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(April 2005)

The Cup of Christ

By St. Ignatii Brianchaniov


Two beloved disciples asked the Lord for thrones of glory He gave them His cup. (Matt. 20:23) The Cup of Christ is suffering. To those who drink from it on earth, the Cup of Christ grants participation in Christ’s Kingdom of grace; it prepares for them the thrones of eternal glory in heaven.

We stand in silence before the Cup of Christ, nor can any man complain about it or reject it; for He who commanded us to taste it, first drank of it Himself. O tree of the knowledge of good and evil! You killed our ancestors in Paradise, you deceived them by the delusions of sensual pleasure and the delusions of reason. Christ, the Redeemer of the fallen, brought His Cup of salvation into this world, to the fallen and to those who are exiled from Paradise. The bitterness of this Cup cleanses the heart from forbidden, destructive and sinful pleasure; through the humility flowing from it in abundance, pride of understanding on the carnal level is mortified. To him who drinks from the Cup with faith and patience, the eternal life which was and still is lost to him by his tasting of forbidden fruit will be restored.

“I will accept the Cup of Christ, the cup of salvation.” (Psalm 116:13) The cup is accepted when a Christian bears earthly tribulation in the spirit of humility learned from the Gospel. Saint Peter turned swiftly with a naked sword to defend the God-man, who was surrounded by evil doers; but the meek Jesus said to Peter: “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup My Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11) So you too, when disaster surrounds you, should comfort and strengthen your soul, saying: “The Cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”

The Cup is bitter: at first sight all human reasoning is confounded. Surmount reason by faith and drink courageously from the bitter Cup: it is the Father who gives it to you, He who is all good and all wise. It is neither the Pharisees, nor Caiaphas, nor Judas who prepared the Cup; it is neither Pilate nor his soldiers who gave it! “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”

The Pharisees think evil, Judas betrays, Pilate orders the unlawful killing, the soldiers of the government execute his order. Through their evil deeds all these prepared their own true perdition. Do not prepare for yourself just such a perdition by remembering evil, by longing for and dreaming of revenge, and by indignation against your enemies. The heavenly Father is almighty and all-seeing: He sees your afflictions, and if He had found it necessary and profitable to withdraw the Cup from you, He certainly would have done so.

The Lord as the Scriptures and Church history testify has often allowed afflictions to befall His beloved, and often warded off afflictions from them, in accordance with the unfathomable ways of Providence. When you are faced with the Cup, turn your gaze from the people who give it to you; lift your eyes to Heaven and say: “The Cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”

I will take the cup of salvation. I cannot reject the Cup, the promise of heavenly and eternal good. The apostle of Christ teaches me patience when he says: “...we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) How can one reject the Cup which is the means of attaining this Kingdom and growing within it? I will accept the Cup the gift of God. The Cup of Christ is the gift of God. The great Paul writes to the Philippians, “For unto you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” (Phil. 1:29)

You receive the Cup which seemingly comes from the hand of man. What is it to you whether the bearer of the Cup acts righteously or unrighteously? As a follower of Jesus, your concern is to act righteously; to receive the Cup with thanksgiving to God and with a living faith; and courageously to drink it to the dregs. In receiving the Cup from man, remember it is the Cup of Him who is not only innocent but all-holy. Thinking on this, remind yourself and other suffering sinners of the words that the blessed and enlightened thief spoke when he was crucified on the right hand of the crucified God-man: “We receive the due reward of our deeds... Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy Kingdom.” (Luke 23: 41 & 42) And then, turning to the people, you will say to them: “Blessed are you who are instruments of the righteousness and of the mercy of God, blessed are you henceforth and forever more!” (If they are not in a fit state to understand and receive your words, do not cast your precious pearls of humility under the feet of those who cannot value them, but say these words in thought and heart.) By this alone will you fulfill the commandment of the Gospel which says: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you...” (Matt. 5:44)

Pray to the Lord, on behalf of those who have insulted and outraged you, that what they have done for you should be repaid by a temporal blessing and eternal reward of salvation, and that when they stand before Christ to be judged, it should be counted to them as if it had been an act of virtue. Although your heart does not wish to act in this way, compel it to do so: because only those who do violence to their own heart in fulfilling the commandments of the Gospel can inherit Heaven. If you have not the will to act this way, then you have not the will to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look deep within yourself; consider searchingly: have you not found another teacher, the teacher of hatred the devil and fallen under his power?

