His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Homily for the Twelve Gospels - Matins of Great and Holy Friday
April 13, 2023
Holy Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church
Brookville, New York
My Beloved Christians,
Tonight, the Service of the Passion – the Matins of Holy Friday –overwhelms our hearts and astonishes our minds. We behold with our eyes the vision of God crucified in the flesh.
We stand in awe before the One Who suspended the land in the midst of the waters, our planet in the midst of the stars, and Himself in the midst of Two Thieves upon the Cross.
Between Heaven and Earth, the Creator of both hangs upon the worst conceivable instrument of torture, so that our suffering and pain might be abolished.
The Only Immortal One – immaculate and sinless, submits to death by bowing His Divine Head and commanding death to come, so that we might live forever with Him in His glorious, heavenly Kingdom. As one Saint said:
Others bow their heads in death, but not before they give up the spirit. But You, Lord, bowed Your head, commanding death to come; only then did You give over Your spirit. *
We have listened to these Twelve Gospel Readings, which contain the agonizing details of our Lord’s arrest, trial, and Crucifixion, and Death. And we have glorified His condescension, His humility, and His long-suffering – His μακροθυμία on behalf of us all.
Our Lord Jesus Christ made of His Cross many things.
He made of the Cross a compass, to orient our lives in the way of sacrificial love.
He made of the Cross a ship’s mast, by which we might book passage for the safe harbor of Heaven.
He made of the Cross a ladder, by which we might climb, step by step, into lives of righteousness and truth.
He made of the Cross a bridge, by which we might pass over, following the Thief, from this world to Paradise.
And He made of the Cross a pulpit, from which He preached His Last Seven Words, seven utterances, seven sermons, that call for our utmost attentiveness.
Tonight, my beloved brothers and sisters, I ask you to listen carefully to the first of these sermons, which the Lord prayed aloud as He was nailed to the Cross:
Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς· οὐ γὰρ οἴδασι τί ποιοῦσι.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.†
In the face of the deadly hatred of the mob, of the soldiers, of those who had conspired to bring about His death, the Lord calls upon His Holy Father to forgive His murderers. And yet, there is more. He pardons them Himself by invoking their ignorance, their blindness, their delusion, their fear, and their unwillingness to see the truth.
His words extend to every human being who has ever lived – and every human being yet to be born into this world. The Lord Jesus looks upon us all – especially at our worst – and He sees past our rage and our hatred. He looks deep into our hearts and He sees the fear, the ignorance, the delusion. And He forgives. He forgives because He understands us. After all, He shares every aspect of our nature except for sin.
His first sermon from the Cross teaches us to also be forgiving of those that hurt us, that seek our failure, our damage. We are unable to see into their hearts, as so often, we cannot even see into our own. But the Lord teaches us that all sin perpetrated on others is due, ultimately, to ignorance. Because if we could see our interconnectedness with others, how we are all part of God’s plan for the universe, we could not damage even a blade of grass.
Those who oppose us, truly, they know not what they do, for they do not realize that they are hurting themselves.
When we hurt others, we know not what we do, for if we did, and we knew we were hurting ourselves as well, we would not do it.
My Friends, on this night when the Lord’s suffering and death is brought before us with such urgency, let us look deeply within.
Let us listen to His Sermons from the Cross, and find the courage to answer His invitation – to take up our own crosses, and to follow him.
Let us begin to forgive now – so that when the Resurrection dawns upon us all, we will be able to receive His forgiveness for our sins, and live in newness of life. Ἀμην.
* On the Lament of the All-Holy Theotokos When She Embraced the Precious Body of our Lord Jesus, A Homily of our father among the Saints Symeon the Metaphrast, Archbishop of Thessaloniki.
† Luke 23:34.