Ramsha, evening liturgy on the Friday of Passion

(It is the principal celebration on Passion Friday at 3.00 P.M.)

Qeryana I (Old Testament Reading I): Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Qeryana II (Old Testament Reading II):

Daniel 9:20-27

Engarta (Epistle Reading):

Galatians 2:17-3:14

Evangalion (Gospel):

Lk 22:63-23:12 + Mt 17:19 +Lk 23:13-23 + Mt 27:24-25 +Lk 23:24-45 +Mt 27:51-54 + Jn 19:23-42

Click play to listen Bible verses of the day.

Qeryane, the Readings from OT
In the Gospel episode of the Passion Friday we meditate on our salvation as realized in Jesus Christ. Retrospectively, we are to pass on to the OT readings to see how all those facts were foreseen in them. We have two OT readings on Passion Friday celebration in Chaldeo-Indian or Mar Toma Nasrani Church: Is 52:13-53:12 and Dan 9:20-27. The reading from Isaiah brings to our mind the prophecy of the Suffering Servant and that from Daniel is on the fullness of time, the seventy weeks. Both of them are direct indications or prophecies on the Messiah.


a. Reading from Isaiah

We know that there are four "Songs on the Servant of the Lord" in Isaiah[1]. Although we are concerned only with the last and really the longest, it is to be understood in the context of all of them. According to A.Penna, Isaiah "is renowned for its exalted notions of the holiness and omnipotence of God and his intervention into the world of human experience, as well as for its insistence on 'faith' for the individual and for society. But there is one theme that merits special attention; that which makes Isaiah loved by all Christian readers, that which makes his work as it were an anticipation of the gospel itself. No other prophetical writing contains such a wealth of messianic prophecy."[2]


The songs portray the ideal Servant of the Lord, the perfect Israelite, whose consecration to the divine will, even in the midst of overwhelming suffering, is remarkable.[3] The specialty of the "Servant Songs" consists above all in presenting an aspect of the Messiah which is not brought out elsewhere, i. e., his sufferings and the value attributed to his vicarious suffering and death.[4]


The Servant is chosen by the Lord to accomplish a particular mission, i. e., to establish justice and peace (Is 53:5) on earth, not only for Israel but also for the gentiles.[5] He accomplishes his task with perfect humility and gentleness; still he meets with neglect, opposition, contempt and persecu­tion. In the final Song, however, i. e., in our present liturgical reading, the atmosphere changes dramatically and unexpectedly: here "the result of the Servant's sufferings is not failure but success, and success not in spite of, but precisely through his sufferings." He takes upon himself not only the sorrows and grief of the people, but also their transgressions and iniquities, and suffers punishment on their account (Is 53: 4-5).


Here there is an excellent solution to the problem of suffering which had always troubled Israel. The experience of the prophets especially that of Jeremiah might have been an insight for the author to arrive at this solution. Jeremiah suffe­red undeservedly (Jer 15:10-11) in accomplishing his task of interceding with God on behalf of the nation; the sons of Abra­ham, who were supposed to be a source of blessing to the world (Gen 12:3; 22:18), found themselves condemned to shameful exile. The OT history tells us that such sufferers often break out into lamentation, and sometimes even to curses. But here the scene is quite different. Although he suffered more than all others (Is 52:14), he did not even open his mouth (Is 53: 7). In spite of his seemingly total failure, he grows under the com­placent eye of God (Is 53: 1-3).


The originality of this Servant Song, is perhaps, seen in Is 53:4-6. It takes for granted the sin-suffering relationship explai­ned in the book of Job. Although the idea of sin and suffering is vividly presented here, the emphasis is on the diversity of persons it affects: the Servant suffers intensely, but it is to ex­piate the sins of others; his suffering brings health and salva­tion to sinners. In short, through his extreme pain and disfigure­ment he accomplishes his task on behalf of the mankind. "Suffer­ing therefore, is not necessarily to be seen as a sign of the sinfulness of the sufferer; it can be the burden of the sin of others, and the suffering itself be not a punishment but an atonement."[6]


As for the Servant, his suffering culminates in a contem­ptuous death (Is 53:8-9). But everything that happened was to fulfil the divine plan: his death is a sacrifice of expiation for sinners and the beginning of an unprecedented glorification for himself (Is 53:10-12). According to A.Penna, it is hard to see the precise idea of resurrection in v. 10; but there is certainly the idea of success after death; v. 11 could yield the doctrine of resurrection.[7]


In short, this reading from Isaiah on Passion Friday, brings to our mind a detailed picture of one suffering unto death for others and for their sins. He is essentially that priest-redeemer who intercedes for sinners. A reflection on these passages was an important element in the early Church's under­standing of the role of our Lord, and of his death as a vicarious expiation. Several NT writers in explaining the human salvation accomplished in Jesus Christ consider this passage in Isaiah as a relevant messianic prophecy.[8]


b. Reading from Daniel
Coming to the reading from Dan 9: 20-27, the prophecy deals with the fullness of time. There are two different lines of interpretation to this prophecy: historical and messianic. Accord­ing to M.McNamara, the scholars prefer today the historical interpretation rather than the messianic interpretation. He also gives several reasons for that. The Christian writers from the second century onwards have always considered that Dan 9: 25-27 refers directly to the coming and death of Jesus Christ and to the abolition of the Levitical sacrifice by his death on the cross.[9]


Even according to the historical interpretation, v. 24 is directly messianic and speaks of the age that follows the destruction of the persecutor. In reference to Ch. 2 and 7 of Daniel, it shows us an aspect of the new kingdom to be introduced by God and to be inaugurated by Jesus Christ and to be perfected at the Parousia.


