Did the Father Abandon Christ on the Cross?

Crucifixion with Ss Hermagoras and Ambrose
13th century – Chapel of St Ambrose – Aquileia, Italy

Of all of the seven last sayings of Christ on the cross, perhaps the most puzzling is the Cry of Dereliction. Recorded only in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, both in Aramaic and in Greek translation, this phrase was even somewhat confusing to its first hearers who pondered that he was calling Elijah.

Matthew 27:46-47 NKJV Mark 15:34-35 NKJV
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!”

In modern times, this verse has received a variety of interpretations. Albert Schweitzer and E.P. Sanders saw this cry as the disappointing denouement to the earthly ministry of Christ: a failed revolutionary petitions God for aid in his final hour and receives none. Evangelicals, rightly finding this answer unsatisfying, have often found themselves doubling down on Anselm’s notion of a divine propitiatory punishment where Christ, receiving the sin of the world in his sacrificial death, also receives a deep personal isolation from the Father. As RC Sproul says:

After he became the scapegoat and the Father had imputed to him every sin of every one of his people, the most intense, dense concentration of evil ever experienced on this planet was exhibited. Jesus was the ultimate obscenity. So what happened? God is too holy to look at sin. He could not bear to look at that concentrated monumental condensation of evil, so he averted his eyes from his Son. The light of his countenance was turned off. All blessedness was removed from his Son, whom he loved, and in its place was the full measure of the divine curse… It was as if there was a cry from heaven, as if Jesus heard the words “God damn you,” because that’s what it meant to be cursed and under the anathema of the Father… [and] every person who has not been covered by the righteousness of Christ draws every breath under the curse of God.

The astute theological reader will, too, find this reading difficult. Both readings have a their core a great practical problem: if the Father turns away from His own Son in his hour of greatest need, what hope could we ever have? This difficulty is not only practical but is theological as well. While the first reading would self-consciously abandon Nicene orthodoxy, the second reading too is unable to bear the weight of such a proclamation: how convincingly can one hold the consubstantiality of Christ with the Father (ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί) when such a profound separation can exist between the Father and the Son? Indeed, the Arians argued this very line against the divinity of the Son:

This too [the Arians] urge; “How can He be the own Word of the Father, without whom the Father never was, through whom He makes all things, as ye think, who said upon the Cross ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ … If the Son were, according to your interpretation, eternally existent with God, He [could not have] been forsaken [since he was] coexistent …

– St Athanasius, Against the Arians III.26

St Athanasius responded to this accusation with a powerful defense:

If then He wept and was troubled, it was not the Word, considered as the Word, who wept and was troubled, but it was proper to the flesh; and if too He besought that the cup might pass away, it was not the Godhead that was in terror, but this affection too was proper to the manhood. And that the words ‘Why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ are His, according to the foregoing explanations (though He suffered nothing, for the Word was impassible), is notwithstanding declared by the Evangelists; since the Lord became man, and these things are done and said as from a man, that He might Himself lighten these very sufferings of the flesh, and free it from them. Whence neither can the Lord be forsaken by the Father, who is ever in the Father, both before He spoke, and when He uttered this cry. Nor is it lawful to say that the Lord was in terror, at whom the keepers of hell’s gates shuddered and set open hell, and the graves did gape, and many bodies of the saints arose and appeared to their own people. Therefore be every heretic dumb, nor dare to ascribe terror to the Lord whom death, as a serpent, flees, at whom demons tremble, and the sea is in alarm; for whom the heavens are rent and all the powers are shaken. For behold when He says, ‘Why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ the Father shewed that He was ever and even then in Him; for the earth knowing its Lord who spoke, straightway trembled, and the vail was rent, and the sun was hidden, and the rocks were torn asunder, and the graves, as I have said, did gape, and the dead in them arose; and, what is wonderful, they who were then present and had before denied Him, then seeing these signs, confessed that ‘truly He was the Son of God.’

– St Athanasius, Against the Arians III.56

St Athanasius absolutely rejects the notion that this cry implies any actual separation between the Father and Son. Indeed, in the mind of Athanasius, everything else in the crucifixion account evidences the continuing union. For him, the cry was made according to the human nature of Christ. St Athanasius does not, however, explain precisely what it is in Christ’s humanity that makes this cry. This task would be left to St Ambrose of Milan who, also responding to the Arians, interpreted the cry this way:

As being man, therefore, He doubts; as man He is amazed. Neither His power nor His Godhead is amazed, but His soul; He is amazed by consequence of having taken human infirmity upon Him. Seeing, then, that He took upon Himself a soul He also took the affections of a soul, for God could not have been distressed or have died in respect of His being God. Finally, He cried: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? As being man, therefore, He speaks, bearing with Him my terrors, for when we are in the midst of dangers we think ourself abandoned by God. As man, therefore, He is distressed, as man He weeps, as man He is crucified.

