Dear Friends, I wrote these meditations last night for Good Friday services. But due to the birth of my first-born son, I was not able to give them. So I am sharing them here.
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
How often do we begin to say, “I did not know what I was doing”? Is it true? Is it a lie? Our Lord seems to think that it is true that we know not what we do in some sense, for He cannot lie. In the Garden of Eden, the Serpent said to Eve concerning eating of the Apple of our Destruction, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Do we then know? What do we know? Do we know when something is wrong? Sometimes. Do we know what is good? Sometimes. Do we know the effects of our sins? Sometimes. Do we know the effects of our sins long after we are gone, unto the third and fourth generation? Perhaps, but it is unlikely.
Life is not for knowing; it is for living. God gave life to Adam and Eve so that they could live life; not so that they could know so many many things. What then of truth? Are not we to know truth? But truth is to be observed, to be adored, to be loved. God had already given Adam and Eve the opportunity to know Truth, to live with Truth, to observe Truth and to love Truth. They were allowed to walk with God in the Garden, the God Who is Truth. But for the sake of knowing, a certain kind of knowing, a sinful kind of knowing, Adam and Eve were tossed away from Truth into a state that we are presently in, a state of not really knowing Good or Evil.
If the Serpent’s promise to Eve was true, that she would know Good and Evil, why did the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve spit upon the laboring Christ, the Truth incarnate, the Truth revealed, lumbering up that weary hill, paraded before all the World. Why did they not know what they saw and fall down and worship at the foot of that Cross? It was not flesh and blood (that same flesh and blood born in the iniquity of Adam and Eve) that could reveal the Truth incarnate to the people of God, the Jews, but rather the Spirit of God. It was the Spirit of God after all (not flesh and blood) that revealed to St. Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Therefore, we must be very very careful as we observe our fellow sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We must not presume to know anything, to know the faults or weaknesses, to guess what it is that anyone is thinking. This is presumptuous unless it is revealed to us by God through prayer, fasting, penance and a life of holiness: It is presumptuous because if it is not revealed to us by the Spirit of God, then it may well be a lie of Satan. For if we do not even know what we it is that we do when we sin, how can we know for certain why it is that people hurt us the way that they do.
Can we imagine what the world would be like if everybody today, this Good Friday, apologized to each other for all the wrong assumptions and the wrong acts that were done in that false-knowledge? How much un-Truth and hurt could we undo?
How can we learn to forgive as Jesus forgave? We can do so in praying, fasting, penance and a life of holiness lived in the Spirit of God. We can do so by entering in our prayer life into what is known as the Cloud of Unknowing; that Cloud in which God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is here that we Un-know everything we have known before and start with observing and loving Truth, in the Person of Jesus Christ and then working outward from that Point of Reference, that foundation on which the whole Universe lies.
Another thing that we can do to forgive is to remember that the person who has offended us is under far greater guilt, condemnation, and punishment, so much so that our lack of forgiving them cannot ever add to that weight. To this end, Fr. John of Kronstadt, a great Russian priest of the 19th Century has a word to say:
“Every person that does any evil, that gratifies any passion, is sufficiently punished by the evil he has committed, by the passion he serves, but chiefly by the fact that he withdraws himself from God, and God withdraws Himself from him: it would therefore be insane and most inhuman to nourish anger against such a man; it would be the same as to drown a sinking man, or to push into the fire a person who is already being devoured by flame. To such a man, as to one in danger of perishing, we must show double love, and pray fervently to God for him; not judging him, not rejoicing at his misfortune.”
Let us pray a prayer from the Compline Office of the Byzantine Rite:
Forgive, O Lord, those that hate us and have injured us. Do good to those that do good to us.
Grant to our brethren and kinsfolk all their desires unto salvation and eternal life.
Visit those that are sick and heal them;
Be with those that travel by land (air) or water;
Forgive the sins of those that do us service or are kind to us.
Remember, O Lord, our fathers and brethren that have fallen asleep; and grant them rest where the light of thy countenance shineth.
Remember also, O Lord, us thy sinful, humble, and unworthy servants: enlighten our eyes with the light of thy wisdom, and guide us in the way of thy commandments.
For thou art blessed for evermore. Amen.
“Woman, behold thy Son! Son, behold thy mother!”
What tongue can tell,
What intellect can grasp
The heavy weight of your desolation,
You were present at all these events,
Standing close by and participating in them
In every way,
This blessed and most holy flesh –
Which you so chastely conceived,
So sweetly nourished
And fed with your milk,
Which you so often held on your lap,
And kissed with your lips –
You actually gazed upon
With your bodily eyes
Now torn by the blows of the scourges,
Now pierced by the points of the thorns,
Now struck by the reed,
Now beaten by hands and fists,
Now pierced by nails and fixed to the wood of the cross,
And torn by its own weight as it hung there,
Now mocked in every way,
Finally made to drink gall and vinegar
But with the eye of your mind
You saw that divine soul
Filled with gall of every form of bitterness,
Now groaning in spirit
Now quaking with fear,
Now in agony,
Now in anxiety
Now in confusion,
Now oppressed by sadness and sorrow
Partly because of his most sensitive response
To bodily pain,
Partly because of his most fervent zeal
For the divine honour taken away by sin,
Partly because of his pity poured out upon wretched men,
Partly because of his compassion for you,
His most sweet mother;
As the sword pierced the depths of your heart,
When with devoted eyes
He looked upon you standing before him
And spoke to you these loving words:
“Woman, behold your son,”
In order to console in its trial your soul,
Which he knew had been more deeply pierced
By a sword of compassion
Than if you had suffered
In your own body.
In these words by the Medieval Scholar Bonaventure, we see before us the vision of the Virgin Mary, standing staring at the Cross of our Savior. Her eyes behold with every depth of emotion the Savior no longer in the crib but crucified for our sakes. Once, as a child, with the weight of His body, He tumbled forward or backward in his meager attempts to walk and she was there to pick Him up. This time, as the weight of His body drags along the edge of the Cross, she cannot pick Him up; she cannot keep the hurt from happening; she cannot pick Him up, at least, not until He is dead.
Many times in Scripture we see the word “behold”: We see the words of Isaiah, perhaps aptly spoken in Advent: “O Zion, that brings good tidings, get you up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that brings good tidings, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” We hear it with the words of John Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God – Ecce Agnus Dei” We hear it ring from the lips of Pontius Pilate before a crowd clamoring for Christ’s blood: “Behold, the Man! – Ecce homo!” But this Ecce, this Behold, beheld by us today at the foot of the Cross, is etched more deeply on our hearts. It becomes a sign of the Trinity: John, Mary, Jesus, all looking, beholding one another in contemplation, all beholding each other in love. One suffers, the other two look on.