The Seventy Weeks of years correspond to seven seventy-year period of 490 years (cf Lev 25: 8,the Jubilee Year). This period is divided into three unequal sections, namely, seven plus sixty-two plus one, and the last section, i. e., one week, is again subdivided into two equal parts (Dan 9: 25-27). The beginning and end of each section is marked by some special event. V. 24 being the essence of this prophecy, it speaks of the removal of three things offensive to God: transgression, sin and iniquity. These are the classical terms used in OT to show sins against the Lord.[10] These seventy weeks of years are allowed for a complete destruction of these negative elements. And when transgression will be definitely checked, sins will be sealed up and iniquity will be atoned, the corresponding positive elements or virtues will be established. They are: (i) the bringing in of everlasting righteousness, i. e., a state of friendship between God and man, in which God's supreme rights and man's obligations deriving there from will be recognized; (ii) the sealing of vision and prophet, i. e., the visions and prophecies of Dan 7-9 or of Jer 25: 11; 29: 9 will be authenticated or shown true, in their fulfilment; and (iii) the anointing of Qdosh qudshin, the Holy of Holies, i. e., the sanctuary or the altar or even the temple.


Whatever be the chronological or historical factuality of these positive elements, a meditative reader of this prophecy in his liturgical celebration is naturally brought into the 'fifth kingdom',[11] the new kingdom of God, inaugurated by the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the messianic kingdom, introduced by God without human help (Dan 2: 34.44s). Per­haps the author of Daniel might have imbibed the spirit of such prophets as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who, distressed by the be­haviour of the reigning kings, concentrated their attention on a new reign of Yahweh. According to Daniel, this new kingdom is heavenly in origin, supernatural, universal and everlasting in character. And when all the prophecies were realized, i. e., in the fullness of time, the kingdom was introduced by a personal Messiah, calling himself the 'Son of Man' (Dan 7:13), who be­sides being the 'Son of David', was also the 'Son of God.’ He took away the sin of the world (Jn 1: 29) and made expiation for its iniquity by his death on the cross. He also began the reign of righteousness through his grace and he is the new temple in his body (Jn 2:21). Thus v. 24 in this prophecy is directly messianic and eschatological, while vv. 25-27 are so in a typological and symbolical manner.


Engartha, the Epistle or Sliha, the Apostle

It is in the liturgical reading of the Epistle that we come to the real Apos­tolic experience of the mystery of Christ. There we have the historical and personal experience of the Christ-event in the Apostolic Church or the early Church. The Apostles were by no means armchair theologians, immersed in abstract ideas and ideals. Each of them had personal and communal experience of the Risen Lord and the direct commission to transmit his own experience. By the force of this experience and commission, they were determined to do whatever possible to share this experience. And the only thing that they had to share with others was the mystery of Christ's death and Resurrection; and their one aim was to help others to participate in this mystery by faith and sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist.


Under this background, let us turn to Gal 2:17-3:14, the reading from the Apostle for Passion Friday in Mar Toma Nasrani Church. The theme discussed in the Epistle to Galatians is very basic for Christendom as a whole. Two important problems St Paul had to solve in this connection were the authenticity of his 'gospel' and of his 'apostolate.’ When we take into consider­ation the context in which St. Paul discusses these problems, we can also understand the seriousness of the situation. The so-called 'judaisers' were trying to reduce Christianity to a sect in Judaism. For them, the observance of Jewish law, even in its minute details, was essential to become a Christian, or rather to become a first-class Christian. It is against this so-called 'judaisers' that St. Paul is fighting here. He uses the same logic of the judaisers to establish the authenticity of his 'gospel' and of his 'apostolate.’


"In Paul's understanding Christian conduct is a direct re­sponse to the death and resurrection of Christ, in which the Christian is enabled to participate through baptism (Rom 6:5-14; Col 2:12)." Paul's experience of the risen Lord on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:4-23) was the central reference point for the whole of his subsequent life and thought. His experience was a direct communication from God (Gal 1:16); it was an experience equal to that of the other Apostles after Resurrection (1 Cor 15:8). Thus he establishes the authenticity of his 'apostolate' and of 'his gospel.’ Then he goes on to explain what exactly this mystery of salvation accomplished in Jesus Christ is. It is the mystery of Christ, who suffered, died and rose up bestowing the Spirit of everlasting life to those who have faith (Gal 3:14).


In the present reading we come across the key Pauline terms: 'life-to-live' (Gal 2:19-20) and 'justice to be justified' (Gal 2:16.17.21). We may understand the full signification of these terms only in their original setting. "Life for the OT and Judaism was far more than a biological phenomenon. It was a qualitative fullness of being, transcending merely material existence, in fact a participation in the very being of God who alone is 'living' in the fullest sense of the word (Deut 5:26). Similarly, though originally a forensic notion, 'justice' is revealed in the Bible as one of God's fundamental attributes, in fact synonymous with his saving love (Is 1:27) and thus 'to be just' means to share in God's justice. Moreover there is in OT a very close connection between 'life', 'justice' and the law. It was by keeping the commandments that a person both lived (Deut 8:3) and was just or justified (Ps 118:106).”[12]


Hence in the present context Paul affirms that Christian life is a participation in the life of Christ, Christ who loved men and gave himself to death for them (Gal 2:20). How is it possible? It is possible only by being crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20), i.e., through faith and baptism (Rom 6:3s). Hence it is a life-long union with Christ, identification with the phases of Christ's life, passion, death and Resurrection. In this existence a Christian lives only for God and he can never sin (Gal 2:19). It is in this context that St. Paul asks the Galatians, who have been already identified with the life of Christ and begun with the life of the Spirit, how is it possible for them to turn again to the old way of life (Gal 3:1s). This Christian life or faith in Christ is not merely a new norm or goal of action. "It reshapes man anew internally, supplying him with a new principle of activity on the ontological level of his very being."[13] The re­sult is a symbiosis, man united to Christ (Gal 2:20: "Christ lives in me"), who has become a 'life-giving spirit' (1 Cor 15:45) and the vital principle of Christian activity through his Resurrection. By adding: "I live by faith in the Son of God," St Paul has given expression to his profound insight into the Christian ex­perience.  It is, "the reshaping of man's very physical life by the transcendent influence of Christ's indwelling. It must eventually penetrate to his psychological awareness, so that he realizes in faith his real life comes only from the redemptive and vicarious sur­render of the Son of God.”


