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|Archbishop Averky (Tauchev)|
Explanation of the four Gospels
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(Mat. 27:45-56; Mark 15:33-41; Luke 23:44-49; John 19:28-37).
According to the witness of the first three Evangelists, the Lord’s death on the cross was preceded by a darkness that covered the land: “Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” i.e. in our time — from noon till 3 pm. Saint Luke adds that “the sun was darkened.” This could not have been a normal eclipse, because the Jewish Passover on the 14th of Nisan, always has a full moon, whereas an eclipse occurs only with the new moon — not a full moon. This was a miraculous sign, which witnessed the astonishing and extraordinary event — the death of God’s beloved Son. The Roman astronomer Flagonus witnessed this darkness, during which time even the stars were visible. The Greek historian Phallus also gives witness to this extraordinary darkening of the sun. Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (when he was still a heathen) mentions this in his letters to Apollophanus. However, it’s marvelous how both Saint Chrysostom and Blessed Theophylactus emphasize that this “darkness was over all the earth,” and not in some part only — as is the case with an ordinary eclipse. Evidently, this darkness followed after the sneering and mockery at the crucified Christ; and it stopped this sneering, causing the feelings as narrated by Saint Luke: “And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts” (Luke 23:48).
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Saint Mark relays these words as “Eloi” instead of “Ili.” Of course this lamentation was not that of despondency, but only an expression of the profound grief of the God-Man. In order for the redeeming sacrifice to be accomplished, it was essential that the God-Man drink the chalice of human suffering to its bottom. This demanded that the crucified Jesus not feel His joyous unity with God the Father. God’s entire wrath, in the power of His truth, which should have decanted on the sinful humanity, now seemingly concentrated itself on Christ alone, and it was as if God had left Him. Amid the most heaviest physical and spiritual sufferings that can be imagined, this separation was the most agonizing, causing this anguished cry from the lips of Jesus.
In Hebrew, “Eloi” was pronounced as “Eliagoo.” That’s why the Lord’s lamentation served as a new cause for mocking Him: “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” The sarcasm of this derision was based on the fact that before the Messiah’s coming, the Jews were expecting the arrival of Elijah. In laughing at the Lord, they were seemingly saying: even now, crucified and abused, He still imagines that that He is the Messiah and is calling Elijah to help Him. The first two Evangelists narrate that one of the soldiers immediately ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar and having placed it on the end of a reed, gave Him to drink. Evidently, this was sour wine, which was ordinarily issued to Roman soldiers to drink, especially in hot weather. The sponge that was filled with the liquid, was placed on a reed, i.e. the stem of a plant (called a “hyssop” by Saint John), because those hanging on the cross were quite high above the ground, making it simply impossible to come up and give them drink. The crucifixion caused an extraordinarily strong and painful thirst in the crucified individuals, and Saint John narrates that apparently the Lord just before that exclaimed: “I thirst!” (19:28-30), adding to this : “That the Scripture might be fulfilled.” In depicting the sufferings of the Messiah, the Psalmist in the 69th Psalm, verse 21, truly foretells this: “And in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” According to Saint John, having received the sour wine, the Lord exclaimed: “It is finished!” i.e.: the Mutually Divine and predetermined deed is accomplished — the redemption of the human race and its reconciliation with God, had been accomplished through the death of the Messiah (John 19:30).
According to Saint Luke, this was followed by the Lord crying out: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46), “and bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). All first three Evangelists narrate, that at that moment of Christ’s death, “the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” i.e. the curtain that separated the Sanctuary from the Holiest of Holy, tore in half by itself. As it was that time for the offering of the evening sacrifice — nearly 3 o’clock in the afternoon (by our time) — there apparently was a rostered priest, who witnessed this miraculous tearing of the curtain.
This symbolized the discontinuance of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, which opened the Kingdom of Heaven to humans that was previously closed to them. “The earth quaked” — as a sign of God’s wrath at those who put to death His Beloved Son, a strong earthquake occurred. From this earthquake “rocks were split” i.e. rocky hills split, revealing caves used for burials. As a sign of the Lord’s triumph over death — “many bodies of the Saints who had fallen asleep were raised” — on the third day when the Lord resurrected, these bodies that came to life in those caves, appeared in Jerusalem to people that knew them.
