The Seven Words of Jesus Christ On the Cross
The Seven Words of Christ on the Cross are included with a concise interpretation and prayers of the Orthodox Catholic Church.
God's Love Portrayed in
In the year 33 A.D. on the 14th day of the month Nissan, IT on Friday about noon at a rocky place known as Golgotha outside of the City of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ was crucified by the nailing of His Hands on the horizontal bar of a cross and His Feet on the vertical one. The verdict of such a sentence was pronounced by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of the vicinity, but the moral culprit was a mob of Jewish people whose high priest and ethnarch was Caiafas and his father-in-law a retired high priest, Anas, but still a very influential person.
They crucified the Innocent One who bore the sins of the world; they nailed on the Cross the sin personified by the Logos, the only begotten Son of God. Thus, the believer has a part of the Cross, because his sins are nailed on It, and his faith is established by the blood of the Innocent One and His Grace. The crucified Lord assured the believer that "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12,32). At the time of the Crucifixion the trees were bowed by the violence of the wind and the sun concealed itself in the mantle of the clouds, thus presenting a standing ovation to their Creator and Lord, but the crown of creation, man, endowed with intelligence and a soul, divine in character, used them then, as he does now, to undermine his Creator. In fact, he crucified, mocked and abandoned Him.
Every Christian and non-Christian, when he seriously evaluates the turn of civilization, considers the Cross of Christ as the center of the Christian devotion and the most influential sacred Instrument of the decisive events in the history of mankind. Not only were the Gospels written in the background of the shadow of the Cross, but the acts and thoughts of civilization have been stimulated and governed by It. Laws of States, wars for freedom and liberty, relations between nations, educational institutions, laborers and families, have been affected and improved by men who bore the Cross of Christ in their mind and heart.
The reason is plain. The Cross held Jesus Christ and thus prophesied the most dreadful Event in the annals of the history of mankind. "Christ's cross is the eternal cross; His passion is age-long; His dying is once for all, but it is not merely during an hour (or three hours) of time, but an hour of eternity forced into time" (1) Christ's cross is transformed and transforming; instead of being borne, it bears the one who carries it in the spirit of the Lord. "Come to me", Christ said, "all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest; my yoke is easy and my burden light," (Mtt. 11,28-30).
The Utterances from the Cross a 'Declaration of Christian Life
THE CROSS of Christ is not merely a shape or a design of 'crosswise bars; it is not only a symbol for devotion and reverence; in its visible form one sees the invisible Christ and hears His Voice. The Sacred Writers of the Gospels recorded the Seven Utterances of Jesus Christ on the Cross. They are His Last Seven Words which remain in the Church as its treasure and the spiritual highlights of a devoted Christian life.
Each letter of the Seven Words represents drops of the blood of the Teacher and Savior. These Words are the sacred carriers of ardent thoughts which have brought life to millions, which guided their faith to Almighty God and their love for their fellow man. They are Words which have inspired and impelled men of distinction in the field of repentance, in service to Society, and in pioneering work. The Seven Words of Christ on the Cross constitute the Declaration of the Christian Understanding. They are included in the last golden page of Jesus Christ's history par excellence. The believer with reverence repeats them and studies their meaning and message for his life.
The Last Words of the Lord
THE FIRST WORD:
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
"And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Luke 23, 33-34.
JESUS began His Gospel by asking men to "repent" from deliberate mistakes. He closed it by asking His Father to forgive them for their ignorance! Moral ignorance is not necessarily a mistake of the intellect; it is not a lack of knowledge of good and evil, either. It is rather lack of faith and love of Jesus' Person and Message which left man's malice and envy uncured so that they brought Him to the Cross.
Ignorance of the truth sometimes appears as a sincerity of the conscience and a commandment for duty. Yet, by sincerity one may abuse and judge another person, but in reality he may not hold the truth. The truth requires a life-long study and experience; it needs a merciful heart for compassion and sympathy; it needs revelation and intuition. The truth is seldom in man's dominion. To replace the truth with an unmerciful sincerity of conscience is a mistake — a fundamental one. Pilate's question "what is truth?" still remains .unanswered for those who have not yet received "The Truth", that is, an absolute faith in Jesus Christ and His Message.
Genuine knowledge, on the other hand, leads to an awareness of ignorance. If one takes a course in a university he knows that there are a thousand and one other subjects unknown to him. His knowledge leads him to realize the vast area of his ignorance. Furthermore, he knows his subject because of its repetition and function, but not in its origin. He knows that a tiny seed brings forth a tree with fruit, but he does not know why and how. If he knew it, he could make a seed himself. He knows that he does not know the origin of this tiny seed. His ignorance of it stands either as a stumbling block to his ego, or as a sign of his humbleness and faith in God the Creator.
