26 April OS 2016 – Monday of Thomas Week; Holy Hieromartyr Basil of Amasea, St. Joannicius of Devich, St. Stephen of Perm
Christ is Risen!
The reading today from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 3: 19-26) is the second half of St. Peter’s sermon to the Jews who gathered on Solomon’s Porch after he had healed the lame man at the Beautiful Gate. Here is the whole passage (Acts 3: 11-26):
In those days: And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering. And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.
St. Theophan the Recluse contrasts the ignorance of the Jews who killed the Prince of Life with our knowing sinfulness, which is without excuse:
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).” Thus spoke the Holy Apostle Peter to the Jews who crucified the Lord, comforting them that they did it out of ignorance [see verse 17, “…I know that through ignorance you did it…”]. But we are crucifying the Lord within ourselves for a second time, not out of ignorance, but through our sins. The Most Merciful One receives us, too, when we repent and turn to Him with all our heart. We did this during Great Lent. Each came running to the Lord with tears of repentance over his sins. The more sincerely one did this, the more strongly he felt the refreshment of forgiveness proceeding from the face of the Lord, through the hand and the word of absolution of God’s priest. Now what is left for us to do? To be on guard against new falls, that we not fall again into the guilt of crucifying the Lord. The Apostle says that heaven has only received the Lord Jesus until the times of the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21). Then He will come again and set forth judgment. With what eyes will those who pierced His side look upon Him? [see Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”] Indeed, we too will have to stand in their ranks if we stop bringing forth fruits of repentance and return to our old ways. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 89-90
The idea that we are crucifying the Lord afresh by our sins probably does not occur to us often, and perhaps even less often do we consider the very real possibility that at His Second Coming we might look upon His wounds, caused by our sins, and wail too late in useless remorse over our unrepented sins and impending eternal perdition. How can we remember this, and how can we use this remembrance to find our salvation?
The Lord, of course, has risen and ascended on high in glory; He is the Pantocrator Who holds all things in His almighty hand. The Crucifixion is a specific historical event that happened nearly two thousand years ago. The great contest is over, the Victor is triumphant, and we await His return in glory. Yet the death of the Lord is also a meta-historical event: at the moment He cried, “It is finished,” and gave up His spirit, this moment of His death entered into the Eternal Now. Recall what we read in the Ninth Ode of the Pre-Communion Canon:
The Lord is good. O taste and see! For of old He became like us for us, and once offered Himself as a sacrifice to His Father and is perpetually slain, sanctifying communicants. – from the Jordanville Prayer Book, Archimandrite Lazarus (Moore) translation, p. 316
This perpetual slaying of the Lord, this eternal moment of His sacrificial death, is made perpetually present until the end of time – neither physically (of course) nor merely in memory (considered as a function of the limited and fallen human psyche), but mysteriologically (a mode of reality more real than the merely physical or psychological) – in the Bloodless Sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy. When the awesome descent of the Holy Spirit has occurred at the Epiclesis, and the Slain Victim is lying upon the altar, we can once again make the confession of Thomas, who did not believe until he had gazed upon the pierced Side and Hands that will forever bear the wounds caused by sin. Only then did he say, “My Lord and my God!”
Do I ever, at that moment, bowing my head and heart in fear and trembling, consider that it was my actual sins, in addition to the Ancestral Sin of Adam and Eve, which made this Sacrifice necessary? Not only sin as the inherited state or condition of sinfulness common to all mankind, but my specific thoughts, feelings, choices, actions, and habits which, committed after Baptism, separate me from God and caused the death of the God-Man.
Yes, the Lord Jesus is the mighty Pantocrator, Who created, sustains, and governs all things. But He is also my Friend, Who gave His life for me. What do I not owe Him? I owe Him something beyond everything. I owe Him a debt that can never be repaid, in time or eternity. The least and most I can do is to give Him all that I am. There is no other permissible response. Admittedly, except for martyrs and really thorough penitents like St. Mary of Egypt, this giving usually does not happen all at once. But I must remember that by the hour of death I need make it complete, and the hour of death is unknown. Therefore each day and each moment I must repeat the confession of Thomas joined to the prayer of the Publican, the Thief, the Harlot, and the Prodigal:
“My Lord and my God!”
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner!”