On this past Sunday night, the CBS News program 60 Minutes did a segment on His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the plight of the Church in Constantinople. Personally, the most striking statements by His All Holiness were about crucifixion:
We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes. Because in the gospel, it is written that it is given to us not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for Christ,” the patriarch said.
“You said even to be crucified sometimes?” Simon asked.
“Yes. Because we believe in the resurrection. After the crucifixion, resurrection comes,” the patriarch explained.
The crucifixion is necessary. St. Leo, in his Sermon XXIII On the Nativity reminds us that the whole purpose of the Nativity is the Cross:
It pleased Him to take away the sin of the world in the Nativity and Passion of Jesus Christ.
We cannot have the Cross without the Nativity. We cannot have the Resurrection without the Cross. I have Protestant friends who are discomfited by our icon with Christ on the Cross — they are used to seeing an empty cross, the post-resurrection cross. An empty cross, however, is meaningless without Christ crucified. As His All Holiness points out, the Gospel calls us to suffer for Christ. This is not something to dread, it is an opportunity. Our God is someone who truly understands us — who understands that we will suffer in our life. Understanding this, out of His extreme love for us, He was willing to subject Himself to extreme suffering. In this way, we might transform our suffering into a means to identify ourselves with our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is exemplified by the Hieromartyr St. Ignatius of Antioch, who we celebrated on Sunday. On his way to Rome in chains, where torture and death await him, he writes to the Roman Christians:
All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. “For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?” Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God.
We do not seek to suffer, but through Christ Crucified, we have the means to not only to overcome it, but to transform it by identifying our suffering with the suffering of Christ on the Cross. When we pass through this suffering — and because of this suffering — we will find resurrection. Amen.