While permitting the lawless men to seize You, O Lord, You thus declared: “Though you strike down the Shepherd, and scatter the twelve sheep, My Disciples, yet I could have summoned more than twelve legions of Angels by My side; but I forbear, so that the unknown and secret things, which I revealed to you through My prophets may be fulfilled.” O Lord, glory to You.
~9th Antiphon, The 12 Gospels, Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas
While He was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The One I shall kiss is the Man; seize Him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Hail, Master!” And he kissed Him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?] Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture Me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.
Matthew 26: 47-56
Some of you know me well and know that today is a special day in my life. For those who don’t know me, today is my 50th birthday. I’m not normally into birthdays, I’m not into parties and I don’t care about gifts. This birthday is a milestone one. On March 14, 1971, my parents offered a prayer to God. It was the Sunday of the Holy Cross (3rd Sunday of Great Lent). They had been unable to have children. They promised God that if He would give them a son, they would name him “Stavros” for the Holy Cross and give him back to God to serve as a priest. They made that prayer at approximately 11:00 a.m. I was born on March 14, 1972, shortly before 11:00 a.m., one year to the date and the hour they had made their prayer. While they told me about how I got my name, they never told me the part about me serving as a priest until I was 21 and came home one day and told them I thought God was calling me to be a priest. They didn’t want me to feel pressure to answer the call, so they didn’t tell me until I told them this is what I wanted to do with my life. So, 50 years of life and 25 years (in June it will be 25 years since I was ordained a deacon) of ministry later, I celebrate a milestone birthday today. I’ll mark this day with Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, so that around 11:00 a.m. I’ll be able to receive Holy Communion. For my birthday, I humbly ask for your prayers. That is all I need. Life is tough. Ministry is tough. Knowing that I am prayed for is the greatest gift, on a birthday or any day. God bless you.
We’ve all seen dramatic death scenes in Hollywood movies. A person stops breathing, and then his head drops. When Jesus died on the cross, we are told in John 19:30, that “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” In other words, even in death, He was the Lord. He voluntarily bowed His head and surrendered His spirit.
The dismissal of some of the services of Holy Week refers to the voluntary Passion of Christ (to eksousion Pathos). Christ chose to follow God’s plan for our salvation. There was a plan, and it involved Christ dying on the Cross. We have already discussed when Christ was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, how He prayed that if it was possible, He wanted the cup of suffering to be taken away. However, He would submit to the will of God if there was no other way. And then the Passion began.
Judas arrived with the chief priests and elders of the people, who came with swords and clubs to capture the Man Judas said he would betray with a kiss. The scene was one of chaos. First, Judas gave Jesus a kiss, the sign of friendship. However, in this case it was a sign of betrayal. Then the crowd of the chief priests and elders seized Jesus. The disciples were filled with fear. How could it be that their teacher and their friend was being arrested? Surely, they would meet the same fate. The disciples quickly fled, except for Peter, who took his sword ready to fight for Jesus. He swung the sword and cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest. The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus touched the ear of that servant and healed him. (Luke 22:51) Jesus told Peter “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scripture be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26: 52-53) In other words, He was going to go with the soldiers willingly. For surely, God could have summoned all the angels in heaven to come and rescue Jesus.
Voluntary surrender is a needed aspect of every Christian life. Saint Paul writes in II Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” While this passage refers to generosity, it also refers to faith. Because faith in God is not something that is cultivated under compulsion, but out of a sense of love for God and trust in His message. At some point in life, anyone who is a Christian was exposed to the message of Christ. Faith is when we begin to internalize and accept that the message is true, even though there may be parts of it that we will not be able to comprehend. Conversion to Christianity is the moment when we surrender to Christ, where we accept our role in His plan for salvation, which begins with our own salvation. Many people who come to church each week still have not “converted.” They are listening, maybe even liking what they are hearing, but they haven’t converted, because they haven’t surrendered their lives to Christ.
I once heard a podcast where the speaker talked about having a line in the sand when it comes to our relationship with Christ. In other words, we pray “Thy will be done, but don’t touch my spouse, my kids, my job, my home, my 401K, of my kid’s college fund but outside of that, it’s all yours.” It’s like we draw a line in the sand and tell God that everything on our side is ours, and everything else we will surrender to Him. In the ideal Christian life, there isn’t a line in the sand. Just like Christ did not have a line in the sand. He surrendered everything, including His own life, in order to complete God’s plan for our salvation. He held nothing back. Yes, He asked if the cup could be taken away, but ultimately surrendered to the Passion and death on the cross. For many people, there is still a line in the sand, an area (or areas) of life that we do not want to surrender to God. We are not yet ready to give up the whole thing.
Christ voluntarily surrendered. He voluntarily underwent the Passion and death on the cross for us. His motivation was not coercion. It wasn’t guilt. It was love. As the soldiers stepped forward to seize Jesus, He offered no resistance. Because He had accepted God’s role in His divine plan for our salvation. This role required Christ to surrender everything, including His life. Each of us plays a role in God’s plan for salvation. We play a role in our own personal salvation. We also play a role in God’s plan for the world’s salvation. To fulfill our role in the plan for our salvation and the salvation of others will require sacrifice and surrender. And that’s hard. In today’s world, we might worry that being a disciple of Jesus publicly might get us the same fate as the original twelve. It is important to remember that Christ’s surrender brought death upon Him, but His death led to the Resurrection. In similar fashion, surrender to Christ might involve the “death” of some of our activities, or even some of our things. Surrender is the path that leads to our personal resurrection, which is the ultimate goal of life.
It is important to remember that Christ surrendered His life for us. Are we prepared to surrender our lives to Him?
Judas hastened to the lawless Scribes saying: “What will you give me, and I will deliver Him to you?” and invisibly You stood in the midst of those, conspiring as to the price that would be agreed for You. Spare our souls; you, Who knows the hearts of humans. (2nd Antiphon, 12 Gospels, Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Christ opened the path to Paradise when He voluntarily surrendered to die for us. Our path to salvation is opened when we voluntarily surrender our lives to Him!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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