– St Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith II.7.56

Thus, for St Ambrose, human suffering bears with it a certain character of estrangement. In the words of the novelist David Foster Wallace, “We all suffer alone…” But this is not without hope because Christ, having taken on the full depth of loneliness in human suffering without separation from the Father, has redeemed even our suffering. In Christ, death is united to life and abandonment is united to God’s eternal love and faithfulness.

In considering these responses to the Cry of Dereliction, it is worth noting how powerfully scriptural they are. The Father does not abandon the righteous man (Psalm 9:10, 16:10, 55:22; Proverbs 10:3). Nor is the unity of the Father and Son put in jeopardy (John 10:30, 17:21). Careful emphasis is also put on the reality of Christ’s suffering as a man (Col 2:9, 1 John 1:1-3, 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7).


  1. Nathaniel,

    Great post. If one believes that the Son was literally cut off by the Father then they must either fall into Arianism or Nestorian, or perhaps even some form of polytheism with two gods apart from another due to a separation.

    Met. Kallistos seems to come very close to Sproul in his “Orthodox Way” when he says that the Cry of Derelection is, “…the extreme point of Christs desolation, when he feels abandoned not only by men but by God”, and “Jesus is truly experiencing the spiritual death of separation from God…; for our sakes he accepts even the loss of God”.

    He does say that the way he understands this is unexplainable but many Fathers like Sts. Hilary of Poitiers, Gregory the Theologian, Chrysostom, Leo the Great and John Damascene explain it similar to St. Athanasius.

    St. Leo the Great puts it wonderfully: “That cry, dearly-beloved, is a lesson, not a complaint. For since in Christ there is one person of God and man, and He could not have been forsaken by Him, from Whom He could not be separated, it is on behalf of us, trembling and weak ones, that He asks why the flesh that is afraid to suffer has not been heard.” (Homily 67.7)

    Have a blessed Pascha brother.

    1. I think Met. Kallistos is saying something similar to St Ambrose. Notice the verbiage “feels abandoned” and “experienced.” I don’t wish to reduce this sense of isolation to a mere transiant feeling. But rather there is a certain loneliness is the very character of suffering. Christ assumes both the loneliness and the suffering.

        1. I’m certainly not comfortable phrasing it that way. Christ, as the Wisdom of God, is not ignorant. Nor is he “falsely feeling abandonment.” Notice the way St Ambrose phrases it: “As being man, therefore, He speaks, bearing with Him my terrors, for when we are in the midst of dangers we think ourself abandoned by God.” The terrors are mine. He, however, bears them. Certainly not in ignorance or despair as we often do as a result of our sin. This is precisely why I have called this aspect of abandonment part of the character of human suffering. There is here a fine line between Nestorius and Eutyches and I wish to fall to neither side.

  2. I posted this on the facebook link, but I’m putting it here for good measure:

    As much as I appreciate this rhetorical defense, I’m a little shocked there’s no mention of Psalm 22 here, namely vv 1, 16 and 24. My understanding has been that Jesus words in this moment were for the purpose of a) harkening the Christological foreshadowing of Psalm 22 for the Jews looking on, and ultimately proclaiming that the Father had indeed not foresaken him (visavis verse 24). Thoughts?

    1. Josh,
      My thoughts exactly! Read the Psalm Jesus is quoting from! It is one of profound trust in The Father, in the face of apparent abandonment.
      By the way, that seems to me to give a much better answer than to resort to slicing and dicing Jesus along the lines of the Two Natures. That path comes dangerously close to making Jesus a chimaera, and not the unity so eloquently put forth by Cyril.

      1. I agree regarding Psalm 22. My point in this article was not a complete treatment of the verse, but rather a short reflection of some important saints.

        Which St Cyril supports your reading? This St Cyril?
        “… nor have I ever said that the divine nature of the Word was subject to suffering.” – Epistle 53

        Maybe this one?
        “Accordingly, even thought it is stated that he suffered in his flesh, he did not receive the suffering in the nature of his divinity, but, as I said just now, in his own flesh which was receptive of suffering.” – Epistle 55.34

        Or perhaps this one?
        “In this way we know that the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God, because he is God and man at the same time, that he who without change and without confusion is the only begotten, is incarnate and made man, and moreover that he was able to suffer *according to the nature of his humanity*. We know that *it is impossible for him to suffer according to the nature of his divinity*, and that *he did suffer in his own flesh* according to the Scriptures.” – Epistle 59.2

        More seriously, what is at stake in your point is the principle of single-subject Christology. While St Cyril does not treat the verse in question, all of the Saints that do treat it do so using single-subject Christology. And all of them mention that the cry was according to the flesh: Tertullian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Hillary, Augustine, and Damascene. While some of these writers treat the subject differently (given their different exegetical contexts), all of them insist that the cry was from Christ’s human nature. And all of them use single-subject Christology.

  3. As a Protestant I first heard the “God had to turn his head” explanation. The first time I heard it, I thought it was so awesome. later, I didn’t understand why God would even appear to forsake His Son.

    When I came to Orthodoxy, I was even more confused as I rightly learned to not separate the Trinity, as I tended to do as a Protestant.

