May We Not Forget!

We have this extraordinary time, a period of light, until the Descent of the Holy Spirit. This is symmetrical to the previous period, the Triodion, the Lent, which was a period of preparation, of repentance, of sorrow because we angered the Lord with our sins—not only angered but hurt Him. Some of those wounds on the Cross are our sins.

On the Sunday of Thomas, the eighth day after the Resurrection, the Savior comes to the Apostles through the locked doors and reassures Thomas of His Resurrection: “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20.27). We remember that the Savior kept the marks of the Cross on His Risen Body, as we see Him represented in icons. And that is noteworthy. Our joy is boundless every time, with each Liturgy, because each Liturgy is a Resurrection. If we know how to approach it properly with our heart, similarly to how the harlot or other sinners approached the Savior, we will feel the Resurrection each time, we will feel our heart healed, lifted, strengthened, exulted. We will rejoice no matter how great the trouble. As bitter as wormwood is, the Savior is much sweeter, much more alive than any death. And this is what we feel in every Liturgy.

Saint Thomas touching the wounds of the Savior, fresco, Dionysiou Monastery, Mount Athos

We want to emphasize that the Savior preserved the traces of the Cross on His resurrected, transfigured, deified body. You see, up until the Ascension we keep on the Holy Table the Holy Epitaph, which depicts the burial of the Savior. And there we see the Mother of God at the head of the Savior, embracing Him; the myrrh bearers; the Apostle John; Joseph; Nicodemus, etc. Let us think a little about the Mother of God who was embracing the Savior’s lifeless body—How did she bring herself up to doing it?! Only she knows! And let us think about the number of wounds that completely covered Him. How was it for the Mother of God, as a mother, to touch that body… What was in her heart? Can we fathom it? The amount of suffering and pain in her heart … And this image of the Mother of God and the others near the disfigured body of the Savior in that moment of suffering, of tremendous pain, evokes the verse from the Lamentations Service: “How then, O my God, dare I touch Thee with my hands?”

From the multitude of gashes on his beaten body, the Savior keeps only these: the mark of the nails on the hands and feet, and the mark of the spear on the rib. And that tells us something. The Savior is good, He overcomes death, but we had better not forget what we have done, both personally and as mankind, which led to a Cross so terrible for the Savior … to those many wounds that the Mother of God dared not touch, but which she did, nonetheless.

The Savior at the right hand of the Father has those marks. Let us not forget that!

For example, many of those who went through the Soviet gulag, through outrageous things, with millions of people dead, etc., wanted to excise and forget those memories as if they were cancer. But Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn intentionally asked his wife to make him gulag soup once a year, so he would not forget he had passed through those camps. We should not forget that our sins have left their mark on the resurrected body of the Savior. And this so that we may live wisely. That we may not repeat those sins. God does not want to remind us of them. “He blots them out and does not remember them,” says St. Gregory the Theologian. God does not demand accountability, does not upbraid us, does not say, “Behold how much you did; behold how much I forgave.” But we—regrettably—we do forget. We have such a weak and changeable nature that we forget. And then we act as if nothing happened. This is also the problem of the man who returns to God: he feels His goodness, he feels that he is understood and forgiven, and then he slackens as if his problems are gone and falls into other sins; he resumes the life of the old man. Why?! Because he forgot the Savior’s marks.

It is profitable for us to contemplate the marks of the Risen Savior.

And we can apply that to the current context. These are not good times; we all know it. We have been through a lot of tension, a trying time, for the last year and a half. Others are still going through it. We don’t know what’s next, but something is clearly rotten. Yet now we are tempted to forget, to resume our lives as they were before the pandemic. Especially in this Western, American society, in which things take priority. First, there is working which does not allow parents to take care of their children properly. Work and many other things that make us forget what happened only a year ago. We don’t think anymore, we don’t use our heads to say that something is rotten, that things don’t add up. For example, in Romania we are denied the memory of communism, which could teach us a great deal. We move on, but we are very vulnerable if we forget. That is why Virgil Ierunca said, “Let us not forget collectively…!!”

This current crisis shows us what is essential in our lives. What will be left of all the sandcastles, of all our lofty buildings? Very few remain and our points of support are scarce. One of them is generally the family. It would be good if this human instinct of forgetting were not triggered in us, that once we escape a trial, we put it behind us and resume our lives from before. That is very dangerous! That type of man is very vulnerable. We don’t say this to make an obsession out of what was. We relate it to the wound traces of the Savior as well because we all have marks, scars left after this period. Some have terrible scars because they lost a loved one. So it is good not to forget but focus on the essential. What is essential?

The Savior’s farewell command was to “love one another” (John 13.34). That is the power that overcomes all evil. The medium to work on this is primarily the family. Our top priority is to acquire a spirit of love in our families. The spirit of love is palpable. One can feel it when entering a house, a monastery. The apostles had it, the Savior found them together. All their hope was gone, but they stayed together because they loved one other. This is essential in our lives, but we should not forget that we must invest greatly in it.

These are a few words about the Savior’s marks left on His resurrected body, and about the image of the Mother of God embracing Him. Upon the Resurrection only a few traces of the wounds remained, but enough that we may not forget we must work repentance, joy, and love. May the Lord help us do so! Christ is risen!