04 May 2012
The Prayer of the Good Thief
Eugene Rose Lay Sermon April 1964
For Orthodox Christians this Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, is already Heaven on earth. He Who first rose from the dead has opened to all the gates of eternal life, and those who have properly prepared for this great Feast, in accordance with the commandments of God and the disciplines of His Church, have already now a foretaste of this life. On this day, as it will be in the Kingdom of Heaven, all is joy, and glory, and light.
The season of preparation for the Feast is long and difficult. Yet so great is the mercy of our God to us that He does not reject those who are late in preparing themselves. Those who begin only at the sixth or the ninth hour, or even at the eleventh hour, as or Father in Christ St. John Chrysostom tells us, are welcome at the Feast as those who have fasted from the very first.
Indeed, the Church of Christ remembers especially, not only in connection with the events of the Saving Passion of our Lord, but also at every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, one who turned to the Savior only at the very last moment. This is the Good Thief who hung on a cross beside our Lord, and whose prayer is the prayer of every Orthodox Christian: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."
We are all, whether we realize it or not, in the position of this thief. Like him we have been condemned by our sins as unworthy of this life; like him we have nothing to hope for in this world and face only suffering and a miserable death if we hope for no other life than this. But if, like him, even in our suffering and unworthiness we yet turn to the God Who condescended to share our human weakness, even to such an ignominious death, and believe that He has the power to fulfill the promises He has made to us, – then is our condemnation revoked, our sins forgiven, our unworthiness overlooked, and out pain and sorrow and death swallowed up in victory and joy and eternal life.
By such faith, which is affirmed in the radiant services of the holy day and week, we are lifted above this earth and offered a glimpse of the life to come. We already know in some measre the meaning of the promise with which our Lord answered the prayer of the Good Thief, and nowhere in the Holy Scriptures are there words more full of hope and encouragement for us: "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise."