CHRIST’S DESCENT INTO HELL AND HIS RESURRECTION
Of Christ’s descent into hell we have confirmation in the general epistle of the Apostle Peter, where it is said: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit; by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison…” (1 Peter 3:18-19). This clearly shows that Christ descended with His Divinity into the prison of the spirits, i.e. souls, and preached repentance to them. The same is said in another place of the same epistle: “For this cause was the Gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6).
Much is said in church tradition about Christ’s descent into hell in the sense that He entered the kingdom of death. The Paschal vespers include the singing of wonderful troparia, which begin with the following words: “Today hell weeps and cries out…” They present hell as a weeping and moaning entity. Among other things it is said that the power of hell has been vanquished, since Christ liberated those whom it had dominated for ages. The following words are characteristic: “My power has been obliterated, the Shepherd has arisen and has resurrected Adam…”
Of great importance in explaining this point is the homily of St. John Chrysostome that is read at the Paschal liturgy. Among other things it says that upon meeting Christ hell “was embittered,… was abolished,… was mocked,… was slain,… was overthrown,… was fettered.” It is further said that upon Christ’s death on the cross hell, having accepted a mortal body, found itself facing God; having accepted the dust of earth, met with heaven; having accepted that which was visible, i.e. a human body, human nature, it was vanquished by that which was invisible, i.e. Divinity.
The Church teaching on Christ’s descent into hell was described by St. John Damascene in one of the troparia of the paschal canon: “Thou didst descend into the nethermost parts of the earth, and didst shatter the eternal bars that held the fettered, O Christ, and on the third day, like Jonah from the whale, Thou didst arise from the tomb.” In one of his paschal homilies St. Epiphanius, bishop of Cyprus, marvelously describes Christ’s descent into hell. He says that Christ descended into hell divinely, victoriously, powerfully, accompanied by myriads of angels. However, before Christ reached the gloomy prisons of hell, the Archangel Gabriel came down there before Him, in order to bring to all the glad tidings of Christ’s coming, since it was also he who had brought glad tidings to the Holy Virgin. He exclaimed: “O gates, raise yourselves.” Archangel Michael added: “Raise yourselves, eternal gates.” The angelic host cried out: “Depart, ye gates of iniquity, collapse, ye invincible chains, tremble, ye iniquitous tyrants!” Christ appeared and caused great awe, agitation, and fear. When all the rulers of hell loudly cried out: “Who is this King of glory?” – the entire angelic host replied with one mighty voice: “The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, the Lord of hosts, – He is the King of glory.”
Afterwards St. Epiphanius describes Adam’s talk with Christ. Adam heard the footsteps of the approaching Christ just as he had heard them erstwhile in the Garden of Eden after his sin of disobedience. At that time he felt embarrassment and fear, but now he felt joy and elation. Turning to all the other souls, the repentant Adam cried out exultantly: “My Lord is with all.” And Christ replied: “And with thy spirit.” Then, taking him by the hand, Christ resurrected him, telling him of all that had been done for his salvation and for the salvation of all mankind.
Christ arose from the dead in the early hours of Sunday morning. The exact time of His Resurrection is unknown to us, since no one saw Him at that moment, but the event was confirmed when the Myrrh-bearing Women came to the tomb at dawn, in order to anoint Christ’s body with aromatic oils. Thus Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day of Christ’s Resurrection. If on Saturday He had silently vanquished the kingdom of death, on Sunday everyone knew of it, convinced of the fact that it was He Who vanquished death and the devil.
In the so-called weekly cycle of days Sunday is the first day and the starting point from which the entire week is counted; at the same time, however, it is also the eighth day, because it follows the seventh day, i.e. Saturday. In the Old Testament it is considered to be a very important day, because it is the first day of the creation of the world. Moses does not call the first day of creation the first, but the single day. Also, in interpreting these words, Saint Basil the Great says that the holy Sunday on which Christ arose from the dead is called a single day by Moses, in order to direct our mind towards the future eternal life. Currently Sunday serves as the fore-image of the future life, but afterwards it will be the eighth age (eon) itself. If one thinks of the fact that the weekly cycle symbolizes human life and that Sunday is the fore-image of the future “eighth” age (eon), then that age is truly the one and only day. St. Basil the Great calls Sunday “the source of days,” “the counterpart of light.”
According to St. Gregory Palamas, Sunday is also called the eighth day because on that day took place Christ’s Resurrection, which was the eighth resurrection in the history of mankind. Three resurrections from the dead were wrought in the Old Testament (one by the prophet Elias and two by the prophet Elisha), and four resurrections were wrought by Christ in the New Testament (the daughter of Jairus, the son of the window of Nain, then Lazarus, and finally all those who arose from the dead on Passion Friday). Consequently, the eighth and the greatest resurrection was the Resurrection of Christ. In essence, it is not only the eighth, but also the first in regard to the anticipated resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world.
On Sunday, the first day of creation, light was created. In the resurrection of Christ, on the first day of renaissance, appeared the light of the Resurrection, which is also the light of the Transfiguration and the Pentecost. On that day Christ’s human nature threw off the shackles of mortality and corruption.
Moreover, Sunday is also called a holy day because it is precisely on such a day of the week that the major events in Christ’s life took place. Also, (according to St. Peter Damascene), Christ’s Second Coming is expected to occur on a Sunday, as well as the universal resurrection of the dead. For this reason Christians assign such great significance and importance to this day, and also strive to sanctify it, because the coming of Christ will be sudden.
In view of all these reasons, St. John Damascene triumphantly exults on the day of Pascha: “This is the chosen and holy day, the one king and lord of Sabbaths, the feast of feasts, and the triumph of triumphs, on which we bless Christ unto the ages.”
We are also moved by the thought that every Sunday the Church commemorates Christ’s Resurrection in its wondrous troparia. Thus, besides the annual feast of Pascha, there is also the weekly Pascha, the so-called minor Pascha, or the bright day of Sunday.
THE HOLY MYRRH-BEARING WOMEN
The myrrh-bearing women on the day of Christ’s Resurrection
A wondrous example of faith and faithfulness to Christ is presented to us by the Church on the second Sunday after Pascha, as it commemorates the holy Myrrh-bearing Women.
How truly extraordinary were those women! Here is what the Gospel tells us about them and why they are called “myrrh-bearing.”
“And when the Sabbath was passed, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Joanna, and Salome, and others, bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him. And very early in the morning of the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun, and they said among themselves: Who shall roll away the stone from the door of the sepulcher for us?”
These staunch women, who supported Christ with their estates and with their care during the years of His public service, did not leave the Lord even at the cross, when fear of their enemies forced almost all of the apostles to go into hiding. The women remained with the crucified Saviour until His very end; they accompanied the transferring of His body to the sepulcher and were present at His burial; and now, despite all the terrible trials of the preceding days, they hastened to render to their dead Master their last homage of love and esteem.
