Bishop Luke with hieromonks at the shroud on Holy and Great Saturday

Fear Not Them That Kill the Body

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.”