I am a theologian to the extent that I follow the precept that a theologian is not entirely concerned with intellectual and scholarly discourse about God and Jesus Christ through only academic study but principally in the attempts I make, as a repentant sinner, to strive to reach “intimate communion with God and [to have] perception of the spiritual world,” in the words of Archimandrite George, who quoting Evagrius, “If you are truly a theologian, you will pray truly; and if you truly pray, you are a theologian.” Keeping these words in mind, I have decided to write about a recently published book by Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham, entitled The Hope of Glory – Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from The Cross. Recommended to me as a best seller on Amazon.com, the book is beautifully printed and bound but I am deeply concerned about its content. From the perspective of traditional understanding of the elder religions, both the Orthodox Faith and the Roman Catholic, it is deficient indeed.
In his prologue, Meacham writes, “I am an Episcopalian educated in the faith…I am, however, in no sense evangelical, for I do not share the view that faith in Jesus is the only route to salvation, nor am I determined to convert others to my point of view. ‘It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god,’ Thomas Jefferson remarked.”
Because of these words, I am not surprised that in his chapter on the Fourth Word uttered by Jesus Christ from Matthew 25:45-46, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” Meacham makes statements that include, “If, as the faithful suppose—and the gospels, in their passionate predictions insist—Jesus was fully briefed on his earthly mission, then how could his cry be taken literally? Why ask whether God has forsaken him? Why cry in pain when he must have known that resurrection lay ahead? We don’t know.” The Orthodox Way Best Price: $6.62 Buy New null (as of 05:25 EST - Details)
He also wrote in that same chapter, “Why do the innocent suffer and the innocent die?…We do not know. The world is a tragic place.”
For a historian, is Meacham’s lack of curiosity about the answers provided by the elder faiths due to (I speculate here) the conviction of his “faith” or willful blindness or ignorance? In truth, I can answer I don’t know. In fact, he quotes before the table of contents of the book Origen of Alexandria: “It is far better to accept teachings with reason and wisdom than with mere faith.” But seeking interpretations and doctrine and evaluating them, with humility, is not merely an act of faith, but plays a part in understanding. The reason that I focus on this particular chapter of Meacham’s book is because in the environment we are living now, where Easter is coming although the world around has changed greatly for the worse seemingly overnight, is that many people are suffering—from loss of jobs, work, illness, livelihood, perhaps even their life savings—and they might feel abandoned by God. Hence the importance of seeking more traditional interpretations, in which contrary to Meecham, we do know why Jesus Christ uttered the words and what they meant.
For Roman Catholics, the scholarly Pope Benedict XVI explains in “Faith Transforms The Abyss of Suffering Into a Source of Hope.” I have excerpted this because Pope Benedict’s thoughts on how these words relate to those of us who are suffering, which I have emphasized below, are extremely relevant to our situation now.
“This cry of anguish is transformed and transfigured in the mystery of the Resurrection. With these words, Jesus gives us the weight of his unspeakable suffering, beyond which the certainty of glory opens. Faith transforms death into a gift of life, and the abyss of pain into a source of hope”—Pope Benedict XVI
Psalm 22 presents us with the prayer of an innocent man who, persecuted and surrounded by deadly enemies, cries out to God “in a doleful lament which, in the certainty of faith, mysteriously gives way to praise,” said the Pope.
Our Holy Father explained that Psalm 22 has “strong Christological implications because they are the words spoken by Christ on the cross.”
The Psalmist’s opening cry of “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is “an appeal addressed to a God who appears distant, who does not respond,” said the Pope. “God is silent, a silence that rends the Psalmists heart as he continues to cry out incessantly but finds no response.” Nevertheless, the Psalmist “calls the Lord ‘my’ God, in an extreme act of trust and faith. Despite appearances, the Psalmist cannot believe that his bond with the Lord has been severed entirely.”
The cry of the Psalmist echoes the reality of our own lives, one encountered as we face the temptation which often urges us to think that God is distant in the face of the tragedies we experience. However, it is the Holy Spirit who convinces us of the Father’s personal intimacy and immediate nearness, and who calls us ultimately to abandon those fears rooted in human weakness and give ourselves over in faith and trust to God.
Thus our apparent “aloneness” is an illusion which we ourselves manufacture and which we ourselves then embrace. Let us look for a moment on our human condition: we are contingent beings who rely on God’s sustaining power each moment; we breathe and function and move about only as an effect of the Creator’s divine wisdom; we exist only because the Father has willed that we should and continues to do so. In reality, God’s infinite presence is on an extreme level of closeness which the human mind cannot grasp.