One can approach the Truth by denying himself and dissolving himself into the indefinite which moves and has its being in the bosom of God. Also, he can approach and experience the Truth by serving his fellow man in love, sympathy and forgiveness. It is the only way one can prepare himself to be a sacred vessel of the Truth and its life. It is a genuine faith in God the Redeemer —the Crucified Lord.
"O, Lord, grant us in this world knowledge of Thy Truth, and in the -world to come life everlasting." Amen.
THE SECOND WORD
"Woman behold thy son . . . behold thy mother"
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciples standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciples, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." John 19, 25-27.
COMPANIONSHIP of the people themselves on Earth constitute societies. Man cannot live alone; he is created to express himself to others, to create thoughts and things with others and for others. His need for the companionship of others is in his nature. Yet, it is a perversion when one needs other people only for entertainment or exploitation. The tenderness of Christ to His earthly mother is not only an example; it is a natural movement of the undisturbed heart. Friendship, fellowship, and the like are the fruits of the cultivated garden of Christian love; this is the distinct quality of man on which the prophets and the law and the existence of a society depend. The maintenance of society by the law of the State, although necessary in part, without the nourishment of Christian love is an artificial gathering of men for conflict and deceit.
"O Thou Who hast promised, that when two or three are gathered together in Thy Name, Thou wilt grant their requests, fulfill, O Lord, the petitions of Thy servants as may be most expedient for them." Amen
THE THIRD WORD
"Verily, I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in paradise."
"And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, if thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we received the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shall thou be with me in paradise." Luke 23, 39-43.
REPENTANCE and devotion perform miracles; they open the doors to Paradise; they penetrate the hearts of men. Jesus said "I say" because He as the Lord can open the gates; He promised the thief that "thou shall be with me". In living with Christ one realizes a new era in his own being, a new outlook of life.
Paradise is another word for the Kingdom of God. Again, it is mentioned in the very first phrase of Christ's opening speech; "the Kingdom of God is at hand"! The Lord's prayer refers to "thy Kingdom come". The Kingdom is this earthly life. Life itself with Christ is the Kingdom. There is no Kingdom without its King; and again there is a Kingdom wherever the King may be. Abide in Him, and there in Him one abides in Paradise. Communion with Him is the Kingdom itself.
"Receive me today, O Son of God; I will not kiss Thee as did Judas, but as the thief I will confess Thee: Lord remember me when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom." Amen.
THE FOURTH WORD
"My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?"
"And when the sixth was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Mark I5, 33-34.
ON THE CROSS was crucified the
God-man. At this utterance the "flesh" of Christ was still suffering the pains
of the nails. His "flesh" was not immune to the affliction. The "Word" was
expressed with a question mark; it was the only one in His life in this manner.
It was not a definite statement, though a human one. God never forsakes His
servants; how could He forsake His Son? Jesus seemed to talk to Himself, the
man-Christ to the God-Christ. It was a creative dialogue in the very same sense
in which a question is put for an answer. The answer was given when Jesus was
glorified after a few moments.
Being forsaken by God, though, is a curse and a loss. A man is forsaken because of his actions and sins; it is rather a self-separation. The preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolish; it is not the power of God as it is for those who are saved. It is either a separation from God or companionship with God.
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why are thou so far from helping me? and from the words of my roaring? Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them." Amen. (Read Psalm 22).
THE FIFTH WORD
"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth." John 19, 28-29.
THIS is one word in the original Greek: dipso; it is a sentence itself; He was not asking for water or vinegar. He was not asking for something material to satiate His thirst. He was asking for the fruits of His teaching, of His Good News. He thirsted for the righteousness whereby His mission was to establish a new society; to bring about a new creation; to present a new testament. There were the things He thirsted for. Who will satiate His thirst? Why, His servants with humility and obedience to His Will! Men and women throughout the centuries have thirsted after Him for His Gospel, for His peace, for His Kingdom. They are as the thirsty deer looking for spring water, the water of life.
"Oh Lord, I thirst for your tender mercy and forgiveness. Grant it to me and satiate my thirst. Thou hast promised, that whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; grant me this water. My soul thirsteth for God." Amen.
THE SIXTH WORD
"It is finished"
''When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." John 19, 30.
THIS is a one word-chapter, tetelcstai. It was the end of His kenosis, His emptiness, His humiliation on Earth. It was the end of His mission on Earth. He had sowed the divine seed in the hearts of His Disciples and followers; it would incubate and mix with its environment. It would cultivate personalities through whom and by whom it would expand in the whole world. Now His work on Earth was finished. His Church was established; it would be the bulwark and the pillar of the Truth. As His Mystical Body the Church would carry on His Name and Message, His sanctification and justification. The Faith in the true God was taught and established. His divine work and mission on Earth were finished.
