Bishop Ignatius of Branichevo
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Had our Lord not died for us we would not have life, just as the church hymn says “his death is my life” or as one great holy father said, “we had a need for a God and Savior Incarnate and Him who died for us.” If was not enough that God only become man but it was necessary that just as every man in this world, as all of us, He pass through all of life, experience that which we all experience until our death, and even death itself. Had Christ not died for us we would not be saved for that which He took upon Himself from our nature and creation that has been saved. And He took all of created nature and all of it's effects. The effects of nature after it's fall are death and corruption. For this reason did the Lord come at that hour, as He says, to die for us, so that He would, in that way, resurrect us by uniting us with Him and God.
From the very beginning the honorable people weren't able to comprehend how our Christ died as God, being that God is the One immortal and for this reason is He called the One God, while all of us are mortal and given to corruption and therefore we are not gods. It was that very Christian faith which was, as the holy Apostle Paul say, “a scandal for some and foolishness for others.” To the Greeks it was foolishness and a scandal to the Jews, for truly the mind of the Greeks could not grasp how God, being immortal by nature, could die. For the Greeks, the Cross of Christ and that which the Christians confessed, was foolishness. For the Jews it was scandalous for they believed in a God who was present everywhere and all powerful and they could not allow Him to be man, to be pushed and even more to be crucified on a cross. However, dear brothers and sisters, this is a truth which cannot fit in the minds of men. Namely, the Greeks were obsessed with their belief in a God who had a impersonal nature, which had neither a beginning nor an end and in and of itself it could not die, for this reason the Christian faith found no place in their minds, that is, a God who died for us and our sins. The Jews, on the other hand, believing in a powerful God, Who created heaven and earth and Who holds all things in His hand, also could not accept that such God all of a sudden become powerless, that is, mortal.
Where is the mystery hidden? In, dear brothers and sisters, that our God in whom we believe is a person and free. He is free to live eternally but also to, out of His freedom and love towards us, die for us. The God in whom we believe is not determined by nature so that He would act as it commands. He is above nature. He is the one who makes nature God's creation, who, therefore, makes it a person. A similar thing happens with us people for we have been created according to the image/icon of God, as free children of God, and by our freedom we have needs and desires which very often do not go in harmony with nature. For this reason we cannot grasp by our own freedom why our nature is given to corruption and why that which we as people wish to make cannot last. Hence comes our human tragedy – that our nature and our freedom are not in complete harmony. Nature dies while we as free beings, as persons, do not desire death and from there comes our entire tragedy and suffering from death.
The Lord is free and His harmony is in accord with His freedom. He, Himself, desired to come to this world and to die for us for only in this way was it possible that man, and all of created nature, be in unity with God. We could not have come to God and be united with Him had God not descended to us. It was necessary, therefore, that He make that first step. For this reason does Holy Scripture constantly stress the fact that it was God who loved us first and then asked from us that we love Him. He is the first who descended among us and for this reason does He call him who wants to be in union with Him that he have community and life eternal. So, before this event of the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ for us, let us stand not so much with wonderment and inquisitiveness of what has happened with our God Who is all powerful, but with thanksgiving and immence joy that God did that for us, and He could have not done it. However, had He not done it, had He not died, we would have no life.
The Resurrection will show, dear brothers and sisters, that man in Christ became incorrupt and that only he who is united with Christ, through His Person, be resurrected from God the Father through the Holy Spirit in the last day. These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, that if whatever we ask the Father in His Name, He will give us. But we ask for nothing else but life, and the Lord will give it to us. Everything else will be added unto us since man has only one problem and that is death. We often forget this problem. We have other quasi problems but with death we have been reconciled. But from every human problem hides that all-human problem of death, which always sneaks behind all of our actions.
Even that which is happening to us today as a people and a country is also a battle of those who think that in this way, by destroying a people, they will have life in themselves. In this way, therefore, they wish to escape death. Man thinks at times that if he gains the world, all the riches, if he has knowledge, modern hospitals and the like, that he has saved himself from death. However, man can never save himself from death without God. All expansive wars throughout history have had as their goal that the one who wages them take from someone else and secure for himself more and more goods so that he would, supposedly, be able to survive and be saved from death. And so man is never content with what he has, for all of that is not in the state to give a ransom, before one's death, for life. And so we, dear and sisters, besides all the battles we are to wage for our country must make an effort that our battle be in Christ and through Christ. This means to do battle honorably, heroically, respectfully and with dignity. After all, there is no dignity without Christ. If we forget for even one moment that it is only through Christ that we can be saved, human dignity is ruined, for then man can shelter himself and become a beast. It is only the Lord Jesus Christ who holds a balance between man and non-man, between good and evil.
May the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ be our comfort in these sufferings of ours. That we rejoice with the joy of the Resurrection and that we have in mind the fact that the sufferings will pass and others will come. While this world and age exist there will be sufferings, for, we stress again, sufferings produce death and fear of death. The Lord defeated death, it is in Him that we hope. He is to be our muscle, our weapon against our enemies. In that way will we do battle not only for our country, and our people, but, through Him, also for the good of our enemies that they too open their eyes and see that airplanes, rockets, “tomahawks”, truly bring no good, and least of all do they bring man dignity. It is unfortunate, however, that our era and the Western civilization in which we are also witnesses, for we have accepted it for the most part by rejecting our Orthodox tradition, that we truly cannot go another way. For them every other man is a potential or real enemy whenever he objects to being the means of satisfying their goals. This is, dear brothers and sisters, the state of fallen man and the sinful world in which we all live. Our happiness is the fact that we here, at the Divine Liturgy, learn that others are not our enemies but the source of life, that without the other we cannot be a person, for the Lord created us in that way according to His image. God is the Holy Trinity, a community of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and not a single person and for that reason do we, that we might exist according to God's image, that we be eternally living beings, should exist in a community with others. This is not only an ethical law and simple desire to be good, respect my neighbor and do him no evil. This is the very law of existence. Namely, if there is not other person, I do not exist either, regardless of the fact that many of us do not think like this, that they think that they can survive on their own. The Divine Liturgy teaches us precisely this and in it is our whole Church established, all of our Tradition. Our Church exists as a Divine Liturgy and cannot exist in any other way but through the Divine Liturgy.
May God grant, dear brothers and sisters, that these days be, first of all, days of prayer for us and all of those who suffered and were killed, at times not knowing why, at times because of their sins, and at other times because of other reasons, that we remember all of them. That we pray that the Lord stengthen the living that they have the strength to endure their enemies, that they do battle with evil and that all of us rejoice in the joy of the Resurrection for the Lord has resurrected. It is not the first time we are celebrating Great and Holy Friday and that we be sad, not knowing what will happen. We celebrate Great and Holy Friday as a symbol of the Resurrection, for our Lord resurrected. For this reason when we give the dismissal we first mention the Resurrection and we say: “He who rose from the dead, Christ our true God, who goes voluntarily to His Passion and death for our salvation...”. If we have in the mind the fact the life will defeat death, that good will defeat evil and if we firmly believe, we can do battle and our battle will have meaning and victory. Amen.
Bishop Ignatius of Branichevo, 1998
Source: Serbian Orthodox Patriarchal Website