It is a terrible transgression to offend or to oppress one’s neighbor: it is a most terrible transgression to commit murder. But whoever hates his oppressor, his slanderer, his betrayer, his murderer, and whoever thinks ill of them and takes revenge on them, commits a sin very near to their sin. In vain does he pretend to himself and others that he is righteous. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer of man, proclaimed Saint John, the beloved disciple of Christ. (I John 3:15)

A living faith in Christ teaches one to receive the Cup of Christ, and the Cup of Christ inspires hope in the heart of him who receives it; and hope in Christ gives strength and consolation to the heart. What torment of hell to complain or to murmur against the pre-destined Cup from above! Murmuring, impatience, faint-heartedness and especially despair are sins before God; they are the ugly children of sinful disbelief. It is sinful to complain of neighbors when they are the instruments of our suffering; still more sinful is it when we cry out against the Cup that comes down to us straight from Heaven, from the right hand of God. He who drinks the Cup with thanksgiving to God and blessings on his neighbor, achieves holy serenity, the grace of the peace of Christ. It is as if already he enjoys God’s spiritual Paradise. Temporal suffering has no importance in itself: we lend it significance because of our attachment to the earth and to all corruptible things, and through our coldness towards Christ and eternity.

You are prepared to bear the bitter and repellent taste of medicines, the painful amputation and cauterization of your limbs, the long drawn out suffering of hunger, and prolonged seclusion in your room; you are prepared to bear all this to restore lost health to your body, which after it is healed will certainly become ill again, and will certainly die and become corrupt. Bear then the bitterness of the Cup of Christ which brings healing and eternal beatitude to your immortal soul.

If the Cup appears to you to be unbearable, deadly, then it reveals that, although you bear Christ’s Name, you do not belong to Christ. For the true followers of Christ, the Cup of Christ is the Cup of joy. Thus the holy apostles, after having been beaten before the gathering of the elders of the Jews, went out from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 5: 40- 41) The righteous Job heard bitter news. Tiding after tiding came to pierce his steadfast heart; the last of these was the hardest all; his sons and daughters had been struck down suddenly by a cruel and violent death. In his great sorrow, the righteous Job rent his clothes and sprinkled his head with ashes. And then in submissive faith he fell down upon the ground, and worshipped the Lord saying: “I myself came naked from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, the Lord taketh away: as it seemed good to the Lord, so has it come to pass; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

Entrust your heart in simplicity to Him by whom all the hairs of your head are numbered: He knows the measure of the healing Cup that you should be given. Look often on Jesus standing before those who put Him to death; He was delivered to death, to be slain as a defenseless sheep. Do not take your eyes from Him, and your suffering will be transformed into heavenly spiritual sweetness: the wounds of your heart are healed with the wounds of Jesus. “Suffer ye thus far,” said the Lord to those who wished to defend Him in the garden of Gethsemane, and He healed the ear that had been struck off. (Luke 22:51) “Thinkest thou,” replied the Lord to him who had tried to take the Cup from Him, “that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26: 53)

In the time of misfortune do not seek the help of man; do not lose precious time. Await help from God: by His command and in His own time will people come to your help. The Lord remained silent before Pilate and Herod, He made no attempt to justify Himself. You must imitate His holy and wise intention of certain conviction.

Whether the cup comes to you as a gradual gathering of clouds, or as suddenly as a furious whirlwind, say to God, “Thy will be done.” You are a disciple, follower and servant of Jesus. Now Jesus said: “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be.” (John 12:26) But Jesus spent His life on earth in sufferings; He was persecuted from His birth to the grave; from the time of His swaddling clothes malice was preparing for Him a violent death. Nor was malice satisfied by achieving such an aim, but tried to uproot the very remembrance of Him from the earth.

