St. John the Baptist Parish, A Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, Canberra, Australia

Great (Good) Friday

The calendar that priests use to help conduct church services includes an explicit direction to give a sermon on just one day in the entire year. That occasion is at the vespers of Great Friday when the shroud (the icon of Christ’s burial) has been brought from the altar and placed in the middle of the church for veneration by the faithful. For probably all priests, their Great Friday sermon is the one that requires most preparation and thought. This year, I had already decided what the theme for mine would be nearly three months ago. I knew what I would say, but what I did not know was that this year there would be no sermon delivered on this day in our church. If ever there was for me a vivid illustration of how much we take for granted, then the sudden impact on our lives of coronavirus has provided that illustration.

How fragile is our existence. For all the technology and scientific advances of our present age, sooner or later we must come face to face with the reality that our lives are like the grass in the field. The grass grows, then it is burned and soon there is no evidence that it was even there. And yet most of the time we live each day as though everything we have now will be there tomorrow. Sadly, in most cases it takes a personal tragedy or, as in our present situation, the fear of a collective one, for us to take stock of and to reflect on the direction of our life’s journey.

The virus that is sweeping across the globe is causing many to meditate on the unpredictability and brevity of our earthly lives. For some, sadly, this becomes the gateway to despondency. We however, who stand today, if not in person then in spirit at least, before the shroud icon of Our Lord, see things differently. We do not escape the sorrow that disease and death brings to all humanity. But we know that beyond this physical reality is another universal reality of life eternal where death is no more. We know that Christ shared in the human tragedy of death in order to destroy its hold over us. We know that His suffering was real and His physical death was real – because to defeat death Christ had to do so from within its domain.

And so It is that today we once again become witnesses to the sacrifice of our Lord for all humanity. This voluntary suffering of the Son of God is a great mystery that we cannot fully understand in our minds. It is nonetheless a mystery we believe in our hearts to be the ultimate act of transformation of our lives. Our unambiguous faith is that because Christ died bodily in His humanity, He has destroyed the power of death through His Divinity. Today God dies for His creation so that His creation can be freed from the bonds of death.

I think Bishop Kallistos Ware most eloquently captures the eternal significance of today in the following words:

The Crucifixion is itself a victory; but on Great Friday the victory is hidden, whereas on Easter morning it is made manifest. Christ rises from the dead, and by his rising he delivers us from anxiety and terror: the victory of the Cross is confirmed, love is openly shown to be stronger than hatred, and life to be stronger than death.

Let us remember daily that our lives are a gift, precious and fragile in this age - but ultimately inextinguishable in the next. In the surety of this knowledge let us give thanks for the Lord’s compassion towards His creation. Amen

Father Alexander