“I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Part II)
The ultimate reason for Christ’s death must be seen in the mortality of Man. Christ suffered death, but passed through it and overcame mortality and corruption. He quickened death itself. “By death He destroyed death.” The death of Christ is therefore, as it were, an extension of the Incarnation. The death on the Cross was effective, not as the death of an Innocent One, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord. “We needed an Incarnate God, God put to death, that we might live,” to use a bold and startling phrase of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Orat. 45, in S. Pascha, 28: edeêthêmen theou sarkoumenou kai nekroumenou).
It was not a man that died on the Cross. In Christ there is no human hypostasis. His personality was Divine, yet incarnate. “For He who suffered was not common man, but God made man, and fighting the contest of endurance,” says St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech.13, 6).
It may be properly said that God died on the Cross, but in His own humanity (which was, however, “consubstantial” with ours). This was the voluntary death of One Who was Himself Life Eternal. A human death indeed, death “according to humanity,” and yet death within the hypostasis of the Word, of the Incarnate Word. And thence a resurrecting death. “I have a baptism to be baptized with” (Luke 12:50). It was the death on the Cross, and the shedding of blood, “the baptism of martyrdom and blood, with which Christ Himself also was baptized,” as St. Gregory of Nazianzus suggested (Orat.37, 17).
The death on the Cross as a baptism of blood, this is the very essence of the redeeming mystery of the Cross. Baptism is a cleansing. And the Baptism of the Cross was, as it were, the cleansing of the human nature, which was travelling the path of restoration in the Hypostasis of the Incarnate Word. This was, as it were, a washing of human nature in the outpoured sacrificial blood of the Divine Lamb, and first of all a washing of the body: not only a washing away of sins, but a washing away of human infirmities and of mortality itself. It was the cleansing in preparation for the coming resurrection: a cleansing of all human nature, a cleansing of all humanity in the person of its new and mystical First-born, in the “Last Adam.”
This was the baptism by blood of the whole Church, and indeed of the whole world. “A purification not for a small part of man’s world, not for a short time, but for the whole Universe and through eternity,” to quote St. Gregory of Nazianzus once more (Orat.45, 13).
The Lord died on the Cross. This was a true death. Yet not wholly like ours, simply because this was the death of the Incarnate Word, death within the indivisible Hypostasis of the Word made man, the death of the “enhypostatized” humanity. This does not alter the ontological character of death, but changes its meaning. The “Hypostatic Union” was not broken or destroyed by death, and therefore the soul and the body, though separated from each other, remained still united through the Divinity of the Word, from which neither was ever estranged. This was an “incorrupt death,” and therefore “corruption” and “mortality” were overcome in it, and in it begins the resurrection.
Adapted from Archpriest Georges Florovsky (1893-1979), The “Immortality” of the Soul, taken from Chapter VI, “Dimensions of Redemption,” of the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. III: Creation and Redemption