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|Archbishop Averky (Tauchev)|
Explanation of the four Gospels
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This conversation, which apparently took place also on the next day after the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Lord applied another image to Himself from the history of the Jews and their wandering in the wilderness — that of the fiery column that miraculously lit the way for the Jews at night. The column contained Jehovah’s Angel, in which the Holy Fathers see as the second Face of the Blessed Trinity. And the Lord begins His conversation with the words: “I am the Light of the world.” Just as in the Old Testament, the column of fire showed the Jews the way out of Egypt toward a better life in the Promised Land, so does Christ in the New Testament show, not only to the Jews, but for all humanity, the way from the realm of sin into eternal life. The Pharisees, relying on the widely accepted rule that no person can be a witness to his own works, objected that His witness about Himself cannot be accepted as genuine. The Lord responded with exceptional potency, that these human judgments cannot be applied to Him, that He cannot be judged “according to the flesh,” as the Pharisees are doing, regarding Him as an ordinary person. “I know where I came from and where I am going” — according to Saint Chrysostom, mean the same as: “I know that I am the Son of God and not an ordinary person.” This avowal by the Lord of His origin from God the Father, confirms totally the authenticity of His witness about Himself , as well as the impossibility of self-deception. The Lord adds “My witness is also genuine from a formal point of view, because not only I give witness of Myself, “The Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.”
Having heard the Lord’s sermons on many occasions about His Father sending Him and feigning ignorance, they mockingly and blasphemously pose Him the question: “Where is your Father?” The Lord responds that they don’t know the Father because they don’t want to know the Son. This consanguineous indicator to the consubstantiality of God the Son with God the Father, is in that the Father revealed Himself to humanity in His Son. The Evangelist notes that this was uttered by the lord “in the treasury,” which was located close to the meeting-hall of the Sanhedrin that was hostile to the Lord. Although the Lord gave witness to His Messianic merit before — so to speak — the eyes and ears of the Sanhedrin, “no one laid hands on Him” because the hour of His sufferings had not yet arrived: in other words, the people themselves didn't have any authority over Him. The hostile mood of the listeners turned the Lord’s thoughts anew toward the sufferings facing Him, and He once again points out their hopeless situation that they will find themselves in, after He has gone, if they don’t believe in Him as the Messiah (verse 21): “Where I go you cannot come.” The words, once again, irritated them and evoked irritated them and evoked derision: “Will He kill Himself?” i.e. is He thinking of suicide? Ignoring their crude mockery, the Lord refers to their moral character that prompts them to this type of behavior: “You are from beneath…,” i.e. you have lost the ability to comprehend the Divine, heavenly; you judge everything with an earthly and sinful understanding, and that’s why if you don’t believe in Me (“that I am He” — the Messiah), “you will die in your sins.” The Lord didn’t refer to Himself as the Messiah once, but He spoke so transparently, even though using other words, yet so plainly that undoubtedly the Pharisees would have understood this. However, they pretended not to understand, as they didn’t want to hear this name from Him, and therefore ask Him: “Who are You?”
Likewise to this question, the Lord didn’t give them a direct answer that they expected. The Lord’s answer is translated into Church-Slavonic too literally (“tin arhin” — “beginning”) — which is peculiar with all the Church-Slavonic translations, prompted by a fear of sinning by not translating the Greek text verbatim — which as a consequence, doesn’t respond to the thoughts enclosed within it; the Russian translation — “from the Beginning” — is also incorrect. According to the ancient interpreters, the meaning of the Lord’s answer is: “I have been telling you about Myself right from the start” or: “Didn’t I call Myself the Son of God — right from the beginning? And thus I am He.” Continuing His sermon on the sad moral state of the Jewish people, the Lord explains that He has to do this, inasmuch as the One Who sent Him is the very truth, and He has to give witness to the truth that He heard from Him. Once again they didn’t understand that He spoke about the Father. That’s why He further tells them about the time when they will involuntarily realize His teachings about Himself and on His Father Who sent Him: this will happen when they raise Him on the cross, because the death on the cross served as the beginning of God the Son’s glorification, that drew everyone to Him: subsequent events, such as Christ’s Resurrection, His Ascension into Heaven, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles — they all attest to the truth of Christ’s teachings and His Divine mission.
