and temporally, while now He is invisible and eternal, as He clearly said: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 18:20).

The Ascension

There came the fortieth day after the Lord, appearing to His disciples, showed Himself alive after His death, with many genuine proofs. On that day, gathering the apostles together, the Lord said to them: “Do not depart from Jersalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which ye have heard of Me. And I shall send My Father’s promise upon you, but remain ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye are vested with power from above. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.” And He led them out of the city towards Bethany. Before reaching it, He stopped at the top of the Mount of Olives; the disciples surrounded Him and asked: “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” To that He replied to them: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

And saying thus, the Lord rose from the earth before the eyes of His amazed disciples, blessing them; and when He blessed them, He began separating from them and ascending into heaven. And a light cloud encircled Him and took Him from their sight. Here, from the Mount of Olives, the Saviour ascended from earth to heaven while blessing mankind. Even to this day there exists here, on the rocky summit of the mountain, a trace of where the Saviour was standing, and His last trace on earth shows that the Lord was facing northward.

Ascension of our Lord
Ascension of our Lord

The Prophet David wondrously describes the Lord’s ascension, indicating that it was also visible to the faithful: they have Thy going, O God; even the goings of my God, My King (Psalm 68:24). And He rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, He did fly upon the wings of the wind (Psalm 18:10). Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in (Psalm 24:7). And then, speaking on behalf of the guardians of the heavenly gates, he exclaims: who is this King of glory? This he says in order to show the great amazement of the angels, who are seeing the Lord, vested in human flesh, ascending above the heavens, where up to that time human nature was barred from entering. And in his psalm the prophet describes the princes of heaven inquiring twice about who this King of glory is, in order to show that they, too, were amazed at God’s inexpressible providence.

Erstwhile human nature was not worthy even of earthly paradise, while now, in the person of Jesus Christ, it merits occupying first place in heaven. For the Scriptures testify that the Lord ascended above all the heavens and sat on the right side of God the Father, i.e. He surpassed all principalities, all powers, all forces, all dominions, and all names that are used not only in this age, but in the eternal one as well. For God the Father had subordinated all to His power and had placed Him above all.

But let us once again turn our attention to the apostles, who were still standing and gazing up into the sky during Christ’s ascension, although He was already invisible to their eyes. As they looked up into the celestial space of the beyond, suddenly two youths in white garments appeared before them and said: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, Which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” Then they bowed down to Him and with great joy returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem.


When the apostles, after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them in the chamber of Zion, became strengthened with Divine power, they went and preached of Jesus Christ everywhere, beginning with Jerusalem, with His assistance and with their words being supported by subsequent omens.

Mankind was in a terrible state prior to Jesus Christ’s coming into the world. At that time all Divine truth was rejected and forgotten, while the worship of God was transformed into worship of idols and service to human passions. Even in the people chosen by God there was no integrity from top to bottom, as the Lord Himself points out. It suffices to remember how harshly He sometimes denounced the very teachers and leaders of the Jewish people, and in what terrifying form He described their inner ugliness. But as soon as the salvation of mankind occurred through the suffering and death of the God-man, the worship of the true God quickly began to spread all over the universe, temples to the idols began to be destroyed, and churches in honor of the Only-begotten Son of God began to be erected, while among many peoples there appeared an angelic life, denunciation of earthly goods, disdain for death, great physical endeavors, and various forms of spiritual perfection. From whence did all of this appear in the mankind that up to that time had been covered by the darkness of folly?

And more than that – judging in human terms, could it have been expected that an insignificant number of poor, inglorious, unknown fishermen would convert to the new faith almost the entire world? Who could think that the apostles, preaching Christ crucified, – a stumbling block for Jews and folly for the Hellenes (1 Cor. 1:23), – would convert to faith in the Crucified One both the ones and the others? And, moreover, with such innumerable obstacles! The preachers were not only disdained and harassed everywhere, and not only suffered various insults themselves – both from relatives, and from pagans, and in cities, and in deserts, – but to all those seeking salvation through their faith they forecast many sorrows and woes in this life. In fact, does not all this show the same thing of which spoke Gamaliel, that most sagacious Jewish teacher, who said that if this matter was of God, then no one would be able to destroy it?

Everything attests to the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ – His unusual teaching, as well as His wondrous miracles, and even the propagation of faith in Him shows that He definitely did not use human means in saving human souls. Besides all the prophetic testimonials concerning the Saviour of the world, which came to pass with absolute accuracy, His own teaching speaks for itself, since it does not accord at all with sinful human tendencies. He did not teach what was pleasant for the body’s sensuality, but on the contrary, it was this sensuality which He commanded to disdain and to reject one’s own self. He forbad people all revenge and rancor, demanded meekness and patience, advised repaying evil with good, and loving everyone as oneself, loving even enemies and praying for them as for one’s greatest benefactors. Moreover, He forbad not only all evil deeds, but even desires, even thoughts of them. And what did He promise for all of it? – Nothing worldly, nothing temporal, nothing that would flatter the human mind, but He postponed His entire recompense to the invisible future, to the heavenly eternal life.

And even more amazing was the following: whom did He choose to spread His teaching, which was so incompatible with human desires? Was it the princes of this world or great conquerors? Not at all! But who then? Poor fishermen, who sometimes had no means of subsistence, people without any assets or outward education. These are the ones whom He chose as His assistants! These are the ones who were appointed to be His messengers! And how did He compel them to follow His teaching? What made them obey Him Who Himself had nowhere to lay down His head? Only one thing, only the promise of future benefits, which, moreover, also involved self-sacrifice and being deprived of even the smallest temporal goods. He Himself possessed no wealth or honors which He could share with them, but summoned them with His word alone, – and for following Him He assigned to them in this life only persecution, condemnation from the world, and even martyrdom and death. However, the power of God, which always performs extraordinary deeds, made a great many people abandon everything, go to Him, and follow Him everywhere.

So how did these poorly-educated messengers of Christ spread His teaching and belief in the Saviour all over the world? How were they able to contest the opinions of many learned men, refute the prejudices of self-assured pagans, and eradicate their false superstitions? Not with human words, – said one of them, – do we conquer the world, but by the power of God’s truth. What exactly was this truth? It consisted of the fact that the Jesus of Whom they were preaching was Christ, the true God; and although, as they acknowledged themselves, to the iniquitous Jews this truth appeared to be an absolute lie, and to the human reasoning of the Hellenes a form of madness, despite everything truth still triumphed in the world.

By what means did it become established among all the peoples? How did it spread among both learned men and illiterates? What attracted the most sensible men to belief in the Crucified One? There is nothing other to be seen than that same omnipotent and invincible power of God. The messengers of the Crucified One summoned all to a single faith; they preached and could not even themselves explain how the God they were advocating was in three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; how the Virgin became the Mother of the Son of God without ceasing to be an incorruptible Virgin; how an infinite and all-endowed Being became incarnate, took on human frailties, lived in extreme poverty, and finally suffered in human body and soul as though for its own great iniquities, and was subjected to death as though being mortal; how after three days He arose and ascended into heaven with glory, and now continuously offers His own body and blood to the faithful in the form of bread and wine. Such unfathomable mysteries were decidedly unattractive to people who wish to know about everything with the greatest precision. How then was faith able to conquer independent human reasoning? By the power of our Almighty Lord in Whom we believe, Who for our sake came down from heaven and became incarnate, and was crucified, and buried, and arose on the third day, and ascended into heaven, and is sitting on the right side of God the Father! By His almighty power has all this been made possible. To Him is the glory and the honor, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto all ages. Amen.

The holy apostles and our Lord Jesus Christ

Priest Gregory Dyachenko

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