On Christ’s Cup

Mat. 20:22 Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

St. Philaret of Moscow 1782-1867

Perhaps the mortal sorrow of Jesus is considered by some of us to be unworthy of the Passionless One. Let them know that this sorrow is not the action of human lack of patience, but of Divine justice. Could the Lamb, ‘slain from foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13.8) run away from His altar? He ‘Whom the Father sanctified’ and ‘sent into the world’ (John 10.36)? He Who from the ages took upon Himself the service of reconciling men with God, could He waver in the work of this service with the single thought of suffering? If He could have lack of patience, then it could only impatience to accomplish our salvation and bring us blessedness. ‘I have a baptism to be baptised with,’ He says, ‘and how am I straightened until it be accomplished!’ (Luke 12.50). And so, if He sorrows, He sorrows not with His own, but with our sorrow; if we see Him ‘stricken, smitten of God and afflicted’, then ‘He bears our sins, and is in pain for our sakes’ (Isaiah 53.4); the cup which His Father gives Him is the cup of all our iniquities, and all the punishments prepared for us, which would have drowned the whole world if He alone had not accepted it, held it and consumed it. It was mixed, in the first place, with the disobedience of Adam, then with the corruption of ‘the first world’ (Genesis 6.12 and II Peter 2.5), with the pride and impiety of Babylon, with the cruelty and impenitence of Egypt, with the treacheries of Jerusalem, ‘which killed the prophets and stoned those sent to it’ (Matthew 23.37), with the malice of the synagogue, with the superstitions of the pagans, with the unruliness of the wise men and, finally (insofar as the Redeemer also took upon Himself the future sins of the world), the scandals in Christianity itself: the divisions in the one flock of the One Shepherd, the bold musings of the false teachers, the weakening of faith and love in the Kingdom of faith and love, the regeneration of atheism in the depths of piety itself. Let us add to that everything that we find in ourselves and around us that is worthy of revulsion and the wrath of God, and also everything that we try to hide from our conscience under the cunning name of ‘weaknesses’ – the light-mindedness and lawless delights of youth, the incorrigibility of old age, the forgetting of Providence in happiness, the murmurs [against It] in misfortunes, vainglory in doing good, avarice in the love of labour, slowness in correction, multiple falls after arising, the carelessness and idleness that are proper to the dominion of luxury, the self-will of the age, arrogant with the dream of enlightenment: all these floods of iniquity were poured together from Jesus into the one cup of sorrow and suffering; the whole of hell strove against this heavenly soul; and is it surprising that he was sorrowful even unto death? (Sermon on Great Friday, 1813”, in The Works of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow and Kolomna, Moscow, 1994, pp. 100-101.)

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

He ‘began to be in sorrow and was deeply horrified’ (Matthew 26.37). O our sins, our sins! You have led the Saviour of the world Himself – in His human nature – to righteous horror and the sorrow of death! How you have weighed down on Him, Who was not guilty of a single sin! And there was something to be horrified about; and there was something to be sorrowful unto death about! The awesome, exact righteousness of the heavenly Father placed upon the Son the sins of the whole world – the sins of people of all ages and peoples – including my sins and your sins, people of the past, the present and the future, until the end of the world! O how terrible was this burden, insupportable for any mortal, insupportable even for all the Angels, if they had wanted to take this burden upon themselves! For this burden was infinitely heavy, like the boundless righteousness [Pravda] of God, boundlessly mocked, and like the boundless mercy of God, which decided to have mercy on the sinful race of men through a terrible, infinitely dear ransom “Do not be surprised, therefore, that the God-man should be horrified at the infinitely great burden, as a man who had taken upon Himself our infirmities and borne our illnesses. On Him there weighed the measureless seas of the sins of men, all their righteous recompense, all the torment that befitted it in accordance with the righteousness [pravda] of God, torment that is temporary and eternal; for all those who believe in Him and sincerely repent shall receive, for the sake of His sufferings and death, freedom from temporary and eternal torments… (Sermon on Great Friday, April 4, 1906)