Orthodox America


  Sermon on Great Saturday Concerning the Joint Operation of Divine Justice and Divine Love in the Work of our Redemption


By Archbishop Seraphim Sobolev

In the liturgical commemoration of Our Lord's Passion, we heard, beloved in Christ, these words in the troparion at the end of Matins: "Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the Law by Thy precious Blood: nailed to the Cross and pierced by the spear, Thou hast poured forth immortality upon mankind.  O our Saviour, glory to Thee." And, today, in place of the Cherubic Hymn during the Liturgy, we heard the sublime hymn: "Let all mortal flesh keep silent and in fear and trembling stand; let us take no thought for any earthly thing. For the King of kings and Lord of lords draws near to be sacrificed and given as food to the faithful." Here are two church hymns which elucidate for us one of the fundamental dogmatic questions: What was the compelling motive for the Saviour's death on the Cross?  Was it the Lord's love towards us alone, or was it required by divine justice?

There is a theological opinion which rejects a legal* interpretation in the matter of our salvation. This opinion denies that for the redemption of the ancestral sin the sacrifice on the Cross was necessary in order to satisfy divine justice, inasmuch as the Lord does not need this, for He is love. If one holds the opinion that God is purely love, without bearing in mind that He is at the same time a righteous (just) Judge, then one can conclude that God will ultimately forgive everything; that there will come a time when all sinners, as well as the demons, will be forgiven, when eternal torment will cease and there will be everlasting blessedness for all rational beings.  Such a viewpoint, however, contradicts the testimony of Divine Revelation that God will reward each man according to his deeds, and the unambiguous teaching of the Saviour concerning His dread judgment and the future unending life with eternal blessedness for the righteous and eternal torments for sinners and demons.

The fact that Divine justice is operative in the work of our salvation is evidenced by the church hymn: "Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the Law by Thy precious Blood. . ."  The very understanding of redemption contains a juridical element, for it signifies ransom or propitiation.  But divine love cannot demand propitiation because love gives everything unconditionally.  It was required by divine justice.  If love was the sole operative force in the work of our salvation, then Christ's sacrifice on the Cross would not have been necessary.  Moreover, besides the words already cited of the Apostle Paul, where he speaks of redemption (Gal. 3:13), we also have the testimony of the Apostle Peter, who gives the same juridical understanding of redemption when he writes, . . . ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold. . . . But with the precious blood of Christ (I Peter 1:18-19).

God, however, is not only just.  He is also love (I John 4:8).  This love, as the Apostle John the Theologian teaches, expressed itself in the fact that God sent His Only-begotten Son to be the propitiation for our sins (I John 4:10).  Consequently, in the work of our redemption there was manifest not only divine justice but also divine love.  The Son of God died not only to propitiate God's justice but also for another purpose.  And what is that, dear brothers and sisters?  In the teachings of St. Athanasius the Great and St. Symeon the New Theologian, the Lord also died in order to grant us even greater blessings than our forefathers enjoyed before the Fall.  Up until then, they were in union with God, but not to the extent that became possible for us after Christ's death on the Cross.  Now we have received the possibility of entering into union with God in the most intimate and kindred manner, with all our being, by means of partaking of His Body and Blood, when we become deified and, while still here on earth, become gods by grace.  In order to give us these blessings-the holy Body and Blood of Christ-the Saviour had to die.  It is this concept-regarding the Lord's dying on the Cross on account of His unspeakable love towards us, in order that we may be wondrously and paradisiacally united with Christ-that finds expression in the words of the church hymn: ". . . the King of kings and Lord of lords draws near to be sacrificed and given as food to the faithful."

In this manner, both of the church hymns which we have examined here answer the given theological question in the sense that our Saviour's death on the Cross was accomplished both by virtue of divine justice as well as by virtue of divine love. For here, on Golgotha, in the death on the Cross of our Lord, the prophetic words of the divine Psalmist received their fulfillment: Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness (justice) and peace have kissed each other (Ps. 84:11).

Beloved brothers and sisters, what edifying lessons are we to draw from all this?  In receiving this precious and salvific Blood of the Son of God, let us take care lest, in partaking unworthily, we find ourselves guilty in the face of this same divine justice. This will happen if, after receiving Holy Communion, we return to our former soul-destroying sins.  In so doing, according to the holy Apostle Paul, we crucify Christ anew, and we can reach such a state that repentance is no longer possible and we perish forever. (cf. Heb. 6:4-6.)

Further, in response to the exigencies of divine love, the Lord shed His blood on the Cross that He might join us forever with Him through the Mystery of the Eucharist and unite us to His divine nature for our eternal blessedness.  Such is the exceeding goodness granted us by divine love. Let us respond to this love of the Lord for us with love towards Him, i.e., by fulfilling His commandments, for He said, If ye love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15). Then the Holy Mysteries will be salvific for us, they will be unto us for the healing of soul and body and for eternal joy. I congratulate you, my beloved children in Christ, on having partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ.  Remember that without this Mystery, the way to a true blessed life both here and in the heavens, is closed to us, for the Lord said, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you (John 6:53).  May there be fullfilled in all of us the words of Christ: He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in Me and I in him . . .  and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:56, 54).