    Then it was explained, to me, that Christ was reciting the Victory Psalm. I accepted that explanation and never looked back, until now.

    1. Please do not take this article as refuting Christ’s recitation of the Victory Psalm. I am merely reflecting on a different aspect of the problem.

      1. Well that makes me feel better. After being told He was reciting the Victory Psalm I was obsessed with the Psalm. I read it many times and it gave me joy to know my Lord could take on all that sin and still be so strong and so great that He could sing in victory over evil. Made me realize my God is strong and cannot be defeated.

        I would venture to say that no Orthodox believes God turned His head, but yet this article still ruffled some feathers. Thanks for the information.

  4. great post nathaniel…with great comments. very helpful, and i will steal them immediately. Blessed Pascha, “oh grave where is thy victory, oh death where is thy sting?”

  5. from

    …​​Hieromonk Patapios in his review of Kallistos’ book comments extensively on its “several frightful tehological blunders,” particularly on such consequences of the fall as, “loneliness,” “alienation” and “inward conflict”. “Alienation from whom or from what? From God? he asks in bewilderment. Christ cannot be abandoned by God because He is God. If be loneliness and alienation are meant feelings of isolation, abandonment and estrangement, they are unacceptable when applied to Christ. He did not experience such psychological turmoil, which is associated with our fallen nature. He did not experience “inward conflict,” which arises out of the gnomic will, which Ch​​rist did not possess.

    St Gregory the Theologian, according to whom praying the Psalm was precisely what Christ was doing:
    “It was not He who was forsaken by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as it It were afraid of the Passion and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?.). But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first Psalm refers to Christ.”

    Mr. McCallum, if the humanity of Christ “felt” abandoned by God, then does it not follow that Christ possessed a fallen human nature?

    1. To be honest, I am not a great fan of Metropolitan Kallistos’ work. I do think he lacks a certain precision.

      However, I would not suggest that the cry was one of “inward conflict” which would, as you note, arise from a gnomic mode of willing. That would make Christ sinful, which would be a grave error. As I said above, I don’t think it is correct to reduce the loneliness of suffering to a mere feeling (with its implied falsehood). Rather, I think it is a characteristic of human suffering which Christ assumes (without sin!). And by His assuming it, it is revealed that we never suffer alone but rather with Christ. Or perhaps more astutely: Christ suffers with us.

      Thanks for posting St Gregory’s reading. It is substantially the same as the readings of Ss Augustine and Damascene. I take their reading to also be true in a different hermeneutical context.

      1. Nathaniel,

        I agree with your comments. I also have serious issues with Met. Kallistos even though I am eternally indebted to him for his prodigious labors. Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis takes Met. Kallistos to task for teaching that Christ has a fallen nature along with all that would entail (something akin to gnomic willing) in his monumental work “Jesus: Fallen?”. I’ve read it once but it’s a book one needs to read a few times.


      2. Met Kallistos states:
        He accepts also the moral consequences of Adam’s sin. He accept to the full not only the physical consequences, such as weariness, bodily pain….He accepts also the moral consequences, loneliness, alienation, and inward conflict. It may seem bold to ascribe all this to the living God, but a consistent doctrine of the Incarnation requires nothing less.

        Fr. Hatzidakis states:
        Many martyrs stood strong, calm, and fearless as they were butchered, praising and glorifying God for suffering for His love. Would Christ lose heart at the very moment for which He had come and towards which He was heading all His life? If Christ experienced despair on the Cross how can he not be sinful?

        1. Scott,

          You’re opening up a can o’ worms brother! Florovsky was against such teachings like Met. Kallistos’ as well.

        2. What I am want to say is that Christ assumes our human frailty, though without sin and its inherent corruption. In the process, Christ changes our suffering (and its characteristic loneliness) into joy. This is precisely why the martyrs were calm and fearless: they saw themselves as offerings to God in the manner of the Christ (this latter point deserves a whole post on its own).

          Christ enters passion in all its depth, but without despair and “inward conflict.” This is precisely why it is essential that Christ is quoting the Victory Psalm: He is redeeming our suffering, our loneliness, and our terrors. They are ours and he assumes them without the bitterness of corruption caused by sin.

          If I had to pick to follow Met. Kallistos or Fr Hatzidakis, I’d choose the latter because I find the former’s insistence that Christ assumes fallen humanity to be novel and strange. But I think there is a transformational aspect between the two that is missing. Without this notion of the metamorphosis of the human condition, I worry that we would steer too close to aphthartodocetism.

          1. Put simply, I suspect the “loneliness” characteristic of human suffering is not the result of sin but is created by God (as is human pain) to draw us out of ourselves and toward divine communion. Christ can assume this and orient it to its correct end. This does not, however, entail the loneliness of despair which is a byproduct of Adam’s disobedience. It is the former I see in the Cry of Dereliction and not the latter. And because of the former, the martyrs can be fearless before their own deaths. They can embrace them freely, as did Christ, precisely because He has redeemed our suffering. And this is also why the early ministry of “refreshing” the martyrs by visitation was so prominent: the call to such a ministry is inherent in Christ’s recapitulation.

