Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion of Christ’s confronting the reality of human sin and suffering in the first chapter of The Compassion of the Father by showing that, for the Fathers and particularly John of Damascus, Jesus took on the blameless or natural passions, banishing sin from them
through the very brazier of divine love, the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in Jesus. This fire stigmatizes and consumes all temptations, every evil power, and any external evil suggestion. These can never become embedded in the citadel of the human heart of Jesus, the preeminent trinitarian dwelling. (58)
However, this passable condition was not a source of sin for Jesus, for he suffered freely and remained open.
The Incarnation of the Son of God recalls the glorious, even paschal, aspect of His entire life. The light and joy of the Resurrection rebound on His earthly life from the time of the Nativity, even when His divine glory is hidden. He is filled with the power of the Spirit: healings and signs follow one another, compassion is poured out, and demons are chased away. “I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Jn 10:18). The Orthodox Liturgy exalts all the moments of Jesus earthly life from His birth, the advent of salvation itself. Even there, the cross and kenōsis are not forgotten or bracketed, but the kenōsis of Jesus, from stage to stage, is never a victory of darkness over light. (59)
When he reaches adulthood, Jesus is sent forth by the Spirit to accomplish the will of the Father, taking the sins of humanity onto Himself.
“He made Him to be sin”: this terse Semitic formulary unhampered by scholastic theological distinctions expresses the mystery of the descent of the Just One into sin, into suffering – the one whom no one could convict of sin (Jn 18:23).
Jesus takes upon Himself the transgressions of the multitude and thereby diverts the anger of God. The Adamic temptations are redone, and Satan unloads them with all his power onto Jesus, who is permeated by the Spirit and the bearer of a divine identity that remains an impenetrable mystery to the spirit of darkness. The temptations in the desert are spectacular, visible moments of the unceasing and permanent combat Jesus wages in our name against the darkness that ebbs and flows, sometimes with forceful outbursts that seem to defy life.” (60-61)
Death is both the consequence and the antidote of sin but we should not isolate any of the images that Scripture uses about redemption. Christ has consumed the infernal roots of sin “and extracted its sting. The seed of justice sprouts in our humanity, which Christ bears…” (61)
Let us not be afraid to speak of the death of Jesus – and of His resurrection – as a sacrifice because the sacrifice is an essential aspect of the love of the Father and the Son. The Father required no sacrifice to appease His wrath – this image of the Father’s wrath is secondary in the Bible. Rather, this is a sacrifice of offering, of descent and then of ascent, in search of the lost sheep. It is a sacrifice of consecration, of the exorcising of human nature corrupted by sin, of the healing of humanity sick through sin, and of the consolation of humanity bewildered in loneliness, far from the sources of living water. Jesus reaches and heals the intimate depths of humanity. This is a sacrifice of reintegration by which all of creation is brought back to the Father. (62)
This work of mercy, healing, compassion and forgiveness is continued in the Church. The Church perpetuates the kenōsis of the Risen One. In the Eucharist we become contemporary to the events of salvation. Our sins tear the garments of the Saviour, but our sufferings always ascend to the throne of God. Sin and suffering retain a residue of “non-sense” and of scandal that we are invited to enter into:
The saints have imitated the unblemished, defenceless Lamb and, like Him, have become vulnerable to love, violent in love, stronger than death. The countless suffering of the living and deceased members of the Church witness to the Lamb. It is in Jesus alone that our suffering also becomes a sacrament; it becomes this to the extent that our hearts and bodies are slowly and painfully purified of the germs of passions – sins that dwell in us and render us resistant to love. (64)
We should, however, be wary of speaking of beneficial suffering or of objectifying the sufferings of others. The challenge is rather to learn to look with compassion which we learn through the apprenticeship of prayer and the apprenticeship of love.
When we follow the path of Jesus, we learn how to offer our own hearts to God. It is then that the heart opens and fortifies itself in the spirit of compassion. The human being is able to be filled with the misery of the world, to carry it on his or her shoulders, and to lay it down before the throne of God. But our hearts are weak and inconstant. Given up to ourselves, we tend to close up, to protect ourselves from suffering – which is always too great – to ignore or forget it. Nonetheless, this same heart is called to love, to compassion, to mercy. It can only respond to this call by merging into the heart of Jesus. That requires, as a precondition, a purification, an exorcising of the evil that is in us, in all forms. The evil in the world can be exorcised and burned only to the extent that the roots of evil which lie in our own hearts are exorcised, banished, and burned, consumed in the face-to-face with Jesus, with His Name, His Cross, and His Spirit. “This type of spirit can be driven out only by praying and by fasting” (Mt 17:22). (66)