Many indeed are the wondrous happenings of that time: God hanging from a cross, the sun made dark and again flaming out; for it was fitting that creation should mourn with its creator. The temple veil rent, blood and water flowing from his side: the one as from a man, the other as from what was above man; the earth shaken, the rocks shattered because of the rock; the dead risen to bear witness to the final and universal resurrection of the dead. The happenings at the sepulcher and after the sepulcher, who can fittingly recount them? Yet no one of them can be compared to the miracle of my salvation. A few drops of blood renew the whole world, and do for all men what the rennet does for the milk: joining us and binding us together.

Gregory of Nazianzus, On the Holy Pasch, Oration 45.I, quoted in Thomas C. Oden & Christopher A. Hall (ed), Mark, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 2005) 224.


… why should we wonder that He rose from supper, and laid aside His garments, who, being in the form of God, made Himself of no reputation? Literally, “emptied Himself,” as in the Greek. And why should we wonder, if He girded Himself with a towel, who took upon Him the form of a servant, and was found in the likeness of a man? Why wonder, if He poured water into a basin wherewith to wash His disciples’ feet, who poured His blood upon the earth to wash away the filth of their sins? Why wonder, if with the towel wherewith He was girded He wiped the feet He had washed, who with the very flesh that clothed Him laid a firm pathway for the footsteps of His evangelists? In order, indeed, to gird Himself with the towel, He laid aside the garments He wore; but when He emptied Himself [of His divine glory] in order to assume the form of a servant, He laid not down what He had, but assumed that which He had not before. When about to be crucified, He was indeed stripped of His garments, and when dead was wrapped in linen clothes: and all that suffering of His is our purification. When, therefore, about to suffer the last extremities [of humiliation,] He here illustrated beforehand its friendly compliances; not only to those for whom He was about to endure death, but to him also who had resolved on betraying Him to death. Because so great is the beneficence of human humility, that even the Divine Majesty was pleased to commend it by His own example; for proud man would have perished eternally, had he not been found by the lowly God. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost. And as he was lost by imitating the pride of the deceiver, let him now, when found, imitate the Redeemer’s humility.

Saint Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 55. 7.

The true teacher of humility is Christ, who humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. But He does not lose His divinity in teaching us humility; in the one He is the Father’s equal, in the other He is assimilated to us. By that which made Him the equal of the Father, He called us into existence; and by that in which He is like unto us, He redeemed us from ruin.

These, then, were the words of praise addressed to Jesus by the multitude, “Hosanna: blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.” What a cross of mental suffering must the Jewish rulers have endured when they heard so great a multitude proclaiming Christ as their King! But what honor was it to the Lord to be King of Israel? What great thing was it to the King of eternity to become the King of men? For Christ’s kingship over Israel was not for the purpose of exacting tribute, of putting swords into His soldiers’ hands, of subduing His enemies by open warfare; but He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their inward natures, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into His heavenly kingdom those whose faith, and hope, and love were centred in Himself. Accordingly, for the Son of God, the Father’s equal, the Word by whom all things were made, in His good pleasure to be King of Israel, was an act of condescension and not of promotion; a token of compassion, and not any increase of power. For He who was called on earth the King of the Jews, is in the heavens the Lord of angels.

Saint Augustine, Tractate on John’s Gospel, 51, 3-4.

In Jesus, we see God’s desire to become incarnate for our sake. In the humanity of Jesus, God enters into all of humanity. In this humanity he seeks out the darkest, most threatening and most frightening of places, driven by the irresistible blaze of love.

This raises the question of how Jesus, as a human being among other human beings, dealt with the human susceptibility to suffering. Did he also become ensnared by fear or desire? Was that also his only defence, his only answer to the desperate atmosphere of threatening suffering in which our lives are caught?

The story of Jesus is different. In the midst of suffering he remained rooted in love. His suffering became a story of love and the basis for love’s manifestation in all its greatness: “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15, 13)

Jesus incorporates suffering into God’s great act of reaching out. It becomes an integrating element in this, indeed it becomes the accomplishment of this act and its greatest sign. He lifts suffering up and transforms it. From being a slippery slope towards death, it becomes instead the springboard towards a brilliant radiance, towards resurrection. This does not only apply to “neutral” suffering such as sickness and natural disasters, but also to the suffering that we cause one another. It becomes an invitation to forgiveness, to magnanimity and to compassion.

Joris van Ael, Jezus’ lijdensverhaal in 16 iconen, (Averbode / Ten Have, 2007) 19.


… the words conceal a still greater descent, an even deeper entrance into the world of matter, of the body. God takes this lowliness of humanity onto Himself, its fragility, its fallen state, what the Fathers will call its capacity for suffering, its transitoriness and its mortality. He penetrates deeply into our mortal nature, seeking and entering into all the corners and crevices of our being in order to imprint the trace of His love. He seeks to create a point of contact in the darkest corner of our psyche and our body. From now on our entire humanity is known to God from within. The light of His love that is hastening towards us shines everywhere, even into the grave. From this point on God’s inviting love can touch us wherever we are, inviting us to accompany it through everything to resurrection.

Joris van Ael, Jezus’ lijdensverhaal in 16 iconen, (Averbode / Ten Have, 2007) 13.

One of the things that I have been working on recently in little bits and pieces of stolen time is translating an essay from this beautiful book. Joris van Ael is a Flemish iconographer and the icons reproduced in the book – which can be seen on his website here (go to bottom of the page and look under “Passiecyclus Brasschaat 2003”) – provide a meditation on the Passion and Death of Christ that is true to the iconographic tradition but whose subject matter is not that often represented in icons. The textual commentary is also rooted in the Patristic tradition – and particularly in the theology of Saint Maximus the Confessor – and, together with the icons themselves, is a most appropriate aid for entering into these Mysteries in their never-ending depth. 

If I can succeed in turning this essay into readable English I want to have a go at translating the rest of the book.

There is also a French translation, with a longish foreward by Dom André Louf.