By worldly reckoning, the myrrh-bearing women found themselves in an extremely difficult situation. They could be arrested any minute. Even in their homes they locked their doors, fearing each knock, each rustling noise. It was only two days ago that Peter had denied being one of Christ’s disciples. And in front of whom? In front of a servant! And only because she might inform on him. Such was their situation. Their Master had been judged, condemned to the most horrible death, and executed… Now it was their turn: as followers of an executed Master, they were outside the law. The wisest course was to go into hiding as the disciples had done. But instead, these women prepared to go out at night to the sepulcher which was not far from the place of execution. And they knew that the entrance to the sepulcher was blocked by a huge stone, that the stone was sealed, that Roman guards stood over the sepulcher, that these guards were armed and on the alert, since they had been warned of a possible attempt by the disciples to steal the Body. From a rational point of view, what these frail women were planning to do was not only impossible, it was an insane risk…
And yet they went. Why? What mighty force impelled them? This force was their strong love for their Master, which compelled them to fulfill the Word of God as expressed in the law of Moses. And thus, in fulfillment of what for them was a holy law, they bought sweet spices and went to anoint His Body. And so, their strong faith in the Word of God, their strong love for their martyred Master, and their strong hope in God’s help turned out to be more powerful than fear, more powerful than reason, more powerful than anything on earth.
And what happened? Mary Magdalene, who had been healed by the Lord of the terrible affliction of possession by demons, hurried before the other women and reached the sepulcher while it was still dark. Peering through the darkness of night and seeing that the stone had been rolled away and that the guards were not there, Mary Magdalene did not lose a single moment, but immediately ran off to pass on the news to the Lord’s closest disciples, Peter and John.
It was already daybreak, and the golden rays of the sun were beginning to disperse the darkness which enveloped the garden of the righteous Arimathean, when the other pious women approached the sepulcher with a heavy heart. Their Master was dead, but their love for Him had not died, – it was this love which made them grieve that they would never see Him again, never hear His wondrous words. And they grieved even more as they thought of the heavy stone which sealed the sepulcher and which it was beyond their power to roll away.
And now here was Joseph’s garden. The myrrh-bearing women entered it, and nearing the sepulcher, saw with amazement that the stone had been rolled away! Agitated and upset, they went inside the sepulcher and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, which bewildered them even more. Suddenly, on the right side of the sepulcher, they were frightened to see a youth in white raiment, who said to them: “Do not fear. You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is risen, He is not here. Behold the place where He was laid. But go your way and tell His disciples and Peter, that He will precede you to Galilee; there shall you see Him, as He has said to you.”
The myrrh-bearing women, shaken and frightened by the heavenly apparition, ran away from the sepulcher and did not say anything to anyone at first. Afterwards, when their fear subsided and was replaced by joy, they hastened to share this joy with the apostles, as the angel had bidden them.
What joy! What a reward for faith and faithfulness! Out of all the people in the world, including Christ’s closest disciples, these myrrh-bearing women were the first (after the Mother of God) to learn of Christ’s resurrection. Moreover, they were also the first to see the risen Christ. And here again, the most ardent of them – Mary Magdalene – preceded the others. After having imparted her amazing news to the apostles Peter and John, Mary Magdalene, who had not heard the angel’s words and was still unaware of Christ’s resurrection, returned once more to Joseph’s garden, where she stood at the sepulcher and wept. All the inner suffering and anguish that she had experienced over the past several days now culminated in this loss of her last consolation – to lament over the body of the Master. The grieving Mary leaned over into the sepulcher to look at least at the place where the Saviour’s body had lain. And suddenly an extraordinary sight presented itself to Mary’s tear-filled eyes: she saw two angels in white garments, sitting one at the head and the other at the feet of Christ’s bier.
“Woman! Why art thou weeping?” – the joyous messengers of Christ’s resurrection asked the sorrowing Mary. The Magdalene, totally overcome with grief, did not even feel any surprise at the unexpected appearance of the angels and did not notice their shining garments. So great was her grief that she only heard the angels’ question and hastened to tell them of her sorrow: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
At this moment the Lord suddenly appeared behind Mary and amazed the angels, who revealed their surprise with looks and gestures. Seeing their movement, Mary also turned around, but being far from any thought of Christ’s resurrection, the weeping Mary took Him for the gardener, and in response to Christ’s question: “Why art thou weeping? Whom art thou seeking?” – Mary turned to Him with a heartfelt cry: “Sir! if Thou hast taken Him out, tell me where Thou hast laid Him and I will take Him.” And here a very moving and heart-wrenching moment occurred. Jesus said to her: “Mary!” The Lord’s familiar voice pierced the heart of Mary Magdalene. Quickly turning around and looking closely, she recognized Christ and cried out rapturously: “Master!” The Lord then bade her to go to the disciples and tell them not only that He was risen, but also that He would soon ascend to His Father.
After appearing to Mary Magdalene, the risen Christ also appeared to the other myrrh-bearing women, as they were going to the apostles with the news of the resurrection that they had received from the angel. The Lord met them on their way and greeted them with the words: “Rejoice!” The holy women came up to Him, and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him.
The holy myrrh-bearing women and the feminist movement
The example of the holy myrrh-bearing women is of great significance to us not only in a spiritual sense, but also in a very concrete social sense. In our modern life we constantly come across the “women’s liberation movement,” we are constantly bombarded by shouts of “freedom for women,” “equality for women.” Alas! As with all other contemporary movements, the question of “women’s rights” has been distorted and pushed to the level of absurdity.
Let us look at what the fight for women’s freedom and equality is all about. Contemporary social science has declared that the traditional role of woman as wife and mother is regressive, that a woman is fettered in this role, that it suppresses all possibility for a woman to manifest her talents, her ability to play a leading role in society, and to influence public life. The underpinning of all these arguments is that women are absolutely equal to men in ability, and that a woman’s freedom is constrained if she is deprived of the possibility to show her abilities in the same domains as man.
Now let us look at what the myrrh-bearing women would tell us about this matter. While serving Christ, they did not leave off their traditional family responsibilities. They had no legal voice and cold not stop the judgment proceedings against Christ (and thus could not “hinder” His sacrifice for mankind!). At the same time, they had complete freedom and equality to become the followers of Christ and to remain faithful to Him even unto His death and beyond. They did not consider themselves equal to men – Christ’s disciples, and yet they turned out to be nobler and braver than the men. When the Lord was taken by the Jews, the disciples all scattered, while the myrrh-bearing women accompanied Him to the crucifixion. The disciples ran away in fear, while the women compassionately followed Christ along the way of the cross. The disciples remained behind locked doors, while the women fearlessly went out at night to the sepulcher. The disciples did not believe in the news of the Resurrection, while the myrrh-bearing women were the first to see the risen Christ.
Again, this is not to say that women must be extolled above men. The myrrh-bearing women are a vivid example to us of the fact that true freedom and true equality are to be found not in social or civil conditions, but in the spiritual world, and that only in Christ are all people transformed, all become equal. It was thus that the young girl, Saint Barbara, was able to withstand the rude force of her father and the power of the Roman persecutor, in order to attain the glittering crown of great-martyrdom. It was thus that the great-martyr Saint Catherine, by means of her divine wisdom, was able to triumph over the sagacity of the best pagan philosophers of her time. These two great female saints are truer witnesses to female liberation and equality than modern feminists. In the words of the Apostle Paul, only in Christ are there no differences: there is neither Jew, nor pagan, neither free man, nor slave, neither male, nor female, but all are equal.
