Christ Crucified

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Writing to the Corinthians, St. Paul makes one his most famous statements: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor. 2:2). It is among the clearest definitions of the apostolic preaching to be found anywhere in the New Testament, or perhaps I should say, “everywhere in the New Testament.” For this is not a statement of the peculiar doctrine of St. Paul, but a plain statement of the Apostolic preaching in every place. Paul has his own peculiar matters, but not in such fundamental things as the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. We may contrast St. Paul’s writings with writings that fall outside the pale of the Christian Church, but not with those of his brothers within the Apostolic ministry. “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” is the very heart of the Christian faith, a plain statement of the Apostolic Hyposthesis (in the phrase of St. Irenaeus), that is the summary of the faith received by the Apostles and traditioned by word and letter to all whom they Baptized and established in the Church. In the language of later centuries, this is simply Orthodox Christianity.

Christ crucified is more than a recitation of historical events, though it includes those events. It is the proclamation that in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we see the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament, indeed, the fulfillment of all things. It is for this purpose everything was created and has its being. Christ crucified and resurrected is the meaning of the universe.

The writer (traditionally believed to be St. John) of the Revelation would say the same thing in a very short but pregnant phrase: “…the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). This crucified Christ was already the purpose of the world before ever the world was created.

Again, St. Paul: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Col. 1:16).

And the one for whom all these things were created is, indeed, the crucified Christ. Inasmuch as they were created for Him, none of them will find their fulfillment and purpose apart from Him.

It is certainly the case that the Apostolic Preaching believed and taught the historical character of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Christ’s crucifixion was not disputed by anyone. In defense of Christ’s resurrection, St. Paul cites a short part of Apostolic Tradition and then expands it (the Tradition I have put in italics):

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast — unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed (1Cor. 15:3-11).

Key words in this passage are the words translated “delivered” and “received.” These are technical terms, used elsewhere in the life of the Church and are references to the Tradition. In the Greek, St. Paul says, “I traditioned to you…what I also received [by tradition]. The content of that Tradition is that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and was buried, and raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…and that he appeared [to the disciples.]” That these things happened in accordance with the scriptures, does not mean that “according to the scriptures these things happened,” but rather that their occurence was and is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. This man who was crucified and raised again is the very key to understanding the whole of the Old Testament. Indeed, the Gospel of Christ is itself the entire meaning of the Old Testament.

The Gospels cannot be rightly understood in any other manner. Not only do they frequently tell us, “This happened in fulfillment of that which was spoken of in the prophets…” then quoting and Old Testament passage, but the very shape of the stories, and occasionally their very arrangement (I think especially of the Gospel of John) give us an interpretation of the Old Testament. And in so doing they do not mean only to make reference to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but to make the claim as well that this Crucified and Risen Christ is the fulfillment of all things, the meaning of the world.

For us as Christians in the modern world, this claim cannot be relegated to the minutiae of religious teaching, but is and should be the proclamation of our own life – the meaning of all we do. For St. Paul, the crucifixion of Christ is also the revelation of the very mind of God – not simply a revelation of His thoughts on a certain event – but a revelation of Who He Is. Thus in Philippians St. Paul will say: 

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The whole of Christ’s ethical teachings and commandments is summed up in this small passage. We love our enemies and forgive them, we seek first the Kingdom, etc., because, like Christ, we have a mind that empties itself and takes on the form of a servant. This is obedience to the Crucified and Risen Lord, it is the very heart of the Christian faith.

Again, to reduce the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ into religious data, which having been accepted as data, somehow constitute our ticket to heaven and salvation, is a caricature of the Gospel. These events are not merely data to be assimilated into the facts of faith, but are the very center and meaning of all things, the purpose of the universe. To believe that Christ was crucified and risen from the dead and not to empty ourselves and take on the form of a servant is not to be a Christian at all.

The substitution of other relgious forms for this essential activity is a distortion of the gospel and brings reproach on the faith. This is not only the testimony of the Apostles, but is the consistent message throughout the Fathers and Spirit-bearing elders throughout the ages in the Church. The liturgical life of the Orthodox faith exists to give praise and glory to God, but also to teach us how to empty ourselves and take on the form of a servant. Thus we have the Sunday of Forgiveness; thus we proclaim ourselves to be the the first among sinners; thus we bow before the icons of Christ and the saints; thus we kiss the cross of our Savior. But to do such outward things and not at the same time be conformed inwardly to the form of a servant is to make the gospel of no effect. As St. Basil warns us, we should not abstain from meat (in fasting) only to devour our brother.

