Before the Burial Shroud

On Great Friday all of humanity, from Adam to the latest of the earth-born, should stand before the Burial Shroud with bended head. It is through their sin that death came into the world; it is their crimes that created the Lord’s sentence. It is horrifying to recognize oneself as a criminal; it is unbearable to see oneself as responsible for death, as a killer. But it is a fact!

The life of Christ continuing in the world has today led us to Golgotha, to the Divine Sufferer’s deserted Cross, to His grave. At this time twenty centuries ago, only those who were closest to Him remained around His lifeless body, mourning their love and their unfulfilled hopes. The final cry of the Dying One on the Cross – It is completed – was heard by friends and foes. No one yet understood the reason for which He died. Now, however, as a drop of dew reflects the sun with the joy of life, so too in every Church in the entire world are the events of those tragic and saving days reflected: the Cross of the Lord and the Burial Shroud of Christ have been lifted up, proclaiming the greatest deed accomplished in the history of the world, that of Golgotha.

On earth the Savior and Redeemer revealed the Kingdom of Heaven: it is called the Church of Christ. Today Golgotha could no longer contain all those bringing their love to the pierced feet of the Savior. In this the Lord’s promise is being fulfilled: And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me (John 12:32). We who are now standing before the Burial Shroud are already anticipating His Resurrection. Perhaps it is for this reason that we cannot experience the grace-filled bitterness of Christ’s Passion, as we are unable to resist the joyful forty days of the approaching Pascha.

But today is Great Friday, a day of great sorrow and profound reflection. “Let all mortal flesh fall silent, and stand with fear and trembling; be mindful in himself of nothing on this earth.” On Great Friday all of humanity, from Adam to the latest of the earth-born, should stand before the Burial Shroud with bended head. It is through their sin that death came into the world; it is their crimes that created the Lord’s sentence. It is horrifying to recognize oneself as a criminal; it is unbearable to see oneself as responsible for death, as a killer. But it is a fact! All of us, without exception, have participated in this death. Christ, the Son of Man, has rested in death for our salvation.

The death of the Son of God on the Cross has trampled down death and granted God’s mercy to the people. Death proclaims the unprecedented deed that has been worked by God the Holy Trinity. The grave that had enclosed the Source of Life has become life-giving, wordlessly preaching that which humanity has been called to hear, that it might live. The word of the Creator’s love for His creation, of His love for sinful and ungrateful man, resounds in this preaching.

Let us hearken, my dear ones, to what the Savior is silently proclaiming: “I died for you, for your salvation. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s soul for one’s friends. The thought of you, the sinner, and the desire to save you gave Me the strength to bear the unbearable. You have heard of how I, in My human nature, grieved and mourned in the Garden of Gethsemane on the threshold of My suffering. My heart cried out wordlessly to the Heavenly Father: let this cup pass from Me. But remembrance of you, of your eternal perdition, and My compassion and mercy for God’s perishing creation, conquered the fear of these temporal inhuman torments. My will commingled with that of My Father, as did His love and My love for you, and by that power I overcame the unbearable. The sins of the whole world pressed heavily upon Me. Your burden, which is beyond your strength, I took upon Myself.”

We hear and see words and deeds of love from the Savior’s grave. The unchanging Love of God and its Sun shine on the good and the evil; salvation has been prepared for all who desire it. This Love continues even now, always hoping, bearing everything in expectation of our conversion.

Does not the desire to spit, trample, and even kill this Love live among some people in our times; and, among others, the desire simply to forget it? The Lord has dispelled the gloom of darkness that had reigned before His coming into the world, illuminating the path to the Heavenly Kingdom. But God’s enemy continues to keep his share among disbelievers, pagans, and sinners who do not know repentance. Just as Christ’s compatriots had replaced God’s Truth with lies and reverted to a hypocritical ritualism during the time of His ministry, do we not now repeat their delusions?

In words: Lord, Lord! But in life: have me excused. Is it not obvious from the bitter experience of the life of humanity that it continues its captivity to the theomachist, the enemy of the human race? The Lord has given us the joy of eternal life, yet we prefer the elusive pleasures of temporary existence. Christ the Savior, by His deed of self-sacrifice, has destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil [Hebrews 2:14]. The meaning of His sacrifice was the restoration of the Kingdom of God, which had been perishing on earth, having been abducted from our first parents by the enemy. But it is within our power to choose between the path of illusory freedom, which is essentially submission to the enemy of God, and the path of life following Christ. God’s grace is inexhaustible in the Church of God.

Let us, my dear ones, live through the Church and in the Church, remembering that Christian life is the life of the Holy Spirit. The meaning of our earthly life consists in acquiring the grace of the Holy Spirit. Both today and everyday, the voice of God in the quiet of Great Friday cries out to mankind: “Save yourselves, save yourselves, My people!” The Creator has reconstituted His creation in a new grace-filled life. Let us then acknowledge God as our Father, recognizing our need for salvation and mercy, and then the Lord, the Source of grace, will have mercy upon us and save us.

Translated from the Russian.

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