In social terms, though, people are definitely not equal, but all have their place and their assignment in life. And it is only by staying in one’s place and fulfilling the assignment given to one by God that each person – both man and woman – can make full use of one’s talents and abilities by becoming part of the divine harmony and God’s providence in the world. Both sexes have been created by God and have been created differently, but between them there has been established such wondrous harmony that together they form a magnificent whole. For example, in a family that lives according to divine laws, the relationship between man and woman is comparable to the relationship between the sun and the earth. Just as the earth produces life and the sun sustains this life with its light and warmth, so the mother bears life (the family), while the father supports and protects it.
Contrary to modern teaching, the role of mother of a family not only does not fetter a woman or make her incomplete, but it is in this role that she wields the greatest power, has the greatest importance, and even influences world history. It has rightly been said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. It is not surprising that the righteous mothers of the greatest Church Fathers are themselves honored as saints. It is the women who have been given the power to bring up their offspring as future citizens of the heavenly realm. Before us we have the wonderful example of the Saint Queen Helena, who not only toiled in the Lord’s vineyard extensively herself, by reconstructing His sacred sites in the Holy Land, but also raised a son, Emperor Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, who transformed the persecuted Christian faith into the state religion. Or here is another example, closer to us in time, – the Saint Princess Olga, who sowed the seeds of faith in her grandson Vladimir, who became the godfather of the Russian people and, like Emperor Constantine, gave the future Russian Empire the true faith – Orthodoxy. These two female saints would only laugh at the feminists’ complaints about the persecution of women.
But where are these complaints coming from? If we examine the underlying cause of the women’s liberation movement from a spiritual point of view, we will clearly see that its mainspring is pride! The great work that has been entrusted by God to women – raising future citizens of heaven – is performed in a Christian atmosphere of humbleness and self-sacrifice, i.e. usually without financial recompense or worldly recognition. But pride cannot tolerate humbleness, and this has been quite successfully expoited by the enemy of mankind, who himself fell through pride, and so he created a situation that is as old as man. Eons ago, soon after the first people were created, Satan the tempter, hating this new and beautiful creation of God and wanting to destroy it, whispered to Eve that if she and Adam tried the forbidden fruit, they would become as gods. Eve was overwhelmed with pride, and believing in the false promise, she destroyed mankind. A similar situation has now occurred: the very same tempter, trying to destroy entire families, has promised modern eves power and fame, and the poor deluded women have abandoned their hearths, betrayed their assignment on earth, submitted their children to an upbringing by strangers that is often hostile to Christianity, and have run after the chimeras of “equality” and “freedom,” not seeing that they have run straight into the enemy’s trap.
Let us avoid this trap, dear brethren. Let us reject the deceit of modernism, the falsehood of all the spiritually ruinous teachings and heresies of our contemporary evil environment. Let us follow the example of the myrrh-bearing women, who humbly performed their worldly tasks, but who have been extolled for all ages for their faith and faithfulness to Christ. If we follow in their footsteps, then we, too, will be met by Christ on our way into eternal life and will be greeted, as they were, with the wondrous word: “Rejoice!”
Homily on the holy day of Pascha
We have earnestly prayed throughout the 40 days of the Great Lent, and that which we have asked of our Lord is now granted to us by His grace: having passed through the most holy days of Christ’s suffering, we are now venerating His holy and glorious Resurrection! Joyous, dear brethren, is this feast on earth; how even brighter and more triumphant must it be in heaven! O, if only we could all likewise attain that blessed day of final resurrection, partake of that unending Pascha in the kingdom of the Heavenly Father! But we will definitely attain that rapture if we look upon our entire life as a Great Lent, as a preparation for the great day of universal resurrection.
Who can now close to the Lord’s faithful servants the doors of eternal life which He had opened? Who can snatch us from the hold of the Almighty? Has not a great price been paid for us? Has not His entire blood been shed for us on the cross? Has He not given up His spirit to the Father? Now not only our Saviour’s love, but His very glory demands that we be saved. Of course we have many evil and potent enemies, just as He had had; but the forces of hell were trampled upon and exhausted on the Golgotha, and we, with the aid of grace, are left not so much with the need of combating enemies, as pursuing them, the vanquished ones, and gathering the fruits of victory.
Will the world stand up against us? It is conquered in the person of the prince of this world, and the victory that had vanquished the world – the death and atonement of our Redeemer – has become our possession; with living faith in His cross we are able to protect ourselves as with a shield against all the temptations of the world. Against mortal and sinful flesh and blood we now have the Divine Body and Blood with which we nourish ourselves in the Eucharist. Moreover, the Spirit of grace, sent down to us by the risen Christ, is a spirit of strength and force; if we do not extinguish it, we will be able to destroy the fortress of all lures of the flesh. Finally, will the prince of darkness himself dare to stand in our path to heaven? If so, he will stand to his perdition, for he is already wounded in the head by the Cross. He is now a dragon upon whom, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, even a small child, an infant in Christ, may safely lay his hand. If he will not find anything of his own in us, just as he had nothing of his own in our Saviour, then all his fearful roaring around us will be similar to the voice of the animal who guards our homes.
The risen Saviour has granted us all the resources we need for a life of piety; has sent us all the necessary means for preserving ourselves from the flesh, the world, and the devil; and after that our salvation depends on us, on our faithfulness to our Saviour and His Divine teaching. We must only refrain from burying in the soil of indifference the talents of grace that were given to us, and we must work on our salvation, while He will fulfill His promise, He will instruct us in the truth through His words and His Spirit, He will vest us in strength from above, and He will send down into our hearts great solace amid all our worldly sorrows.
It is burdensome, brethren, and difficult for those who seek the heavenly city to proceed through the wilderness of this world, – but the promised land teems with milk and honey! Shall we cast aside our ascent to heaven only because one must proceed there along the ladder of the cross? And now, in the land of exile and tribulations, it is a solace to sing the song of victory over death; how delightful will it be to celebrate the great day of renewal over there, in the new land of promise, where to the joyous cry of “Christ is risen!’ the heavens and earth and all of creation will answer “Truly He is risen!”. Let us hurry, dear brethren, over there in spirit before we arrive in the flesh! Why sit idly on the shores of the river of Babylon and be content with solely remembering the celestial homeland? Behold! The royal doors are open, and the altar of grace is seen by all: this is an invitation to come home, this is an invitation to the feast! Let us hurry, dear brethren, let us hurry: the risen Saviour summons us! Amen.
Christ is risen!
HOMILY FOR THE SUNDAY OF THE HOLY FATHERS
Today, dear brethren, spiritually we are still on the Mount of Olives, because the Church continues to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. But these are the final moments. Another two or three days, and we will have to descend from the Mount of Olives, we will have to return together with the Apostles to Jerusalem and await the coming of the Holy Spirit. But how do we prepare ourselves for such a celebration? This greatest event – the Descent of the Holy Spirit – will be the crowning moment of all the blessings that the Lord has given us. And just think of how much the Lord has done for us already! Most importantly – He has redeemed us from Adam’s original sin, He has given back the greatest gift that had been lost by Adam in Eden – the Tree of Life. Only now it is something much greater than that original Tree of Life. Now it is the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ Himself. And the Lord says to us: “Whoever partakes of My Body and drinks of My Blood shall have eternal life, and I shall resurrect him on the day of judgment.”
