“They stripped Me of My garments, and put on Me a scarlet robe; they set upon My head a crown of thorns, and gave a reed into My right hand, that I may shatter them in pieces like a potter’s vessels.”
“I gave My back to scourgings, and turned not away My face from spittings; I stood before the judgment seat of Pilate, and endured the Cross, for the salvation of the world.”
~Lauds, Holy Thursday Evening, 12 Gospels, Trans. by George Papadeas
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers plated a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and arrayed Him in a purple robe; and they came up to Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And struck Him with their hands. Pilate went out again, and said to them, “See, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in Him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!
Many of us have seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ”. The service of Holy Thursday Evening is sometimes referred to by this name (though it is centuries older than the movie) or simply called “The Passion Service.” It is interesting that the movie and the Holy Thursday service cover relatively the same ground in the Holy Week narrative, picking up with the final discourses in the upper room, through the Passion, Crucifixion, and burial of Christ.
The movie gives a lot of attention to the absolute brutality inflicted on Jesus. It’s not a stretch to say that one actually feels pain watching the scenes as Jesus is whipped and chunks of flesh are ripped away from His body. The movie accents how much pain Christ endured for us.
The Orthodox depiction of Christ on the cross does not show Him as bloodied and broken. It depicts what might almost be thought of as a loving embrace of all humanity from the cross. Yes, there is the pierced side with blood and water coming out. There are the nails and blood in each of those areas. We do not see blood around the crown of thorns or scars across Jesus’ body.
There is no doubt that what happened to Christ was brutality beyond description. I live in Florida. We have palm trees everywhere, including at my house. I’ve been stuck with one of the needles that grow on the palm tree. I can’t imagine having a crown of these sharp needles fashioned into a crown and then pressed onto my head and left there for hours. “The Passion of the Christ” shows a whip that was not just leather straps, but each leather strap had a metal hook tied to the end of it, so that as metal contacted with human flesh, it would rip out pieces of the flesh, causing massive pain as well as substantial blood loss, which would have resulted in dizziness and disorientation. Hours of this brutality without pause would have also caused dehydration. Imagine then carrying the heavy cross, already dehydrated, with the wood, and splinters of the wood pressing into your shoulders that have already been stripped of skin and are bleeding profusely. When they arrived at Golgotha, Jesus would have been laid on the ground to be nailed to the cross. Dust and dirt would have been rubbed into His wounds, causing even more pain and discomfort. And the crucifixion itself was painful. First, the nails likely piercing through His wrists (rather than through the hands as usually depicted) were more like railroad spikes than nails. Then having one’s bodyweight pulling at the nails would have been excruciating. You get the idea. This was really painful.
On top of the physical pain, crucifixion was humiliating. It was carried out publicly, and it took hours to days to die on the cross. People would stop by the cross and jeer at the one being crucified.
Two short hymns toward the end of the service of the 12 Gospels are sung, again, from the perspective of Jesus, in the first person. He didn’t say these actual words in the Bible. They are used again with some “literary license.” Traditionally these are more “cried out” than sung. It is Christ’s cry of pain. The reference to “potter’s vessels” comes from Psalm 2, which is an indictment of the judgment against Christ. It reads:
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and His anointed, saying,”
“Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.
Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, My holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me,
“You are My Son, today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Psalm 2: 1-9
It is important to remember in the midst of the beautiful chanting in our churches, and despite the seemingly peaceful appearance of Christ in the icon of the crucifixion, the Passion of Christ was brutal and cruel.
All creation was changed by fear, when it saw you, O Christ, hanging on the Cross; the sun was darkened, and the foundations of the earth were shaken. All things suffered together with the Creator of all things. O Lord, Who for us endured willingly, glory to You. (Aposticha, 12 Gospels, Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Indeed, Christ suffered for the salvation of all.
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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