The Heritage of the Coptic Orthodox Church

Friday of the Crucifixion

Bishoy K. R. Dawood
April 02, 2004

An excellent sermon on Friday of the Crucifixion (Good Friday) given in Arabic by the late Bishop Gregorios. It is available in audio cassettes recorded by the Coptic Institute of Higher Studies in Egypt. Translated into English by Bishoy K. R. Dawood.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the one God. Amen.

The Church continuously proclaims, and in particular on the Friday of the Crucifixion, its saying: Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy the living, the immortal: O You who was crucified on our behalf, have mercy on us. So what then is the meaning of the death of Christ? It is without doubt that Christ had to assume our whole human nature, and that God united with a body, of a sane spirit – this is the spirit of humankind, which he gave up on the cross.

So, if the Gospel said about Jesus, in the hour of his death, that he gave up the spirit, what the spirit means here is not the divinity of Christ – God forbid! For the divinity does not part nor is it given up, because he fills the heavens and the earth. Also, the divine nature was united with the human nature, as a truly complete unity in essence, so it is impossible for the divine nature to part from the human nature for a single moment, nor for the twinkling of an eye.

However, the spirit that he gave up on the cross is the spirit of humankind, by which was the completeness of his human nature and his humanity. Therefore, the death of Christ means a temporary separation between two essences of his human nature: a separation between the human spirit and the body. As for the divinity, he remained united with each, the body and the spirit.

The evidence for this is that after Christ gave up the spirit, and his side was pierced with a spear to assure his death, there poured out blood and water – an occurrence that cannot happen to a dead person. Christ was dead by his human nature. But was alive by his divine nature, and the sign of his life is the blood and water, which came and poured out of his holy side after his death. And when the pagan centurion saw this, he cried out the Christian confession: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39). And this is the reason why Saint John, who wrote his Gospel to prove the divinity of Christ, was fully concerned with the pouring out of the blood and water from the side of the Savior after his death for its theological significance. He commented by saying concerning this: “we know that his testimony is true” (Jn. 21:24).

The Apostle John assured the incident once more for its theological significance in his first letter, where he says: “This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood” (1 Jn. 5:6). For this reason, the holy Church believes that the wine must be mixed with water during the Divine Liturgy, as a remembrance to what occurred at the cross for the believers. This is so that they do not forget that while they are offering the sacrifice of Thanksgiving in the sacrament of Thanksgiving, their Christ is alive and immortal, alive by his divine nature, even though he tasted death by his body.

The divine nature does not suffer materialistically or physically, but the suffering was imposed onto the divine nature, considering the nature of the complete union that exists between the divine nature and human nature. For what gave the suffering and death of Christ an eternal value for the propitiation of every human sin is the divine nature united to the human nature. If it was not for this union, then the one who was crucified for us was just a human being. The divine nature united to the human nature gave redemption all its significance, and gave the blood of Christ an eternal value, for the covering of the sins of all human beings.

Redemption was necessary for the salvation of the human being, who dared to be above God, his majesty, his awe, his holiness, and his nature that is without limits. Hence, his punishment was eternal death, and eternal prohibition of entering into the presence of God and his grace. For this reason, Adam’s sin could not be propitiated, except by a Savior who can endure an eternal punishment. God the Logos took our human nature, and on the cross he endured with his body the sentence of death, so he saved us from death by his death.

If he was not the Logos of God as such, then his blood would not have been sufficient to forgive even the sin of Adam alone; but he was the Logos of God, so the death that he accepted in his body has an eternal value to cover and forgive not only Adam’s sin, but the sins of all human beings who sinned in Adam, as well as the forgiveness of every sin committed by every person after Adam if they returned to God in true repentance.

Paul the Apostle described the Church as the Church of God, which was brought by his blood, and for this reason the holy inspiration attributed the blood of Christ onto God himself. Hence, it is impossible for the divine nature to part from the human nature on the cross, or else the divine plan of redemption and the salvation of humanity is interrupted.