          2. Is it accurate to say that Jesus was born as a helpless baby?

            Certainly not. The almighty Son of God was neither helpless nor vulnerable to temptation or to anything else, even in His humanity. For sure He submitted to our misery, however He endured human weakness, suffering and death to overcome the one who uses them for his evil purposes, and thus grant us His victory.


          3. Nathaniel,

            You should read Fr. Hatzidakis’ book because he addresses Julian of Halicarnassis and his (or his followers) aphthartodocetism. It REALLY would be awesome if you read it and did a book review on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. Just an idea… ;).

          4. Fr. Hatzidakis’s book has been in my queue since it came out. Unfortunately, my queue is growing. 🙁

  6. This was the topic of my Holy Week Sermons this year focusing on Gethsemane, the betrayal and the words from the cross. I am glad to see I am in good company of the Saints, emphasizing Christ’s very real existential experience of suffering/abandonment/fear/sorrow/anguish/doubt… while the divinity remains unchanged. That this is even possible without separating Christ into two persons brings us to silence.
    Fr. Patrick

  7. Nathaniel,

    I’m inclined to agree about Christ taking on fallen humanity, so long as we are completely clear that it is impossible for Him to assume a gnomic will (impossible because (a) it is a category mistake, since gnome is strictly speaking personal, not natural anyway; though it seems more complete to say that it occupies the difficult “space between person and nature” that you mentioned to me once; and impossible because (b) He is a divine person).

    At this point, it seems to me like there are three conflicting tendencies in the Fathers on this subject (though all agree that there is some kind of assumption of fallen humanity):

    1. Christ assumes fallen humanity and instantly heals it. He never experiences any fallen or disordered passions, but only natural passions. This seems to be in tension with deifying human nature by recapitulation of all the stages of human life. I get the impression that St. John Chrysostom holds something like this.

    2. Christ assumes fallen humanity and progressively heals it without experiencing any fallen or disordered passions. It is as though He burns up the corruption at each stage *as* He enters it. I get the impression that perhaps the Cappadocians teach something like this.

    3. Christ assumes fallen humanity and progressively heals it by experiencing each fallen or disordered stage of life. Thus, the divine Person who is Jesus This seems to be what St. Athanasius, St. Maximus, and St. Maximus believe (though at times they sound like they affirm the other two views).

    Do you agree that all three options are taken, and do you think one of these most accurately counts as the “core” view?

    Regarding Christ’s cry of abandonment, I wonder if the fact that death is alienation from life can help make sense of the words of the Fathers. If Christ’s body was going down into death (alienation from the divine energy of Life), it would make sense for Him to express (natural, blameless) ignorance of what the Father was doing. What do you think?

    1. I’m *not* saying that Christ takes on fallen humanity. Nor is St Ambrose. What we are saying is that Christ takes on the full profundity of human suffering and redeems it.

      1. The true meaning of “not assumed, not healed”

        Had St Gregory the Theologian used this expression in the sense that Christ assumed out fallen humanity, we should most certainly expect that he would have phrased it in that context. We submit that he did not. In fact he used this much misunderstood phrase to prove that the teaching of Apollinaris, namely that Christ assumed only human flesh without the nous, was heretical, because the divine Logos assumed not merely human flesh, but human flesh together with the human nous, the entire anthropos. In his words,

        That which He has not assumed He has not healed, but that which He has truly united with God is saved. If only part of Adam fell, then that part which is assumed is saved, but if all of Adam fell, then he is completely saved only by complete union with Him who has been born man in completeness.

        What the divine Logos assumed is not sin or sinful flesh. Sin did not fall: Adam did. Christ did not come to save sin, but to save us from sin; He did not come to heal our evil tendencies, but to heal our nous that gives rise to them.

        Far from advocating that the divine Logos assumed our fallen nature, St Gregory the Theologian states clearly and unequivocally that the humanity assumed by Him was one rendered incapable of falling into sin and with a human will that could not be opposed to God, because it was rendered homotheos, “wholly one with God”

        You stated:
        “redeems our suffering”

        Would it be better stated as something like “redeems man out of his suffering”?

        Thank you.

        1. No. If Christ “redeemed man out of his suffering” then we would have no more suffering in this life. What Christ has done is redeem suffering itself. This means that suffering itself is filled with grace when united to Christ. This is the entire basis of Christian askesis. And that Christ has redeemed our loneliness is the basis of Christian hermitage.

          1. Think of it this way: Christ redeems death. Because of this, if we die with Christ, we will be raised with him. In this sense death is no longer bitter. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life *for my sake* shall find it.” The same is true with suffering. When we embrace suffering and loneliness and take it as a participation in Christ’s passion we can find joy even in the midst of it and we will gain a life in which suffering and loneliness are no more.