'Christian justification', according to St. Paul, is also a participation in a basic quality of God. 'Justice' primarily is the quality of God (Rom 3:, but it is a quality which is often communicated to men (Phil 3: 9; 2 Cor 5: 21). Thus it is God's "salvific uprightness, a quality by which he manifests his bounty and fidelity in acquitting and vindicating his people.”  Just as it is in the case of Christian life, it is received by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3: 26). Hence naturally one grows in his uprightness or shares more and more in God's economy of salvation, as his faith grows. By quoting Hab 2: 4 in Gal 3:11 Paul wants to relate 'life' and 'justice' with 'faith', and that too according to his own special way of understanding it. According to Habakuk, Judah will become victorious through his fidelity to the Lord. The 'life' and 'justification' promised to him was temporal deliverance from the Chaldean invaders. But here in Galatians Paul extends the sense to Christian destiny and salvation. It is a life in Jesus Christ and a justification through his life-giving spirit, namely it is a permanent state of existence which continues even after man's physical death. Paul argues that in the present economy it is possible only by faith and not by observance of the Law (Gal 3: 11). Paul's argument runs in such a way as to, "emphasize the fact that even if the law did give life and justice, this was only typologically and in relation to Christ, the fulfilment of the law. Once the antitype and reality has arrived, there is no longer room for the type and the shadow."[14]


He continues to argue that the law with its manifold prescriptions enslaved man (Gal 5:1), and from this enslavement man has been liberated by Christ (Gal 3:13). As the Lord through his covenant purchased his people in OT times (Ex 19:5-6; Is 43:21; Ps 74: 3), so Christ too by his covenant blood, shed on the cross, bought his people. Thus the new people of God is emancipated from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13) and through faith in Christ they have become the free ones (Gal 5:1).

In short, through the Passion Friday reading from Gal 2:17-3:14,the Fathers of The East Syriac Churches wanted to give the worshiping community an occasion for meditating upon their salvation accomplished in the passion, death and Resurrec­tion of the Lord. Moreover, in the imitation of the Apostle (St. Paul), they are induced to think of their own conversion and faith in Jesus Christ. Their new life in Jesus Christ being a total transformation from the past, they have to convince them­selves that a return to the life of sin is not becoming to the Christian life. It is through the covenant blood of the Lord that they are introduced into this new life in Jesus Christ and hence they have to be faithful to this new covenant and new life even to the shedding of their own blood.


Evangalion, the Gospel

On the Friday of the Passion, the Chaldeo-Indians have an elaborate reading from the Gospels. The whole passion narra­tive is read in the liturgy on this day[15]. This tradition prefers a mixed reading, namely, the system of Gospel-harmony. Thus they read Lk 22:63-23:12; Mt 27:19; Lk 23:13-23; Mt 27:24-25; Lk 23:24-45; Mt 27:51-54; Jn 19:23-42 during the liturgi­cal celebration for this day. The principal text is from St. Luke. Relevant passages from St. Matthew and St. John are added to it.


The emphasis in today's liturgy is on the passion and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In a liturgical celebra­tion, what is important is the accomplishment of human salva­tion, or more precisely, the participation in the already accompli­shed salvation. Hence the passion and death of Jesus are seen as events in the history of salvation. Their historical and chronolo­gical order or even their factuality is of little importance here. The presentation itself must be sufficiently evocative to deepen the consciousness of sinfulness and of the helplessness to get out of it. Then only will the community realize the great value of redemption and will spontaneously break out singing praise and thanksgiving. The same ideal is also found in the Passion Friday celebration. Hence the Syriac Fathers, who have composed this liturgical celebration, strove to present the real accomplishment of Jesus' passion and death to the celebrating community in the most touching manner possible.


According to K. H. Schelkle, "Luke is especially con­cerned to present those elements in the passion of Jesus which are appealing and moving."[16] Christ, for St. Luke, is the man of grace, patience and suffering. He is the martyr par excellence. He sees beforehand his suffering and death. He is sorrowful as he celebrates the last supper with his disciples (Lk 22:15-16). Although he prays the Father to remove the most bitter cup, he submits "himself fully to the will of the Father (Lk 22:42). In the Garden of Olives his sweat falls to the ground as heavy as drops of blood (Lk 22:44). Even at the most difficult moment he stands revealed as Saviour by healing the ear of high priest's servant (Lk 22:51). His gaze was powerful enough to move Peter to repentance (Lk 22:61-62). It is against such background that the community is introduced to the Gospel of the day.


In the Gospel itself, St. Luke brings out vividly the personality of Jesus in his extreme 'human' qualities. He is more concerned with others in sorrow than himself. He, there­fore, turns and consoles the weeping women (Lk 23:27-31). On the cross he thinks of his enemies and prays for them (Lk 23:34). His heart throbs with the feelings of sympathy and he forgives the penitent thief at once (Lk 23:43). In short, he shows him­self a man of extreme patience and of great devotion to God till the last moment of his life (Lk 23:46). It is Luke who pro­vides a basis for that feeling - that experience of compassion with the Lord in his passion - which is to move Christendom in the future. An example is given immediately after the crucifixion: "And all the multitude who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts" (Lk 23:48). The centurion shows his extreme sympathy in his exclamation, "Certainly this man was innocent!" (Lk  23:47).


St. Luke is at great pains in today's reading to show that Jesus was the real Messiah. Every minute detail in the passion narrative and crucifixion is to fulfil the messianic prophecies. Jesus being challenged as to his messiah-ship, defends himself in clear terms that he is the 'Son of Man' (Lk 22:67-70). He is the 'Son of Man' whom Luke had already portrayed as the 'suffer­ing one' and as the one in whom the prophecies are to be fulfilled (Lk 9:22.44; 18:31). Again, after the resurrection, this triumphant suffering will be attributed to the glory of the Messiah (Lk 24:26.46). The quotation from Ps 110:1 in Lk 22:69, i. e., sitting 'at the right hand', according to A. R. C. Leaney, is also messianic.[17] St. Lukehad already used it with the same meaning (Lk 20:42). Moreover this passage is used in several other NT passages to show Christ's Messiah-ship. The titles 'Son of God' and the 'Power of God' used in this context refer also to Ps 2:7 and Dan 1:13. The episode of Pilate's wife (Mt 27:19), inserted to the liturgical passion narrative by the Syriac Fathers, also seems to stress the divinity of Jesus. In support of this we read in St. John (19:7-11) that Pilate was afraid to hear that Jesus is the Son of God.


As we enter upon the 'way of the cross' and go up to the crucifixion itself, the evangelists try their best to establish the fact that Jesus is truly the Messiah. Every event in it is a fulfilment of messianic prophecy. Thus in the episode of the daughters of Jerusalem and in Jesus' exhortation to them, St. Lukesees the accomplishment of Hos 10:8; Jer 11:16; Ez 20:47 and Pr 11:31. Not only that the prophecies are fulfilled in him, but he himself turns out to be a prophet. He prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and the distress to be endured by the children of Jerusalem. That Jesus was crucified in between two criminals is again to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah that 'he was numbered with the transgressors' (Is 53:12 ).


Leaving aside many other OT references in each of the events which followed, let us come to the words of our Lord from the cross. His prayer for his crucifiers (Lk 23:34) is some­thing unique and unheard of in the history of religions. Here, there is, perhaps, the true picture of Christian religion. His exalted moral instruction in Mt 5:38-42, is being literally put into practice in his own life.

In the episode of the penitent thief (Lk 23:41-43), we meet with Jesus in his extreme human qualities. His sympathy knows no bounds. Not only does he forgive him at once, but promise him the greatest honour of accompanying him in the heavenly gardens.


The great "signs" (Lk 23:41-43 and Mt 27:51-53) connec­ted with the death of the Lord, namely, the unusual and extra­ordinary darkness for three hours, the splitting of the temple veil, the earthquake and so on, all of them show clearly the uni­queness of Jesus' death as the Messiah. "The conjunction of the celestial signs with the beginning of the destruction of the tem­ple emphasizes with perfect clarity Luke's eschatological concep­tion: this destruction of Jerusalem begins those catastrophic events which inaugurate the kingdom.”  St. Luke is linking the fate of Jerusalem with celestial signs.  In the Lord’s death these events are set in motion.


The rending of the sanctuary veil (Mt 27:51; Lk 23:45) is also highly symbolic. "That was the veil which covered the Holy of Holies; that was the veil beyond which no man could penetrate, save only the High Priest on the Day of Atone­ment; that was the veil behind which the Spirit of God dwelt."[18]  In the death of Jesus the hidden love of God is revealed and everyone is brought nearer to the presence of God. The East Syriac Bible Commentators of early centuries including the renowned Isho-Dad of Merve while interpreting this Gospel passage emphasize the shifting of the creative working of the Holy Spirit from OT to NT. He writes: “The door-veil which was a type which was rent, first, because it could not bear the suffering of its Arche­type; second, for a sign that the Divine Shekinah had departed from it, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, and that the legal types had completely ceased from it, the priesthood and the sacrifices etc., and that it was being prepared for destruction and for burning, and for a troop who should do a myriad evil things, who, with one word, should capture the kingdom, for a sign that He was the expiation of debts and of sins, He, the Lord of the Kingdom.”


This episode doesn’t appear to have any relation to the symbol of ‘sanctuary veil’ or ‘ikonostasis’ in Eastern Churches. The ‘Sanctuary Veil’ is an important symbol in all Syriac Churches. It is for them the Person of Jesus Christ himself (Heb 10:20). Only through Him and in Him do the humans have any contact with the Divine. It is the supreme symbol which provides a heavenly experience to the liturgical assembly and hence an unavoidable reality in Syriac tradition’s liturgical celebrations.


The tombs that were opened (Mt 27:52) show Jesus' victory over death. “Because of his life, his death and his Re­surrection, the tomb has lost its power, and the grave has lost its terror, and death has lost its tragedy. For we are certain that because he lives, we shall live also.”


In the adoration and confession of the centurion, i. e., "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Mt 27:54), Jesus stands out as a true prophet. His prophecy in St. John's Gospel, namely, "and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32), is fulfilled now. He was then speaking of the magnetic power of his cross, and the centurion, perhaps, is the second fruit of it (the first being the penitent thief).


