This is a guest post from George Iskaros - a senior at Rutgers Business School, majoring in finance, and a proud member of St. George & St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church in Jersey City, NJ. In this post, George reflects upon the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from a unique perspective. If you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
The Lenten Season – which concluded last Sunday as we celebrated Christ’s resurrection from the dead – is usually seen as one of the most sacred times of the year for us Christians. This season is at the core of our dogma and our faith, and epitomizes the beautiful story of Christianity, establishing hope for the eternal joy and peace as opposed to the earthly pain and distress. Because of its literally life-changing nature, we are called to engage in more intense daily exercises during Lent, both physically and spiritually.
Physically, we try to abstain from food for a prolonged amount of time, adopt a vegan diet and limit our tangible pleasures. Spiritually, we immerse ourselves in a mindset through which we simplify our daily lives in order to amplify our spiritual lives (i.e. reducing time spent on Facebook, watching TV and increasing time spent reading the Bible, praying, etc.)
All of these changes in our lives during Lent are centralized around the suffering, sacrifice, and eventual salvation our Lord and God established on the behalf of mankind; so that by participating in our Lord’s suffering and death, we may also partake in our Lord’s salvation and resurrection.
On His Suffering
As we contemplate Christ’s Passion, we have a tendency to overemphasize the physical suffering and sacrifice Jesus Christ experienced because it is material, tangible, and easy to understand. He was spat upon, cursed at, whipped, beaten, humiliated, scourged, and finally crucified. But overemphasizing the physical suffering leads to undervaluing the enormous spiritual suffering He experienced during those last days.
At Gethsemane, He said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38) and while praying that night, St. Luke described Him as, “Being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
This is not a metaphor; it is to be taken literally. Hematidrosis is a rare, but very real, medical condition where one’s sweat will contain blood. Sweat glands are surrounded by small blood vessels, and under extreme stress, sorrow, and anguish, these blood vessels can dilate to the point of rupture; thereby, blood will be infused with one’s sweat.
Also, while hanging on the cross during His last minutes, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
At these moments in Christ’s Passion, Jesus felt not only the physical torture and pain, but also the spiritual distress and agony. Jesus identified with us in the physical pain man endures during life, but even more importantly, He identified with us in the despair and mental pain of humanity.
On His Death
As Christians, we believe that there are two types of death: the physical death (separation of spirit from body) and the spiritual death (separation of spirit from God).
We often say that our Lord “conquered death by His death.” Which death are we talking about though? Jesus obviously didn’t save us from physical death as we all will surely die physically; so He must’ve said us from spiritual death.
When we recite, “He descended into Hades,” in the Orthodox Creed, we confess that Jesus died physically. But if we delve deeper, we all know that Hades, and more generally, Hell, are literally known as the place away from God, which means there is an absence of God. Therefore, we must be confessing something more than just the physical death of Jesus.
The beauty of our salvation, through Christ, comes from the fact that Jesus, who is God, entered into Hades, the absence of God, thereby conquering it and the power it held over us (that power being spiritual death). To simplify this point, let’s contemplate on it through an example: there is a nation that prides itself on being a place where there are no Egyptians and is known as, “The Absence of Egyptians.” If an Egyptian enters that nation, he conquers both the nation and the rule of the nation because he broke that rule and thus established his power over it. The same happened with Christ.
This is not to say that Jesus died a spiritual death—that is inherently impossible because how can Jesus, who is God, experience separation from God, which is Himself? That is why Christ is the only Person who could’ve saved us—because He is both Man and God… “His Divinity parted not from His Humanity for a single moment nor a twinkling of an eye.”
Without His Humanity, He couldn’t have died and without His Divinity, He couldn’t have had the power to trample death.” Therefore, Christ’s death upon the Cross is not a failure which was later rectified with his Resurrection; it is a victory within itself. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” He didn’t cry out in resignation, He cried out to confirm that it is completed, it is accomplished, it is fulfilled, IT IS FINISHED.
His mission and objective, from His Incarnation to His Crucifixion was FINISHED at that point: He had saved us!
The salvation story is accomplished on Good Friday and confirmed on Easter Sunday. The victory is hidden on Good Friday but on Easter Sunday, it is made manifest when Jesus rose from the dead. There is no more death; even death is filled with God! How awesome is that?
Christos anesti! The phrase “Christ is Risen” carries a huge weight in its meaning: there is no more death because God was incarnated to save us from the only thing that had power over us, which was spiritual death. Now we are filled with hope and a longing to attain eternal, spiritual life with our God and Savior.