2018 Paschal Message of His Grace, Bishop David of Sitka and Alaska
“O Lord, Thou hast taken as Thy companion the thief / who had soiled his hands with blood: / in Thy goodness and love for mankind, // number us also with him.” [Matins of Holy Friday, Antiphon XIV]
One of the most significant acts of our Savior as he went to his voluntary death on the cross was His treatment of the one we refer to as the “Wise Thief”. While everyone around Him was railing against Him and mocking Him, this man, also in the same state of agony as our Lord, still had the presence of mind to not only acknowledge who He was, but also made a request of Him. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” [Luke 23:42]
There, in the midst of such sorrow and anguish, as they approached the end of their earthly life, Jesus and a man accused as a criminal engage in a brief conversation that changed the life of the thief forever. We know that there are many of our Christian brothers who like to point to this event as the model for salvation, that Jesus can change a person’s life in an instant. Luke’s account of this event tells us that this is indeed the case. Jesus can change a person’s life in an instant, of this there is no doubt. However, is this the manner in which He changes the lives of people most of the time?
One only needs to look at the lives of the Apostles themselves to see this is not the case. Consider at the moment in question where they are. After following Jesus for over three years and witnessing countless miracles, hearing His words of Salvation over and over again; now, when faith really matters, they have all disappeared except one. In fact, they do not come out of hiding until the women of their company come to tell them about the empty tomb. We know it took the visitation of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to give them the power they needed to go out into all the world to, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” as the Lord commanded.
The Church calls the Wise Thief a “companion” of Christ as he goes to this death. We can ponder as to whether Jesus was simply seeking a companion to go with Him beyond the grave, or if He was granting what was His to grant to a man who saw the real Christ, despite his atrocious situation. Either way, we see the power of God manifest itself in its fullness, even from the cross.
Today, our world is one in extreme turmoil. War seems to be everywhere. Christians are hunted down and martyred anew in both physical and spiritual ways. From foreign lands, we hear of great atrocities against our Brethren; in our own land, we see Christians being treated as if being a Christian is a bad thing.
Into this world we today come to the Death-Resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of the “noise” we have around us must not prevent us from enjoying our Paschal Joy. We, too, desire to be “companions” with Christ in this journey from Golgotha to the light of Holy Pascha. Let us adopt the focus of the Wise Thief and look to Christ, our Life and Light that conquers death and grants us the Heavenly Kingdom.
May the joy of Pascha be with you throughout the coming year.
Your servant of Servants,
David, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska