Tonight we hear in the many gospels that we’ve heard up to now—the six, the first six of the twelve—many different aspects of the story, from the different evangelists who write to us and try to depict the different sufferings that Christ went through. One could speak hours and hours about it, but one thing kind of stood out to me, at least this year, and that is that there are two types of sinners; there are two types of people who commit sin.
The two key players, the two key examples of that [are] Judas on one side and Peter on the other. Both are sinners; both commit the same sin. Many people don’t think of it that way. Most of us focus on Judas. He is the bad guy, he is the one who sells out Christ, he is the one who brings the guards and the Romans and the high priest to him. They find him the garden and they arrest him, and he betrays him in a very personal manner with a kiss. So we really focus on him, but many times we overlook what Peter did, and Peter is considered one of the chief of the apostles, one of the heads.
Peter denies him as well. Peter denies him three times, as we heard in the gospels already. And not only Peter and Judas, but all of them betray him. All of the apostles, they run away, they abandon him, because of fear of the Romans and fear of the high priests and the leaders of the Jews. He is left all alone, as he told them that he would be, at the Last Supper.
So we see that the sin is the same: the sin of betrayal, the sin of abandoning God, the sin that many of us do in our lives over and over and over again. But there’s a big difference between Peter who betrays and Judas who betrays. What does Judas do? Judas, the Scripture says—in English it’s not a very good translation: it says that he repents, but he doesn’t repent in the way that the Orthodox believe repentance happens. He didn’t change his mind; he didn’t turn back to God, as we say repentance means today. But he felt bad for what he did, because he realized his sin. But what does he do? He wallows in his own self-pity, and then he goes and he hangs himself.
What does Peter do on the other side? Peter, it says that once he denies Christ three times and he hears the rooster crow and Christ told him would happen, it says that he goes out and he weeps bitterly—but he does not hurt himself; he does not commit suicide. And we know that Peter comes back, and he asks forgiveness from the Lord after the Resurrection. So we see that there’s a huge difference between these two men. Both have committed the same sin, but [each has] taken a different path. This is a great example of repentance, that all of us can do the worst things. The worst things: things that we believe God would never forgive us for. But it is what we do after we have committed these things that makes a difference. Some of us, we wallow in our self-pity or we try to hide the things that we have done so that nobody will know, so that no one will judge us.
We stay away from the Church when these things happen; we stay away from confession most of the time, because we don’t want the priest to know. We don’t want anybody to know. And we try to get on with our lives, putting on a strong face and trying to act normal like everybody else. But many times we see that this leads us to depression, it leads us to many other psychological problems because we bury the guilt inside, and it manifests itself, sometimes not immediately but sometimes years and years later, when we have all this kind of repressed guilt from all the things we have done and we have no way of getting these things out; we have no way of cleansing ourselves. And this leads many people to do many different things to themselves: to hurt themselves, to fall into alcoholism, drugs, other abuses, and sometimes even suicide.
Then we see that there is the healthy approach: the healthy approach to life, the healthy approach to sin. Obviously, we try not to sin; obviously we try to fight it. But when we do fall, we know that there is somewhere we can go, and that is to the cross, because this is what Christ does: he goes through it even though he doesn’t deserve it, he doesn’t commit any sin; but he does it as an example of what we should do, to come back to God and to be obedient to God, and God will accept us. It doesn’t matter what we have done. And this is very difficult for us to digest and to comprehend in our day and age, where we live in a time of extreme judgment. Even in the churches, the churches are seen as more like clubs for holy people and not as spiritual hospitals, which is what the Fathers of the Church tell us that the Church is.
Many times we stay away from the Church because we say, “Father, it’s full of a bunch of hypocrites who are there to judge me, who think they’re better than [I am], and I don’t really need that. I can’t pray there.” But really, the Church is the hospital first; it is the spiritual hospital. So what else would fill these pews than people who have problems? We all have problems, myself as the first. So this is why we need the Church. The more we stay away from her, the more we continue to wallow in our own sins and self-pity and the more we live within the darkness, and the more we live within the darkness the more we cannot see the light.
This is the great difference, is that Judas didn’t stick around to see the light. He didn’t wait. He didn’t give it a chance. He didn’t think, “Maybe God will forgive me.” Fathers say that Judas was not damned from the beginning, that Judas, if he had turned and repented truly and turned back to God, he could have been saved. But he didn’t, and Christ knew that he wouldn’t. And yet Peter saw the light of the Resurrection, and he turned back.
So this is something that we have to think about tonight. I know I say it every year. I know I’m preaching to the crowd when I’m talking to the people who are here, because we see that out of all the services the Twelve Gospels [has] the least amount of people. Why? Because we don’t like to be reminded of I guess the uncomfortable part of the story. We like the resurrection, we like the happiness, we like the light, we like the joy, we like the forgiveness, we like the feasting—but we don’t really want to go through the difficulties. But without going through the difficulties, without understanding what Christ went through and in turn what we go through, deep down in our souls every day, the pain that we carry—sometimes the pain that nobody helps us with, sometimes the pain that we don’t know where to put it down, how to get rid of it—if we don’t understand that pain and we don’t understand that anguish and that wait, we’ll never be able to let it go.
Easters can come and go, year after year, and we’ll never get better. Nothing ever changes for us. It is only going through the process of understanding who we are and looking into the darkness and understanding that the darkness is there, but understanding that God has overcome the darkness, as the hymns say. “The light shined in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” as the Gospel of John says.
This is just one thing that we can take away tonight out of the many, many things. I think that it’s important to teach our children these things. It’s important to bring our children, bring our youth, and also bring our friends and family members who perhaps might shy away from these types of services, these difficult parts of Christianity. We should try to compel them to come to these services, not just the happy ones—not just unction, where everybody gets anointed, and not just the resurrection, or first the resurrection on Saturday morning, which is fun and we throw the flowers everywhere and the children love it—but to come to these services, the long services, the difficult services, because then, if we go through this, as all of you who are here now are going through it and usually go through it every year, you appreciate the Resurrection much more. You appreciate what Christ has done for us.
But if we don’t even know the story, if we don’t even know why we are here, and why we are in thanksgiving, and why we are appreciative, then how can we fully understand it? How can we fully understand how bright that light is, if we have not first gone through darkness? Amen.