Jesus Cries Out Under The Crushing Burden of The Cross
As stated above, the opening cry of the Psalmist recurs in the gospels of Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34) as it falls from the lips of the dying Jesus on the cross. Some point to these words of Jesus as an indication of a lack of knowledge of his divine mission of salvation as the Father’s only Son. The notion is that Jesus did not fully understand his purpose nor his relation to the Father as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
These words of Jesus from the cross, Pope Benedict explained, express the terrible desolation our Savior felt “under the crushing burden of a mission which had to pass through humiliation and destruction. For this reason He cried out to the Father…Yet His was not a desperate cry, as the Psalmist’s was.”
Genesis, Creation, and... Best Price: $900.99 Buy New $902.01 (as of 02:42 EDT - Details) The Orthodox faith likewise has an answer, similar to Pope Benedict’s. In a review of a book that is highly regarded, The Orthodox Way by Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia the author is rebuked (hence proving Orthodox Faith is not monolithic) by Hieromonk Patapios in his book review, where among other issues he addresses “A Godforsaken God-Man?” and the same passage in scripture. I feel much of the passage is worth reading in its entirety, because Kallistos Ware seems to echo Jon Meacham, and one can compare this traditional Orthodox doctrine that responds to him to others:
Noting that the Gospels do not tell us much about Christs inward suffering, His Grace provides the reader with two “glimpses” into the anguish that Christ endured before and during His Crucifixion. First, regarding the agony in Gethsemane, His Grace quotes the eighteenth-century Anglican divine, William Law, to the effect that our Lord experienced “the anguishing terrors of a lost soul…,the reality of eternal death.” (p. 105). Such a statement is absolutely incredible, not to say blasphemous, implying, as it does, that Christ fell into a state of total despair. Since despair is a sin, the implication is that Christ was not free from that sin! Bishop Kallistos, building on this astonishing passage, goes so far as to say that Jesus identified Himself “with all the despair and mental pain of humanity” (ibid.). Secondly, and worse still, he interprets the cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (St. Matthew 27:46), as “the extreme point of Christs desolation, when he feels abandoned not only by men but by God” (p. 106). His Grace admits that “we cannot begin to explain how it is possible for one who is himself the living God to lose awareness of the divine presence,” but he nonetheless insists that when Christ uttered these words, “Jesus is truly experiencing the spiritual death of separation from God…; for our sakes he accepts even the loss of God.” (p. 106). One is left speechless, despite the fact that few, if any, have commented on this remarkable flaw in Bishop Kallistos theology.
About the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, we will observe only that His Grace has once again been drinking from a poisoned well, whereas he could so easily have treated us to the sublime exegesis of this tremendously difficult passage by St. Maximos the Confessor. It is quite probable that William Law, who, as a Non-Juror, would have been much more receptive to Orthodox theology than most of his coreligionists, had some good ideas, but when there is such a wealth of Patristic sources from which he could have drawn, and with which he is certainly familiar, why does Bishop Kallistos not make use of these? Let us see what some of the Orthodox Fathers have said about our Lord’s cry from the Cross. They do not support at all the notions presented in The Orthodox Way.
(1) “And that the words Why hast Thou forsaken Me? are His…(though He suffered nothing, for the Word was impassible), is notwithstanding declared by the Evangelists; since the Lord became man, and these things are done and said as from a man, that He might Himself lighten these very sufferings of the flesh, and free it from them. Whence neither can the Lord be forsaken by the Father, Who is ever in the Father, both before He spoke, and when He uttered this cry. Nor is it lawful to say that the Lord was in terror, at Whom the gatekeepers of Hades shuddered and set open Hades, and the graves did gape, and many bodies of the saints arose and appeared to their own people.”
(St. Athanasios the Great, “Discourses against the Arians” III.29, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. IV [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 424).
(2) “Yet, I suppose, you [Arians who argued that the Logos was not coeternal with the Father, on the ground He displayed signs of weakness] will arm yourselves also for your godless contention with these words of the Lord, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Perhaps you think that after the disgrace of the Cross, the favour of His Fathers help departed from Him, and hence His cry that He was left alone in His weakness. But if you regard the contempt, the weakness, the cross of Christ as a disgrace, you should remember His words,
‘Verily I say unto you, From henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven’.”
(St. Hilary of Poitiers, “On the Trinity,” X.31, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. IX [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 190).
(3) “And thus, He Who subjects presents to God that which He has subjected, making our condition His own. Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?).
[Emphasis added.] But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first Psalm refers to Christ.”
