Friday, April 13, 2012

The Passion of the Christ

If you haven't seen The Passion of the Christ movie, I highly recommend it (if you have, watch it again)! The film was released in 2004, produced by Mel Gibson. As has been my personal tradition, I rewatch this film every year during Holy Week, usually following Holy Thursday service of the Reading of the 12 Passion Gospels or Holy Friday service of Lamentations (sometimes both evenings). I hope its not out of false piety, but after being in Church for services that focus on our Lord's voluntary Passion (the abuse He accepted prior to his execution and his humiliating Death upon the Cross), I try to maintain a solemn evening at home. Since I'm a visual kind of person, watching this film helps me out.

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Upon the film's release in 2004, I was in college at the University of Kentucky. The large Protestant ministries on campus rented out theatres, and sold tickets to their members and friends. I went to the showing with my college roommates and neighbors; we had about 14 in our group.

It was a strange occurrence to say the least. Usually you go to the movies, excited to see the show, grab some goodies at the concession stand, and enjoy the show with your friends. But in this instance, knowing the type of movie we were about to watch, it just had a strange feeling. We sat in the theatre, watching a film that showed on the big screen, our Lord (God who became Flesh to suffer for our sins and save us) being mocking, scourged, beaten, spit upon, tortured, humiliated by carrying his own Cross before being nailed and hung upon on high for all to see before giving up His Spirit. We saw in vivid detail what we read from the gospels giving account of our Lord's suffering.

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What happens after a movie ends? You get up out of your seat, talk with your friends about the film, and leave the theatre, right? Not so this time! After the screen went dark and the lights came on in the theatre, everyone (probably about 200 people) just sat in their seats. Everyone was filled with great emotion: faces filled with horror and amazement, eyes filled with tears, hugs to console those around them.

As for myself, I was not filled with tears, wasn't hugging to console anyone, I was simply ready to go to our cars and drive home. I stood up and looked around, trying to signal my friends, saying, "Well? Let's go!" I was quickly hurried back down into my seat, with many eyes looking at me (I'm assuming that the eyes were saying, "What's wrong with that dude?"

After about 20 minutes people finally started to funnel out of the theatre. It was like a funeral procession, somber and quiet, except for the crying and mourning. We walked to our cars in silence, piled in to our cars, and drove home.

When we got home is when the real drama began. The group of about 14 huddled in our house; I left the group to go to my room to study (if my mom is reading this). After about 30 minutes, one of my roommates came in my room in a hurried manner and told me to get my bible and join the discussion. Apparently, it was getting heated out there, a group of Protestant and Catholic college students discussing Church, Christ, and theology; they needed an Orthodox to settle the debate (or so I like to think).

Young adults discussing matters of Faith is important, yet sometimes awkward. My friends couldn't understand why they were so overcome with emotion having seen the images of our Lord's Passion on the big screen, yet I remained unmoved. I explained that it wasn't that I was unmoved, the visualization of such torture and cruel treatment of Christ is truly troubling, but we live in a "post-Paschal" world. The story of our Lord's suffering is not new to Orthodox Christians, just read from the Holy Gospels and/or attend the services of Holy Week, especially the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels.

I am constantly reminding myself: I am ONLY able to love because He (Christ) loved me FIRST! Our Lord tells us, "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friend" (John 15:13). We remember our Lord's suffering and submission to death in order to save us. It is truly a somber reminder, when we listen to the gospels and hymnology during the services of Holy Week.

Crucifixion of our Lord
Two hymns from the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels sung on Holy Thursday evening that always stir up great emotion within me are below:

"Every member of Thy holy flesh endured dishonor for us. Thy head, thorns; Thy face, spitting; Thy cheeks, buffeting; Thy mouth, taste of vinegar mingled with gall; Thine ears, impious blasphemies; Thy back, scourging; Thy hand, a reed; Thy whole body, extension upon the cross; Thy joints, nails; Thy side, spear. By Thy sufferings Thou hast set us free from suffering. In Thy love for mankind, Thou didst stoop down to raise us up. O Almighty Savior, have mercy on us!"

"Today He who suspended the earth upon the waters is suspended upon a Tree. (3x) A crown of thorns is placed on the head of the King of angels. He who wore a false purple robe covered the Heavens with clouds. He is smitten who, in the Jordan, delivered Adam. The Bridegroom of the Church is fastened with nails, and the Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. Thy sufferings we adore, O Christ! (3x) Make us ready to behold Thy glorious Resurrection."

If we want to remember our Lord's saving Passion & Death, let us not forget His glorious Resurrection. After all, the film "The Passion of the Christ" doesn't end with our Lord suspended upon the Cross, but with a glimpse of our Risen Lord coming out of the Tomb. Again, we live in a "post-Paschal" world. To paraphrase Fr Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent: The greatest tragedy is to live as if He never came.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

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