THE CUP OF CHRIST
St Ignatius of the Caucasus
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 of it on earth, the Cup of Christ allows us to partake of Christ’s Kingdom of grace; it prepares thrones of everlasting glory in heaven for them.
We stand in silence before the Cup of Christ, nor can any complain about it or reject it; for He Who commanded us to taste of it first drank of it Himself.
O tree of the knowledge of good and evil! Thou hast slain our ancestors in Paradise; thou hast deceived them with the delusions of sensual pleasure and 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, the pride of fleshly understanding is mortified. To him who drinks of the Cup with faith and patience, everlasting life, which was and still is, lost to him by his tasting of forbidden fruit, will be restored.
I will take the Cup of Christ, the cup of salvation (Ps. 115, 4).
The Cup is taken when a Christian bears earthly tribulation in the spirit of humility, learned from the Gospel.
The apostle Peter turned swiftly with an unsheathed sword to defend the God-man, Who was surrounded by evildoers, but the meek Jesus said to Peter: Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (Jn. 18, 11)
So when disaster compasses you about, you too 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. Overcome reason by faith and drink courageously of 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 give 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 and 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 resentment against your enemies.
The heavenly Father is almighty and all-seeing: He sees your affliction and if He had found it necessary and profitable to take the Cup away from you, He would certainly have done so.
The Lord - as the Scriptures and Church history testify - has often allowed afflictions to befall His beloved and has 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 the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil. 1, 29).
You receive the Cup, which seems to come 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 take the Cup with thanksgiving to God and a living faith, and to drain it with courage.
In taking the Cup from the hand of man, remember it is the Cup of Him Who is not only innocent but also all holy. Thinking of this, remind yourself and other suffering sinners of the words that the blessed and enlightened thief spoke when he was crucified on the right 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 righteousness and of the mercy of God, blessed are you from 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 beneath the feet of those who cannot value them, but say these words in thought and heart).
By this alone will you fulfil the commandment of the Gospel which says: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you …(Matt. 5, 44).
Pray to the Lord for those who have offended you and outraged you, that what they have done for you should be repaid with a temporal blessing and the eternal reward of salvation, and that when they stand before Christ to be judged, it may be counted to them as if it had been an act of virtue.
Although your heart does not wish to act in this way, force it to do so, because only those who do violence to their own hearts in fulfilling the commandments of the Gospel can inherit Heaven.
If you do not have the willpower to act in this way, then you do not have the willpower to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look deep within yourself and 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 oppress your neighbour; 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 he pretends to himself and to others that he is righteous. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer of man, proclaimed St John, the beloved disciple of Christ (I Jn. 3, 15).
A living faith in Christ teaches us to take the Cup of Christ, and the Cup of Christ inspires hope in the heart of him who takes it, and hope in Christ gives strength and consolation to the heart.
What torment - what torment of hell - to complain or 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 neighbours 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 neighbour attains holy serenity, the grace of the peace of Christ. It is as if he already enjoys God’s spiritual Paradise.
Temporal suffering has no importance in itself: we lend it significance because of our attachment to the earth and all corruptible things and through our coldness towards Christ and eternity.
You are prepared to bear the bitter and repellent taste of medicine, to bear the painful amputation and cauterisation of your limbs, to bear 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 fall ill again and die and rot. Bear then the bitterness of the Cup of Christ, which brings healing and eternal blessedness to your immortal soul.
If the Cup seems to you unbearable and deadly, then it reveals that although you bear Christ’s Name, you do not belong to Christ.
For the true disciples of Christ, the Cup of Christ is the Cup of joy. Thus, the holy apostles, after being beaten before the gathering of the elders of the Jews, went out from the presence of the Council rejoicing that they had been 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 has taken 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 counted; He knows the measure of the healing Cup that you should be given.
Look often at Jesus standing before those who put Him to death - He was as the lamb dumb before His shearers; He was delivered to death, to be slain as a defenceless 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 (Lk. 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 time of misfortune do not seek the help of man, do not lose precious time and do not waste the strength of your soul in seeking this powerless help. Await help from God: by His command and in His own time people will come and help you.
The Lord remained silent before Pilate and Herod; He made no attempt to justify Himself. You must imitate His holy and wise silence when you see that your enemies accuse you, with every intention of certain conviction; they accuse only with the purpose of hiding their own evil intention under the guise of judgement.
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, a 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 (Jn. 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 a violent death for Him. Nor was malice satisfied by achieving such an aim, but it tried to uproot the very memory of Him from the earth.
In following Him, all the chosen of our Lord pass along the road of temporary suffering to blessed eternity. As long as bodily pleasures dominate us, it is impossible for a spiritual state to prevail in us.
That is why our Lord ceaselessly offers His Cup to those He loves, so as to keep them dead to the world and 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. However, do not cast yourself boldly into the depths of sorrow, for that is proud self-confidence. Pray to God that He may turn every calamity and trial away from you; but when sorrows come of themselves, do not be afraid of them, do not think that they have come by chance, 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 harbour of eternity: the unseen hand of Jesus Himself will guide you.
With reverent and deep reflection, learn the prayer which our Lord offered 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 Saviour, 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 sinful will, blind will; entrust yourself, your soul and body and your circumstances of today to the all-wise will of God.
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26, 41). When you are surrounded by afflictions, pray more often, so that you may draw the specia1 grace of God towards you. Only with the help of special grace can we overcome temporal misfortunes.
When you receive from Heaven the Gift of patience, be attentive and vigilant with yourself, in order to hold and keep within yourself the grace of God, in case 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 you down, crushing you with sadness, depression, despair, as one who holds the gift of God but without due reverence to the gift. Hasten to bring your heart back 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, while walking on nails, on sharp swords, or sitting in cauldrons of boiling water or oil. So also your heart will rejoice when by prayer you have drawn to yourself the comfort of grace and kept it inside yourself by constantly watching 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 fleshly 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. Then earthly life comes to seem like a swiftly-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 revealed 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 St John the Divine, my lord, thou knowest. Then the dweller in Heaven answered St John, These are they which came out of 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 (Rev. 7, 13-17).
Separation from God is everlasting torment in hell, everlasting contact with the devil and devilish people; with flames, bitter cold, the gloom of Gehenna; that is what may truly be described as suffering. That is torment, great, terrible and unbearable. Over-indulgence in the sweetness of earthly pleasures leads to great eternal suffering.
The Cup of Christ saves from this torment whomever drinks of it with thanksgiving and praise to the all-blessed God, Who through the bitter Cup of temporal suffering gives man His boundless and everlasting mercy.
(The above is translated from Vol. I, P. 544 of the Collected Works of St. Ignatius. I first read it in 1974. Everything in it is true, as I know from daily experience. It is the most valuable advice that any missionary can strive to live by. Archpriest Andrew, 12 November 2010).