          2. Christ redeemed out athletes foot. Christ redeemed our hemorrhoids. Christ redeemed our STD’s. Did he redeem man as well? Thank you.

          3. It seems like this is more true than you might intend to mean. In I Corinthians 3 (and a few other places) we read things like this: “all is yours, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, the world, life, death, things present, things to come – all are yours.”

            What can this mean that even death is ours? Later he says to the Corinthians “life works in you, but death in us.”

            Nothing is not ours any more. Our fear of it makes it own us when we ought to be taking possession of it. This includes our suffering.

            Hemorrhoids? Yup. Because of what Christ achieved, these can be used to transform us into the glorious image of the eternal son!

            STD’s? Yup, even them. Take them by faith and they can be used to save us. In this case, it would almost certainly begin with repentance, but it would by no means end there.

            These are means of grace. They make us like Christ when we don’t waste them. They are used to redeem us.

            This is how great and “clever” He is.

          4. Thank you for your reply Andrew.
            You state:
            These are means of grace.

            Was suffering a means of grace prior to Jesus or only post-Jesus?

      2. Nathaniel, got it. I’m not sure I agree with it now either, though I’m still unclear on precisely what’s being said by both sides. Do you agree with the [assumes fallen humanity] vs. [assumes humanity and then assumes sin] distinction that Maximus makes below in quoting Florovsky?

    2. MG,

      Fr. Florovsky reconciles the three options:

      The Incarnation had to be manifested in all the fullness of life, in the fullness of human ages, that all that fullness might be sanctified. This is one of the aspects of the idea of the “summing up” of all in Christ (recapitulatio, άνακεφαλαίωσις) which was taken up with such emphasis by St. Irenaeus from St. Paul. This was the “humiliation” of the Word (cf. Phil. 2:7). But this “kenosis” was no reduction of His Divinity, which in the Incarnation continues unchanged, ανευ τροπής. It was, on the contrary, a lifting-up of man, the “deification” of human nature, the “theosis.” As St. John Damascene says, in the Incarnation “three things were accomplished at once: the assumption, the existence, and the deification of humanity by the Word.” It must be stressed that in the Incarnation the Word assumes the original human nature, innocent and free from original sin, without any stain. This does not violate the fullness of nature, nor does this affect the Savior’s likeness to us sinful people. For sin does not belong to human nature, but is a parasitic and abnormal growth. This point was vigorously stressed by St. Gregory of Nyssa and particularly by St. Maximus the Confessor in connection with their teaching of the will as the seat of sin. In the Incarnation the Word assumes the first-formed human nature, created “in the image of God,” and thereby the image of God is again re-established in man. This was not yet the assumption of human suffering or of suffering humanity. It was an assumption of human life, but not yet of human death. Christ’s freedom from original sin constitutes also His freedom from death, which is the “wages of sin.” Christ is unstained from corruption and mortality right from His birth. And like the First Adam before the Fall, He is able not to die at all, potens non mori, though obviously He can still die, potens autem mori. He was exempt from the necessity of death, because His humanity was pure and innocent. Therefore Christ’s death was and could not but be voluntary, not by the necessity of fallen nature, but by free choice and acceptance.

      A distinction must be made between the assumption of human nature and the taking up of sin by Christ. Christ is “the Lamb of God that taketh the sin of the world” (John I:29).10 But He does not take the sin of the world in the Incarnation. That is an act of the will, not a necessity of nature. The Savior bears the sin of the world (rather than assumes it) by the free choice of love. He bears it in such a way that it does not become His own sin, or violate the purity of His nature and will. He carries it freely; hence this “taking up” of sin has a redeeming power, as a free act of compassion and love.11 This taking up of sin is not merely a compassion. In this world, which “lies in sin,” even purity itself is suffering, it is a fount or cause of suffering. Hence it is that the righteous heart grieves and aches over unrighteousness, and suffers from the unrighteousness of this world. The Savior’s life, as the life of a righteous and pure being, as a life pure and sinless, must inevitably have been in this world the life of one who suffered. The good is oppressive to this world, and this world is oppressive to the good. This world resists good and does not regard light. And it does not accept Christ, it rejects both Him and His Father (John 15:23-24). The Savior submits Himself to the order of this world, forbears, and the very opposition of this world is covered by His all-forgiving love: “They know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The whole life of Our Lord is one Cross. But suffering is not yet the whole Cross. The Cross is more than merely suffering Good. The sacrifice of Christ is not yet exhausted by His obedience and endurance, forbearance, compassion, all-forgivingness. The one redeeming work of Christ cannot be separated into parts. Our Lord’s earthly life is one organic whole, and His redeeming action cannot be exclusively connected with any one particular moment in that life. However, the climax of this life was its death. And the Lord plainly bore witness to the hour of death: “For this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27). The redeeming death is the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation.”


      1. Maximus (Fr. Maximus?)

        Christ is risen!

