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Christ in Gethsemane
The Perfect Prayer to the Father
Before He was arrested, Christ prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. In so doing, He once again manifested His perfect obedience to the Father by enduring the agony of His impending death (Lk. 22:43-44). This act of submission does not imply the subordination of the Son to the Father but indicates Their Unity, Their Oneness. There is a direct connection between the temptation of Christ, the Lord’s Prayer and His struggles in Gethsemane. Christ never taught anything that He Himself did not first fulfill. In the Lord’s Prayer, He asked His disciples to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven…and lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
Christ, Who voluntarily accepted suffering, prayed in Gethsemane while His disciples, despite being told to watch and pray that they might not enter into temptation, slept. This was a very agonizing episode which Christ had to endure, that amid the unbearable sorrow of His sacrifice, He must also taste the indescribable pain caused by His favorite disciples’ abandoning Him. Jesus is utterly alone, even though His chosen ones are near to Him!
Within His prayer, “yet not what I will, but that Thou wilt,” is found an incomparable spiritual strength, an immovable desire and decision on the part of the Son of God to bring about the will of the Father. The same is also true of the final sentence in the passage: “Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” In this sentence, Jesus appears to have a full knowledge, control and initiative of movement. He accepts the Passion and pushes towards it because it is His decision and His will.
In this icon, Christ is praying alone to the Father, while an angel holds out a chalice towards Christ. In the vignette below, are the three dormant disciples.
Betrayal of Judas
Here we encounter the Mystery of man’s freedom and the accomplishment of God’s plan. After supper, Christ went with His disciples to the garden of Gethsemane, where they had often come to pray. Judas, knowing this, ran to tell Caiaphas of the opportune time to arrest Jesus and told those coming with him to arrest Christ that he would give the Master a kiss as the sign of his betrayal. Later realizing the gravity of his action, Judas returned the money to the priests, but they used the pieces of silver to buy a parcel of ground for the burial of strangers. In despair, Judas hanged himself instead of turning to the Lord in true repentance.
First, like a tragic protagonist, Judas arrives at the garden in the dark of night. 5t. Mark’s Gospel, describing him as “one of the twelve,” implies the deep sorrow his actions engender in his betrayal of his apostolic ministry. Also saddening is the signal with which the betrayal is completed: “The One I shall kiss is the Man.” The impression it creates even upon us is hideous. But then, we must remember that all the disciples deserted Christ: “And they all forsook Him and fled.” The disciples, the last human group that could have assisted Jesus, have scattered into the night, leaving Him alone in the hands of His deadly enemies. Thus, every human factor, the Jewish leaders, the crowd of servants, Judas, the disciples, become factors together in Christ’s pain and suffering.
A hymn describes this scene: “Today Judas watches the night to deliver the eternal Lord, the Savior of the world, Who satisfied the multitude with five loaves. Today the lawless-one denies His Master.”
Moreover, a prayer said before receiving Communion authored by 51. John Chrysostom states: “Receive me today, 0 Son of God, as partaker of Thy Mystical Supper, for I will not speak of Thy Mysteries to Thine enemies, neither willi give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like a thief, I will confess Thee: ‘Remember me 0 Lord in Thy Kingdom.’”
Christ Before Pontius Pilate
The Voluntary Humiliation of Our Savior
The Lord Jesus delivered to Pilate on Friday morning. The priests and elders, having not right to execute Christ, charged Him with three crimes of political nature – the Sanhedrin’s strategy was to accuse Jesus of a crime punishable by death. Therefore, they said to Pilate they had found Him “perverting our nation.” A second charge: He was “forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar.” Finally, they charged He had claimed Himself to be “Christ, a King!” (LK. 23:2)
While the chief priests and elders pressed charges against Him, the Lord responded to this with great silence, which made Pilate a bit reserved, as he noticed something very unusual about this Man. Therefore, finding no cause for condemnation, Pilate wanted to free himself of responsibility by releasing Jesus, and concluded: “I find no crime in this Man.” (LK 23:4)
However, even though he wanted to release Christ, Pilate under the threat of the accusation that he was not Caesar’s friend, ceased all his efforts to release Him. Thus, the Sinless Jesus, “the Lamb of God,” underwent two trials and all the sufferings connected with them and were found guilty of “religious” and “political” crimes. Both the Jews and the Gentiles took part in condemning Him to death.
A hymn reflecting this event declares: “Today the Lord of creation standeth before Pilate, and the Creator of all is delivered up to crucifixion, offered as a lamb, of his own will… the redeemer of the world is smitten on the cheek… and ridiculed by His own servants.”
In this icon, Christ (the Creator and Eternal Judge) stands before Pilate (the creature and mortal man) to be judged and condemned. He is stripped of His garments (voluntarily emptying Himself) while waiting sentence oh His voluntary death.
Scourging of Our Lord
One of the icons depicting Christ’s Passion shows an episode which produces the deepest sorrow in us even now, that is, the removal and division of His garments among His crucifiers (MK. 15:24). Here, torment comes from the ultimate humiliation of being exposed naked.