In following Him, all the chosen of our Lord pass by the road of temporary suffering to blessed eternity. While bodily pleasures dominate us, it is impossible that a spiritual state should also prevail in us. That is why our Lord ceaselessly offers His Cup to those He loves, so as to keep them in deadness to the world and to enable them to live the life of the Spirit. St. Isaac the Syrian said: “The man who is sent unceasing sorrow is known to be especially under God’s care. Pray to God, that He may avert all calamity and every trial from you; but when sorrows come of themselves, do not be afraid of them, do not think that they have come by chance, or by force of circumstance. No, they are allowed by the inscrutable Providence of God. Filled with faith, and the fortitude and magnanimity born of it, swim fearlessly amidst the darkness and howling storm into the peaceful harbor of eternity: the unseen hand of Jesus Himself will guide.

With reverent and deep reflection, learn the prayer which our Lord offered to His Father in the garden of Gethsemane during the heavy hours of suffering that came to Him before His Passion and Death on the Cross. With this prayer, meet and conquer every sorrow. “O my Father”, prayed our Savior, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39) Pray to God to avert misfortunes, and at the same time renounce your own will, as being a sinful, blind will; entrust those nearest to your heart to the all-holy and all-wise will of God. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41) When you are surrounded by afflictions, pray more often, that you may draw the special grace of God towards you. Only with the help of special grace are we able to surmount temporal misfortunes.

When you receive from Heaven the gift of patience, be attentive and vigilant over yourself, so as to hold and keep within yourself the grace of God, lest sin should creep unnoticed into your soul or body and drive away this grace. But if with carelessness and inattention you let sin enter within you, and particularly the one sin to which your weak flesh is specially addicted, and which stains the body and soul, then grace will depart leaving you stripped and lonely. Then sorrow, given to you for your salvation and perfection, will trample heavily on you, will crush you with sadness, depression, despair, and like someone who holds the gift of God without due reverence to the gift. Hasten to bring back your heart to purity in true and resolute repentance, and through purity to the gift of patience: since this gift of the Holy Spirit reposes only in the pure. The holy martyrs sang a song of joy in the midst of the fiery furnace, when walking on nails, on sharp swords, sitting in cauldrons of boiling water or oil. So also will your heart rejoice when by prayer you have drawn to yourself the comfort of grace, and kept it within by constant watch over yourself. Then your heart will sing amidst misfortunes and terrible misery, with a joyful song of praise and thanksgiving to God.

The mind, purified by the Cup of Christ, is endowed with spiritual vision; it begins to see the all-embracing Providence of God, invisible to the carnal mind: to see the law of corruption in all things mortal; to see near at hand the immensity of eternity; to see God in His great works, in His creation and re-creation of the universe. The earthly life then comes to seem like a quickly-ending pilgrimage, whose events are dreams, whose blessings are but brief visual delusions, short-lived because of the perilous misconceptions of the mind and heart.

What fruit does temporary suffering bear for eternity? When Heaven was shown to the Apostle John, with an innumerable gathering of bearers of light dressed in white and celebrating their salvation and blessedness before the throne of God, one of the dwellers in Heaven asked him: “What are these arrayed in white robes? And whence came they?” “And I said unto him,” says Saint John the Divine, “my Lord, Thou knowest.” Then the dweller in Heaven answered Saint John, “These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:13-17)

Withdrawal from God is eternal torment in hell, eternal contact with the devil and devilish people; with flames, bitter cold, the gloom of Gehenna; that is what may be truly described as suffering. That is torment, great, terrible and insupportable. Over-indulgence in the sweetness of earthly pleasures leads to great eternal suffering. The Cup of Christ saves from this torment whoever drinks from it with thanksgiving and praise to the all-blessed God who, through the bitter Cup of temporal suffering, gives man His boundless and eternal mercy.