        Thank you; this quote is extremely helpful. I never made the distinction between saying Christ assumes fallen humanity and saying He assumes humanity and then by his will assumes our sin. Do you think this is still compatible with saying that when Christ takes on human nature, He immediately imparts incorruptibility and immortality to it? St. Athanasius and St. Irenaeus seem to suggest that the Incarnation automatically heals humanity to some degree, at least securing it from annihilation; would this be the right way to look at it?

        1. No brother, just Maximus.

          Yes, the nature has to healed as soon as the Word indwells because it becomes His own. There is a “already not yet tension” at work here. Christ destroyed the power of the devil and yet the whole world lies in the power of the evil one; He trampled down death by death, yet it remains to be defeated as the last enemy in our General Resurrection as well. Also remember the glory of the Transfiguration even occurred before the Resurrection.

  8. You know its striking the degree to which St. Ambrose reads like the Nestorian theologian Mar Narsai in that passage; compare it with Mar Narsai’s “Exposition of the Mysteries”, available on the somewhat strange website nestorian.org. This is not in any way to suggest that St. Ambrose, who is one of my favorite bishops of the fourth century church (along with Athanasius and the Three Holy Hierarchs), was in any way a Nestorian.

    However, it seems to me the case could be made that the “real Nestorians” are as always, the Calvinists. The Assyrians following Nestorius and Theodore of Mopsuestia do not seem to follow the implications of their theology to its logical conclusion; Nestorius for example rigorously denied splitting Christ into two persons, even though the theory of prosopic union implied and to some degree even explicitly stated this in a pre-incarnational context. The Nestorius-venerating Nestorians would doubtless attribute the suffering of Christ to the human prosopon or hypostasis of Christ, as opposed to the second person of the Trinity.

    The more extreme and authentically “Nestorian” view, held by Calvinists who ostensibly regard Nestorius to be a heretic, applies this suffering to the second person of the Trinity, introducing a rupture or division in the Godhead. This parallels the condition whereby the Nestorius-venerating Nestorians of the Church of the East are either synergistic or Pelagian, whereas the Nestorius-anathematizing Calvinists are monergistic, the logical consequence of the Nestorian requirement of monothelitism to bind together the union of the prosopa.

    A theopaschite argument could be made by the way, expressing the suffering of God in relating to the cry by Jesus as being an eternal suffering resulting from the incident, and I have seen such arguments made that interpret this as the meaning of God being “long-suffering.” That in other words, suffering as a result of the crucifixion throughout all eternity is one of the immutable attributes of God. A frightening thought to consider, which is probably why the approach taken here of attributing the anguished cry to the humanity of Christ is generally favored. I do think to a large degree that Kallistos Ware’s explanation of this is fully compatible with that argued by Nathaniel McCallum (especially if interpreted in a non-theopaschite sense), although I would agree that His Eminence’s wording is not as precise as one might otherwise prefer; that said the passages in the Orthodox Way in question are rather intense and I personally enjoyed reading them immensely.

    1. There is a small, but absolutely crucial, difference between St Ambrose and Mar Narsai. Look at the rhetorical patterns:

      As a man… As a man… As a man…

      … as Man. … as God. … as Man. … as God.

      The former is the divine Logos taking on human nature. The latter is a rhetorical dialectic emphasizing the duality of Christ.

    2. The notion that the humanity of Christ was simply a passive tool surfaces now and again in contemporary reformed polemics. Sometimes this is explicit, as when Calvinist theologian R.C. Sproul reduced Christ’s humanity to merely a passive tool used by God. According to standard Chalcedonian Christology, it was not a nature that suffered on the cross (whether divine or human) but an actual divine person: the Word; the second person of the Trinity; God himself incarnate in the flesh. By contrast, Sproul maintains that the second person of the Trinity did not die on the cross. In his book The Truth of the Cross, Sproul condemns the statement “It was the second person of the Trinity Who died” and adds “We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ.”

      But we should not shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross because God did actually die on the cross. Human nature itself cannot suffer; only persons can suffer, and in this case it was the person of the God-man who suffered and was buried and rose again on the third day. To be consistent with his extraction of the God-man from the cross, Sproul would also have to say that Mary was not really the God-bearer, but that she simply gave birth to a human nature that was then used by a divine person in a determining fashion.

      By contrast, the Orthodox Catholic Church teaches that it was not a nature that suffered, died and made atonement, but the Second Person of the Trinity who suffered, died, and made atonement for us in His human nature. We say in the Nicene Creed:
      For us men and for our salvation
      he came down from heaven,
      and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
      and became man.
      For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
      he suffered death and was buried,

      The same Person who “came down from heaven” and “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary” is the same Person who “was crucified under Pontius Pilate” and “suffered death and was buried.” That Person is the Second Person of the Trinity, not an impersonal nature or created thing. When we say that Christ suffered death, we do not mean that there was a change in the divine nature, but that He endured the separation of His soul from His body. Canon 12 of the Council of Ephesus (which condemned Nestorianism) reads: “If anyone does not confess that the Word of God suffered in the flesh, and tasted death in the flesh, and was made the firstborn from the dead [Col. 1:18] according to which as God He is both the life and the life-giver, let him be anathema.”