(St. Gregory the Theologian, “Fourth Theological Oration,” 30.5, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVI, col. 109A). God’s Revelation... Best Price: $2.00 Buy New $5.00 (as of 02:42 EDT - Details)
(4) “He saith, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that unto His last breath they might see that He honors His Father, and is no adversary of God. Wherefore also He uttered a certain cry from the Prophet, even to His last hour bearing witness to the Old Testament, and not simply a cry from the Prophet, but also in Hebrew, so as to be plain and intelligible to them, and by all things, He shows how He is of one mind with Him that begat Him”
(St. John Chrysostomos, “Homilies on St. Matthew,” 88.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LVIII, col. 776).
(6) “Christ’s cry of Forsaken on the Cross was to teach us the insufficiency of the human nature without the Divine. Hence it is that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Head, representing all the members of His body in Himself and speaking for those whom He was redeeming in the punishment of the Cross, uttered that cry which He had once uttered in the Psalm, O God, My God, look upon Me; why hast Thou forsaken Me? [Emphasis added.] That cry, dearly-beloved, is a lesson, not a complaint. For since in Christ there is one Person of God and man, and He could not have been forsaken by Him from Whom He could not be separated, it is on behalf of us, trembling and weak ones, that He asks why the flesh that is afraid to suffer has not been heard.”
(St. Leo the Great, “Homily,” 67.7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. XII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 179).
(7) “Further, these words, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? He said as making our personality His own. [Emphasis added.] For neither would God be regarded with us as His Father, unless one were to discriminate with subtle imaginings of the mind between that which is seen and that which is thought, nor was He ever forsaken by His Divinity: nay, it was we who were forsaken and disregarded. So that it was as appropriating our personality that He offered these prayers.”
(St. John of Damascus, “Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” III.24, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1093A).
From these citations it is quite clear that the Fathers all view Christs apparent despair as an example of the oikonomia that characterizes the entire Incarnation. That is to say, Christ quoted this verse from Psalm 21 for our benefit, to show that He was truly man, that it was none other than He about Whom the Prophets had spoken, and to demonstrate His genuine solidarity with the wretched plight of fallen humanity. There is not even a hint in any of these sources that Christ, as God, experienced the loss of God. At best, Bishop Kallistos is simply being careless when he claims that, “Jesus is truly experiencing the spiritual death of separation from God,” and that, “for our sakes he accepts even the loss of God.”
If one is to make bold statements of this kind, it is better to say, as did St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, that, “so as to feel the full weight of the consequences of sin, the Son of God would voluntarily allow His human nature to feel even the horror of separation from God.” (“What Did Christ Pray About in the Garden of Gethsemane?” Living Orthodoxy, Vol. XV, No. 3 [May-June 1993], p. 6 [emphasis ours]). This is far more in line with the Patristic consensus than the dubious speculations advanced by Bishop Kallistos.
Many priests believe the COVID-19 “Pandemic” is the response of God to humanity’s transgressions. You might wish to see these short videos, one from an elder Orthodox Priest, the other from a young Catholic, which are more similar than different in their outlook, although the young Catholic priest speaks with more youthful passion and exuberance.
IS CORONAVIRUS GOD’S PUNISHMENT?
THIS IS A CHASTISEMENT: and here’s why… – Fr. Mark Goring, CC
Lew Rockwell was gracious to share with me this Catholic site, The Remnant, in which this article posted, “A REMNANT INTERVIEW: Archbishop Viganò on COVID-19 and the Hand of God” and the first question and answer are:
Michael J. Matt (MJM): Your Excellency, how do you feel ordinary Catholics are to assess the covid-19 pandemic?
+ Carlo Maria Viganò: The coronavirus pandemic, as with all diseases and death itself, are a consequence of original sin. The sin of Adam, our first parent, deprived him and us not only of divine grace, but also all the other good things God gave to creation. Then disease and death came into the world as a punishment for disobeying God. The Redemption we were promised in the Protoevangelium (Genesis 3), prophesied in the Old Testament and brought to completion with the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, redeemed Adam and his descendants from eternal damnation; but its consequences were left as a mark of the Fall and will only finally be restored at the Resurrection of the flesh, as we proclaim in the Creed, and which will happen before Judgment Day. This must be remembered, especially at a time when the basic tenets of the Catechism are unknown or denied.
Catholics know that disease – and therefore epidemics, suffering, and losing a loved one—must be accepted in a spirit of faith and humility, even in atonement for our own personal sins. Thanks to the Communion of Saints—thanks to whom the merits of all the baptized are passed on to everyone else in the Church—we may also bear these trials for the sins of others, for the conversion of those who do not believe, and to shorten the time the Holy Souls have to spend in Purgatory. Something as terrible as covid-19 can also be an opportunity for us to grow in Faith and active Charity.
