Your Grace, reverend Fathers and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ this has been a glorious weekend with the collision of the feast of the Annunciation, Lazarus Saturday and the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem or Palm Sunday. As we prepare to enter into the Great and Holy Week we have been given a foretaste of the feast of the Resurrection or Pascha through the collision of these feasts. We have also had a foretaste of the life to come in the universal Resurrection through these feasts.
In the hymns of the feasts we heard the following:
“Today is the crown of our salvation and the manifestation of the mystery that is from all eternity.” (Troparion of the feast of the Annunciation)
“You confirmed the Universal Resurrection Christ God by raising Lazarus from the dead before your passion.” (Troparion of the feasts of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday)
In the services of the Great and Holy Week we also hear the following dismissal:
“The Lord who is going to His voluntary passion on behalf of us men and for our salvation,…”
What we should see from these hymns is that the whole purpose of Christ’s life, death on the cross and resurrection are the eternal mystery of our salvation. When one asks the question “What is salvation?” we need to understand that salvation is a person. That person is our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
We often see on roadside signs the words “Jesus Saves.” The questions that are often expressed are; who or what is Jesus saving us from? The Western Christian thought process is that Jesus is saving us from the wrath of God the Father by making a payment or an amends for the sin of Adam and for all of our sins. Our Orthodox Christian faith does not have this understanding of making a payment or amends for the sin of Adam and the sins of mankind.
What we believe is that man was created in the image and likeness of God. When speak about likeness we speak about our potential to become God like; in the sense to be God or using the Greek terminology we can undergo a process called theosis.
When Adam was created he had the potential to become like God. He was to grow in his relationship with God that he might become divine like God. However, he chose to exert his own will in place of God’s. The consequence of this exertion of will resulted in death entering into the world along with all sickness and the struggles that we incur in life. As St. Paul says to the Romans “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, in as much as all have sinned:” (Romans 5:12).
Death is not a punishment but a consequence of sin. The natural state of man is for the soul to be united with the body. As a result of sin God allows a temporary separation of the soul from the body. The separation of soul and body is unnatural and painful for the person that undergoes death and for those around the person. However, we should see death as something therapeutic because it puts an end to our sin and the struggles of this life.
When Christ suffers and experiences death on the cross He takes on sin and its consequences. On the cross He does battle with sin and its consequence death. Christ is victorious over sin and death by His Glorious Resurrection. This is how we should understand His Passion and Resurrection. This victory over sin and death is what is meant when it says in the Gospel of St. John “Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
The victory over sin and death by Christ’s death and resurrection is the restoration of all mankind to the image and likeness of God that Adam had in Paradise. The Resurrection gives us a pathway back to growing to be like God. Adam and all of mankind were created to grow to be like God by being in communion or relationship with Him. St. Maximus the confessor reminds us that if Adam had not sinned Christ still would have become man because God so very much loved mankind and wanted to be in communion or relationship with mankind.
We should see that Christ by restoring the image and likeness of God in us by His suffering and death on the cross and His Glorious Resurrection becomes our salvation. He unites us with Himself. We enter into communion with Him by being united to Him through the Passion and Resurrection.
Each of us must change our lives in the light of the Passion and Resurrection. In changing our lives we repent of our inclination to sin or exert our own will over God’s. This means for each of us that we live a life of repentance which can be understood as doing God’s will or living our lives to do the right thing.
In living a life of repentance we bring ourselves back to the image and likeness of God. Living a life of repentance is a life of joy. It is joyful because we do things that bring us out of conflict with the people, the world around us and God. This does not mean that we will not have struggles in life. It means that we will understand the struggles as the same struggles that Christ had on the cross. The struggles will bring us to a resurrection that unites us to God. Being united with God is what it means to be saved. It means that we are working in cooperation with God in the manner in which live our lives.
As we go through this Great and Holy Week together let us be mindful that Christ’s suffering on the cross leads to His resurrection which gives us a victory over death so that we may grow to be united with him resulting in our salvation.
Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Hermitage, PA at the Mission Vespers Palm Sunday 2012.