Yet, this moment was the very beginning of His glorification. He was never separated from His Father, and now He would never be separated from His Church. He sent the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Lord and Instructor. He did not leave His Church alone. He armed the Church with shields and weapons of kindness, love and grace. They are its treasure and power. He fought not with muscles and cleverness, but with spirit and kindness. He won on the Cross the parchment of mankind's distinction of pure communion and clear faith.
"O Lord, Thou hast finished thy work on the Cross to grant me life in thy Kingdom." Amen.
THE SEVENTH WORD
"Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit."
"And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost." Luke 23, 46.
CHRIST'S SPIRIT was God's spirit. Was it not God who gave His only-begotten Son out of love to save the World? Was it not the Logos incarnate Who became flesh? Now He commended His Spirit into the hands of His Father, coming back to the divine throne, the glorified state. He knew that the preaching of the Cross would be the power of faith. Millions would worship Him, the True and Living God.
To commend himself and others to God is the constant prayer of the believer in the Orthodox Church. It is a blessing for one to commend his spirit into the hands of God. One's desire can be shown in his feelings, deeds and confession. It is so easy for a sincere person to be a saint of God, to be His servant and ambassador, and to retire in God's bosom. It is easy because it is done actually by the grace of God. "Father, make me as one of your servants" is the constant prayer of the believer. Blessed be the one whose spirit commends itself into the hands of His Lord!
"Let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ, our God." Amen.
The Sacred Pulpit of The Truth
THE CROSS became the sacred pulpit from which "the preaching of the Cross" penetrated the entire Church; the Church indeed placed the Cross in the leading parts of its sacred buildings and thoughts. The crown of thorns which the soldiers mockingly put on the head of Jesus Christ became a halo for illumination and enlightenment; its thorns turned out to be diamonds and pearls in the eyes of His believers and the civilized world. The soldiers unwittingly inaugurated in anticipation Jesus on His divine throne. The Cross is connected with persons, things and thoughts. Soldiers followed the Cross; On It the execution of the Lord took place; thorns, nails, vinegar, spear were used; Priests, Pilate, and people, cries of hatred, and cries of compassion; a confusion of thoughts, feelings and values. But this Cross is The Cross because of the Person of Jesus Christ.
It is a mistake when the Cross is barren without The Christ, both in presentation and in thoughts. The believer honors the Cross, but mainly he worships Christ on the Cross. He is not influenced by the sentimental environment of all those dreadful instruments and happenings; the faithful is rather captive to the love and grace of Christ on the Cross. These incidents do not require tears of sympathy for Him, but rather tears of repentance for our own sins. The believer does not look at the Cross out of pity for Him, but rather he worships Him out of piety and obedience. The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross, from the lips of Jesus Christ, are the pillars to sustain our thoughts and deeds.
Adoration of the Gross
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT is dedicated to the Adoration of the Cross in anticipation of the commemorating of the Holy Passion of Christ. The hymns of the Church refer to the Cross as a sign of life-giving strength for the faithful (see Sept. 14). The procession of the Cross takes place in the Church where the people kneel and reverence the Precious Tree.
The Apostle reminds us that "Since then we have a great high priest, Jesus; let us hold fast our confessions" (Heb, 4, 14). He continues with the exhortation, "let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of Grace that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in time of need" (4, 16), thus combining the high priest with the sacrifice on the Cross as the source of mercy and grace, building courage and strength in our faith in Christ.
The faithful Christian is expected to dedicate himself entirely to God. In that respect, Jesus Christ knows no compromise. The faithful is asked to deny himself, to lift up his cross and to follow Christ (Mk. 8:34). Jesus directly asks the Christian to deny the bad part of his being. Carnal desires and selfishness are to be denied and replaced by lifting upon oneself the obligations and duties of the Gospel in serving one's fellowman.
The Christian is asked to lose his mortal life for the sake of Christ and his Gospel and to save his spiritual life (v. 35). Merely by sharing whatever great things he has, one cannot prove that he really is a great man. But a manager could save his greatness by losing his bossy attitude. By forsaking worldly things, one can save his blessing in Christ. Is this a worthy goal? The answer is in the scripture which reads: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (v.36).
"Deny" and "lose" are the words of the Gospel to denote the abolishing of man's obstacles to holiness. "Lift up" and "save" are the words to depict the means to his spiritual destiny, always for the sake of Christ. The cross is a symbol and signifies both qualities—sacrifice and greatness.
"Thy Cross, O Master, we reverence, and we glorify Thy Holy j Resurrection."
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