In the concluding part of the Passion Friday Gospel, i. e., in Jn 19:23-42, we meet with very many symbolic events. All of them are specially arranged to show that Jesus was the true Messiah and that in his death and Resurrection, human salva­tion is achieved. St. Johnclearly distinguishes between the two sets of Jesus' vestments: the clothes and the seamless tunic.  According to R. E. Brown the particular reference to the kottina, the seamless tunic, which is not rent, is to show the priesthood of our Lord. He proves it clearly bringing in the NT and OT parallels to this text and references to the seamless, ankle-length tunic.[19] Thus St. Johnestablishes that Jesus went to the cross both as a priest and as a king.


One of the Passion Friday ceremonies in the Mar Toma Nasrani Church is reminiscent of this biblical theme. On this day, the Cross erected on the Bema, the raised platform in the middle of all churches, symbolizing the earthly Jerusalem and the Gagulta in this tradition, is specially adorned with kottina', the long tunic. The celebrants lead the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ from the Bema. When the Gospel proclamation is over, the Archdeacon who is the principal assistant of the celebrant, brings the cross with great veneration to the main celebrant, who removes the tunic from the cross and covers it with a neat white shroud. Then it is carried in procession together with the Gospel Lectionary to the sanctuary, where it is laid solemnly on the altar, which is the symbol of our Lord's sepulchre.


There are also certain Fathers of the Church, for example St. Cyprian, and some other scholars who see the undivided tunic as the symbol of the unity of Jesus and his followers or as a symbol of the unity of the Church. Whatever be the plausibility of such readings, the idea that kottina', the long tunic, is the typical garment of a salvific figure seems to be convincing.
The episode of Mary and the Beloved Disciple (Jn 19:25-27) points to a basic theme in Mariology and in the life of the Church. According to Mar Aprem, just as Moses appointed Joshua in his stead to take care of the people of God in OT, so Jesus appointed St. John, the Beloved Disciple, to take care of Mary, the Church. Thus, Mary at the foot of the cross is for him the figure of the Church. This may be a development on the understanding of Mary as New Eve by Justin, Irenaeus and Tertullian. While speaking about Mary and her relation to the Church, the Second Vatican Council too teaches that she is the type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and per­fect union with Christ (LG 63).


There are also certain Fathers of the Church, for example St. Cyprian, and some other scholars who see the undivided tunic as the symbol of the unity of Jesus and his followers or as a symbol of the unity of the Church. Whatever be the plausibility of such readings, the idea that kottina', the long tunic, is the typical garment of a salvific figure seems to be convincing.


The episode of Mary and the Beloved Disciple (Jn 19:25-27) points to a basic theme in Mariology and in the life of the Church. According to Mar Aprem, just as Moses appointed Joshua in his stead to take care of the people of God in OT, so Jesus appointed St. John, the Beloved Disciple, to take care of Mary, the Church. Thus, Mary at the foot of the cross is for him the figure of the Church. This may be a development on the understanding of Mary as New Eve by Justin, Irenaeus and Tertullian. While speaking about Mary and her relation to the Church, the Second Vatican Council too teaches that she is the type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and per­fect union with Christ (LG 63).


The understanding of Mary as the image or symbol of the Church, is quite different from understanding her as an indivi­dual, the mother of all Christians. This event at the foot of the cross is to be understood in its relation to Qatna' (Cana)-event (Jn 2:4) and to the image of the woman in travail (Jn 16:21).  Both at Calvary and at Qatna' Jesus calls his mother attha, gune, 'Woman.’


We must specially mention here that these are the only places where Jesus' mother appears in St. John's Gospel. At Qatna she takes the initiative, and her requests tend to be re­fused on the ground that 'his hour' had not yet come; Mary, however, says "Do whatever he tells you"; but at Calvary Jesus takes the initiative, and it is 'his hour' (Jn 19:27). Thus she is received to play her role at this 'hour' of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. It is the climatic 'hour' when men are to be recreated as the child­ren of God. It is the 'hour' when the Spirit is breathed forth. It is the 'hour' of birth pangs (Jn 16:21; Is 26:17-18) to bring forth and hand over (Jn 19:30) the Spirit of salvation. In be­coming mother of the Beloved Disciple, Mary is the symbol of Lady Zion, the virgin spouse of God (Is 64:7-10), who after the birth pangs brings forth a new people in joy (Is 54:1; Jn 16:21). Mary's natural son has become the first-born of the dead (Col 1:18), the one who has the keys of death (Rev 1:18), and those who believe in him are born again in his image. As his brothers, they have her as mother. That is why the Council speaks of her, the image of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ. In short "We may say that the Johannine picture of Jesus' mother becoming the mother of the Beloved Disciple seems to evoke the OT themes of Lady Zion's giv­ing birth to a new people in the messianic age... This imagery flows over into the imagery of the Church who brings forth children modelled after Jesus, and the relationship of loving care that must bind the children to their mother.”


St. John is very careful to describe two important events before the death of our Lord. They are Jesus' cry of thirst and the mention of hyssop to support the sponge (Jn 19:28-30). According to R. E. Brown, they have definite theological sym­bolism behind. They are to be understood, says he, in the whole Johannine train of thought. The Pshitta reading of Jn 19:28 clearly shows that Jesus' cry of thirst is to fulfil a pro­phecy. The very introductory statement - "Jesus, knowing that all was now finished" - is evocative of Jn 13:1 which says that "Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” Hence Jesus' cry of thirst and the tasting of wine are to be related to the finishing of the great work of 'the hour' - to his death which is the final act of the work committed to him by the Father as is clear from Jn 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave (to death) his only Son." St. John describes these events in such a way as to leave an impression that Jesus was to die only by fulfilling the Scripture that had predicted his death.  The Scripture involved may be the prophecies on the suffering Messiah in OT as understood by the early Christian community. If we look for some particular texts, they can be Ps 69:21: "They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink"; Ps 22:15: "My tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth, thou doest lay me in the dust of death"; Ps 31:10: "For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away"; Ps 42:2: "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God"; Ps 63:1: "My soul thirsts for thee"; there are also people who relate Jn 19:28 to Zech 14:8, and find its fulfilment in Jn 19:30 as he handed over the Spirit. The act that finishes (telein) his work brings the Scripture to complete fulfilment (teleioun), because both his work and the plan of Scripture come from his Father.


