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|Archbishop Averky (Tauchev)|
Explanation of the four Gospels
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(Mat. 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; Luke 22:1-6).
Having concluded the above sermons to His disciples, the Lord predicted the fast approaching hour of His sufferings on the cross through the words narrated by Evangelist Matthew only: “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” The feast of Pascha began on the evening of 14Th of Nisan,” which fell that year on a Friday (see John 19:14): we can conclude from this, that these words were uttered either on Tuesday night or on Wednesday.
Passover was the greatest and most triumphant feast among the Jews. It was celebrated in memory of the liberation of Jews from Egyptian bondage. The word itself “pascha” is a derivative from the Jewish “peisah,” which means: “pass by,” “spare” in memory of that moment, when after killing the Egyptian first-born, the Angel walked past all those Jewish houses that had their door jambs and cross-beams smeared with the blood of a sacrificial lamb, thereby sparing the Jewish first-born (Exo. Chp. 12). In conjunction with the feast day of “Unleavened Bread,” which began on the second day of Passover. The Passover itself was celebrated for 8 days — from the evening of the 14th to the 21st in the month of Nisan, which corresponds with the end of March and the beginning of April. On the 10th day of Nisan, the heads of families had to select a one-year-old lamb, free of any defects. Then on the 14th day, it was prepared according to established practice, sacrificed in the courtyard of the sanctuary and baked. During the Passover celebrations, in memory of the original smearing of doorjambs and crossbeams with blood, the sacrificial table was sprinkled with the blood of the slaughtered lamb. That’s why the lamb was sacrificed near the tabernacle, and then within the temple. The baked lamb was eaten in its entirety — bones and all — with unleavened bread and bitter greens. The eating commenced precisely at sunset, on the 14th of Nisan. Before anything else, everybody approached a chalice filled with watered-down wine: after praising God, the head of the family drank from it, followed in turn by everybody that was present. This was called the first cup. Everybody then washed their hands and thanked God. They then commenced to slowly partake of the Pascal lamb, together with unleavened bread, bitter greens and thick sauce, made of dates, figs, grapes and vinegar. At the same time they pronounced words of praise, after which the serving plates were taken away and another chalice of watered-down wine brought in. The serving plates were removed so as to arouse interest among the children, prompting them to ask questions that would receive a detailed narrative on the feast day (Exod. 12:26-27).
The head of the family would relate the history of the Jews’ bondage in Egypt, their liberation and the establishment of this feast day — Passover — to commemorate this event. When the serving dishes were again brought in, he would pronounce: “This — Pascha, is eaten in memory of the Lord sparing our homes in Egypt”; raising the bread and the bitter greens, he explains that the first item reminds them of the haste of their flight from Egypt, while the second — the bitterness of their Egyptian bondage. Following this, they sang the first part of the so-called Hallelujah, namely Psalms 110-114, uttered short prayers and once again drank wine from the chalice, which was called the second chalice. They again washed their hands and ate lamb, bitter greens and bread. The lamb had to be totally consumed before the next day. They then again washed their hands and drank from the third chalice — called the chalice of benediction, because in drinking from it, the head of the family uttered a special prayer of praise to God for His exceptional grace. In conclusion, a fourth chalice was drunk called “galel,” because following this, the second part of Hallelujah (Psalms 115-118) were sung. The common belief among the liturgists is that this paschal supper laid the foundation for our Christian Eucharist — the Communion.
The words: “after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified,” shows the Divine prevision of the Lord. He knew the day of His death, despite His enemies stating: “not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
Later, all three synoptics relate about the meeting of the high priests and Jewish elders on the demise of Jesus. Fearing not to agitate the people who might intervene for the Lord, they decided to take Him with cunning and quietly away from the people, avoiding the feast day. Possessed by a raging hatred and finding a betrayer, they decided not to wait for the end of the feast period. Saint Matthew narrates that this meeting took place in the house of the high priest Caiaphas, namely in his courtyard. The courtyards in the East, were found inside the building and often served as meeting places. The first name of Caiaphas was Joseph, while Caiaphas was his surname of family name. He was the son-in-law of the former high priest Anna or Annanas, who was replaced by the order of the Roman pro-consul.