This sermon was evidently prompted by Archbishop Seraphim's concern about the possible influence of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky's Dogma of Redemption, which Archbishop Seraphim found to have an excessive emphasis on Christ's co-suffering love-His moral suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane-to the virtual exclusion of the demands of Divine justice-Christ's death on the Cross-in the work of our redemption.  When Archbishop Seraphim voiced his objections to the Metropolitan, the latter agreed not to publish his work-it was only his private opinion, a theory and not something he insisted be taught by the Church-and the two remained good friends.  Nevertheless, because the theory was known to belong to the Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, who was widely held in such high esteem, Archbishop Seraphim deemed it necessary to publish a thorough refutation, lest anyone be tempted to adopt the theory or attribute it to the Church Abroad.

Metropolitan Anthony's Dogma of Redemption was not republished in Russian, except in his complete works, and was published for the first time in English a few years ago in only a limited edition for study purposes. Neither St. John (Maximovitch), who had great love and the highest regard for his "abba" (their relationship is nicely described in "The 'Discovery' of Metropolitan Anthony" in the first edition of Blessed John (Platina 1979); the chapter is omitted in the later edition), nor Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky in his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, nor Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) in his translation of that text, considered it necessary to bring up the subject of Metropolitan Anthony's error.  Others, however, have not been so charitable, and have, in the last few years, made an issue of it in order to unfairly discredit the Church Abroad.  It is instructive, in this regard, to read Fr. Seraphim's preface to his essay, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church.  Fr. Seraphim did not deny that Blessed Augustine taught a "distorted view of the Orthodox doctrine of ancestral sin," but he was frankly alarmed at the irreverent tone some were using in speaking against Blessed Augustine, and saw "no excuse" for such disrespect.  In an introduction to a subsequent edition (1983) of this same essay, Fr. Alexey Young noted that Fr. Seraphim "asked for a spirit of humility, lovingness and forgiveness in our approach to the Fathers of the Church, rather than 'using' them."  "If only," wrote Fr. Seraphim, "we had even a part of that deep and true Orthodoxy of the heart," which Blessed Augustine possessed "to a superlative degree," we would be less inclined to exaggerate his faults.  Elsewhere he remarked, "Let the test of our continuity with the unbroken Christian tradition of the past be, not only our attempt to be precise in doctrine, but also our love for the men who have handed it down to us."

Concerning Metropolitan Anthony, his disciple, Saint John (Maximovitch), wrote: "He was truly a universal hierarch. . . His mental gaze encompassed all aspects of church life, and he approached them not only with his mind but with his whole being. . . . His personality did not exist outside the Church; it somehow mirrored the Church.  Each person was dear to him, regardless of his nationality, or where he came from. To each person who needed him, he was a kind father and a wise instructor.. . . Possessed of a keen mind and highly gifted by nature, after receiving a superior secular education, he set himself with the same zeal to the study of theology.  He became saturated, as it were, with theology, and, joining this with an irreproachable moral life, he himself became a fount of spiritual wisdom and streams of theology literally poured forth from him, filling the souls of his spiritual children with God's grace." ("V Chom Dukhovnaya Sila Dukha Blazheneyshago Mitropolita Antoniya?" in Slova, San Francisco 1994).

Roman Catholic and Protestant theologies have strayed so far to either side of the Orthodox teaching on the dogma of redemption as to fall into heresy. Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, in his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology explains:

"The interpretation of the truth of the Redemption was greatly complicated thanks to the direction which was given to it in the Western theology of the Middle Ages. The figurative expressions of the Apostles were accepted in medieval Roman Catholic theology in their literal and overly-narrow sense, and the work of redemption was interpreted as a "satisfaction"-more precisely, a satisfaction for offending God, and even more precisely, "the satisfaction of God (God in the Holy Trinity) for the offense caused to Him by the sin of Adam."  It is easy to see that the foundation of such a view is the special Latin teaching on original sin: that man in the transgression of Adam "infinitely offended" God and evoked God's wrath; therefore, it was required that God be offered complete satisfaction in order that the guilt might be removed and God might be appeased; this was done by the Saviour when He accepted death on the Cross; the Saviour offered an infinitely complete satisfaction.

"This one-sided interpretation of Redemption became the reigning one in Latin theology and it has remained so up to the present time.  In Protestantism it evoked the opposite reaction, which led in the later sects to the almost complete denial of the dogma of Redemption and to the acknowledgment of no more than a moral or instructive significance for Christ's life and His death on the Cross" [i.e., the heresy of stavroclasm-ed].  (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Platina, CA 1983, pp. 208-209.)

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