      1. This is precisely why St Ambrose’s use of single-subject Christology is so important. We don’t say that the human nature suffered. We say that Christ suffered as a man.

    3. William G.,

      Met. Kallistos does actually speculate that God can suffer in His Divinity.


      Give it a listen, perhaps I’m not listening rightly.

      St. Ambrose of Milan is quite clear on this point…

      It is written that Christ suffered: He suffered then in respect of His flesh: in respect of His Godhead He has immortality. He who denies this, is a devil. (The Proceedings from the Council of Aqueila 25)

  9. You know I think this also helps explain why the Chalcedonian schism occurred. Dioscorus et al were so afraid of Nestorianism that any departure from the Cyrilic formula was intolerable; better to stay in the dark or adopt an explicit Theopaschite position, than run the risk of reducing Christ’s humanity to a puppet used by God.

    1. William G.,

      I’ve been thinking about your statement that Dioscoros et al thought it better to adopt a Theopsachite position than to adopt the view of Christ’s humanity as a passive puppet. Perhaps, but monophysitism actually ends up affirming that very thing. That’s why it’s inexorably linked with monotheletism and monoenergism.

      Florovsky states that Monophysitic Christology is analogous to Augustinianism in soteriology:


      Additionally, this belief, due to lack of balance, can even bring one right back into the very heresy they wanted to avoid:

      Fr. Demetrios Bathrellos: For Maximus, the distinction between person/hypostasis, on the one hand, and nature/essence on the other, is indispensible for the articulation of a proper Christology. Severus’ fatal mistake consists precisely in his refusal to distinguish between them, because, without this distinction, it is not possible to denote unity and and distinction in a satisfactory way. Maximus argues that by identifying hypostasis with nature, Severus confuses divinity and humanity. By the same token, by arguing that there is a distinction in the natural qualities too, because, since nature and hypostasis are the same, ‘natural qualities’ equals ‘hypostatic qualities’; thus, for Maximus, Severus falls into Nestorianism (Ep. 15, 568D) (Byzantine Christ, pg. 101)

  10. William G,

    Good point.

    St. Cyril knew how to recognize Orthodoxy in Roman and Antiochian theological terminology. Dioscoros and those others who considered themselves to be St. Cyril’s followers, did not.

    St. Cyril of Alexandria:

    …the force of the statements was written only against the teachings of Nestorius. For they throw out what he said and wrote in error. Those who anathematize and deny his evil teaching will cease to object to the documents which have been written by us. For they see that the meaning of the statements only goes against his blasphemies. When communion has been restored and peace made among the churches, when it shall be permitted us to write in answer without being suspected, either for those who are there to write to us, or for us again to reply to them, then we also will be satisfied very easily. Some of those things which were written by us are not at all properly understood by some, and these will be clarified. With the help of God we will satisfy them, not then as opponents but as brothers, because all things are going rightly. (To Acacius of Beroea, Letter 33.10)

    I know that the nature of God is impassible, unchangeable, and immutable, even though by nature of His humanity Christ is one in both natures and from both natures. (To Pope Sixtus, Letter 53.2)

    We know that there is one Son and Christ and Lord Who is God and man, and we state that the divinity is His and likewise also the humanity is His. For He sometimes speaks divinely as God and He sometimes speaks humanly as man. Therefore since they [John of Antioch and his bishops] confessed these doctrines, how was it anything but excessive of them fight still against those who did not want the schism to prevail and incline the churches in the East into heresy? Would that all the other bishops were so disposed.

    …Because of this, when writing to the most God-fearing Bishop of Antioch, John, I derided their calumnies. For I did not arrive at this opinion out of a change of mind, nor do I find that I ever said such a thing in a volume or a letter or a book. Neither do we know what on earth the word coessentiation (Grk. synousiosis) means. (To Eusebius the Priest, Letter 54.2-4,6)

    I learned from the beloved monk Paul that your reverence up to this day refuses communion with the most pious John (of Antioch) because there are some in the Church of Antioch who either still think as Nestorius did, or have thought so and perhaps desisted. Accordingly let your clemency estimate whether those who are said to be reconciled are nakedly and shamelessly holding the doctrines of Nestorius and telling them to others, or have had their consciences seared once and are now reconciled after having regretted that by which they were held fast, and are ashamed perhaps to admit their blunder. For it happens that some such experiences occur to those who have been beguiled.

