Today we Orthodox Christians remember a number of things that pertain to our salvation, most importantly, of course, our Savior’s life-giving death on the cross. We also remember the wise thief, that holy tradition has named as St. Dismas. What I would like to note is St. Dismas’s words at the crucifixion. I preached a funeral some years ago and used him as the basis of my thoughts on that day. My neighbor had died of cancer and I went to see him the day before he died. All he could really tell me was that he hoped in Christ and was ready to die. My neighbor had only come to any sort of real faith in the last few weeks of his life, and I have all hope of seeing him again. My neighbor, despite the suffering he endured, saw something wonderful ahead of him than the end he was enduring.
But St. Dismas gives us much more than this. The disciples, with the exception of St. John had all fled. Only the women, namely the several Marys, were present, and they were all in tears. But St. Dismas saw things differently. Indeed, he realized rightly that Christ, unlike himself, had done nothing worthy of death. But he saw even more than this, that Christ, though there upon the cross, was also the Lord of life; and that instead of seeing the crucifixion as a tragic end to a promising life, it was instead but the beginning of something greater. How else can we take his words, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom?” St. Dismas saw not a dying man, but the life giving Messiah, the Lord of Life and indeed, the vanquisher of death. Thus at his last hour he saw more than the disciples who had been Christ’s companions for three years, the hearers of his words, witnesses to his miracles. If all we see this Great and Holy Friday is a dying man, we have missed the significance of our Lord’s death. It is not as a man that he dies, or even as a mere man. It is not that merely his human nature dies, but that the Lord of Glory, the second Person of the Holy and Divine Trinity, dies. Otherwise, we see nothing but a mere human nature. Instead we should see the human nature of God, the flesh and blood of God, that there suffers, and that the Person of the Incarnation there tastes death for everyone. This is what St. Dismas saw. And I should all take hope that it was a thief who first saw this; for now I can have hope that I, the chief of sinners, shall see our Lord as He truly is as well, and come at last, with St. Dismas, to his glorious resurrection.