But in order to have eternal life, we must be prepared for it. And how do we achieve this state of readiness? The answer to this is provided by the Sunday which the Church calls the “Sunday of the Holy Fathers.” Today marks the establishment of rules according to which a Christian must live in order to attain the New Testament Tree of Life – i.e. the Body and Blood of Christ. Today we commemorate the First Ecumenical Council, convened in Nicea in 325, at which the Holy Fathers gathered to condemn the heresy of Arius. But what is that heresy? Does it relate to us in any way? Not only does it relate to us, dear brethren, but if we do not follow the rules of the Church, and if we do not become aware of the nature of Arius’ violation, we will not be Orthodox Christians!
So what constitutes the evil of Arianism? Apostle Paul, while passing through the Greek city of Athens, found an altar to the Unknown God. The Apostle then preached to the Athenians that this Unknown God is Jesus Christ. The Athenians willingly accepted that and began to worship the True God. However, they were only able to worship God and believe in His majesty, but were unable and unwilling to live according to God’s will, they were unwilling to live as the Gospel demanded. And this desire to live in a pagan manner became so strong among the Athenians, that it began to surface even in the Church, and Arius became the ideologist of this trend. So what did he say? When the Council convened and began to denounce Arius, he said to them: “You, Fathers, are saying that Christ is a God-man, that there is no separation between His divine nature and human nature. From this you deduce that a Christian, too, must always and everywhere be a Christian, both in family life and in social life. But I say that Christ is God and man separately, and that this gives us the right to separate the various aspects of our lives: be a Christian in terms of religion and worship Christ, but in our private and social lives live as we wish, as we used to live, in a pagan manner.” The Holy Fathers replied to Arius: “In that case you, Arius, and your followers cannot be Christian. You do not understand the significance of Christ’s coming down to earth. Christ became incarnated not only to reveal to us a true comprehension of God, but to live according to God’s will. He came to earth in order to fulfill the commandment of love towards God and one’s neighbor. And He expects us, too, to fulfill this commandment. Thus those who do not fulfill this commandment will be looked upon as pagans and will merit the fate of pagans.”
Thus the Holy Fathers replied to Arius. And this is what the Church says to us today. Look around you, and you will see the grim reality of all the horrors that make up the fate of pagans: here are modern wars with their destructive bombs, here is forgotten old age, here is the madness that prevails among the young generation. Absolute horror! However, in order to avoid these horrors we must be Orthodox Christians. And a Christian cannot be a Christian and a member of society separately. Even in our social lives we must always be Christian, we must always live according to God’s rules. Only then will we be able to achieve eternal life and divine joy in Christ. Amen.
HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
With these great and holy words Church pastors usually begin all their sermons, dear brethren. However, on other days these holy words serve only as a preface to church homilies, while on this day they can also form the subject of instruction, since today is the feast day in honor and the glory of the Most-holy, One-in-essence, Life-giving, and Indivisible Trinity. Of what can it be more suitable to speak today than of those Persons Whom we are celebrating?
It is naturally difficult to look at the sun, and it is more difficult to look at the Holy Trinity; vision fades, the mind is blinded! In this manner were blinded the heretics Arius, Macedonius, Savellius, Nestorius. Thus become blinded likewise those who try to gaze at the Bright Visage with arrogant eyes. But we will do otherwise: following the example of the godly universal teachers, we will arm our weak vision with the word of God, which, though drawing the spiritual sun towards us, at the same time tempers for us the brilliance of its rays. This method will be the most trustworthy for us, for in the word of God it is the Father Himself, or the Son Himself, or the Holy Spirit Itself that speaks of Himself. Will They not speak of Themselves properly?
What then does God’s word reveal to us about God? It reveals that God is One in the very fullness of this word. However, though one in His Essence, God has three Persons. For He is the same Who appeared sole to Moses on Mount Sinai, and Who revealed Himself as triune at the River Jordan, and Who then announced through His Evangelist: “For there are three that bear record in heaven – the Father, The Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” (1 John 5:7). And the Son of God Himself, when sending out the Apostles to convert the entire world from darkness to light, commanded them to baptize all people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In view of this we have no problem in confessing God both as one and as triune. To accept, worship, and confess the Holy Trinity is our duty, because that is the foundation of our faith, the object of our love, and the pledge of our hope. That is life eternal! For who redeemed us with His blood, if not God the Son? Who sanctified us with His grace, if not God the Holy Spirit?
Therefore, in one God we are confessing three – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father is so called because, being the source of the entire Divinity, He pre-eternally engendered the Son and likewise pre-eternally produced the Holy Spirit out of Himself. God the Son is so called because from eternity He is born of the Father’s own essence, while in time He, as man, deigned to be born of the Most-holy Virgin Mary. God the Holy Spirit is so called because He is pre-eternally animated by the Father, and Himself animates all creation, particularly reasoning souls. The traits that distinguish the Divine Persons among themselves are already obvious from their very names: God the Father has existed always; God the Son is born, but does not engender and does not produce the Spirit; God the Holy Spirit issues from the Father, but is not engendered and, moreover, does not Himself engender or produce. Fatherhood, filiality, and provenance – the three distinguishing characteristics of the Divine Persons! Differing thus from each other, these three Persons yet comprise one and the same God, one in power, one in will, one in glory and might.
In this manner the Church, following the word of God, teaches us about God, teaches us without presuming to have said all that there is to say, nor presuming to have described fully and entirely the Divine being.
Not at all! The Church, despite its dignity as the bride of Christ, is far from the audacious thought that it knows all about God and His being. The Church calls the teaching on the Holy Trinity a mystery, i.e. a subject of faith which surpasses our mind, and what surpasses the mind cannot be explained in words, since whatever can be explained in words is no longer a mystery.
What is most comprehensible to all in the mystery of faith are the blessings with which each Person of the Holy Trinity has characterized Itself in regard to mankind. There is nothing obscure or perplexing in this aspect of the mystery. God the Father is our greatest Benefactor, for He called us forth out of nothingness, dignified us with His image, did not abandon us even when we fell, but sent His Only-begotten Son to redeem us and His Holy Spirit to sanctify us. God the Son is our greatest benefactor, for after our ill-fated transgression of the paradisiacal commandment, He took upon Himself full responsibility for our sins and the entire burden of our fall. In order to return us to the state of first-created perfection, He clothed Himself in our nature, lived among us, died for us, and arose for our sake. God the Holy Spirit is our greatest Benefactor, for despite His ethereal sanctity He does not disdain us, sinners and iniquitous ones, but enfolds the Church and all that is within it with His grace. By means of the sacraments He revives, fortifies, and heals our souls which have been deadened by sin, enlightens us through the prophets and apostles whom He inspires, and even deigns to reside mysteriously in the soul of each believer, in order to prepare it for resettlement in the eternal abode of the Holy Trinity. In brief, the entire teaching of the word of God concerning the actions of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit consists of an account of their benevolent deeds towards sinful mankind in various forms.
