Hopko on the Cross of Christ

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An excerpt from Fr. Thomas Hopko’s commencement address at St. Vladimir’s. The whole is the address is exquisitely true and I would encourage you to read all of it. The link to the whole commencement address is given at the bottom of this post.

…I can tell you that being loved by God, and loving Him in return, is the greatest joy given to creatures, and that without it there is no real and lasting happiness for humanity.

And I can also tell you, alas, that such loving is always a violent, brutal and bloody affair.

The God who is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, who gives us his divine life and peace and joy forever, is first of all the Divine Lover who wounds His beloved, and then hides from her, hoping to be sought and found. He is the Father who chastens and disciplines His children. He is the Vinekeeper who cuts and prunes His vines so that they bear much fruit. He is the Jeweler who burns His gold in His divine fire so that it would be purged of all impurities. And He is the Potter who continually smashes and refashions and re-bakes His muddy clay so that it can be the earthen vessel that He wants it to be, capable of bearing His own transcendent grace and power and glory and peace.

…I learned that all of these terrible teachings of the Holy Scriptures and the saints are real and true. And so I became convinced that God’s Gospel in His Son Jesus is really and truly God’s final act on earth. It is the act in which God’s Word is now not simply inscribed in letters on pages of parchment, but is personally incarnate as a human being in his own human body and blood. And so I became convinced of the truth of all truths: that the ultimate revelation of God as Love and the ultimate revelation of humanity’s love for God, are to be found in the bloody corpse of a dead Jew, hanging on a cross between two criminals, outside the walls of Jerusalem, executed at the hands of Gentiles, by the instigation of his own people’s leaders, in the most painful, cursed, shameful and wretched death that a human being — and especially a Jew – can possibly die.

So to the measure that we are honest and faithful, and try to keep God’s commandments, and repent for our failures and sins, we come to know, and to know ever more clearly and deeply as time goes by, what we have learned here at St. Vladimir’s. We come to know by experience that the Word of God (ho logos tou theou) is always and necessarily the word of the Cross (ho logos tou stavrou). And — in language befitting a commencement ceremony at an Orthodox graduate school of theology — we come to see that true theologia is always stavrologia. And real orthodoxia is always paradoxia. And that there is no theosis without kenosis.

Theology is stavrology and Orthodoxy is paradoxy: the almighty God reveals Himself as an infinitely humble, totally self-emptying and absolutely ruthless and relentless lover of sinners. And men and women made in His image and likeness must be the same. Thus we come to see that as there is no resurrection without crucifixion, there is also no sanctification without suffering, no glorification without humiliation; no deification without degradation; and no life without death. We learn, in a word, the truth of the early Christian hymn recorded in Holy Scripture:

If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
if we endure with him, we shall also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself. (2Tim 2.11-13)

According to the Gospel, therefore, those who wish to be wise are constrained to be fools. Those who would be great become small. Those who would be first put themselves last. Those who rule, serve as slaves. Those who would be rich make themselves poor. Those who want to be strong become weak. And those who long to find and fulfill themselves as persons deny and empty themselves for the sake of the Gospel. And, finally, and most important of all, those who want really to live have really to die. They voluntarily die, in truth and in love, to everyone and everything that is not God and of God.

And so, once again, if we have learned anything at all in our theological education, spiritual formation and pastoral service, we have learned to beware, and to be wary, of all contentment, consolation and comfort before our co-crucifixion in love with Christ. We have learned that though we can know about God through formal theological education, we can only come to know God by taking up our daily crosses with patient endurance in love with Jesus. And we can only do this by faith and grace through the Holy Spirit’s abiding power.

A reminder you can read the rest here.

8 Responses to “Hopko on the Cross of Christ”

  1. mrh Says:

    Hopko talks about these themes at greater length in his lecture “The Word of the Cross”. I keep the CDs of that lecture in my car and listen to them regularly – they’re wonderful. They’re available from the St. Vladimir’s:

    http://www.svspress.com/product_info.php?manufacturers_id=10&products_id=2602&osCsid=eb99b39b853a1cfa2eb8de98575ecda8

  2. Fatherstephen Says:

    I agree. One of my favorite cd’s as well.

  3. bob Says:

    Wow. Fr. Thomas can be like getting a drink from a firehose. Great to read, must have been good in person.

  4. Steve Says:

    “The God who is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, who gives us his divine life and peace and joy forever, is first of all the Divine Lover who wounds His beloved, and then hides from her, hoping to be sought and found.”

    This is a hard saying. I’m glad Fr. Hopko agrees:

    “I learned that all of these terrible teachings of the Holy Scriptures and the saints are real and true.”

    Lord, have mercy! 🙂

  5. Death Bredon Says:

    Amen! Fr. Hopko is indeed a powerful preacher of the Gospel.

  6. David_Bryan Says:

    God bless Fr. Tom.

  7. John Hudson Says:

    Thank you for posting this. Father Hopko was one of the first voices I heard — literally, in two of his recorded lectures — when I set out as a Catholic to learn more about Orthodoxy. May God bring us ever closer in the fullness of the Gospel.

  8. Barnabas Powell Says:

    “The kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force.”

    Fr. Hopko reaffirms once again that doing theology is the most dangerous work in the universe. We humans are invited into the Fire of God Himself. And, in Christ, we are fitted to be purified by this Fire instead of consumed.

    I love hearing this man preach, but more than that, his preaching draws me to the terrible Gospel of Christ and the inevitable “death” in hopes of the resurrection it declares.

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