Jesus' cry of thirst is understood both as his desire to go to the Father to assure the salvation of mankind and as an ex­pression of Johannine irony, namely, that Jesus who is the source of living water (Jn 7:37-38), cries out in thirst - he thus signi­fies that he must die before the living water can be given, and we are to see that water immediately pours forth from his pierced side (Jn 19:34). This event may be best understood in relation to Jn 18:11: "Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?" It is the cup of suffering and death; and now after having finished his work, he thirsts to drink it to the last drop, i. e., to taste the bitter wine of death; for, only then the will of his Father will be fulfilled.


Another important theological symbol, perhaps, is that of the hyssop. In Ex 12:22 Moses specifies the use of hyssop to sprinkle the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of Israelites. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, while des­cribing Jesus' death to ratify the new covenant, does not forget to mention the use of hyssop by Moses to ratify the old covenant (Heb 9:18-20). The symbolism of the Paschal lamb is something particular to St. John. For him, Jesus is "the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29); Jesus was sentenced to death at the very hour when the slaughter of paschal lambs began in the temple precincts (Jn 19:14); and again the pro­phecy, "not a bone of him shall be broken" (Jn 19:36), he relates to the paschal lamb (Ex 12:46). He is the innocent one, the Suffering Servant, who suffers even death for others. He was brought to the slaughter like a lamb (Is 53:7); but God did not allow his bones to be broken and thus deprive him of the victory of resurrection. Thus in the context of Johannine thought, the mention of hyssop may well be symbolically evocative of Jesus dying as the paschal lamb of the new covenant. In Egypt, the blood of the paschal lamb sprinkled by means of hyssop saved Israelites from the Destroying Angel, and here the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, saved the whole world from sin and destruction. Here, of course, St. Johnadopts the symbol accord­ing to his own imagination, and let us not forget that it is difficult to apply rigorous logic to symbolism.


There are several opinions with regard to the last words of Jesus in different gospel traditions. The words in St. John, "Ha' mshallam, Telelestai, Behold, it is finished!" (Jn 19:30), is very close to St. Luke's, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46; Ps 31:6). Some scholars contrast these to the words in Matthew and Mark:"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Ml 27:46; Mk 15:34), and say that in John(and also in Luke), Jesus accepts death willingly and deliberately; because it is the completion of God's plan. Death for Johannine Christ is not merely a scene of suffering, of ignominy and of universal desolation, but it is the beginning of a great triumph. Thus Jesus' cry, "Behold, it is finished" is a victory cry re­placing the feeling of apparent defeat in Matthew and Mark. There are also differences of opinion with regard to this inter­pretation. When we consider it as a victory cry, it heralds the victory of obediently fulfilling the Father's will. It is parallel to the "It is done" (Rev 16:17) heard out of the temple, the throne of God, when the seventh angel had poured out the final bowl of God's anger. What God has decreed has been accomplished.


The phrase, "and gave up his Spirit" (Jn 19:30) suggests, according to R. E. Brown, another theological theme. It seems that here Jesus is handing over the Holy Spirit to those at the foot of the cross, especially, to Mary who symbolizes the Church or the new people of God, and to the Beloved Disciple who symbolizes the Christian. St. Johnhad already in 7:39 affirmed that those who believed in Jesus were to receive the Spirit, once Jesus had been glorified. Hence it is quite fitting that there is a reference to the giving of the Spirit at this climactic moment. If this passage can be so interpreted, we are inclined to say that it is a proleptic symbolic reference to the ultimate purpose for which Jesus has been lifted up on the Cross. Let us not forget here that the actual giving of the Spirit, according to St. John, comes only in 20:22 after Jesus’ Resurrection.


The piercing of the side of Jesus, the flow of blood and water, and the emphasis on the authority of an eye-witness, and so on, as explained in Jn 19:31-37 is something unique in gospel traditions. According to St. Johnall these things happened in order to fulfil the Scriptures (Jn 19:36). Hence we may conclude that there are definite theological symbolisms for all these events in Johannine thought. Leaving aside the discussions and disputations with regard to the factual and historical nature of these events, we consider here only the liturgical and theo­logical implications. According to R. E. Brown, the purpose of the Evangelist in narrating the issue of blood and water, is to deepen the existing Christian faith (Jn 19:35). The reference to the testimony as 'true' is to indicate that the real significance of this event lies not on the visible, material level, but in the spiritual. As we have every reason to identify this eye-witness of v. 35 with the Beloved Disciple in vv. 26-27, here too he stands as the symbol of all Christians sure to receive further revelations.


It seems that St Johnsees here the fulfilment of Jesus' prophecy: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glori­fied" (Jn 12:23). But at the 'hour' of his glorification he has to fulfil another promise, already made in Jn 7:38-39: "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” The Evangelist immediately adds that the water here, refers to the Spirit to be received by those who believe in Jesus. The insistence on the eye-witness is to show that this promise of our Lord is really fulfilled. Thus the flowing of water from Jesus' side, for John, is another proleptic symbol of the giving of the Spirit, and the Spirit is given in order to confirm all Christians in faith (Jn 19:35: "that you also may believe").


The mentioning of blood in this event may become clea­rer, if we consider 1 Jn 5:6-8: "This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree."