It is precisely against this, the most elevated, comforting, and all-forgiving teaching, that the nearsighted human reason has often rebelled with its pitiful doubts and objections! This same arrogant and boastful reason would like the fullness of Divinity to be revealed to it! However, it is enough to lift just the edge of the veil by pointing to the unity of the three Persons, and already the poor human reason is unable to endure the brilliance of the Holy Trinity. What would happen if the Triune appeared in all His fullness? But let reason look around itself, and it will see triunity in the entire world. Thus, all things exist in time and space, but time is triune: there is past, present, and future. Space is also triune: there is length, width, and height or depth, which is the same. How is the world held together? By the forces of centrifugence, centripetence, and rotation. Of what does each day consist? Of morning, midday, and evening. Of what is each night composed? Of twilight, midnight, and dawn. What do we see in each thing? Form, color, and weight. With all of this and many other manifestations does visible nature express the triunity of the force which summoned it out of nothingness.
But if the Divine Trinity shines throughout the entire world, then in man, who was created in the image of God, it is reflected with even greater fullness. Here we see triunity everywhere and in everything, beginning with the visible composition of our nature: our body with its ability to procreate, our soul with its ability to feel, and our spirit with its ability to comprehend lofty and divine concepts. Should we take man’s body – here is a visible triunity of composition: bones, flesh, and secretions. Should we take the soul – there is the same triunity: feelings, concepts, and desires. Should we take the spirit – again there are three: mind, purpose, and free will.
In view of such triunity in all of creation, both sensual and spiritual, is not the repudiation of triunity in the One Who exists eternally equal to closing one’s eyes and not seeing the light at midday? Such is the fate of those who, having rejected the guidance of the word of God, entrust themselves only to their poor reason! Wandering from misconception to misconception, they often end up doubting their own existence.
Regretting such lack of reason and wishing all doubters enlightenment from above, let us turn, dear brethren, to the subject of our discourse, let our minds soar above all creation, let us draw near to the throne of the Triune. Let us prostrate ourselves in awe before the majesty of His perfection, and as proof of our love and gratitude for all the countless blessings showered upon us by the Most-holy Trinity, let us give to It the gift of our whole being. To God the Father let us offer our body, that it may be a tool for the fulfillment of His holy will. To God the Son let us offer our soul, that it may be inspired by the strength of His Cross. To God the Holy Spirit let us offer our spirit, that it may soar in the celestial realms, flaming from the Spirit’s breath. Blessed is the one who still in this life has already begun, as the Church sings, “to shine with the unity of the Trinity …” Amen.
WHY DID THE HOLY SPIRIT APPEAR AS FIRE?
You have heard that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in tongues of fire. But why did the Holy Spirit, co-eternal with the Father and the Son, appear as fire? Why as tongues of fire? Why does He sometimes appear as a dove and at other times as a flame? Why did He descend as a dove upon the Only-begotten Son, but as a flame upon the disciples? The Holy Spirit appears as fire because, in the words of the holy Apostle Paul, God is an ethereal, indescribable, and invisible fire: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). God is also called fire because He destroys the rust of sins.
But the Lord sends fire down to earth when with the breath of the Holy Spirit He enflames the hearts of mortal men. And the earth lights up when a heart of flesh, that is cold in its iniquitous pleasures, abandons the desires of the modern world and becomes enflamed with love for God. Thus the Spirit very properly appeared as fire, because from every heart in which He chooses to dwell, He dispels the numbness of ice and enflames such a heart with a desire for eternal life. And the reason He appeared in tongues of fire was because the Spirit is co-eternal with the Son, while the Son is the Word of the Father; thus, just as the tongue is in close proximity to the word, so the Holy Spirit appeared in flaming tongues, in order to show the Spirit’s particular closeness to the Word of the Father. Furthermore, the Spirit also appeared in tongues of fire because He causes everyone in whom He dwells to be ardent and cogent. Church teachers possess tongues of fire, because in their sermons on the need to love God they kindle the hearts of their listeners. This flame was acquired from the mouth of the Lord Himself by those who said: “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us… and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32), because from the spoken word the spirit is kindled, its cold rigidity is dispelled, the soul begins to burn with lofty aspirations, and distances itself from earthly desires. Celestial commandments are never heeded with a cold heart, but with a heart burning with the fire of inner love for them.
The Holy Spirit appeared both as a dove and as fire, because He makes all those whom He encompasses both pure and ardent – pure as a dove and fiery in their ardor. Such a combination of ardor and purity is the only one acceptable to God. Thus, since the Spirit teaches both righteousness and purity, He had to appear as a dove, so that every heart touched by His grace would be tranquil with meekness and fiery with ardor for the truth.
Yet why did the Holy Spirit appear as a dove over our Redeemer, our Intercessor between God and men, but upon the disciples He descended as fire? It is well-known that the Only-begotten Son of God is the Judge of mankind. But who could have borne His judgment if He, before gathering us together in meekness, had judged our sins with ardor for truth? Thus, having made Himself Man for the sake of men, He appeared meek before men. He did not want to destroy sinners, but wished to gather them to Him; He wished first to rectify them through meekness, in order to have with Him those who could later be saved on the day of Judgment. For this reason the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove over the One Who came not to destroy sinners through ardor, but to bear them a while longer through meekness. On the other hand, upon the disciples the Holy Spirit had to descend as fire, so that they, being plain people and even sinners, could spiritually enflame other slaves of sin to rebel against their sins and to cleanse by means of repentance those sins which God had spared through meekness. And the fact that even adepts of the Heavenly Teacher are not without sin is confirmed by St. John, who says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Thus the Holy Spirit descended as fire upon people and as a dove upon the Lord because we, in our ardor for truth, must carefully notice and burn with the fire of constant repentance those of our sins which the Lord mercifully bore through meekness. Consequently, the Spirit appeared over the Redeemer in the form of a dove and over people in the form of fire, because the more moderate is our Judge’s strictness towards us, the more must our weakness be enflamed against its own self.
SUNDAY OF ALL SAINTS
In the heavenly firmament there are many stars of different magnitude and brilliance, but there are many more which we do not see. There are many saints of God, shining in the glory of our heavenly Father, but undoubtedly there are many more whom we do not yet know. All of these saints, revealed and not revealed to the world, whom we commemorate today, are like brightly shining beacons in the turbulent sea of life upon which treads our ship – the Holy Church of Christ.
There was a time when they, too, followed this path full of danger, illness, and all manner of deprivation. Crowned now with glory, being in joyous communion with the Lord God, they continue to support us on this path and encourage us to bear our cross. It is well-known that man is not born into this world for joy and comfort, and for this reason he should not become attached to earthly things above heavenly ones.
We have heard the following words in today’s Gospel reading: “The that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38). In order to fully understand this saying of Christ, we should ponder the word “cross.” This word was often used by the Lord in His discourses.
In their hearts the Orthodox people have fully understood the meaning of this word and use it to symbolize misfortunes, burdens, tribulations, and all kinds of worldly sorrows. We have many such crosses, and each person has his own special one. One person has a sick wife – that is a cross; another has a sick husband – that is a cross; still others have to deal with sickly children – that is a cross; some have children who are healthy, but who do poorly in their studies – that, too, is a cross. There are many more examples that can be given!