    And if you see them now agreeing with the true faith, forget about what has gone by. For we wish to see them denying rather than advocating the baseness of Nestorius in a shameless opinion, and in order not to appear to prize a love of strife let us accept communion with the most pious bishop, John, yielding to him for prudential reasons, not being too demanding in the use of language with regard to those who repent, for the matter as I said, requires a great deal of charity. (To Deacon Maximus of Antioch, Letter 57.1-2)

    Fr. Florovsky sums it up: Monophysitism becomes “more orthodox” in a strange and unexpected way precisely when the religious wave has receded and theology is cooling down to scholasticism. It is at this time that Monophysite closeness to St. Cyril seems so obvious, for this is closeness in word, not in spirit. (The Byzantine Fathers of the Sixth to Eighth Century, Chap. 2: The Spirit of Monophysitism)

  11. What are the differences between un-redeemed suffering and redeemed suffering?

    (un-redeemed suffering being the sort of suffering experience by all those living prior to Christ and redeemed suffering being the sort of suffering experienced by all those living after Christ)

    1. In terms of the suffering of grief, I think St Peter and Judas make a good contrast. The former hopes, and the latter despairs.

      1. You are speaking of people’s (Judas/Peter) reaction toward suffering, not of suffering. You have stated that suffering has been redeemed. What is the difference between the suffering of Adam/Eve and the suffering of you or me? Suffering is suffering. Nothing has changed about suffering itself? We might think differently about suffering, seeing it as a tool for purification, instead of an evil, but the reality is that suffering has always been a good? Adam/Eve were made/allowed to suffer for their good? Sorry to be obtuse, I don’t want to misunderstand, thus the questions. Thank you for the post and the comments.

      2. By “redeemed” do you mean that the thing itself has been changed, or only that our perception of the thing has changed?

  12. Scott,

    Perhaps Nathaniel would say something like the following, based on his prior analogy between suffering and death: when a divine person enters into some aspect of human nature, his energies are actualized or manifested in that aspect of human nature. This is because He freely uses his human powers to receive/actualize the grace which has always been given to human beings (primarily because we have the image of God). As a result of the Word’s free choice to receive/actualize grace into each stage, the energies of God are manifested in each stage/aspect of human life, and anyone who undergoes that stage can access them fully.

    Thus, Christ changes death by infusing it with divine life. This is why after the death of Christ, when St. Stephen dies, he is full of the Holy Spirit, sees the divine glory (the uncreated light/energies), cries out with a loud voice that Christ would receive his spirit, and prays that his enemies would be forgiven (acts 7:55-60); without Christ’s death, such participation in glory while dying would be impossible. After the crucifixion, all who pass through death are now united to Christ’s uncreated life *in virtue of being united to his bodily death*. And perhaps we can say that the same is true of all suffering: every aspect of human life–including every kind of suffering–has been united to Christ. When we suffer we can access the already established union with him, or not access it, depending on our free choice.

    1. Thank you for your reply MG. Is it really that suffering has changed post-Christ, or is it that the truth concerning suffering has been revealed? What was the purpose of the ascetical labors (and suffering in general) of the OT peoples? Did they suffer in vain?

  13. Scott,

    It seems like the nature of suffering has changed; without the incarnation, suffering was devoid of the indwelling of divine glory. The suffering of the OT saints was not in vain; rather their sufferings prepared them to receive the Incarnate Son. All of God’s interaction with the world has been incarnational from the beginning, for it has always been his will to lead humans to become receptive to his life. When Christ became incarnate, those who had made themselves receptive (by properly using their free choice, especially while suffering) would much more easily experience regeneration.

  14. Along different lines, a question: Obviously there are linguistic similarities between the Aramaic for ‘God’ and ‘Elijah.’ Why did the bystanders think that Jesus was calling on Elijah instead of quoting from Psalm 22?

  15. Apologies for coming to this discussion so late, but this has been coming up frequently in my conversations recently.

    I agree completely that there can be no separation between Father and Son, on the cross, or ever. But I do not believe that we must restrict the suffering of Jesus to his humanity, either. (For one thing I think Athanasius relies to heavily on Greek philosophical categories when he claims that the Word is “impassible”.) Is there not room in divine mystery for the Son to suffer forsakenness in his divinity, along with the Father?

    I dispute the claim that this is illogical. I have suffered something that could be called “self-forsakenness”. We have medical terms for it (dissociation, depression), but I believe it to be a spiritual phenomenon. Why should our theology prevent God from suffering this “self-forsakenness” in taking on the human nature of which it is so obviously a feature? And I do understand the issue this raises for hypostatic union; I simply believe that issue deepens the paradox.

    I believe that God experienced godforsakenness on the cross. I will need more than the claim that this is illogical according to Plato’s metaphysics in order to be convinced that I am wrong.

    1. The problem in my mind isn’t the abandonment of Greek metaphysics but rather the complete rejection of metaphysics altogether. That is, you have not proposed a metaphysic to replace the one you reject.

      Further, you have asserted your position to be true without any argument. You say that you dispute the claim as illogical, but you have not asserted any logic in response.

      Keep in mind that the Fathers aren’t unanimous on most things. But they are most certainly unanimous on this topic. So your burden of proof is rather high. I’m not saying it is impossible. But it really is remarkably difficult.

      Divine impassibility is precisely linked with divine immutability in classical metaphysics. How do you propose that God be passable without being mutable? And if God is mutable, how do you avoid the problems of open theism. If God is mutable, then why presume he is eternally good?

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