by Fr. Charles Joanides


If you were going to climb a mountain and you were advised by an experienced climber that you would need two water bottles but you brought five, would the extra three likely help you? If you were also advised that you needed either a hatchet, a saw or machete but you brought two axes and a chain saw, would this added weight hinder your efforts or help them? And, if you were going to climb that same mountain and were advised you would require two changes of clothing but you chose to bring five changes of clothing, would the added clothing add or detract from your efforts? And, if you were going to climb that same mountain and you were advised that you might need a lightweight pup tent but you packed a six man camping tent, would the added weight cause you any problems? And, if you were going to climb this same mountain and you were told you would need six days of rations but you brought sixteen days of rations, would the added food on your back help you or hinder you? And, if you were informed that more than forty pounds of weight in your back pack was unadvisable, and you showed up with ninety pounds of weight in your pack, do you think your trip would be easier or harder?

Obviously, the picture I paint above is a rather ludicrous and exaggerated one and, the answer to the questions are remarkably simple. For anyone who ignores the voice of experience and wisdom is bound to suffer additional, unnecessary pain and disappointment on such a climb.

The reason I bothered to draw this example is because all of us carry around unnecessary ‘stuff’ that functions to make life tougher, whether this ‘stuff’ is in the form of emotional problems, physical problems, money problems … what have you. It can not be denied that all of us have problems that burden us and prevent us from participating with life (in Christ) fuller. Hence, all of us (with few exceptions) are frequently unable to rejoice in a life in Christ due to the ‘stuff’ we carry around with us daily. It is therefore, this ‘stuff ’ that I would like to address briefly in the next several paragraphs: the superfluous ‘stuff ’ that makes life incredibly difficult and complicated.

In our Divine Liturgy, before the priest elevates the chalice and paten saying, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee, in behalf of all and for all,” he reads the following prayer silently. “Therefore, remembering this command of our Savior, and all He had endured for us: the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into Heaven, the Session at the Right Hand of the Father, and the Second and glorious Coming again.”

Essentially, this prayer calls us to remember what Christ accomplished for us, not only to remember but, to actualize that which Christ potentially gave to us all personally. Such Godly feats as the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Coming, that we encounter in this prayer, must humble us and fill us with joy.

Still among the holy accomplishments enumerated in this prayer, I suspect we often gloss over the words ‘the grave’ (as I purposely did above) and, we consequently fall short of discerning some of the power and truth of Christ’s work. In a few words, we fail to consider what took place during the time when Christ’s body lay in the tomb and, how the words, ‘the grave’ may have some significance in our efforts to grow spiritually. Briefly then, allow me to explain how a deeper understanding of these words ‘the grave’ can liberate us from the ‘stuff ’ that boggles our minds and hearts.

In I Peter (3:18) we read the following:

“He was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison.” Ostensibly, what this verse conveys (and what the Church teaches) is that Christ, in His divine nature, descended into Hades, into the darkest crevices of Hades, and preached His message: liberating those who were prepared to listen. And indeed, that can be vividly seen in one of the most familiar hymns that the Church proclaims from Easter up to the Ascension: “Christ is risen from the dead trampling death by death and bestowing life to those in the tombs.”

What is significant about Christ’s descent into Hades is what it personally offers us. By this I mean, just as Christ descended into Hades, so too can He descend into the utter depth of the hell of sin in us, the hell of sin that manifests itself through such emotions as anger, greed, vengeance, hate and the like. Like those whom He freed in Hades, so also can He liberate us from the ‘hellishness’ that abides so deeply in us and fills us with darkness and disdain for life. He can, as a matter of Biblical truth, “shine in the darkness, … and overcome it.” In short, he can shine in our darkness and fill us with His divine light.

Finally, if we want to be liberated from the hell that abides in us and, if we want to be liberated from that same hell that surfaces frequently to make problems for us, if we want to live a fuller life, a more productive life, a more meaningful existence, then we must allow Christ to enter us and lighten our load. For like the mountain climber in my opening remarks, we too are over­burdened daily with too much ‘stuff’; ‘stuff’ that impedes our efforts, stymies our efforts, and literally obliterates our efforts to participate in life. In the end, put very succinctly, our own burdens in life can either be lighter or heavier: depending on us and our willingness to follow Christ or out unwillingness to choose to follow Him.

“Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee, in behalf of all and for all.”

Father Charles is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, and is pastor of St. George Church in Shreveport, Louisiana.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
May 1989
p. 20