Fr. Jeffrey, in this Guest post draws us deeply into the call to be “all in” entrusting “… ourselves each other and our whole life to Christ our God”. While there is a high cost in saying yes to God there is also peace beyond understanding with the the knowledge that we are loved in a way that has and will continue to overcome death itself. There is no “life like it…”
Several prayers speak to the theme of Jesus volunteering to experience the events associated with our salvation:
- “After He had come and fulfilled the whole divine plan for our sake, on the night He was given over – or, rather, gave Himself for the life of the world- he took bread…” Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom;
- “Christ, our true God, who for us men and for our salvation, willingly suffered the passion,death and voluntary burial in the flesh…” Good Friday Holy Shroud Service;
- In the Jerusalem Matins, Jesus addresses his mother, consoles her, reassures her, and says, “Mother it is my will that I be covered by the earth…”
In one of the defining statements of Christianity, Jesus teaches us that “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Combine this statement with the profound insight of St. John the Evangelist that “God is love” and we begin to see how Jesus finds the model for his self-sacrifice on the cross in God the Father himself.
In an essay on the Blessed Trinity and what it means to be a priest, Fr. Petro Bilaniuk writes that in the innocence and holiness of God, God the Father is eternally self-sacrificial. Jesus finds the strength to commit his human free will to undergo the passion because he sees it first in God the Father: sacrifice begins with what God the Father offers of Himself to Jesus for all eternity. “Eternally begotten,” as we pray in the Nicean creed.
We know of the Eucharist as a Greek word that means thanksgiving, and we hear testimonies to the power that is unleashed by a life of gratitude. Fr. Bilaniuk writes that Jesus turns his gratitude into a willingness to suffer death on the cross. He voluntarily commits his human will to this suffering “in thanksgiving for the reception of his eternal substance from his Father.”
He is able to accomplish this sacrifice (“for us men and our salvation…), in the created world (“by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary…”) , and in the history of salvation professed in the Creed, (“crucified under Pontius Pilate…”), because of the model found in the love and self-sacrifice of the Blessed Trinity. Or in Fr. Bilaniuk’s signature phrase, the inner life, light, and love of the Blessed Trinity.
Jesus learns to be a man of sacrifice from his mother, too, just as in general he would have learned all manner of wisdom from her:
- After Jesus’ circumcision when he is 8 days old, Mary returns to the temple 33 days later; Jesus returns to the temple of Heaven after 33 years of earthly life;
- When I read a line from Psalm 102 (103), “Man’s days are as grass, as the flower of the field so shall he flourish,” and compare it with Jesus’ statement, “Consider the lilies of the field,” I can easily imagine Mary teaching little Jesus about King Solomon and this psalm;
- The biggest influence of Mary as a model of self sacrifice for Jesus is her voluntary consent, her “fiat”: completely and perfectly without coercion, to become the Mother of God, carry Jesus during the time of his pre-natal development, and make it possible for God to see the natural light of the day that he himself created. She is not manipulated; her womb is not invaded; she is completely Jesus’ mother, and he is her child.
Dr. Jordan Peterson, a psychologist, has a principle that something very stressful can be overcome if you volunteer for it rather than if you are forced to face your fears. About Mary’s sacrifice of love for Jesus he says the following: “The thing about Mary is that she knew initially, when she agreed to give birth to the savior of mankind, that he would be broken. And that’s an archetypal story, because women know in their heart of hearts that their children are going to be broken and killed by the world… (She) is still willing to bring that child into the world…”
Continue to be faithful, Dear Faithful. What we believe in God as Blessed Trinity and how we express that theology in prayer offers a powerful and liberating model for how to live our lives. Fr. Bilaniuk’s theology of the Blessed Trinity and the priesthood give new meaning to the altar of sacrifice, beginning with the self-sacrifice of God the Father.
The word volunteer is intimately associated today in Ukraine with civilians who raise money to buy supplies and take them to the soldiers, and for civilians who volunteer to become soldiers. A Ukrainian Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Pavlo Honcharuk, who serves as chaplain with the 10th, 57th, 82nd, and 128th brigades, commented during an acceptance speech for an award in 2019 that “the peace that comes from God is the spirit of a person’s spirit.” In a turn of phrase that sounded like something G.K. Chesterton might say, Fr. Pavlo, who offered his reflection at the 2019 awards of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to honour the memory of Blessed Martyr Omelian Kovch. concluded by stating that while we are familiar with the prayer, “God is with us,” the person of self-sacrifice makes for themselves as a motto the statement that “I am with God.”