Synaxis of the Twelve Holy Apostles
WHEN WE were being held in such harsh captivity and were being ruled by invisible and bitter death, the Master of all creation, both visible and invisible, was not ashamed, but rather became like us in every way, yet without sin (cf. Heb. 4.15) (that is, He was without dishonorable passions), by humbling Himself and taking on human nature (cf. 2 Cor. 11.7; Phil. 2.8), which had been condemned to dishonorable passions and was subject to divine judgment. All the punishments imposed upon mankind by divine decree for the sin of transgression—death, toil, hunger, thirst, and the like—He took upon Himself, becoming what we are so that we might become what He is (cf. St Athanasius, On the Incarnation 54.3). “The Word became flesh” (Jn. 1.14) so that flesh might become Word: “Although He was rich, He became poor for our sakes, so that through His poverty we might become rich” (2 Cor. 8.9). Through His great compassion for mankind, He became like us, so that through every virtue we might become like Him.
From the time that Christ came to dwell with us, the new humanity, made “in the image and likeness” (Gen. 1.26), is truly made new through the grace and power of the Spirit, reaching the full measure of perfect love which cast out fear (1 Jn. 4.18) and is no longer able to fall, “for love never falls” (1 Cor. 13.8). “Love,” says John, “is God, and the person who abides in love abides in God” (1 Jn 4.16). The apostles were deemed worthy of this full measure of love, as were those like them who practiced virtue, and presented themselves perfect to the Lord, and followed the Savior with perfect desire their whole lives.
If you remember always and reflect upon such profound humility, which the Lord in His ineffable compassion took upon Himself because of His love for us—that is, God the Word coming to dwell in His mother’s womb; His taking human nature upon Himself; His birth from a woman; His gradual growth in physical stature; the dishonor He suffered; the insults, the vilifications, the ridiculing jokes; the revilings, the beatings; being spat upon, mocked, and jeered; the purple robe, the crown of thorns; the judgment against Him by those in authority; the outcry against Him by the lawless Jews, who were His own people, “Away with Him! Away with Him! Crucify Him!”; the cross; the nails, the spear, the drink of sour wine and gall; the derision of the pagans; the laughter of those passing by and saying, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross right now and we will believe in You!”; and the rest of the sufferings that He patiently endured for our sakes: crucifixion, death, three-day burial in the tomb, the descent into hell—then remember the fruits that have come from these sufferings, their nature and number: the resurrection from the dead; the harrowing of hell, by which He stripped death of its weapons for those who are united with the Lord; the ascension into heaven; the seat at the right hand of the Father; the glory and honor “far above all rule and authority, and above every name that is named” (Eph. 1.21); the veneration accorded to the “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1.18) by all angels on account of the sufferings He endured, in accordance with what the Apostle says: “Let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave and, being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus Christ every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” and what follows (Phil. 2.5-10). See to what great glory and heights the Lord’s humanity was raised, in accordance with God’s justice, because of the aforementioned sufferings!
—St Mark the Monk, A Letter to Nicholas