Holy Thursday - Twelve Gospels

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The Universal Significance of the Passions of Christ

The Orthodox Church never loses sight of the universal significance of the Passions of Christ. The glorification of the wounds, the bloodshed, and the torturing agony experienced by Christ does not find its origin in a simple awe before human suffering. Beyond the scene of the human suffering of Christ is the reality of His work for the redemption of all men. He is the God-man. He does what no human being alone can do. He takes upon Himself the sin of all and shatters its power. He suffers and dies for all in order that all might be able to pass through and find new hope in the agonies of suffering and death. The hymnography enumerates each aspect of the human suffering of Christ:


Every member of Thy holy flesh endured dishonor for us.
Thy head - the thorns,
Thy face - the spitting,
Thy cheeks - the buffeting,
Thy mouth - the taste of vinegar mingled with gall,
Thine ears - the impious blasphemies,
Thy back - the scourge,
Thy hand - the reed,
Thy whole body - extension upon the cross,
Thy joints - the nails,
Thy side - the spear.

But the verse does not stop here. It links all this human suffering with the Divine plan for the restoration of all men:

By Thy sufferings Thou hast set us free from suffering.
In Thy love for man Thou didst stoop down to raise us up.
O Almighty Savior, have mercy on us.

(Ideomela, Tone 3)

Even Christ's pierced side is seen as a source of spiritual strength for the whole Church:

From thy life-bearing side, O Christ, a fountain flows forth as from Eden,
giving drink to Thy Church as to a living paradise.
From there it divided to become the four rivers of the Gospels,
watering the world, gladdening creation,
and teaching the nations to worship Thy Kingdom in faith.


Finally, the hymnography has Christ Himself exclaiming the true purpose of His Passions:

I gave my back to scourging.
I did not turn my face from spittings.
I stood before the judgment seat of Pilate
And endured the cross,
For the salvation of the world.

(Ideomela, Tone 6)

In concluding this section, we must move from the universal to the specific. Christ suffered and died not for the sake of some vague "human mass," but for unique human persons - for you and me. In this fact lies the hope and joy of each Christian.

Thou wast crucified for my sake, in order to pour forth forgiveness for me.
Thy side was pierced so (hat streams of life might flow for me.
Thy hands were transfixed by nails so that,
convinced of the height of Thy power by the depth of Thy sufferings,
I Might cry out to Thee, O Christ,
Thou giver of life: Glory to Thy cross and to Thy passion, O Savior!


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