“God is with us!” we proclaim in Matins. But His manifestation will only be full and complete when we live and act in the mind of Christ the Crucified – who emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. Others will believe in Christ when they see his crucifixion displayed in the lives of his followers. Until they see his crucifixion displayed in His followers, they have not yet heard the Gospel.

20 Responses to “Christ Crucified”

  1. Fr. Philip Rogers Says:

    “Until they see his crucifixion displayed in His followers, they have not heard the Gospel.” I really greatly appreciate this statement as really the foundation for what the preaching of the Gospel entails. It is not enough for a person, or even a church body to say that they believe in the words of the Nicene Creed without acting them out. It is in the actual application of those words to the world here and now that is important. In fact, I believe Athanasius in his work On the Incarnation proved the incarnation on the basis of the believers, those who were themselves willing to be crucified with Christ. The fullness of the revelation of God was given unto us in His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and really the ball is in our court to make that real for the world here and now. What an inspiring post and especially a finish, Fr. Stephen. We cannot only mouth the words, but be willing to actually put into practice what those words actually mean. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

  2. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    Father, this is a hard saying, yet true.

  3. wayman29 Says:

    interesting ideas presented. I love reading essays on religion. Hope to see more.

  4. bloggomio Says:

    I’m glad I found your blog, Father Stephen; what a blessing to read your thought-provoking words and to help me understand “like Christ, we have a mind that empties itself and takes on the form of a servant” in a new and more meaningful way. And,

    “Christ crucified and resurrected is the meaning of the universe.”

    Thank you for making me still my hands at the keyboard and meditate on your powerful post.

  5. Don Bradley Says:

    I wrestle with a particular idea frequently; the line between being the servant of others and their doormat. The line between the two can get a little blurry sometimes. I am sure some people do it to me, just as I am sure I cross the line with others. How much pain should we endure as another’s servant before considering it unprofitable? How do we allow another to serve us without reverting to using them?

    When I consider God served me to the point of being crucified it becomes more than I can compute; especially due to the fact that I knowingly sin. I suppose when I sin I am treating God like a doormat. Is there a point even God won’t allow Himself to be used as our doormat?

    Nevertheless I still struggle with my fellow human beings on whether I am being treated like a doormat, or whether I am doing it to them. Or whether I am doing it to God. How far does servanthood go without morphing into something else?

  6. Michael Bauman Says:

    Don, perhaps servanthood ends when our ability to say “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” ends.

  7. Discipulus Says:

    “…this Crucified and Risen Christ is the fulfillment of all things, the meaning of the world.”

    This is startling. It’s outrageous. It’s so, so, …I don’t know what. But, it’s absolutely true.

    I just wish I could live like it.

    This post is a blessing.

  8. Fatherstephen Says:

    Don,

    It’s a very legitimate question that does not have a clearly drawn line. To some degree the line is drawn by what we are willing to endure. But there is also no sin in having certain boundaries in our lives (just the opposite can be true). If there were a Christian rule to apply it would be “whatever you do it as unto the Lord.” So if you suffer or if you draw the line, do it as unto the Lord, that is with charity and kindness. If we cannot endure with charity and kindness it might be an indication that we should be drawing a line. Good question, though.

  9. Michael Bauman Says:

    Father, good point. I would only add that we should always be striving to push the line out a little further, to increae our ability to respond with charity, kindness, and forgiveness.

  10. Christ Crucified « Glory to God for All Things « Love Acceptance Forgiveness Says:

    […] Christ Crucified to share in the entire blessing. […]

  11. ddickens Says:

    Don Bradley, can I suggest something that has helped me immensely when dealing with being a doormat?

    I have promised to give all I can to others, until what they ask of me keeps me from my other obligations. This solves the dilemma for me. When others abuse my generosity I can excuse myself not for “myself” but for “other who need my service.”

    I have obligations to my church, my wife, my employer etc, and others must take from me what remains that can be given. (of course, all is given in the name of Christ).

