The Fellowship of His Suffering
A Lenten Meditation
by Archpriest Michael Baroudy
There has never been a person in all history as misunderstood and least appreciated by people as Jesus Christ, our Lord. At least, this is my personal opinion, arrived at after mature consideration, based upon reading and studying His life story in the Four Gospels. The people among whom He lived did not enter into His spirit fully; of course, some of them had a glimmering of faith in His power and in His person, but that was short-lived. To me, He was one of the loneliest figures whose words and deeds were misconstrued. His agony must have been very great and began from the very beginning of His ministry. There is nothing, perhaps, which causes one greater grief and stabs him in the heart as the knowledge and realization that he is being misunderstood by those whom he loves to help.
I sometimes sit in the quietness of my study and try to visualize the loneliness of Jesus, because, as one who wishes to follow in His footsteps, I want to enter into His feelings, share His spirit, and thereby become more appreciative of Him who became all things to all men to bring them closer to God. I, therefore, try to have a mental picture of the gentle Savior, whose tenderness and love defy description. I follow Him mentally on His journeys through Palestine, considering myself as one of the twelve disciples, or one of the multitude that followed Him daily, watching Him as He ministers to the needs of humanity, healing a leper here, restoring the sight of a blind man there, or speaking in gentle tones about the love of the Heavenly Father to all men, irrespective of their past, their color or race. And the more I do so, I become convinced more than ever before of His transcendence, His greatness, His love and loveliness, compassion and sympathy. No, my friends, no one who has ever lived could ever measure the depth of tenderness which was his, or account for the flow of His love which was not chilled by the selfishness, cruelty and insincerity of man. His was a love that recognized no human geography or racial boundary, neither was His sympathy stymied or stifled by enmity toward Him.
During the Lenten season, we are to concern ourselves with Christ’s suffering in order that we might become fellow-sufferers with Him, learn more of the Christian way of life and so become mature Christians, growing into a full stature of godliness. St. Paul expressed it beautifully when, speaking of his Savior and ours, said, “That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering.”
Taking the above statement as the basis for our sermon, we discover that it contains the central message of our holy religion, a declaration unexcelled by any of the other disciples for depth of meaning and significance. Paul here declares that, a full and mature knowledge of Jesus as Savior had two very essential requirements, a fellowship in Jesus’ suffering and the power of His resurrection.
Here we have the blueprint or the pattern toward which all who would be Christians must strive, and it is no easy pattern. As a matter of fact, it is the perfect pattern of Jesus which He revealed by His life and death. First, we have the fellowship of His suffering. How can one share in Christ’s suffering? Christ lived nearly two thousand years ago. Is it possible for one after the lapse of twenty centuries to have a taste of that? The answer is yes, for vicarious suffering, that is, to endure suffering for the sake of others is one of life’s essential principles. As a matter of fact, we begin to mature mentally and spiritually as we make it our business to bear the burden of others, either by lending a helping hand or by expressing a word of sympathy. To have a fellowship in Christ’s suffering is to identify one’s self with all humanity everywhere, the sick, the afflicted, those who are in ill health, the mentally deranged, the hungry and ill-treated. The great heart of the Father and that of our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, were big enough and compassionate enough to include all men. And so when you have the faith in God’s goodness, mercy and love, you will discover that you are in sympathy with all men, whether they are of our race and religion or not; you would love all whether friend or foe, and you would also become aware that you are in perfect accord with the principle implanted in the heart of the universe, and living becomes meaningful, zestful, beautiful and thrilling!
For a long time, the world has seemed to be coming apart. It is this fact, and not the atomic bomb, that inspires fear. People see that they are in danger because they are divided by distrust and hate. If men were to come together in permanent friendship, nobody would use the bomb and that would end our fear.
The hope for a safe and peaceful world, depends on more and more people being brought together and bound to one another by strong, permanent loyalty. The loyalty must obviously be above the level of self-interest. Therefore, it must be a loyalty to no less a program than Jesus expressed in His great teaching of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said the time would come when people would come together from all directions. Northward from the place where Jesus spoke those words lies Russia; southward, Africa; eastward, China, India, Japan, and westward are the Americas. And Christians the world over are to draw closer together in the belief that we are members of one another, all of us being the creatures of God who is the Father of all and whose love includes all of us.
Then St. Paul tells us that the knowledge of Jesus invokes “The power of His resurrection.” That, of course, means creative living, striving toward maturity, mature thinking, constructive living, making progress in our Christian experiences. That, too, means forgetting past failures, disappointments, getting over our petty, selfish grudges, doing with our might what our hands find to do without complaint. The power of Christ’s resurrection could only be had by an abiding, unfaltering faith coupled with obedience to the high calling of God in Christ, seeking constantly to honor Him by life and lips.
Power for living victoriously will be supplied by the Master providing we are always ready to meet the conditions for such worthy attainments. To give Him the right-of-way in every way, to realize His presence in human affairs, to lean on Him when the storms of life blow us off our course. To witness before men that He is a God to be trusted, a Savior worthy of our loyalty, are some of the conditions for victorious living. A Christian whom God had called and whose life is concerned to recognize His leadership and lordship will always seek to glory in no material or personal attainments; he has one set purpose, to glory in God’s power, and render the homage and the loyalty to Him who died that we might live. “For me to live is Christ,” said St. Paul. What a worthy life motto that is! To make Christ the center of your life, the central aim of every endeavor, and the motivating force of your personal desires would indeed be living a life at its best.
Many of us, though claiming that we are Christ’s disciples, central in our being and thinking are motives, ideas, ideals, which are anything but Christian. Our brand of Christianity does not reveal the pattern which seeks God’s glory. The center is that of self-interest. Neither God nor man are permitted to come in. We don’t wonder at the reason for defeated, unhappy, miserable lives. For only as we share in Christ’s suffering and the suffering of all men everywhere do we become aware of His loving, constraining power taking hold of the reins of our lives, gripping our hearts, illuminating our minds by the light of His divine life and thereby increase our wisdom and devotion.
At a student conference, an educated Christian Indian asked. “What does Christianity have that no other religion has?”
“Christianity has Christ,” the great student body replied. Christ brought light into the world. The light of love and understanding. When you go into a dark room and press the button, the light comes on and you see where things are. A chair here, a table there, a stool over there. The relationship of these pieces of furniture is clear in the light. Likewise, when Christ came into the world, the relationship of man to man, of neighbor to neighbor, of nation to nation became clear. The heart of that relationship is love for one another and complete loyalty to Him who brought us that light.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
pp. 6, 27