The soldiers of the governor seized Christ and after, scourging Him, took off His clothes and placed a purple robe on His shoulders, a crown of thorns on His head and a reed in His hand (see Mt. 27:26-31). To complete this caricature of royalty, they bowed down and mocked Him, saying: “Hail, King of the Jews!”
When Pilate sent Christ to Herod, He was treated with contempt, mocked and scourged as He remained silent. This silence recalls the Sufferings Servant of Isaiah 53, Who was despised, bruised, oppressed, “yet He opened not His mouth.” (Is. 53:7)
The Body of the Messiah is exposed naked in the sight of all, a fact indicative of excruciating humiliation. That is why in the Prayer at the Office of Midnight, we declare: “Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight.” Thus, the Church identifies the humiliated King of the Jews, the Christ of the Passion with the Bridegroom of the Church described in the parable of the ten virgins.
One of the ancient hymns describes this event: “He that putteth on light a garment standeth naked in His trial, accepting a blow on His cheeks and scourging on His back from the hands that He created. And the Lord of Glory was nailed to the Cross by the law-transgressing people; then was the veil of the temple rent and the sun was darkened, unable to see humiliated the God before who all tremble.”
The Passion of Our Lord
His Voluntary Passion
After they had mocked Christ, the soldiers took off the purple garment and put on His own clothes. Then they made Him carry His Cross to Golgotha; but later on, after Jesus had collapsed from exhaustion, they had Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus) to continue up the hill with Jesus’ cross.
An apparent indication of Christ’s suffering is expressed in the fact that those responsible for Christ’s crucifixion “compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene… to carry His cross” (MK. 15:21). This tells us a lot about Christ’s dramatic physical condition. In accord with the customs of the times, the one condemned to death by crucifixion had to carry his own cross to the place of execution. Christ’s exemption from such responsibility indicates that He was in no condition to carry His cross. Exhaustion from the night before, the buffetings, the privation, the scourging had covered His body with grievous wounds. He goes to His execution wounded, exhausted, and in unbearable pain.
In bearing the cross, Christ submits to everything each of us fears and out of fear seeks to avoid: rejection, condemnation, humiliation, pain, failure and death. He does so freely, with no motive but love for those with whom He has become one in the flesh. “Greater love has no man than to lay down His life for His friends” (Jn. 15:13).
A hymn in the voice of Christ exclaims: “I have delivered My back to scourges, and My face I have not turned away from spitting. Before the tribune of Pilate I stood, and the Cross I endured for the salvation of the world.”
In this icon, Christ is painfully, yet willingly, carrying His Cross towards Calvary while a soldier follows behind, holding onto Christ with a cord.
The Inflictions of the Cross
The Voluntary Suffering of Our Savior
Since He who is upon is fully God, it is a strange wonder to see the Maker of heaven and earth suspended on the Cross. But He is also fully Man – He has freely abased Himself because of His love for us and has humiliated Himself so as to share our human condition to the very end. He has borne insults, blows, mockery and suffering of the Cross. He was willing to accept death, He who alone is sinless and to experience the Tree the fullness of human despair. Thus, it is the complete person of Christ-God made and proclaimed Messiah, Who is nailed upon the Cross.
All the evangelists note that the soldiers cast lots to decide who would get Christ’s tunic. Once again, St. John the Evangelist emphasizes that this happened so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. As an eye witness, he is struck by how closely Christ’s death follows the psalms and prophecies “They divided my garments among them and for my raiment cast lots.” (Ps. 21:18) according to the Coptic Orthodox tradition, it is believed that the Theotokos fashioned this robe.
An ancient hymn declares: “Today, the Jews nail on the Cross Him Who did cleave the sea with a rod and made them to pass through the wilderness. Today, they pierce with a spear the side of Him Who scourged Egypt with curses for their sake and will give Him bitterness to drink Who rained down manna for nourishment.”
In this icon, Christ is shown willingly offering his body to be affixed upon the cross by the soldiers.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
The Crucifixion took place outside the walls of Jerusalem (as depicted in this icon) to express not only the people’s rejection of the Messiah, but also the universal character of the Sacrifice. It is likewise a reminder that those who follow Christ are exiles of this world.
Christ’s agony on the Cross: “O God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me…” (Ps. 22:1) was neither a sign of weakness nor loss of Faith in His Father but rather the recitation of Psalm 22. One of the Fathers said: “Christ became sin for us though He knew no sin. He became a curse for us, though He was the Blessed of God.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa once said: “Christ reconciled four worlds by destroying two barriers: one horizontal, separating the Jews from the Pagans, the other vertical, which had removed mankind from God.”
A hymn in contemplation to this event said: “Today is hung upon the Tree, He Who hung the earth upon the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him Who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with purple of mockery Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds. He received buffetings Who received Adam in the Jordan. He was transfixed with nails Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a spear Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ; show also unto us Thy Glorious Resurrection.”
St. John Chrysostom affirms that Adam’s tomb is said to have been at Golgotha and an earthquake exposed his skull.