Besides these personal crosses we also have a common cross – and that is our isolation from Orthodox society, our life in an alien environment. This cross is felt by many, especially the faithful, to be more painful than all kinds of personal sorrows.
In other words, there is not a single person upon whose shoulder the Lord did not place a cross. However, to everyone the Lord gives a cross that he can bear. If a good master does not place a larger burden upon his horse than it can carry, will the Lord do otherwise? And if we sometimes feel that our cross is too heavy, that it exceeds our strength, – that comes from lack of faith in God, from our faintheartedness.
Let us be encouraged by the fact that even the holy saints, before they vanquished the world, often paid tribute to human weakness, and is some cases descended to the very pit of sinful life. And if afterwards with the help of God they soared on wings of faith and righteousness, – what prevents us from following them up the mount of virtue? For we are not alone, the Lord Himself is always with us, our guardian angels assist us, and the holy saints intercede for us before the throne of God.
Imagine the following picture: let us say that a great big ship suddenly starts to sink in the middle of the ocean; will the passengers then hopelessly fold their hands and descend to the bottom? Of course not! Some will rush to the lifeboats, others will hang on to lifebelts, wooden planks, etc., and all will try to keep afloat. Not a single person would entertain the thought: oh well, let me sink, because I do not know how to swim.
The same thing happens almost every day with the small boat of life of each one of us, the only difference being that up to now, by the grace of God, we have been able to survive. However, let us fear lest the tempest catch us unawares, and then willy-nilly we will have to descend into the abyss…
Thus, in all our misfortunes let us not lose hope of salvation, especially in our spiritual life, even if by human reckoning there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The lives of the saints whom we are now commemorating tell us that the impossible for men is very possible for God. The Lord has promised all those who follow Him with their cross not only sorrows, misfortunes, and sufferings, but also rewards for such. And since our Lord is Master of heaven and earth, nothing can happen to us on earth without His holy will.
Let us follow the example of God’s holy saints by bearing each his own cross uncomplainingly, just as they had done. If we fall, let us quickly arise and continue to carry the cross, as today’s Gospel reading instructs us. And the Lord, seeing our efforts, will help us just as He had helped His disciples.
O, all ye holy saints, pray to God for us! Amen.
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On May 19th (the 6th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates Saint Job the Much-suffering. The life of the righteous Job is not only edifying in the sense that his name has entered the language as a universal symbol of patience, but it is also deeply moving for the directness of communion between this wondrous saint and the Lord God Himself.
St. Job was a descendant of Abraham and lived in Arabia, in the land of Hus, which was situated to the southeast of Palestine, past the Dead Sea. St. Job was a God-fearing man, renowned for his charity, justice, truthfulness, and – most of all – for keeping his heart blameless and free of evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He was also very wealthy and had great influence on social life in his country, because he was greatly honored throughout the entire land for his nobility and honesty.
Once, when the Lord’s angels gathered in heaven before the throne of God, in order to present to Him various human appeals concerning the earthly needs of men, – God also suffered Satan to come among them. The Lord said to Satan: “From whence have you come?” Satan replied: “I have been on earth and have traveled all over it.” The Lord then said to him: “Have you noticed My servant Job? There is no other man on earth like him, so just, God-fearing, and eschewing all evil!”
To this Satan replied to the Lord: “Is it for nought that Job is so God-fearing? Do You not keep him safe? You have blessed the work of his hands and have increased his herds all over the land. But put forth Your hand and touch all that he has, – take everything away from him, and then You shall see whether he will bless You.”
Then the Lord said to Satan: “I give all that he has into your hands, do whatever you wish, only do not touch himself.” So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
After that there was a day when the sons and daughters of Job feasted in the house of their eldest brother. And there came a messenger to Job and said: “The Sabeans fell upon your oxen and took them away, and killed all your servants; I alone escaped and came to report to you.” As he was speaking, another messenger came to Job and reported: “Fire has fallen from heaven and has burned all the sheep and the shepherds; I alone escaped and came to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, a new messenger arrived and reported: “The Chaldeans came and, dividing into three bands, surrounded the camels and took them away, and killed all your servants; I alone escaped and came to report to you.” While he was yet speaking, another messenger came to Job and said: “Your sons and your daughters feasted in the house of their eldest brother; suddenly a whirlwind came out of the desert, surrounded the house on all four corners and crashed it down upon your children; all perished; I alone escaped and came to report to you.”
After listening to these horrible messages one after another, Job stood up, tore his robe as a sign of terrible grief, shaved his head, fell upon the ground and, bowing down before the Lord, said: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, naked shall I return to the womb of mother earth. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away! He has done as He wished; blessed is the name of the Lord!”
Thus, in all these most grievous and incredible circumstances Job did not sin before the Lord with a single foolish word.
On the following occasion when the angels presented themselves before the Lord, Satan again came among them. And the Lord said: “From whence have you come?” Satan replied: “I have been on earth and have traveled all over it.” The Lord said to him: “Have you noticed My servant Job? There is no other man on earth like him: so kind, righteous, and pious, – so far away is he from all evil! Even in all the disasters which befell him he remains steadfast in his integrity, while you moved Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” And Satan replied to the Lord: “Skin for skin, but for his life a man will give all that he has (i.e. it is easy for a man to suffer in someone else’s skin, because blows are not felt as deeply in another’s skin); but put forth Your hand and touch his own body, and then You will see whether he will bless you.”
Then the Lord said to Satan: “Behold, he is in your hand. I suffer you to do what you wish with him, only save his life.”
So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job’s entire body with terrible leprosy, from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. The sufferer was forced to depart from living among people, because they were unable to tolerate him. His entire body became covered with repulsive and foul-smelling sores, while a burning fire raged throughout his bones. Sitting on a heap of ashes outside the city, Job scraped his purulent wounds with a pottery shard. All his friends and neighbors rejected and abandoned him. Even his wife lost all pity for him.
After a long while she once said to him in a state of utter despair: “How long yet will you suffer? Look at how your memory has been erased from this earth – our sons and daughters, the pains of my womb and the labors with which I labored in vain. You yourself sit amid the stench of worms, spending the night without any shelter, while I wander around in search of work, waiting for the sun to set, in order that I may find some rest from my weariness and my pain. Do not be obstinate, do not persist in your integrity; but say a certain word to God, blaspheme Him, and die, – in death you will find deliverance from your suffering, and you will deliver me from torment.”
Thus did the wife of Job decide for him and for herself the question of life: “skin for skin,” as Satan urged her. Exhausted both physically and morally, she was ready to extinguish the last ray of true life: “blaspheme God – and die.”
However, not so did the sufferer himself regard his condition. Looking upon his wife with pity, Job said to her: “Why do you speak as a foolish woman? If we have received good from the Lord, shall we not also bear the bad, shall we not accept it?” And even this time Job did not sin against God, did not utter a single blasphemous word against God.
