Wednesday, March 28, 2012

“God is never so strong as when he is most weak” – Kallistos Ware

Continuing Bishop Kallistos Ware's teaching on the Passion of Christ from The Orthodox Way

St. John introduces his account of the Last Supper and the Passion with these words: "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (13:1). "To the end" - the Greek says eis telos, meaning "'to the last", "to the uttermost". And this word telos is taken up later in the final cry uttered by Christ on the Cross: "It is finished", tetelestai (John 19:30). This is to be understood, not as a cry of resignation or despair, but as a cry of victory: It is completed, it is accomplished, it is fulfilled. What has been fulfilled? 

We reply: The work of suffering love, the victory of love over hatred. Christ our God has loved his own to the uttermost. Because of love he created the world, because of love he was born into this world as a man, because of love he took up our broken humanity into himself and made it his own. Because of love he identified himself with all our distress. Because of love he offered himself as a sacrifice, choosing at Gethsemane to go voluntarily to his Passion: "I lay down my life for my sheep ... No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:15,18). It was willing love, not exterior compulsion, that brought Jesus to his death. At his Agony in the garden and at his Crucifixion the forces of darkness assaiI him with all their violence, but they cannot change his compassion into hatred; they cannot prevent his love from continuing to be itself. His love is tested to the furthest point, but it is not overwhelmed. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not swallowed it up" (John 1:5). To Christ's victory upon the Cross we may apply the words spoken by a Russian priest on his release from prison camp: “Suffering has destroyed all things. One thing alone has stood firm - it is love”. 

The Cross, understood as victory, sets before us the paradox of love's omnipotence. Dostoevsky comes near to the true meaning of Christ's victory in some statements which he puts into the mouth of Starets Zosima

“At some thoughts a man stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and he wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide: "I will combat it by humble love." If you resolve on that once for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.” 

Loving humility is a terrible force: whenever we give up anything or suffer anything, not with a sense of rebellious bitterness, but willingly and out of love, this makes us not weaker but stronger. So it is, above all, in the case of Jesus Christ. "His weakness was of strength", says St Augustine. The power of God is shown, not so much in his creation of the world or in any of his miracles, but rather in the fact that out of love God has “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7), has poured himself out in generous self-giving, by his own free choice consenting to suffer and to die. And this self-emptying is a self-fulfillment: kenosis is plerosis. God is never so strong as when he is most weak.


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