The contrast here is between Jesus' baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist and the crucifixion. Baptism by the Baptist was with water alone and it did not convey the Spirit (Jn 1:31); the real "begetting by water and Spirit" (Jn 3:5) was something that would not come until Jesus had been glorified (Jn 7:39); and the Spirit would not be able to come until Jesus had died or shed his blood (Jn 16:7). In the diction of the Epistle, the water had to be mingled with Jesus' blood before the Spirit could give testimony. The thrust of the soldier’s lance proved that Jesus is truly dead. And from the dead one there flows living water, the Spirit, who is the principle of life for all those who believe in Jesus in imitation of the Beloved Disciple. Thus the event has an ecclesial dimension too as St. Paul affirms: "and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13). Again the symbolism is proleptic as in Jn 19:30, and serves to clarify that, while only the Risen Lord gives the Spirit, that gift flows from the whole process of glorification in the 'hour' of the passion, death, resurrection and ascension.


For some biblical theologians, the reference to blood in this episode is to emphasize the theme that Jesus died as a sacrificial victim. According to them, the lance's thrust and the flow of blood were to fulfil the strict requirements of Jewish sacrificial law which says that the blood of the victim should flow forth at the moment of death and the priest should slit the heart of the victim and make the blood come forth. Jesus dying as a sacrificial victim, as mentioned earlier, is not a theme foreign to Johannine thought patterns.


We must also consider seriously the secondary theological significance of this passage. According to a variant interpretation, beginning from the second century, this passage has a sacra­mental symbolism too. The flow of blood and water from the side of Jesus symbolizes thus the two sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, very closely related to the death and resurrection of our Lord. We must say that such an explanation is not foreign to St. John's theological thinking.


The quotation from Zech 12:10: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced", in Jn 19:37, when considered against the background of the Gospel's emphasis on realized eschatology, stands as a verdict or judgment. According to R. E. Brown, we may count two groups of people who look at the pierced one. The first group includes the Jews, his enemies. They are totally defeated by the very act they instigated; they wanted to do away with Jesus by all means; as they were eagerly looking at him to see that he is truly dead, there flows forth a stream of living water together with his life-blood. The Phari­sees wanted to kill Jesus, because the whole world was running after him (Jn 12:19); but ironically, they were fulfilling Jesus' prophecy in Jn 12:32, that when he is lifted up, he will draw all men to himself. They were the material cause for his suffer­ing and death which led to his glorification and to the pouring out of the Spirit who will vindicate Jesus against themselves (Jn 16:8-11). The Beloved Disciple represents the second group. They are those who have faith in Him. They, having received the gift of life, look to him to be confirmed in faith and to have eternal life (Jn 3:14-15). "Thus the dead Jesus remains the focal point of judgment even as did the living Jesus: at the foot of the cross there stand those who reject the light as well as those who are attracted to it (Jn 3:18-21). The former look upon the pierced Jesus to be con­demned; the latter look upon him to be saved."


In this connection, we cannot but meditate on the fact that we proclaim this incident of piercing the side of Jesus (Jn 19:34-35) in our Holy Qurbana during the mixing together of wine and water in the chalice as part of preparing the holy gifts. From the above-mentioned early interpretations of this episode it becomes clear that the Church is creatively infusing the Holy Spirit to the Eucharistic Gifts so that the Eucharistic action becomes really a pneumatic action. In the Qurbana of the Mar Toma Nasrani Church and all East Syriac Churches the wine is the symbol of our Lord’s humanity and the water that of the Holy Spirit.

In the burial rite of our Lord (Jn 19:38-42), we are drawn to two minor theological symbolisms. The first one is a continuation of the theme proposed by Jn 12:32, namely, once Jesus has been lifted up, he draws all men to himself. Here the emphasis seems to be on a particular group of people, represented by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Both of them were honourable people in the Jewish society. They had great respect for Jesus; but they were afraid to become disciples and followers openly. But now, as Jesus has been lifted up, and the life giving Spirit has been poured out they take courage and come out to confess their faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps, St. John had in mind the crypto believers in the synagogues of his own time, and wanted to encourage them with the example of Joseph and Nicodemus.


The second possible symbolism is a continuation of the theme that Jesus is king. The large amount of spices used, may indicate a royal burial Jer 34:5 speaks of the use of spices in the burial of kings. It is good in this connection to ponder over the West Syriac ritual of Passion Friday prescribing the anointing of the Cross with various kinds of aromatic spices before its burial and the East Syriac ritual directing to incense profusely the Sliba, the Cross, before burying it inside the altar, the tomb of Jesus. The mention that he is buried in a garden reminds us of the entombment of the kings of Judah (2 Kg 21:18.26). Although it is not evident conclusively that Jesus was buried as a king, this theme is a fitting conclusion to the Johannine passion narrative, wherein Jesus is crowned and hailed as king during his trial, was enthroned and was publicly pro­claimed as king on the cross. Moreover, it is certain that one of the main accusations for crucifixion was his king­ship.


The Passion Friday celebration for the East Syriac Churches and thus for the Mar Toma Nasranis is a magnificent confession of faith in the divinity and in the redemptive works of Lord Jesus Christ. This sublime theology of these Churches, perhaps, very clearly exposed in one of the important hymns of this celebration, the ‘typology’ hymn. The conclusion of the ‘typology’ hymn runs as follows: “O the victorious one who in his mercy, brought himself down and whom his servants judged, be­cause you willed it, make him victorious, whom his debts have accused and whom you in your mercy, have brought to existence. Blessed is your death, glorious is your Resurrection; in your goodness, have mercy and show pity on your servants who have confessed your divinity by your helping power; be a helper to us with your power and shed at all times your mercy on the congregations in the Churches, which confess you, who rose up in truth; and to you with your Father and to the Holy Spirit be praise and adoration at all times.”[20]


The first thing that touches our heart in this prayer, perhaps, is the real meaning of God's justice. According to Isaac the Syrian, it is not the justice but the injustice of God that saved us. He writes: “Do not presume to call God just: for what sort of justice is this-we sinned and He gave up His only begotten Son on the Cross? Never say that God is just. If He were just, you would be in hell. Rely only on His injustice which is mercy, love and forgiveness.”

