In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ today we find ourselves gathered together in front of Christ’s tomb. We see the image of His dead body in the tomb that suffered tremendous injustice at the hands of those who were just a few days ago were shouting out Hosanna in highest blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. As we look at Him we should open our hearts to see how we betray Him each and every day through our sins.
In a way the sins that we commit are crimes against the Master. They are crimes that inflict the wounds of separation from God and His Christ. In a way we are all criminals.
Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic describes that the crimes that we commit against the Savior are likened to the seven different types of criminals that surrounded our Lord at His Passion. Each of us in some way is like one of these types of criminals if we examine our lives closely.
The first to attack Christ is the “father of lies” Satan himself. Satan is the chief of all the criminals. He burns with hatred for the Creator of All. His attack on Christ is through the hands of those who are blind to Christ as the Light of the World. When we inflict wounds upon Christ’s Holy Church out of hatred for Christ or the Church then we become one with Satan. We become a criminal like him rejoicing over the injuries the Church endures at our hands.
The second type of criminals are the leaders and elders of the Jewish people. They are those that have political, religious and intellectual power over the people. They fear the Lord out of jealousy. They fear Him because He is one that is wiser, mightier and better than they are. They fear that as a result of the Lord ruling this world through His law they will lose their positions of authority, honor and wealth. When we place things above the Lord we become like them. Through this type of sin we convict the Lord to death through subtle smiles, the wink of the eye or handshakes that say we know what the right thing to do is but, we are going to follow our own way.
The third type of criminal is the shameful apostle Judas. He is like those of us that are sorrowful for our sins but, unrepentant. Judas was sorrowful over betraying the Master and returned the thirty pieces of silver. However he was not repentant He failed to ask for forgiveness. There are many of us that are sorrowful for are sins but, fail to ask for forgiveness. People that are in this state of mind believe that God could never forgive them of their sin. Rather than embracing the compassionate Lord and receiving forgiveness they prefer to hold onto their sins and come to a bad end like Judas.
Pilate is the fourth type of criminal. His crime is that of indifference. He finds no fault in Jesus but convicts Him of a crime anyway because of the crowd. He is indifferent to what is true and just. We see this when he asks Christ “What is truth?” If we are indifferent about our faith then we become like Pilate by seeking the approval of men over doing what is true and just.
Barabbas represents the fifth type of criminal. He represents the one that has another suffer for his wrongs. Barabbas was a murder convicted of his crimes. When the Jews are given the choice between the innocent Christ and Barabbas, they choose Barabbas. When we allow another to suffer the consequences of our actions we are likened unto Barabbas. Through allowing another to suffer in our place we persecute Christ in a spiritual sense.
The sixth and seventh criminals that surround Christ are the two thieves that are crucified with Him. The thief on His left hand represents the sixth type of criminal, those of us that have no remorse for our sins. He dies railing against God. He fails to accept responsibility for his actions. How many of us spend our time blaming God or others for our sorrows when in fact we caused them ourselves.
The seventh and final type of criminal is the good thief that was crucified on the right hand of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. He represents true repentance or the changing of the mind through his actions. First he is sorry for his actions. Next he accepts the consequences of his deeds, as he said in the Gospel that he was receiving the just rewards for his deeds to the other thief that was railing against Christ. He then asks for forgiveness when he asks the Lord to remember him in His Kingdom. It is by having a humble and contrite heart that our Lord forgives him. The thief knows that he is not deserving of God’s mercy but receives it anyway, when the Lord says to him today you will be with Me in paradise.
Through the actions of this last type of criminal we are assured that if we follow the path of the cross we will receive salvation. This criminal discovers that his greatest strength comes out of his humiliation on the cross. Out of this humiliation the good thief receives a type of the resurrection. He is restored to his rightful place in God’s kingdom. Christ makes this possible for the thief, and all men, to reenter paradise through the example of the humility of His Holy Cross. All men need to do is be humble enough to ask for forgiveness.
We must constantly remember that without a cross; without the struggle and pain of our sins, without the asking for forgiveness, there is no resurrection; there is no restoration from this fallen world back to paradise for us.
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ my prayer for you is that you be like the good thief and recognize that all the pain that you endure in this life is the self inflicted just rewards of your sin and that you repent of your sin and humbly ask for forgiveness so that you may enter into paradise with our Savior.
Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, Youngstown Ohio on Great and Holy Friday 2009.