Many excellent articles have been published on LewRockwell.com about how the authoritarian response of the governments of the world, focusing on America but surely including China, Italy, Israel and Russia (in Moscow) have and will cause more harm to human spirit and life than any pandemic. And so I wonder if the fact of our being ruled by so many godless human beings is not a consequence of our estrangement from God, from the fact that as Hieromonk Seraphim Rose has written, the world has changed (although he died over thirty years ago, his words have never been more true) and that our times are not “normal.” I was surprised to learn that he was a brilliant young man who mastered languages, science and mathematics yet was an atheist before finding faith. In his article “The Orthodox World-View” he makes excellent points for Christians that I believe we should listen to, especially as we despair and I hope readers seek out the entire work: The Hope of Glory: Ref... Best Price: $15.22 Buy New $14.30 (as of 02:43 EDT - Details)
Life Today Has Become Abnormal
It is important for us to realize, as we try ourselves to lead a Christian life today, that the world which has been formed by our pampered times. makes demands on the soul, whether in religion or in secular life, which are what one has to call totalitarian. This is easy enough to see in the mindbending cults that have received so much publicity in recent years, and which demand total allegiance to a self-made “holy man”; but it is just as evident in secular life, where one is confronted not just by an individual temptation here or there, but by a constant state of temptation that attacks one, whether in the background music heard everywhere in markets and businesses, in the public signs and billboards of city streets, in the rock music which is brought even to forest campgrounds and trails, and in the home itself, where television often becomes the secret ruler of the household, dictating modern values, opinions, and tastes. If you have young children, you know how true this is; when they have seen something on television how difficult it is to fight against this new opinion which has been given as an authority by the television.
The message of this universal temptation that attacks men today—quite openly in its secular forms, but usually more hidden in its religious forms—is: Live for the present, enjoy yourself, relax, be comfortable. Behind this message is another, more sinister undertone which is openly expressed only in the officially atheist countries which are one step ahead of the free world in this respect. In fact, we should realize that what is happening in the world today is very similar whether it occurs behind the Iron Curtain or in the free world. There are different varieties of it, but there is a very similar attack to get our soul. In the communist countries which have an official doctrine of atheism, they tell quite openly that you are to: Forget about God and any other life but the present; remove from your life the fear of God and reverence for holy things; regard those who still believe in God in the “old-fashioned” way as enemies who must be exterminated. One might take, as a symbol of our carefree, fun-loving, self-worshipping times, our American “Disneyland”; if so, we should not neglect to see behind it the more sinister symbol that shows where the “me generation” is really heading: the Soviet Gulag, the chain of concentration camps that already governs the life of nearly half the world’s population.
What is the solution? He writes:
“The Church of Christ is alive and free. In her we move and have our being, through Christ Who is her Head. In Him we have full freedom. In the Church we learn of truth and the truth will set us free.” (John 8:32). You are in Christ’s Church whenever you uplift someone bent down in sorrow, or when you give alms to the poor, and visit the sick. You are in Christ’s Church when you cry out: “Lord, help me.” You are in Christ’s Church when you are good and patient, when you refuse to get angry at your brother, even if he has wounded your feelings. You are in Christ’s Church when you pray: ‘Lord, forgive him.’ When you work honestly at your job, returning home weary in the evenings but with a smile upon your lips; when you repay evil with love—you are in Christ’s Church. Do you not see, therefore, young friend, how close the Church of Christ is? You are Peter and God is building His Church upon you. You are the rock of His Church against which nothing can prevail…Let us build churches with our faith, churches which no human power can pull down, a church whose foundation is Christ…Feel for your brother alongside you. Never ask: ‘Who is he?’ Rather say: ‘He is no stranger; he is my brother. He is the Church of Christ just as I am.”
I sincerely hope that even if your church is closed, your priest or pastor is available to assist you if you call seeking help. While I myself am not C.S. Lewis, who with his brother answered correspondents’ inquiries as best he could and with humility, I would be happy, as a Christian, to respond to any inquiry that you have. Let us remember Jesus Christ has overcome death and the devil, and through Him, we who believe have as well. We might lose our jobs, wealth, health, savings and even our lives, we may live in a world where more and more are estranged and rebelling against God, who hate Christians, but we have—if we reach out, repentant to Him—the love of God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Remember that; remember the meaning of the words spoken on the cross that God has not forsaken us.
May I wish those who believe a blessed Easter.