How could a separation occur [between the divine and human natures] in the moment that the Logos of God came for its very purpose? Did not Christ say about himself: “for this purpose I have come to this hour” (Jn. 12:27)? Thus, when Christ said while he was on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34), he expressed by his humanity the extreme suffering that he endured truly in his body, without the interference of the divine nature to relieve it. Christ, as human, allowed the suffering that he endured on the cross to be the suffering of the eternal death sentence, whole and complete. For when Christ died instead of man, man’s eternal sentence is removed, and he returns to Paradise, which he was banished from.

Yes, Adam and all his children returned - those who walked into Hades because Paradise was shut in front of the faces of all the children of Adam, until it was opened once again by Christ through his cross.

In the expression of man’s return to Paradise, and the manifestation of the way in front of him, after the deadly sorrow that remained in human beings for thousands of years; the Coptic people of Egypt saw that it was necessary to move the feast of “Sham-el-Nassim”, which was for them the feast of spring and nature, to follow the day of the feast of the Resurrection, in expression of the return of man to Paradise through the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection.

This was the solution that God offered for the salvation of humankind! For on the cross, the righteous judgment of God came into contact with his mercy and his love; as he chose to empty himself, took the human likeness, and died instead of humans. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13).

Yes, on the cross mercy and righteousness came into contact, justice and peace interacted. Yes, on the cross mercy and righteousness came into contact, justice and peace interacted.

Hence, we are not ashamed of the cross, but we boast in the cross: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). In the cross is our boasting, because in it is our salvation; in the cross is our adoration, because he who was crucified on it is our Lord.

[Through it, Christ returned us to Paradise], so we do not accept any other means other than the cross. The cross is our crown, our joy, our weapon; we raise it over our head and hang it around our chest; draw it on our lower arms and carry it as a weapon in our hands to exorcise the demons and fire. It is the flag of our heavenly kingdom, for the church our mother is the kingdom of heaven on earth, Christ is our King, and the cross is the sign of our Savior.

This day, the Friday of the Crucifixion, we do not cry, but rejoice.

If we do cry, we cry for our sins that caused the Logos of God to accept the image of a curse for our sake, and to be hanged on the cross as one of the murderers: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Lk. 23:28). When we cover our churches with black fabrics, it is not because we are sorrowful or mourn for Christ, but to portray the image of the history of humanity, which, before the redemption, dwelt in darkness and the shadow of death. The darkness was exchanged by light, and sorrow was exchanged by joy.

For this reason, the Great Saturday was named “Bright Saturday” and “Joyous Saturday”, because the light of Christ shone upon the spirits who were abiding in Hades, in darkness and the shadow of death. Christ went to Hades after the cross, and preached salvation to them, and returned them to rest in the Paradise of Joy.

It is for this reason that the church chants the hymn of victory, and blesses the crucified Christ, who displayed with his weakness what is even greater than power. It is for this reason, again, that the great hymn is directed to him, which the angels praise in front of his heavenly throne as well, while he is in his glory, saying: “Yours is the power, the glory; yours is the blessing, and the majesty forever, O Emmanuel our God and our King!”

Furthermore, when we remember his burial in the tomb, on the twelfth hour of the Friday of the crucifixion, we praise him using the words of the Psalm: “Your throne O God is forever and ever…”

O brothers and sons, after the prayers of Friday of the crucifixion, you all stand together begging for God’s mercy for the whole world, offering four hundred metanoias, that is, one hundred prostrations in every direction – East, West, North and South – asking for God’s mercy on behalf of all people in every place. Christ, who redeemed us through his death, and bought us with his acceptable and valuable blood, we ask him to bless the lives of everyone, we ask him to have mercy on the sinners, to accept the repentance of the repentant and the requests of the confessors, and to give to all of us a place and inheritance along with all the saints.

To him belongs all worship, glory, and praise, always and forever. Amen.