Homily on Holy and Great Friday
at the completion of Great Vespers
April 17/30, 2021
by His Grace Luke,
Bishop of Syracuse
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
The Holy Church brings to our attention today in the most solemn and poignant way, the cornerstone of our faith, the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is a great mystery, for He Who holds the life of all things in His hands now lays in the tomb. We celebrate His death for three days, but His resurrection for forty. Thus, the accent is on the joy and hope of the Resurrection. Nonetheless, dear brothers and sisters, many of us fear death. St. Peter feared death and therefore denied Christ three times. We observe that in the garden of Gethsemane our Savior seems to experience fear and trembling in the face of death. The holy fathers write that not death was the cause of the agony, since many martyrs joyfully went to death, but the sins of the whole world, which Christ took upon His sinless soul. This was the cup He asked be taken away; that cup was to be filled through His suffering for our sins with His Body and Blood, which are the source of our salvation. So why do we fear death, when we will soon sing that Christ has trampled down death by His death? St. Paul asks, O Death, where is thy sting? (I Cor 15:55)
Daily, through the action of the devil and our passions, we become more attached to the things of this life, and therefore, the idea of leaving it behind is terrible; or else we simply do not believe in eternal life, we have no hope, and our faith is in vain. But this cannot be for us Orthodox Christians, who fulfill the commands in the Bible to be not of this world. And, we truly believe in eternal life. Where does our fear originate? St. Paul writes that it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment (Heb. 9:27), and he warns, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:30–31). The Lord teaches us, fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mt. 10:28) And who among us can say that he no longer fears God but loves Him? So great is the feeling of fear that it can shut us out of Heaven: But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Rev. 21:8). Ancient Greek philosophers commented that, “Fear is of all the emotions the most brutalizing”.
Dear right-believing Orthodox Christians, it is not actually death we fear, but judgment. The Lord tells us that all …shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (Jn 5:29). Our conscience accuses us and therefore we fear the righteous judgement of God. As a result, we have no courage, we conform to the image of this world, we are fainthearted, of little faith, seek the easy way out, are not interested in truth, do not confess the truth in our actions but only with our lips.
During these holy days, the Grace of the Holy Spirit is given to us to help us loosen our attachment to sin, passion, addictions, technology, distractions. Let us pray today for forgiveness of our sins, for blessed freedom in Christ, a clear conscience, for less fear of death and more courage, so as to meet the resurrection of Christ with hope in salvation and eternal life, “For Thou are indeed the true joy and gladness of them that love Thee, o Christ our God and unto Thee we send up glory, with Thine unoriginate Father, and Thy most Holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”