News of the affliction which had befallen Job spread all over the neighboring countries. And thus three of his faraway friends gathered together, in order to come and comfort him, and share his tribulation with him. But as they came near him, they did not recognize him at first, because his face was a mass of purulent sores, and they cried out in fear; afterwards for seven days and seven nights they sat opposite their friend without saying a single word, because they saw how great was his suffering, and they had no means of comforting him in such a state. Later they spoke with him, but their words brought even greater pain to Job, because, in accordance with the then prevalent belief that the Just God rewards the good and punishes the evil, they thought that whoever is afflicted by tribulation is a sinner, and the greater the tribulation – the more sinful the person’s state. They thought the same about Job, that he apparently had some terrible secret sins, which up to now he had artfully concealed from people, but for which the omniscient God was now openly punishing him, and they a made a great effort to convince him to confess and repent his terrible sins.
The blameless Job shuddered at such talk and attempted to defend his good name, explaining to his friends that his suffering was not caused by sin, but that God, in accordance with His unfathomable will, sent some people a difficult life and others a happy life. However, his friends remained unconvinced and blamed him even further for the fact that by declaring himself blameless, Job looked upon Gods’ punishment of him as being unmerited. Then Job appealed to God in prayer, asking Him to personally bear witness to his integrity.
The Lord then appeared to Job in a whirlwind and reproached him for demanding an account from God on how He ruled the world. The Lord pointed out to Job that many things are incomprehensible to man even in the manifestations of the physical world, while the desire to penetrate the mystery of God’s providence and to know why He does with people thus and not otherwise, – is audacious and arrogant. This conversation between the Lord and Job, (which is read in abbreviated form during the liturgy of Great Thursday), described in the Book of Job (chapters 38-41), presents to us a highly poetic spiritual image of creation:
The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: who is this, who darkens providence by words without reason? Gird up now your loins like a man; I will ask you and you answer Me: where were you, when I laid the foundations of the earth? tell Me, if you know. Who laid its measurement or who stretched a line upon it? On what are its foundations fastened, or who laid its cornerstone, when all the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, as though issuing from a womb, when I made the clouds its garments and thick darkness its swaddling clothes, and I gave it My decree, and set up bars and doors, and said: up to here you shall come and not any further, and here shall be the boundary of your proud waves? Have you ever in your life given a command to morning and let the dawn know its place, so that it might take hold of the ends of the earth, so that the earth might change as clay under a seal and become as a many-colored raiment? Have you descended into the depth of the sea, and have you walked in search of the abyss? Have you perceived the breadth of the earth? Declare if you know it all. Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness? Have you entered into the preserve of snow, and have seen the treasures of hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war? By which path is light dispersed and the east wind scattered upon the earth? Who sets out the channels for the overflow of water and the path for thunderous lightning, so that rain would fall on unpopulated land, on the desert where there is no man, to nourish the desolate and barren ground and cause the grass to spring forth? Do you know the ordinances of heaven and can you establish its dominion on earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that an abundance of water would cover you? Can you send lightnings, and will they come and say unto you: here we are?...
And Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, and that Your intention is immutable. Thus I have spoken of that which I did not understand, of things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Up to now I have heard of You only by ear, but now my eyes see You.”
After that the Lord returned to Job his health and gave him twice as much wealth as he had before. The Lord also blessed Job with seven sons and three daughters in place of the ones who had died. After all the trials which he had born so patiently, Job lived another 140 years (altogether he lived on earth for 248 years), and saw his descendants unto the fourth generation. The righteous Job constantly advised his friends not to fear physical suffering, nor the loss of worldly goods, but to fear only “the sword of the Lord,” i.e. the wrath of the Almighty God.
“Know ye that there is a day of judgment, – he said in his exhortation, – a judgment where only those will be justified who possess true wisdom – the fear of God, and true reason – the eschewal of all evil.”
THE HOLY SHROUD OF CHRIST
(A scientific investigation)
With the European skepticism towards “unreal” objects that was so characteristic of the 19th century, the Shroud was analyzed by prominent physicists, chemists, archaeologists, anatomists, sculptors, artists, historians, photographers, painters, and lawyers. After intense research over the course of several years, in 1901 the president of the French Academy of Sciences acknowledged the Shroud as an original, i.e. as the genuine cloth that had covered the Holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Shroud was photographed for the last time in 1931. Afterwards this photograph was greatly magnified and analyzed. The purpose of the analysis was to establish in final form whether there were any traces of paints or other artificial coloring substances, which could confirm the artificiality of the Shroud’s negativity, for this issue continued to be raised over and over again by opponents of acknowledging the “Turin cloth.”
In confirmation of previous analyses, this one also established the complete absence of any paints on the cloth and in its material. The fixed technique of photography once again played a decisive role.
In several places of the Shroud (along the creases of the cloth), the photograph shows triangles that differ in color from the material of the Shroud, as though they were placed on top of the cloth. These were, in fact, pieces of a different type of material, placed in the form of patches on the spots where the cloth of the Shroud was twice subjected to burning, being in a fire. The first time this happened in the city of Bezançon (France) in 1349, when the Holy Shroud was kept in the local cathedral. After the fire in the cathedral, the cloth was found unharmed but wet from the water used to extinguish the fire. In order to be assured that this cloth was truly the same Shroud that had lain in the burned down cathedral, the Shroud was placed over a dead man. The dead man arose. This event was confirmed not only by the contemporary chronicles of the Bezançon cathedral, but also in the writings of witnesses of this miracle. The Shroud was genuinely damaged during the second fire, which took place in the castle of Chambery, where the Shroud had been kept since 1502 as private property. Flames enveloped the iron box in which the Shroud was kept, and the box heated up extremely. At high temperatures the creases of the material also heated up and especially the corners of the Shroud, which was folded up in the box as sheets or tablecloths are folded. The overheated material in those spots crumbled. In 1534 the Shroud was taken to the monastery at St. Clair, where the nuns tried to repair the cloth. Traces of these repairs are now seen on the photograph, while the white transverse lines that are seen on the cloth are traces of creases from the cloth lying folded up for such a long time. These creases also prove the negativity of the cloth, since all creases on a positive image are usually darker and not brighter than their background.
How the cloth produced a negative photo image of Christ
Scientists set themselves the task of clarifying the issue of whether the “Turin cloth” is the genuine holy Shroud of Christ, or is the work of a counterfeiter who was obviously a genius.
The starting point consisted of two possibilities: either the counterfeiter drew the body, or he printed it from a model or drawing. Drawing was excluded, because firstly, all the proportions on the photographic image of the body were contrary to the rules of medieval art, for it does not know such perfection of form. This was determined by painting experts. Secondly, the image of the body on the photograph is so lifelike that it is a one-of-a-kind imprint. Thirdly, the imprint on the cloth is undoubtedly a negative, since the light and shadow on it are in reverse to the light and shadow on objects as the eye sees them. Moreover, it was established that the Shroud itself is an ideal negative both in terms of tints and distance of proportions, which was confirmed by numerous experiments. The “Turin cloth” has been known since the 14th century. Prior to the 19th century no one had any idea of photography, not to mention negatives and their characteristics. Who precisely could have drawn a negative on the cloth of the Shroud? No one, not even the greatest genius.
