Editor's note: This article is a follow-up to Bearers of Co-Suffering Love
Some have asked me to explain "moral grief," looking at the Holy Fathers.
The best example of Moral Grief is Christ's prayer in Gethsemane just before his betrayal. As the fathers tell us, Christ had no fear of death. He certainly knew who He is. What then, was the "chalice" that He suffered from so greatly and wished to have it removed?
He was referring to His grief over the conditions and bondage of humanity. As the great Russian father, Antony Khrapovitsky says, "Christ suffered more greatly from His moral grief for humanity than He suffered physically on the cross."
Christ expressed no outrage over mankind's sins, which He had come to bear away. Even when critiquing the self-righteous, He was sharp and stern, but without outrage. With the woman taken in adultery, we do not see any moral outraged in Christ, rather, being concerned for her healing and salvation, He demonstrates a moral grief toward her accusers who were, despite of their own moral outrage, were immoral and full of sin themselves.
Moral grief never seeks the punishment or degradation of another, but feels grief over their bondage and inner human suffering. Moral outrage wallows in the desire for punishment, and rages against the other rather than feeling a deep sense of humble grief over their condition. I hope this will explain to some degree.
St Antony Khrapovitsky once wrote:
“In the garden of Gethsemane the Lord demonstrated the ultimate degree of co-suffering with the sins of every person, when He began to be oppressed by them to such a degree that He asked the heavenly Father to deliver Him from the agony. 'And was heard because of His reverence" as the apostle says (Heb.5:7), as an angel appeared and strengthened Him.'
"... How can I benefit from the Saviour's grief over people's sins, in the way that a corrupted person's soul is filled by a friend's co-suffering love? Only if I am convinced of the certainty that I too, I personally, as an individual, was and am encompassed in the heart of Christ Who grieves over my sins. Only when I am aware that He beholds me, stretches out His supporting hand toward me and encompasses me with His co-suffering love: only then is He my Saviour, pouring new moral strength into me, He "Who teaches my hands for war" (Ps. 17:34) against evil.
"This is possible only when He is not foreign to me, not a historical example of virtue, but a part of my being or, more correctly, when I am a part of His being, a participant of the Divine nature, as Apostle Peter says (Pt.1:4).T
PATRISTIC REFERENCES: CHRIST WAS NOT GRIEVED IN GETHSEMANE ABOUT HIS OWN SUFFERING AND CRUCIFIXION:
St Hilary of Poitlers devotes several paragraphs to refuting the idea that Christ felt fear in Gethsemane. He says that Christ's words, “My soul is sorrowful unto death” cannot mean that He was sorrowful because of His own impending death. He was sorrowful unto death in that He sorrowed so greatly over fallen humanity that He came unto death over it. “So far from His sadness being caused by death, it was removed by it.”
Concerning the words, “Let this cup pass from Me,” St Hilary says,
For this prayer is immediately followed by the words, ‘and He came to His disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter; could you not watch one hour with Me?...the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh Is weak....' Is the cause of this sadness and this prayer any longer in doubt?...it is not, therefore, for Himself that He is sorrowful and prays, but for those whom He exhorts.
The saint points out that Christ had no need to fear His passion and death, but that even those who were committed to Him would so fear it that at first, on account of it, they would flee and fear to confess Him, and that Christ was sorrowful over this. The whole passage is well worth reading. (See On the Trinity, Book 10:30—40).
- St John Chrysostom, Against the Marcionites and Maniceans
- St Cyril of Alexandria, On Luke, Sermon 146, 147
- St Ambrose of Milan, On Luke, Book 10:56—62
Both St Cyril and St Ambrose directly confirm Metropolitan Antony's interpretation of the cause and significance of Christ's agony in Gethsemane, and the “cup” which He asked to have removed from Him.