St. Maximus of Turin
Sermon on Pascha and the Good Thief
(Delivered on Pascha Sunday)
Most fittingly does the world rejoice, with great gladness, upon this day; for with Christ returning from the dead the hope of resurrection has everywhere been awakened in the hearts of men. For it is but right that when the Lord of creation triumphs, the creatures He has made should also rejoice. This day the heavens rejoice, for now at length they see the earth, defiled by sin, made clean in the Blood of the Lord. The multitudes of the hosts of heaven rejoice, for their king has overthrown in battle the hosts of the prince of evil. The sun rejoices, and now with unceasing thankfulness holds back by its joyful beams that woeful darkness that overshadowed it as Christ was dying. And together with them we too above all others must rejoice, for whom the Only-Begotten Son of God, Who also is True God, clothed Himself in our flesh, that through that flesh He might come to the Cross, by the Cross suffer death, and through death despoil the kingdom of hades. Should we not rejoice: we whose sins the Mystery of this new Mystery has taken away, to whom heaven is given, paradise restored?
And as He drew near His end, the Lord Himself says to the Thief then hanging on his cross: he whose faith, neither Christ’s torment, nor his own, had weakened: Amen, I say to you, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise. For the Thief had said to Him: Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom (Lk. xxiii). How admirable this faith, Brethren: that a thief who had been judged unworthy of this life, should amid his torments nourish the hope of life eternal, and believe, that this could be given to him by One Who also was being crucified? And how justly does the believing Thief receive the favour of such a promise: he who, in that hour when the Apostles scattered in fear, had confessed the Kingdom of God? And the merit of this one confession wipes away all his past sins; in that brief moment whatever crimes he had committed, throughout all the years of his life, were now forgiven. Nor did the blood he shed in his robberies condemn him before God for he believed that the Blood of Christ was shed for a Kingdom, not for a punishment. And that this death was a gain for all men, there can, Beloved Brethren, be no possible doubt. For who can despair of God’s grace, when the Thief was forgiven; should he unite the faith of the Thief with his own humble prayer for pardon?
We have yet another shining example of the Lord’s most loving kindness, and because of it, let us, putting away all fear, and all deadly despair, place our trust in the unspeakable generosity of Our Redeemer. For when, condemned by the Godless, Christ hung upon the Cross, and the Jews in their evil rage mocked at Him they had crucified, in the midst of His agony, this kind Petitioner prayed to His Almighty Father for His executioners, and said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk. 23:34). And though in His hands was the judgement of both the living and the dead, He implored pardon for those who were then perishing in sin; and this, I believe, that He might show us beyond any manner of doubt, that He forgave them their awful crime, and that His Father would also spare them, if they, putting away their unbelief, would come together in Christ’s Name. For who can doubt the effect of that prayer, where He Who is Goodness asks help for those in misery? They know not, He says, what they do. The Jews knew well that they were shedding the blood of an innocent Man; but they did not know that the guilt of all men was being washed away in that Blood. They knew they were punishing Christ by this most bitter torment of the Cross; but they did not know that it was through this Cross the Son of God would triumph. They knew He would die; but they did not know He would rise again. So, well might the Lord declare: They know not what they do.
For they knew not, the Jews, of what immense goodness their very wickedness was the instrument. But the Lord, in the knowledge of His own majesty, has compassion on their human errors, and knowing how great the joy that would follow these torments, while He yet endured them, forgives the crime of those who were crucifying Him: willing that His death would give life to His slayers, and be the condemnation of those who willed to perish. Returning from hades, He seeks His Apostles, so that He might show them that within Him there was both the power of divinity and the reality of our flesh*. Because of this, Brethren, let us rejoice in Christ, now risen from the dead. Let us hold firmly, that He has recalled this flesh* from the sepulchre that we may merit to have part in that wondrous common heritage: namely, the grace of the Apostles and the Resurrection of the Lord, by the help of this Same Lord Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns unto the ages of ages. Amen.
*The emphasis given here and elsewhere by St. Maximus to the fact that it was our flesh, worn by Christ, that was resurrected to immortality and that the Lord’s flesh was the same as our flesh, but now clothed with immortality, probably reflects his earlier controversies with the Origenist heretics of Palestine; the latter believed that the body of the Resurrection would not be real human flesh, but a sort of spirit-body, immaterial in essence, not even necessarily having all the recognizable parts of the former human body, which latter body they believed souls were imprisoned into in a primeval fall from contemplation. This heresy and its propagators were condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council.
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