Further, the first two Evangelists, Saints Matthew and Mark, narrate on the anointment of the Lord by a certain woman in the house of Simon the leper. Church tradition differentiates this anointment to that performed by Mary, sister of the resurrected Lazarus, which occurred 6 days before Passover and before the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. Simon was called the leper, because apparently the Lord had healed him of leprosy. According to Church tradition (imprinted in a very moving way in a church service following Great Wednesday), the woman that approached the Lord with the intention of anointing Him with expensive oil, was a penitent sinner. She brought the myrrh in an alabaster container. The myrrh was an aromatic liquid, made of oil and scented additives — usually, the oil was the finest olive oil, combined with fragrant resins like nard or Commiphora gum and various flowers. Alabastar is a type of marble, outstanding for its lightness, transparency and beauty. Vases, urns, perfuming-pans and containers for holding aromatic items were made from this marble. In the East, the anointing with oil was applied not only in a higher sense, like with kings and high priests, but with ordinary people of wealth and renown that indulged in this for the sheer enjoyment. The myrrh was applied to the head, forehead, face, beard, clothing (Psalm 23:5; 133:2; Eccl. 9:8 and others), and as a mark of exceptional respect — to the feet.
“But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted?” — not knowing the thoughts and profound feelings of reverence in the woman-sinner, and being aware of the Lord’s intolerance of extravagance, placing charity and benefaction above all else, the disciples condemned her. However, in this instance they were incorrect. The Lord justified her actions as coming from a warm faith and heart-felt contrition. “For you have the poor with you always” and you can always show benevolence toward them: “But Me you do not have always” — this was the presage of the nearness of His death. Apart from this, the Lord gives a special symbolic meaning to His action: “She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” — as this was an ancient practice to anoint the bodies of the dead with aromatics. As a reward for her action, the Lord foretells her perpetual memory among Christians of her deed. And we are seeing this — its narration is not only recorded in the Gospel, but also included in our Church Service: following Great Wednesday, our Church extols this woman’s action, drawing a contrasting parallel between that and Judas’ betrayal, which occurred later on the same day.
“Then one of the twelve, called Judas Escariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” — “And they” — these words express not only the consequential events, but also the inner, logical association. Judas expected earthly gifts, worldly riches and dominion: his avarice was losing patience in seeing the Teacher’s total non-covetousness. According to Evangelist John (John 12:6), he began to reward himself from the treasury box, covertly appropriating sums of money that flowed into the box through donations. The incident in the house of Simon the leper, finally made him understand that it was futile to expect riches from the Teacher of poverty and self-abasement. The annoyance with the Lord for — as he thought — His betrayal of his expectations and a desire to utilize any situation for personal gain, made him a betrayer.
Forearmed with the knowledge of the Sanhedrin’s decision to seize the Lord, he approached the high priests in order to offer his services for money — to betray the Lord in an isolated place, away from any people. “What are you willing to give me?” — these words indicate his annoyance and rancor toward his Teacher, whom he decided to betray without haggling about money. That’s why they nominated a paltry sum — the price of a white slave — “thirty pieces of silver,” i.e. 30 silver coins, so-called “blessed shekels,” the approximate value of each being 80 cents, making a grand total of 24 silver dollars. Apparently, this sum was offered so as to show their contempt for the Lord Jesus Christ, taking into account the stinginess and greed of the betrayer that would not start bargaining. And indeed, Judas was very accommodating, not demanding more, and “from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.” The opportunity being when the Lord was alone, without the presence of many people that usually surrounded Him. The nominated sum fulfilled Zachariah’s prophecy (11:12-13) on the 30 silver pieces, that an ungrateful people evaluated for the fatherly care shown to them by Jehovah.