These words made a big impact on its listeners, so that “many believed in Him,” and evidently, even among those Jews that were hostilely inclined toward Him. It was toward these new believers that Lord spoke with His next sermon. He instructs them how to become and remain His genuine disciples. For this, they “must abide in My word”: then only they will know the truth — which contains genuine freedom — and the truth will liberate them from sin. Then among the listeners, the voice of national pride was heard. “We are Abraham’s descendants,” and as Abraham’s descendants, are promised by God dominion over the world, and the blessing of the world through us (Gen. 12:7; 22:17), “and have never been in bondage to anyone.” Amid such passionate and overwhelming shouts of exacerbated nationalistic conceit, they seemingly forgot about their Egyptian bondage, Babylonian bondage and current Roman one.
The Lord responds that He is speaking about a different type of bondage — a spiritual bondage, which every sinner finds himself in: “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” He who is committed to sin, cannot remain in the Messiah’s Kingdom, where there should be absolute spiritual freedom and where everybody should realize solely that they are the children of the Heavenly Father. “And a slave does not abide in the house forever,” because the master, being dissatisfied with him, can sell or send him away: this situation of the slave is contrary to that of the son who, as the inheritor of the whole house, cannot be sold or sent away, but remains a son forever. “As creators of sin, you are — slaves of sin. You can receive genuine freedom and become sons of God, only if you believe in the Only Son of God, reside in His word — and He will liberate you from the bondage of sin.” Following this, the Lord tells them that He does not reject their descendancy from Abraham — but doesn’t recognize them as his genuine children in spirit, since they seek to kill Him only because “My word has no place in you,” i.e. no favorable substance in their hearts for its growth.
As Abraham didn’t commit anything like the things they have, their father is not Abraham or God as they keep on insisting, but the devil who “was a murderer from the beginning,” because he injected the lethal disease of sin into humanity. In speaking of the devil, the Lord places an indissoluble link of him being an ancient murderer with, that he is an enemy of the truth and “father of lies.” Accordingly, in speaking of Himself, the Lord places the same tight link of His purity with, that He teaches the truth. If the Jews are not accepting the truth of His teachings, then let them prove the sinfulness of His life: “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” However, if nobody can accuse the Lord of leading a sinful life, then as a consequence of His piety, the Truth taught by Him must be accepted as inseparable to this. In the Lord’s words, the Jews clearly demonstrate that through their disbelief they “are not of God.”
This provoked a violent indignation from them: “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” because only Samaritans and those possessed by the demon that hate us Jews, can deny our descension from Abraham. The Lord quietly ignores this insult and states it is through these sermons, which to them appear as those of a demoniac, that He renders honor unto His Heavenly Father: I speak with you in this way, because I “honor My Father,” while you dishonor Him Who speaks the truth to you in the name of the Father. “I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges” — and that is the Heavenly Father, who will condemn those who reject His Son. Turning to those that believed in Him, the Lord speaks: “I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” — of course, meaning in the sense that “he will receive eternal life.” The non-believers appeared to have understood the Lord’s words literally — of the natural, physical death — and again found a reason to accuse Him of being possessed: “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?”
The Lord answers that He is not glorifying Himself, but is glorified by His Father, Whom He knows and Whose word He fulfils. He then shows His predominance over Abraham by, as though saying to the Jews: “Yes, I am greater than your father Abraham, for I was the subject of his expectations during his earthly life, and upon his death, was the subject of his joy — in Heaven”: “he saw it and was glad.” Referring to the Lord’s reference to Abraham’s earthly life, the Jews — here too — find incongruity with the aim to inflict another reproach on the Lord: “You are not 50 years old and You have seen Abraham?” The Lord responds to this censure with a decisive answer, which would be understood even by the Pharisees that were blinded by their own hatred: “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM,” i.e. “I am more ancient than Abraham himself, because I am — Eternal God.”
How clear the Lord teaches about His Divinity! While the Pharisees understood this correctly, instead of believing in Him, they became embittered — seeing only blasphemy in His words — and picked up stones to throw at Him. However, having finished His witness of Himself on a triumphant note and surrounded by His disciples and other people, the Lord merged with the crowd that filled the courtyard “going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”