A homily on Good Friday by Metropolitan Nicholas of the Carpatho-Russian Church of Blessed Memory from last year:
Do you not think it amazing how that whenever the Lord Jesus Christ comes into contact with a person, He touches his HEART and SOUL AND TRANSFORMS HIS LIFE? This mystery happened so many times during His earthly ministry of three years. And even at this time as He prepared to be crucified, this marvelous work of transforming lives did not stop; His mission continued to the very end. Just because He was about to die a most gruesome death, there was no reason to stop touching the lives of the people with whom He came into contact – to heal them, to comfort them, to strengthen them, to change their outlook and perspective forever! He affected Pontius Pilate and made him question the motives of the Hebrew people who delivered up our Lord; even more He had an influence on Pilate’s wife (Procla, by tradition) who cautioned her husband not to condemn this innocent Man, the God-man. (She became a Christian soon after the Resurrection of Christ and is now ranked among the saints of our Church.) He forgave the sins and saved the soul of a thief who was crucified next to Him after he witnessed the awesome events that were transpiring on that first Good Friday. John, the Beloved Disciple, was commissioned to care for our Lord’s Mother, the Theotokos; the Apostle Peter wept bitterly after denying Jesus; a centurion came to believe that He was truly the Son of God, as he witnessed His salvific death.
People come to the Lord in different ways and for different reasons. Some approach honestly, freely, and willingly, seeking the truth. Others have seemingly chance or accidental encounters, and almost quietly and unobtrusively come to know him. Some are simply born into believing families. Still others resist stubbornly and hard-heartedly. And it appears that faith in Christ is thrust upon them. But how can that be? It is true faith and love if someone is forced into it? But if you think carefully about how even we love in our limited capacity, we realize to what lengths we may go to help a loved one who has strayed so far down the wrong paths in life and is in serious trouble. When we care so much and love so much. we do what we must do to help and save those we love. The Lord Himself often works like that. He loves and cares so much; He does not want any soul to be lost; He wants to save each one of us, so much so that He will go to extraordinary lengths to do so. He often needs to save us from ourselves. Sometimes we do need to be forced to what is truly good for us. That is why He sends us bishops and priests, monks and nuns, parents and grandparents and other pious fellow Christians to assist us; to awaken the slothful and the blind in soul. Perhaps this was the situation of the man named Simon of Cyrene, who was pressed into service for the Lord. According to tradition, Simon was a a devout Jew and a farmer in the town of Cyrene, in Egypt, in the Jewish settlement there. He had two sons, Alexander and Rufus. For whatever reason, one day he gathered his family and set off for the great city of his people. He traveled there, found and bought a house, as well as a field near the city. He and his sons worked their field and he provided for his family as we all do. There was nothing extraordinary about him or them. They were like so many other families of that time and place, settling and farming the land.
But one day that was to be changed. Was it chance, or was it really God’s will that on that eve of Passover he had gone to work in the field, and that early on the next morning, he happened to encounter that dreadful, somber procession, crowds of idle onlookers, and impassive, unfeeling soldiers who were leading criminals to their execution? Each of the three condemned men had been forced to carry a heavy wooden beam, in chains, and were proceeding to the old stone quarry outside the city, where they were to be executed, by crucifixion, nailed to those crossbeams and then left to die of thirst, loss of blood, and asphyxiation.
As Simon was about to pass by the dreadful and gloomy procession, he noticed that one of the men no longer had the strength to carry His heavy burden. No matter how hard the soldiers struck Him with the swords or whips, He could not take another step. Then one of the soldiers went up to Simon, seized him roughly by the arm and said, “You carry it!” It was useless to resist and instead of returning home, Simon lifted the heavy beam onto his shoulders and walked beside the men condemned to death. While he was walking in this dreary march, it certainly did not occur to him that , from that moment on, he had become a bearer of the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that by carrying it he would stand together with Him on Golgotha and share His burden. He did not know how much it would change his life.
Not much is known about what happened afterwards, because Simon’s name is never again mentioned in Holy Scripture. However, we do know that his sons, Alexander and Rufus, were Christians and were later well-known in the early Church. I think we can safely assume that their father was the first to convert and bring them along with him.
Most assuredly, his life was transformed that day. After that terrible moment when he took the Lord’s Cross upon himself, he came to know the truth, and he came to know his Saviour. He experienced walking along side His God, humiliated, blood-stained, bruised, crowned with thorns, in the lowest state of human degradation. At first he must have been appalled at the sight and even recoiled from it. But then he came to realize that this was our Lord and Saviour, and that He had taken upon Himself all of the sins and sufferings of the human race. Even though He was sinless, He still permitted Himself to suffer for our sins.
Simon of Cyrene was the first one to follow the Lord’s own command, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross.” This means “Share with Me My sufferings for the world; share with Me My longing – as the heart of God – to suffer together with the world, to die for the world, and to revive the world.” Once again the Lord shows the way and sets the example. And already soon after, a creature obeys Him and also sets the example for us. Each of us is called to carry his burden, his work, and his sorrow, not just patiently bearing it, but also sharing it with the Lord. That is why it is our pious tradition, each of us, clergy and laity alike, to wear the Cross on our bodies, beneath our clothing and perhaps as I and the priests of the Church wear it outwardly. It reminds us to serve our God and Lord and Saviour by serving the world and all mankind!
The one- time terrible sign of the Cross is now become a sign of joy and victory; an instrument of tortuous execution has been turned into the instrument of our salvation. That is why we now adorn it with silver and gold and precious jewels, and show it such honor. And by it, our lives are transformed as was Simon of Cyrene’s. As Christ bore His Cross for us, we patiently bear our smaller crosses, and thus share in a small way in His suffering. On this night we HAVE SUFFERED WITH HIM, shortly, we will REJOICE WITH HIM, and in the future we will LIVE AND REIGN WITH HIM FOREVER.