Then a certain scientist by the name of Chopin hypothesized that the image was drawn as a positive, i.e. done as a drawing, but over the course of time and under the influence of chemical transformations of material, the drawing turned into a negative. In connection with this theory an experiment was conducted in photographing frescoes in the cathedral of Assisi, which were drawn with colors that darkened with time. The experiment produced negative results. Other complex experiments were conducted, which established that it was physically impossible to draw in color an image of the human body or anything else for that matter on such a thin material as constituted the Shroud. Moreover, later, when analyzing greatly enlarged photographs of the Shroud in 1931, it was determined that even if such a drawing had been produced, in the fires of 1349 and 1532 the colors would have completely disappeared under the influence of high temperatures and the effect of water. Fourthly, the Shroud could not have been drawn also because both the front and the back of the photograph are so symmetrical and correspond so correctly and accurately when folded up, that no doubt is left that the image preserved by the photograph in two forms is the imprint of one and the same object obtained simultaneously.
Then the supposition arose that the counterfeiting genius simply imprinted the Shroud. The imprint could have been made either from a drawing or an object. In this case it was to be assumed that there was either a model or a body of a person. In order to clarify this issue, a series of experiments was conducted by the sculptor Dr. Risher, who was known for his work in artistic anatomy. Dr. Risher experimented many times with both models and bodies, and after tireless efforts he succeeded in obtaining an imprint of the human body. However, this imprint turned out to be far inferior to the one on the Shroud. At this point scientists came to the conclusion that no ancient or medieval counterfeiter could have made a better imprint that the Sorbonne of the 20th century, with all its equipment and scientific capabilities.
After conducting concrete experiments which confirmed the impossibility of some unknown falsifier having drawn or impressed the Shroud, scientists turned their attention to the chemical origin of the Shroud’s negative condition. Here science was able to provide even more irrefutable conclusions.
The famous physicist Colson ran a series of experiments that provided the following picture: there is absolutely no doubt that the image discovered on the Shroud through photography is the result of chemical reactions from the intermingling of the exudation from the body of a dead person and the fragrant substances with which Jews customarily saturated their burial shrouds.
These fragrant substance are well-known even now – aloes and myrrh. In Christ’s times these substances were used to saturate the burial shroud, as well as anoint the body of the deceased. Prior to that, according to the law, the body had to be washed. During the washing of the body, the exudation that naturally covered the body of the deceased was washed off. The chemical composition of the exudation from a deceased person is always the same; however, the body of a person who died as a result of lengthy physical suffering exudes several substances in increased amounts.
Judging from the thick and abundant blood stains on the material of the Shroud, and also from the chemical reactions that occurred under the Shroud above and below the body, scientists came to the conclusion that the body lying under the Turin Shroud was not washed in accordance with Jewish custom.
How could that happen?
If Christ’s body had been washed, this would have become known from the Gospel. However, not one of the four Evangelists mentions anything about washing the body as it was taken down from the cross and laid in the sepulcher, or about anointing it with fragrant substances. The absence of the one and the other ritual is explained by the fact that the noble Joseph, who took Christ’s body down from the cross, did not have enough time. Christ died three hours after His crucifixion; by the time the news reached Arimathea where Joseph was living, by the time he came to Golgotha, as well as Nicodemus, who “brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight” (John 19:39), by the time they freed the body from the nails and took it down, it was already Friday evening, the eve of Sabbath (Sabbath began after 6:00 in the evening), when all movement became unlawful, and for this reason it was necessary to hurry, because there was barely time to lay the body in the sepulcher, and there was no question of being able to wash it. Consequently, the unwashed body could not be buried either, but laid temporarily (the expression used by all the Evangelists) in the sepulcher; this means that neither was the body tightly wound up in the burial shroud, as required by Jewish law, even though it was covered with Nicodemus’ fragrances. This gives rise to a simple probability: in expectation of burial, the body was placed in the sepulcher on one half of a winding sheet, while the other half was used to cover Him, after which they closed off the entrance with a stone and went away, intending to finish the burial after the holiday. The shroud turned out to be saturated with aloes and myrrh.
In view of the existing circumstances, the chemical composition of the body’s exudation acted unimpeded upon the chemical composition of the aloes and oxidized the shroud in the same manner as does a chemical negative. If the body had been washed, then the negative image would hardly have appeared on the shroud at all; at any rate, the ideal regularity and accuracy of the image that was revealed by photography would have been absent.
Colson determined the kind of exudation that could have decomposed the aloes and produced a negative image on the shroud. Aloes contains aloin, which in combination with water becomes yellow and in combination with alkaline becomes orange; aloes also contains aloetin, which is easily oxidized and creates a brownish substance, especially in combination with alkaline. The question then arose as to whether a body can exude alkaline, which, in combination with aloetin, would remotely produce a negative image, and under what conditions.
Colson noted that in the places where the Shroud contains brownish spots, the aloes is firmly attached to the sheet, as though encrusted within the threads; in places where there has been no chemical reaction and there are no spots, the powder of aloes can simply be brushed off. In places that have been oxidized more strongly, the spots are dark brown in color.
Human sweat normally contains urea, chlorine, sodium, various alkaline salts, and other mineral salts. But in the sweat of a dying person the urea increases tremendously. In the presence of a great number of illnesses and high fever, human sweat has a normal amount of ammonium carbonate, while if the human body is in agony – its sweat contains a great deal of urea. The body of a person dying of physical suffering is usually covered with intense perspiration, which gradually evaporates. If these vapors, naturally full of the chemical substances mentioned above, meet up with the unguent of aloes (for example, covering the shroud), then the fermenting urea exudes ammonium carbonate, whose vapors oxidize the aloetin and leaves trace similar to a chemical negative. Such a chemical process occurred on the Shroud covering the body that was exuding mortal perspiration.
Bloody traces of wounds became imprinted of their own accord from the spine, legs, and the entire front part of the body, because the wounds were still oozing blood, having been disturbed when the body was taken off the nails. Since there were many wounds on the head (especially the back of it) from the crown of thorns (which, according to the distribution of the wounds, had the form of a hat and not a narrow crown), the outline of the head and of the body as a whole was exactly and clearly confirmed point by point on the negative, which provided an exact delineation of the body in all its details. Christ’s head and face were impressed more clearly than other parts of the body, mainly because the face was lying higher that its other points, and for this reason the material stuck to it more closely and firmly.
Thus there is nothing extraordinary in the abovementioned description of the negative image of Christ the Saviour’s body from a medical point of view. The value of the scientists’ evidence lies in the fact that assertions of a possible falsification of the Shroud in ancient or medieval times by primitive means and primitive techniques now appear to be invalid. One of the scientists, Dr. Hynek (Prague), indicates that the methods of chemical analysis described above are currently used in forensic medicine.
Thus all the facts of human knowledge mentioned above, which are usually full of scientific skepticism and materialism, have come to the aid of that against which they have often served by their very nature.
(To be continued)
AS OF YORE
On the day of Christ’s great Resurrection
Behold, how over the earth the sun does rise,
Just as though once more from ancient darkness
Shines the Light of that unsetting day.
With rainbow-colored, diamond, and sapphire fires,
And blooming roses glows the festive sky,
As though all hues and colors of the world
Now brightly celebrate this rising Day.
Though in iniquity lies our modern world,
And Satan reigns over his human slaves,
Yet mankind glorifies Christ as of yore
And sings of Him in heaven and on earth.
– V. Utrenev
Translated by Natalia Sheniloff