Various Thoughts on the Holy Passion & Resurrection of the Lord Christ Jesus
Written By: Holden Hooper
Column: Reflection of the Month
Issue: Set to Appear in the May Issue of the Newsletter
Christ is risen! But what do these amazing words of truth mean for both us and the world after the history changing events of the Lord’s death and Resurrection? First of all it’s not only these two events that are earth-shattering and vital to our salvation, but it is the whole entire life of Christ that is meaningful for us beginning with the Incarnation and leading up to the Cross where the Logos suffered in the Flesh and died and was later Resurrected (all of these events in His life are attributed to the One Incarnate Nature of the Logos and it would be wrong and Nestorian to say that only the miraculous things were done by His divinity and the regular by His humanity, but they are all done by the Logos since He has both human and divine natures perfectly united together without mixing or commingling in the One incarnate nature of the Logos aka the hypostatic union). Some may wonder how it is that Christ died while being divine? This relates back to the Theopaschite debate during the time of the third ecumenical council, Mor Cyril said that it is anathema to deny that the Logos suffered in the flesh, this is why we say in the Trisagion: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal who was crucified for us: have mercy upon us” this is possible because the divinity of Christ is impassible thus there is an Orthodox understanding of Theopaschism.
In connecting the Paschal lamb that was procured on Nisan 10 and slaughtered on the 14th of Nisan Mor Ephrem said in his commentary on Exodus that “The lamb is the type of our Lord, who entered the womb on the tenth of Nisan (the Annunciation), And so on the 10th when the lamb was confined our Lord was conceived. And on the 14th, when (the lamb) was slaughtered, it’s type was crucified.” There are various ways of looking at Cross and why the Crucifixion was done and for what purpose and these are the main views: Christus Victor, Substitutionary Atonement, Ransom, and Moral. Modern Orthodoxy likes to focus on Christus Victor or Christ defeating death by His death, but this is not the only view we should have about the cross for it is all of these different views united in a holistic way. While we do believe in substitutionary Atonement one does not need worry that we are talking about the same thing as Calvinists.
Mor Athanasios talks the correct substitutionary atonement view in his On The Incarnation “As we have already noted, it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence…But repentance would not guard the Divine consistency, for, if death did not hold dominion over men, God would still remain untrue. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father… He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing…Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father…The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection…For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required.” Some may say that any type of substitutionary talk sounds very unmerciful and is placing to much on Justice, well Mor Cyril of Alexandria talks about how Mercy and Justice aren’t dialectics set against each other in his commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke “Christ is mercy and justice: for we have obtained mercy through Him, and been justified, having washed away the stains of wickedness through faith that is in Him.”
Well you might ask if God could have easily just forgiven mankind without having to have sent the Logos to be crucified and Resurrected for us? Well Mor Gregorios the Theologian talks about this as well in his Greater Catechism “Whether we regard the goodness, the power, the wisdom, or the justice of God, it displays a combination of all these acknowledged attributes, which, if one be wanting, cease to be Divine…After we had thus freely sold ourselves to the deceiver, He who of His goodness sought to restore us to liberty could not, because He was just too, for this end have recourse to measures of arbitrary violence. It was necessary therefore that a ransom should be paid, which should exceed in value that which was to be ransomed; and hence it was necessary that the Son of God should surrender Himself to the power of death. God’s justice then impelled Him to choose a method of exchange, as His wisdom was seen in executing it.” Now in regards to how the Logos could take on the punishment which men deserved Mor Severus of Antioch writes in one of his letters “If he became man to free our race from the bonds of former crimes, and took upon him the seed of Abraham, and flesh of our nature, and united a human soul to himself hypostatically, therefore he made all the debts of our race to which we were liable his own: for we are accursed, and we came under, the penalty of the curse, and heard the words, “Dust thou art and to dust shalt thou return”, and, “Cursed is the earth in the work of thine hands”, and, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”…And he himself underwent the accursed death that was for our sake, and thence blessed the whole human race.”
How is it that our debts were cancelled and Christ was made “to be sin for us” through the sacrifice of Christ? Well Mor Augustine wrote in On The Words Of The Gospel Of St. John that “How do we tolerate what is said, “He made Him sin,” that Christ Himself should be sin?…For it is not an expression once used, but repeatedly, very constantly, sacrifices for sins are called “sins.”…so that in one place the Law says, “That the Priests are to lay their hands upon the sin.” “Him” then, “who knew no sin, He made sin for us;” that is, “He was made a sacrifice for sin.” Sin was offered, and sin was cancelled. The Blood of the Redeemer was shed, and the debtor’s bond was cancelled.” There is also the popular ransom theory which is correct, but it depends on how you formulate this ransom and to you it is offered. The heresiarch Origen of Alexandria was one of the first to fully discuss the ransom view, but Origen said that this ransom was for the Devil which actually falls under one of Mor Cyril’s 12 Anathemas on Nestorius “Holy Scripture states that Christ is High Priest and Apostle of our confession, and offered Himself on our behalf for a sweet-smelling savor to God and our Father. If, then, any one says that He, the Word of God, was not made our High Priest and Apostle when He was made flesh and man after our manner; but as being another, other than Himself, properly man made of a woman; or if any one says that He offered the offering on His own behalf, and not rather on our behalf alone; for He that knew no sin would not have needed an offering, let him be anathema.” So from these words of Mor Cyril we see that Christ is the High Priest and the Lamb at the same time and that this sacrifice is delivered up to God the Father. The interesting thing about the Mystery of the Eucharist is that we partake of the same sacrifice of Calvary each time and that it truly is Christ’s body and blood.
In order to partake of this miraculous Mystery the believer first is baptized whereby he dies and is resurrected as a new man like those in Hades who Christ took up to Paradise, which is how Mor Jacob of Sarug describes the Mystery of Baptism. And according to Mor Philoxenus of Mabbug through the Mystery of Chrismation one is given the Holy Spirit which enables the believer to live a life of faith and repentance and that the Holy Spirit is kept in all cases except denial of God or paganism, but for the other sins the Mystery of Repentance is there to cleanse you of “lesser sins” that have been done post-baptism so that you can partake of the Eucharist more worthily and advance in the spiritual life of hanging ones nous to follow God’s will and commandments. All of this is said so that instead of looking at the Cross and seeing only one type of view, we should instead look at all the views together which the Holy Fathers have mentioned and have a balanced Patristic view. Truly He is Risen!