We have spoken about the action of co-suffering love, but now let us direct our attention to its bearers: in what feeling, in what experience is it expressed? It is evident that it is found in inner suffering for others, in co-suffering. And so we have come to the concept of redemptive co-suffering. The door is now open before us to a feasible understanding of the redemptive power of Christ's sufferings.
The Church clearly teaches those who would partake of the Holy Mysteries that the grace of regeneration is given from the co-suffering love of Christ the Saviour. This is expressed in the words of St Symeon the New Theologian, in the seventh prayer before Communion:
Neither the greatness of my offenses nor the multitude of my transgressions surpasses the great longsuffering of my God and His exceeding love for man, but with the oil of co-suffering [compassion] dost Thou purify and illumine those who fervently repent, and Thou makest them to partake abundantly of the light and to be communicants of Thy Divinity.
These are precious words which explain the mystery of redemption and expand the significance of Paul's words: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to co-suffer with our weaknesses" (Hb.4:15). The fourth antiphon of Great Friday Matins clearly says that Christ's sufferings were His co-suffering for mankind: "O Thou who dost suffer for and with mankind, glory be to Thee."
Speaking of himself as a servant of regeneration, Apostle Paul clearly expresses the truth that co-suffering (compassion) which is filled with love and zeal for the flock is a regenerating power, which gradually instills spiritual life into those hearts where it had not previously existed, just as a child receives life in the birth sufferings of the mother: "My children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ is formed in you" (Gal.4:19; Jn.16:21,22). In another place, the apostle writes that the spiritual life of the flock increases according to the measure that their teacher dies physically in his pastoral suffering: "Thus death is actively at work in us, but life in you" (2Cor.4:12; cp.1Cor.4:10-16).
In the prayer for accomplishing the mystery of the consecration of bishops, the successors of the apostles, the regenerating power of their service is also described as suffering (that is, co-suffering with the sinful flock), in which the hierarch represents, to the people, Christ the true Teacher and Redeemer:
As it is not possible for the human nature to bear the Divine essence, by Thine ekonomy Thou hast appointed teachers for us having a nature like our own, subject to passions, who stand before Thy throne...make this appointed steward of the episcopal grace an imitator of Thee, the true Shepherd, Who has laid down Thy life for Thy flock....May he stand unashamed before Thy throne and receive the great reward which Thou hast prepared for those who have suffered for the preaching of the Gospel.
The co-suffering love of a mother, friend, a spiritual shepherd or an apostle is operative only when it attracts Christ, the true Shepherd. If, however, it functions only in the sphere of human relations, it can, it is true, evoke tender attitudes and repentant sentiment, but not a radical regeneration. The latter is so difficult for our corrupt nature that not in vain did Nikodemos, speaking with Christ, liken this difficulty to an adult person entering again into his mother's womb and being born for a second time. The Lord replied that what is impossible in the limits of human life is possible in the life of grace, in which the Holy Spirit descends from heaven and operates. And to grant us this gift, Christ had to be crucified and raised, as Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness, that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have life eternal (see Jn.3:13-15).
So that which grace-bearing people can do only in part and only for some people, our Heavenly Redeemer can do, and does do, completely and for all. Filled with the deepest compassion for sinful humanity during His earthly life, He often exclaimed: "O faithless and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I endure you?" (Mt.17:17). He was oppressed with the greatest sorrow on the night when the greatest crime in human history occurred, when God's ministers — with the complicity of Christ's own disciple, the former through envy, the latter through greed — decided to put the Son of God to death.
This oppressive grief possessed His most pure soul for a second time on the cross when the cruel masses not only were not moved to pity by His terrible physical sufferings (they could not come close to grasping His moral sufferings) but also maliciously mocked the Sufferer. One must suppose that during that night in Gethsemane, the thought and feeling of the God-man embraced all of fallen humanity — numbering many millions — and wept with loving grief over each one individually, as only the all-knowing divine heart could. Our redemption consisted in this. This is why only God, the God-man could be our Redeemer, and not an angel or a man. It was not at all because a more valuable sacrifice was necessary for the satisfaction of Divine wrath. Ever since this night in Gethsemane and that day on Golgotha, every believer, even one who is just beginning to believe, recognizes his inner bond with Christ and turns to Him in prayer, as to an inexhaustible spring of moral regenerating strength. Few are able to explain exactly why they so easily assimilated faith in the possibility of receiving new moral energy and sanctification from turning to Christ, but no believer doubts this, nor do even the heretics.
Having suffered in His loving soul over our imperfection and our corrupt will, the Lord poured into our nature a wellspring of new, vital strength, available to everyone who has ever or will ever desire it, beginning with the wise thief.
One may ask: "How does this happen? Upon what does the causal bond between suffering and regeneration depend if the latter is not an external gift of God as a reward for the merits of the One? How can one explain this transmission of moral energy from a loving heart into the hearts of the beloved ones, from the Sufferer to those for whom He had co-suffered? You have presented to us factual proof that it is thus; you have confirmed it with the words of the prayers of the Church and the words of the holy fathers and the Bible. Finally you wish, from this point of view, to explain the death agony of the Saviour, evidently ascribing only a secondary significance to His physical sufferings, the shedding of His blood and death. But we still desire to know what law of existence causes this communion of the Redeemer with those being redeemed, and the influence, which we ourselves have observed, of the co-suffering will of one man upon others. Is this merely a result of a conscious submission of the will of a loved one to the will of the one who is loving, or is there something taking place here that is deeper — something objective, something that takes place in the very nature of our souls?"
"Of course," we would reply to the latter. I have always been very dissatisfied when a collocutor to whom I had explained redeeming grace, responded from the point of view of scholastic theology, to this effect: you are expounding the subjective, moral aspect of the dogma, but you do not touch upon the objective, metaphysical (that is, the juridical) aspect. "No," I would reply. "In the transmission of the compassionate, loving energies of the Redeemer into the spiritual nature of a believing person who calls upon His help, we find manifested a purely objective law of our spiritual nature revealed in our dogmas, but which our dogmatic science has not noticed."
(St Antony Khrapovitsky)