the silent depth of the cross

The word of the cross is ultimately silent. When Jesus hangs on the cross, crucified, he’s already dead, and therefore he is totally quiet. …We’re not talking today about the words from the cross. We’re talking about the word of the cross itself. And the word of the cross itself is enacted and spoken when he gives up his spirit and he dies. And that according to the church tradition, certainly some of the homilies of the church fathers, is the most eloquent word ever spoken. The most eloquent word ever spoken is spoken in silence. You just look at him hanging there. Because you can’t say it. There is nothing that could be said. In fact, one western saint, Saint Hugo I think it was or Saint Victor, he said: “God wants to speak to us, to reveal himself to us, and he gives us the scriptures, he give us the book. But when Christ is coming, the incarnate book, the incarnate word, then you know longer have words, you have the living thing and the real thing present in life. And when he hangs on the cross, and his arms are open, the book is open. The book is totally open. …The word of God is fully and totally revealed for what it is.” And what we have to do is to stand before it also in silence in order to hear. And that’s a very important point. Because no one who cannot shut up is going to hear the word of the cross. No one who cannot be quiet is going to going to penetrate the deepest mystery. And that ultimate word, even Saint Maximums, Saint Isaac, he said, “The language of God is ultimately silence. And in the silent depth of the cross, the silence of God, which is more eloquent than any word, speaks to our silence, the silence within us, in order that we can then understand and grasp and live the deepest mysteries of God.” And that’s why talk about God is only some much blah blah. Even too much spiritual talk is nothing but vain babbling. …Saint Ambrose … in his first chapter on the book of the priesthood he said, “You must first teach the priests first how to be silence.” And then he quoted the Desert Tradition which said, “For who cannot be silent must never speak because they’ll have nothing to say.” …We’re so busy minding everybody else’s businesses, who should do what … that the whole thing just becomes crazy. It becomes just the opposite of the word of the cross. The word of the cross that ultimately says, “Just look. Look. Shut up. Look. And then maybe you’ll hear something.” …What is it that we should hear? The simple answer to that according to Christian theology would be “everything” because the cross says everything, …because Christ is all and in all and nothing goes beyond that.

…If the cross is the ultimate act and word of God, and we are made in God’s image and likeness, then the cross is the ultimate word about us too. It can’t be any other way. And that’s even a basic axiom of the Christian worldview. Whatever we say about God, we say about us. …In fact, the church fathers even defined human life in this way. What does it mean to be a human being? It means … to be by God’s grace, power, energy, good will, pleasure …everything that God is by nature. So we are really called to be divine. Now if we are called to be divine, we can skip over a whole bunch of stuff and end up by saying: “Therefore we are called to be crucified.” Because if God ultimately reveals Himself in this world on the cross, that’s where we reveal our self too.

From “The Word of the Cross” (a two disc lecture delivered in April 1989 by Fr. Thomas Hopko at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary). Transcription available here.

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