Of course, without much difficulty, this ironic statement of Isaac the Syrian is evident in itself. Anyhow, one thing is cry­stal clear: the justice of God is his mercy. The term rahme, ‘mercy’ or its equivalent appears very often in the Passion Friday Liturgy.


On the Passion Friday these Churches contemplate not merely Christ's human pain and suffering, but rather on the contrast between his outward or worldly humiliation and his inward or heavenly glorification. According to the real genius of this individual tradition, a believer looks not merely at the suffering humanity of Christ, but at a suffering God. The references to Bra Ihidaya, the ‘only son’, Breh da-Mraima, the ‘Son of the most High’ Amman-hu-El, ‘God with us’, Isho Paroqa, ‘Jesus the Redeemer’, Mara da-nbie, ‘the Lord of the prophets’, Mara d-kahne, the ‘Lord of priests’, Bra d-etha min rawma, the ‘Son who came from above’, Mara d-hekmtha, the ‘Lord of wisdom’, Bar-Haiya, the ‘Son of the Living One’, Malka Meshiha, the ‘King Christ’, Bra d-Ateos, the ‘Son of God’, Mara d-haiye, the ‘Lord of all living creatures’, and so on, only in this hymn of 'typology' show that the worshiping community is contemplating not merely the suffering humanity of Jesus, but the suffering of God “who came down and was hung for us on the wood” of the Cross.[21]


Even in Passion Friday Liturgy, the emphasis is on the Resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ. Behind the veil of Jesus’ bleeding and disfigured flesh, the East Syriac Churches discern the Triune God. Gagulta for them is a place of theophany. The crucifixion can never be separated from the resur­rection. Hence in the hymn quoted above they sing: “Blessed is your death, glorious is your resurrection.” The death and resur­rection are seen as a single action, according to Mar Aprem, the two sides of one coin. Gagulta is seen always in the light of the empty tomb; the Cross is the symbol of victory. They look at Jesus crucified not only to think of his suffering and desolation, not only to think about the sins and debts of men that caused the crucifixion, but also to think of Him as Christ the Victor, Christ the King, who reigns in triumph from the ‘tree of the Cross.’ “I call him King, because I see him crucified”, says St. John Chrysostom. Thus, this tradition gives so much importance to the Empty Cross, the lofty Symbol of King Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer. It prompts us forcefully to move away from a kind of misunderstood fascination to the crucifix and to embrace whole-heartedly the Empty, Flowery Cross, for the Mar Toma Nasrani Church, the Mar Toma Sliba, the Saint Thomas Cross. Our Lord Jesus is not expecting a kind of sympathetic looking at his crucified body, but embracing the ‘lofty Symbol’ of his glorification through real conversion of hearts.



1. Is 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12

2. A. PENNA, art. Isaiah, in NELSON 569-570

3. C. STUHLMUELLER, art. Deutero-Isaiah, in JBC 367

4. A. PENNA, art. Isaiah, in NELSON 570

5. H. CAZELLES, art. Servant of the Lord, in BAUER 841

6. A. PENNA, art. Isaiah, in NELSON 594-595

7. A. PENNA, art. Isaiah, in NELSON 594

8. Cf Mt 8:17; Lk 22:37; Jn 1:29.36; 12:38; Acts 2:33; 8:32s; Rom 4:25; 8:32; 15:21; 1 Cor 15:3-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 2:5-11; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 2:21-25; 3:18; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10, and so on.

9. M.McNAMARA, art. Daniel, in NELSON 669. He is opinion that the ancient Christian writers had done violence to the biblical text in their attempt to relate this prophecy directly to the activity of Jesus Christ. The modern biblical scholarship and understanding of the chronology according to the improved scientific methods demand a historical interpretation rather than a messianic one.

10. S.LYONNET, De Peccato et Redemptione, in VDom 35(1957)74-76

11. The fifth kingdom according to the conception of Daniel chs. 2 and 7; the first 4 kingdoms being those of the Babylonian, the Median, the Persian and the Greek.

12. L. SWAIN, art. Galatians, in LBright 10, p.91

13. J.A.FITZMYER, art. The Letter to the Galatians, in JBC 2, 241

14. L. SWAIN, art. Galatians, in LBright 10, p.92

15. A part of the passion narrative is directed to be read in the Lelya, the Night Liturgy of the previous day: Mt 26:31-44 + Lk 22:43-44 + Mt 26:45-50 + Lk 22:49-50 + Jn 18:10 + Mt 26:52 + Jn 18:11 + Mt 26:53-75.

16. K. H. SCHELKLE, art. Passion of Christ, in BAUER 640

17. A. R. C. LEANEY, The Gospel According to St. Luke, London 1958, p. 276

18. W. BARCLAY, The Gospel of Matthew, 2, DSB, Philadelphia 1975, p. 371. Cf BEDJAN 2, 364 where the faithful sing that the Holy Spirit flew away from the Holy of holies when the Temple veil was rent.

19. R. E. BROWN, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, AnchBib 29A(1970)902-904; 920-921

20. BEDJAN 2, 380

21. BEDJAN 2, 377


Father Varghese Pathikulangara, CMI

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