Rev. Hieromonk Calinic (Berger) – The Conqueror of Death

Before the spectacular miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus, a man become a four-day stinking corpse, Jesus wept. Patristic writers, such as St. Cyril of Alexandria, point out that He wept as a man – to show that He was truly human – but it could also be said that He wept as God.

God did not create death. Death is not what was meant to be. Man chose death for himself when he decided to seek life and ultimate meaning in created, earthly things, taking them as his goal and source, instead of a means to his Goal and Source of life. Because of this, death has become the ultimate fundamental of human existence. All we do, all of our hard work, all the talents we labor so hard to acquire, all achievements, ranks and goals, are made vanity by death. All is lost in death. Death is the limit, the boundary, of human life.

It is for this reason that monastiteacher. God’s decrees are irreversible, and death is the great didactic given to us to show us that this world is not the source of our life and meaning. God is the source of our life and meaning. It could even be said that the way to judge the depth or seriousness of a philosophy is to examine its treatment of death. Does death have meaning, or destroy all meaning?

Christianity confronts death directly and does not „sugar-coat“ it -in other words, we do not say that death is „natural,“ or just another of life’s passages. True, it is one of life’s passages, but it is not „natural.“ Christianity calls death what it is: a tragedy, a scandal and an outrage. How could it be otherwise? No matter how elderly or sick someone was, when they are gone, we are sorrowful, being separated from one we loved. Death separates irrevocably.

Such is the state of affairs that Jesus encountered in Bethany and He wept. But our God is an active God, not one exiled to heaven, but with an active interest in all the details of our lives. No problem is too great or too trivial for our God, and He is not one to leave things status quo. He did something about it. He became a man and Himself endured death – in all its horror, the worst type, the shameful, public death of a criminal, in front of his own mother – and He rose from the dead, for it was not possible that He being sinless be held by it. And by so doing He transformed death from a necessity resulting from the irreversible decree of God to a loving free choice: he gives us all the offer to carry the cross and die with Him, and hence to participate in His Resurrection. He redeems all human life, achievement and relationships, He redeems the body and the material world, He does not remove death but its sting, and He replaces it with ever-lasting life. Death is not ultimate human fundamental, but our God is.

Jesus is oox God. and as Lord raises Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus, who stank for me rest of his life, sits at a table with Jesus eating, an undeniable witness to Jesus’ power, mission and universal offer. And at this moment two people are confronted with this offer: a prostitute and a priest.

The sinful woman broke an alabaster box of costly ointment, and weeps at Jesus’ feet, dries them with her hair. She broke the box – i.e. saved nothing for herself – and poured it out as her offering. It cost 300 denari, which was 300 days’ wages. This latter fact enrages the disciple who sits in a place of honor next to Jesus and manages the money. The hymns of Holy Week tell us even more about the contrast between these two witnesses of the miracle of Lazarus, being quite explicit as to where the woman came from just then, and the background of Judas. Make no mistake: Judas was an Apostle and had the gift of healing. Yet still he was more interested in worldly things, could not look up from temporary concerns, and had no horizon of vision. He took Holy Communion. But death was not his teacher.

The sinful woman understood what Judas did not: Christianity is about healing. Not just temporary healing, but from man’s biggest problems: egotism, sin and death. The great paradigm of Orthodoxy is not that of righteous/sinful, but of healthy/sick. All of us need healing.

Herein is the message of the raising of Lazarus and its aftermath: we should not concern ourselves with what others say or do, regardless as to who they are, but follow Christ -not only in His time of joy, triumph and glory, when the crowds follow, but also in His humiliation, Cross and death. This cross He offers to each one of us, that we too may share in His resurrection, and we are free to accept or reject this offer. But if we accept Christ’s offer, we must accept all of it, for without the Cross, there is no Resurrection. Seeing Him go to Jerusalem is then our great victory. For this the Church cries out, „Hosanna in the Highest!“ – but not the Conqueror of Rome, but to the Conqueror of Death.

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

From „Solia – The Herald,“ April 2005.



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