All three Evangelists narrate that these miraculous signs, which accompanied the Lord’s death, had such a profound and jolting effect on the Roman centurion, that (according to the first two Evangelists) he pronounced: “Truly this was the Son of God!” while Saint Luke writes: “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” Tradition has it that this centurion, whose name was Longinus, became a Christian and was later martyred for Christ (his memory is 6 Oct.).
According to Saint Luke, all the people that gathered at Golgotha, were also shaken: “beat their breasts and returned” — these sharp changes in moods from one to another are quite natural in an agitated crowd. All three Evangelists point out that the witnesses to the Lord’s death and events surrounding it were “many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar,” and among them, as enumerated by Saints Matthew and Mark, by name: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and the mother of the Zebedee sons, and Salome.
Only Saint John narrates on events following the death of Jesus, and as usual, complements the first three Evangelists, and as he confirms in his narrative, he was a witness to all of them. Because it was Friday — in Greek “paraskevi” meaning “preparation,” i.e. “day before Saturday,” and that Saturday was “a great day” as it coincided with the first day of Passover, so as not to leave the crucified bodies on the crosses on such a “great day,” the Jews (enemies of Christ or members of the Sanhedrin) asked Pilate “that their legs may be broken.” Having killed them this way, “they might be taken away” i.e. taken down and buried before the onset of night, when it would be time to partake of Passover. In order to quicken their demise, the cruel Roman custom had the legs of the crucified broken i.e. shattered. Having received Pilate’s permission, the soldiers broke the legs of the two robbers crucified with Christ, who were still alive. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with his spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:33-34; 1 John 5:8).
Criticism rejecting this, have occupied a great deal of time with the question as to whether it’s possible for blood and water to flow from Christ’s wound, arguing that this was impossible as blood cannot flow from a cold dead body. This is because blood remains in a fluid state for a very short time, at most one hour, and separation of fluid from blood occurs only with the onset of decomposition, and with certain illnesses like typhoid, ague etc. All these arguments are without substance. After all, we don’t know the full details of the Lord’s crucifixion and death, and therefore cannot make a determination about these details. However, it is a well-known fact that crucified individuals suffer feverish conditions. The very piercing of the rib undoubtedly occurred very soon after death — and in any case, certainly no later than one hour — as night was approaching and the Jews were hurrying to complete their foul deed. Apart from that, there is no need to examine the flow of blood and water as a natural manifestation. Saint John himself underlines this by annotating it as miraculous in his Gospel (“And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true” — 19:35). The Purest Body of God-Man could not be subject to the ordinary laws of decomposition of the human body. Probably, from the moment of death, It began to enter into a transforming state, which ended in Its resurrection in a new, glorified and spiritualized appearance.
The holy Fathers explain that in a symbolic sense, this is a sign of the mysterious unification of the faithful with Christ in the mysteries of baptism and the Eucharist: “we are born through water, and nourished by blood and flesh” (Blessed Theophylactus and Saint Chrysostom). Standing at the cross and witnessing all this, Saint John testifies that what he says is true and that he is not being deceived, confirming this — “and his testimony is true” (John 19:35).
The flow of blood from Christ’s perforated side signifies that He became our Redeemer, having cleansed us with water in the Mystery of Baptism, and nourishing us with His Blood in the Mystery of Communion. That’s why in his first Epistle, the same Apostle John writes: “This is He who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in Heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one” (1 John 5:6-8).
“For these things were done,” i.e. not only the piercing of the side, but also that the Lord’s legs were not broken, “that the Scripture should be fulfilled.” This was foretold in the Book of Exodus 12:46: the Paschal lamb, transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ, had to be eaten without any bones being broken and what remained, had to be burned. There is another section of the Bible that prophesies: “they shall look unto me whom they have pierced” (Zach. 12:10). In this segment, Jehovah is depicted as the Messiah that had been pierced by His people, and having looked upon the wounded Messiah, the same people are presented as bringing penitence with weeping and sobbing before Him. These words are slowly being fulfilled with the Jews that condemned Christ to death — and will continue to be fulfilled to the end of the world, when there will be a universal conversion of Jews to Christ, as foretold by Saint Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans 11:25-26.