  12. Christ Crucified « into the light Says:

    […] Aug 4th, 2007 by kevinburt A Beautiful post by Fr Stephen […]

  13. kevinburt Says:

    Father, I was reading today from a small book by Fr Schmemann on the Virgin Mary, and came across something that reminded me of your postings of late:

    “To begin with, the image of Christ we have in the Gospels does preclude the view of miracles as ‘proofs,’ as factual tools to force someone into belief. Indeed, if anything in Christ’s unique image is predominant, then it is His extreme humility and not at all any desire to ‘prove’ his Divinity by using miracles… He never once uses his miraculous birth as a ‘proof’ and never once in the Gospels even mentions it himself. And when he was hanging on the Cross…His accusers mocked Him precisely by requesting a miracle…’come down now from the cross’…. But He did not come down and they did not believe. Others, however, believed because of the fact that He did not come down from the Cross, for they could sense the full divinity, the boundless height of that humility, of that total forgiveness radiating from the Cross…’

  14. Jason Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    If appropriate, perhaps you could comment on how the idea of Christ crucified and laying down our lives for other people fits into the context of priestly/pastoral ministry. Thus, my question: how and when does the priest use their role as pastor and teacher to instruct Christians that such behavior exhibits the antithesis of the Gospel lifestyle, as opposed to simply absorbing the unfair and unnecessary abuse by keeping silent?

    –Jason

  15. fatherstephen Says:

    Jason, sorry for the editing, but too much information on a specific situation could easily be read as gossip (which you did not intend). I happen to know the parish, etc. I think we are always teaching and sometimes we’re successful. There are interesting histories in some parishes that make for unique situations, sometimes quite stressful for priests. Correcting those is a slow, patient work. Think of St. Paul and Corinth. The work has been going on since the beginning.

  16. Jason Says:

    My apologies for providing too much personal information on a public site. I should have known better, or at the very least, attempted to error on the side of too few details rather than too many details! Thank you for your patience and pastoral wisdom.

    The thought of parishes abusing their priests, rather than treating them with dignity and the respect they deserve, greatly saddens and upsets me. My evangelical background can easily rear its head in such situations and want to label such perpetrators as unregenerate people following dead, legalistic orthodoxy rather than Christ-fearing followers who love God and desire to treat others, especially their priest (“Obey your leaders and submit to them…” Heb 13:17) with the same love and grace that Christ has shown them.

    I of course realize that when I cast my self-righteous invective at such people that I am no better, since my sinful tendencies, while not manifesting itself in disrespect to the parish priest, manifests itself in other ways just as despicable.

    Pray for me a sinner.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    Jason,

    I grew up in the evangelical South where voting the preacher out was virtually a sport in rural Baptist Churches. Sin is anywhere you go. Orthodoxy is not free of sin – it only offers a correct diagnosis and medicine – but you have to accept the diagnosis and take the medicine. Living an unregenerate life is as old as the Church (see the book of Acts). St. Augustine of Hippo said, “There are some whom God has whom the Church has not, and some whom the Church has whom God has not.”

  18. Jason Says:

    Fr. Freeman,

    I entirely agree that no one group of Christians—especially evangelicals—is immune from treating their pastors disrespectfully and in an un-Christian manner. Recently a seminarian passed along some counsel/wisdom from one of his seminary professor which essentially said that people treated the Master in a bad way, thus they will also treat the pastor poorly (at times) too. In other words, the pastor shouldn’t expect to always be loved and popular by those people that he serves.

    Perhaps my focus is too much on the unjust treatment by those who live in an un-Christian way, when my focus should be instead on how the “Christ crucified” takes form and root in my life. The natural tendency is to want to fight back and defend the cause—even the good Christian cause of proper Christian living. It’s much easier to love and lay down our lives for those that appear nice and do good, especially when the good benefits us personally, but it’s much harder to love unconditionally and turn the other cheek when the perpetrator acts in a decisive un-Christian manner.

    Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

  19. Fatherstephen Says:

    There is a place for a pastor to speak and teach, but even if he is not heeded, he still hears confessions and forgives, and loves the soul and prays and longs for their salvation before God. That gets hard sometimes, but we’re not ordained to win. We are ordained to teach, to forgive, to hear confessions, love, pray, etc. Our enemies are never those of the flesh, but the spiritual warfare, and our parishioners are frequently victims, usually unwittingly. We must believe in God and that these things are rooted in our prayer life and in the sacraments, etc., rather than viewing these things as political power struggles, etc. That’s the enemies definition of the world. He thinks it’s the Caesars who rule, where in truth they would have no power at all were it not given them from above.

  20. Randi Says:

    Yes. That was quite a power packed message. A life changing one for sure. Thank you for your insights!

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