The Plashchanitsa or Epitaphion of Christ

Do Not Sterilize the Sacred!

Homily on Holy and Great Friday
at the completion of Great Vespers
April 4/17, 2020

by His Grace Luke,
Bishop of Syracuse

Dear Fathers and broth­ers in Christ,

Holy is the Lord our God!
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immor­tal, Have Mer­cy on Us!

These and many oth­er prayers and sacred writ­ings char­ac­ter­ize God as Holy and the source of Holi­ness. The salvif­ic strug­gle of the Son of God is com­plet­ed. It is writ­ten, “In the grave bod­i­ly but in Hades with thy soul as God; in par­adise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spir­it wast Thou who fillest all things, O Christ, the Inexpressible.”

Time and place dis­ap­pear in the grace-filled expe­ri­ence of the Body of Christ, the Church, and in the life of Ortho­dox Chris­tians. How­ev­er, God chose to be born in the flesh and to tru­ly suf­fer and to die so that He could work out our sal­va­tion through things of this world, begin­ning with His Flesh and Blood and con­tin­u­ing to sanc­ti­fy us through every­thing the Church offers us. He beck­ons us to receive into our bod­ies, to ven­er­ate, to touch: the shroud before us, the incense we breathe, Holy Water, blessed salt, sanc­ti­fied palms and pussy wil­lows, myrrh from a stream­ing icon, our per­son­al prayers, the Sign of the Cross, the strug­gle for virtue, the bat­tle with sin — the end­less, invis­i­ble and vis­i­ble means by which our Lord desires to com­mune with us and to make us holy.

Dear­ly beloved fathers and broth­ers, piety is Ortho­doxy and holi­ness in life, in every­day life, where we com­mune with the Holy Spir­it — the Giv­er of Life, not of death. Beware, lest we fall into a car­nal, pure­ly nat­ur­al, world­ly under­stand­ing of these Mys­ter­ies, which God has ordained for our sal­va­tion. Emp­ty reli­gious forms will not sat­is­fy our spir­it and we will then seek plea­sure and sat­is­fac­tion in the pas­sions — in end­less world­ly dis­trac­tions, in neo-idol worship.

Be care­ful not to shake the sim­ple-heart­ed faith of those lit­tle ones among us by ster­il­iz­ing the Sacred. The Lord warns us about this. Yes, it requires unshak­able faith to move moun­tains but our Cre­ator tells us it is indeed pos­si­ble. As we con­tin­ue to repent, to grow in Christ, let us pray earnest­ly to God to for­give us for our weak faith and that He ever increase our faith so that we might put away sin, triv­i­al­i­ty, car­nal think­ing of the nat­ur­al man, and enter into that to which we are called—a life in the Holy Spir­it, a spir­i­tu­al life. And let us exclaim with St David: Take not thy Holy Spir­it from me, but restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.