With today’s commemoration of an extraordinary martyr and confessor of Christ, Saint Longinus the Centurion, the scene of the terrible Crucifixion of Christ shines before us again. It was Longinus the Centurion who was the Roman captain in charge of the bodies hanging on the three crosses and it was he who was deemed worthy to recognize all the signs so that he cried out in faith: “Truly this was the Son of God!” As he stood speechless and in awe, a spark of faith began to flicker within him and his once-severe soldier’s heart was filled with love for the Crucified Savior, for the One who not only died for us all but also prayed for those who crucified Him. Seeing his heart transformed, the Lord granted him to experience His glorious Resurrection, to confess it boldly before those who sought to cover up the Resurrection, and even to be worthy of a martyr’s crown. What a marvelous change – a pagan with a soldier’s rough disposition warmly hosted his executioners, as if they were Christ, and then begged them to release him from the burden of this temporal life and send him into the arms of our Lord in Whom he believed with all his heart.
This witness of the Resurrection of Christ brought many faithful pilgrims to Bigorski Monastery today, who gathered together with the monks to celebrate his holy memory and once again to remember Christ’s ineffable sacrifice which has given us its blessings at such a high price. Once again, the Holy Friday Gospel resounded in the church like during Holy Week, and a powerful trembling shook the hearts of those present, especially our beloved Elder, Bishop Partenij of Antania, who illustrated the scene of Golgotha for us once again with a very moving homily, proclaiming that the true Christian life is a constant crucifixion:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
My beloved, we give thanks to the All-Good God Who has made us worthy to gather together in joy to celebrate the honorable memory of the Holy Martyr Longinus the Centurion. As we know from the Gospels and his Life, this Roman officer was posted at Golgotha, right at the Cross of Jesus. Together with his soldiers, he was charged with guarding the crucifixion of the Savior, and then the Holy Sepulcher.
It is very moving indeed that it was a pagan who was an eyewitness to the terrible events that took place at the Place of the Skull, and who then became a witness of the mysteries of God’s glory and the Son of God. Longinus and his soldiers had the unique opportunity to be eyewitnesses, up close as it happened, of the crucifixion of the Nazarene, when the Sun darkened in the middle of the day and everything became black. They experienced the earth shaking with a powerful earthquake, solid rocks cracked, many graves were opened and the dead came out of them alive, resurrected. The centurion and those who guarded Jesus together with him, after seeing the earthquake and everything else that happened, were very afraid and said: “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
What a great inward transformation took place in the souls of these ordinary Roman civil servants, who were staunch pagans and hard-hearted soldiers that up until then had been far from faith, and now, suddenly, they were so close to God! Truly this was the Son of God! Is there a greater confession, a stronger witness than this, uttered by lips that until a little while ago did not know how to utter a single word about God?!
We see that with everything that the Lord Jesus Christ did on Earth, including His own death, He wanted to draw us all to Himself and His eternal Kingdom in heaven. “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). The fulfillment of this prophecy that the Savior’s blameless mouth uttered is evident even on terrible Golgotha. In the last moments of His life, ascending the Cross to be crucified for the whole world, the Word of God fulfills His mission of gathering in human souls and bringing them to absolute freedom and peace. Although Christ was in agony before His death and in terrible pain and suffering, nevertheless with His humility, mercy, and forgiveness did He act in such a way that even a thief, who in this life had hardly ever thought about God, recognized Him as the Lord. What a transformation in his soul came about by Jesus’s very appearance, he could attain full knowledge of God and confess the Crucified One as the true Lord, God, and King: “Remember me, O Lord, when You come into Your Kingdom!” (Luke 23:42).
Through the forgiveness He poured out through His Crucifixion on the Cross, the Lord allowed a man who had a strict military demeanor to recognize Him as the Son of God. Just as rocks broke apart during the Crucifixion, so too did Longinus’s heart shatter when he heard that the One Whom they were crucifying forgave them and prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:24) Look at the example the Lord left for us in the last moments of His life! He forgives those who crucify Him and He sends mercy to the whole world. He makes a thief the first inhabitant of Heaven. This gives us every hope that no matter what we are, no matter how sinful we are, if we approach Him sincerely in our hearts, He will have mercy on us and remember us, He will make us His neighbors in Heaven.
Saint Longinus’s spiritual transformation still remains a great mystery for us, a man who was made worthy to witness history’s most horrific events. He believed in Christ and confessed Him as the Son of God even there, at the Cross, but of course, he was also very confused by everything that was happening. When Christ’s own disciples, who had seen His many miracles, were so confused, then what can we say about this Roman centurion, who until just now had known nothing about the Lord?! Recall that according to tradition, he or another soldier of his pierced Christ in the side with a spear, so that fools would be convinced that He was already dead. Even though He was dead in the flesh, the Lord astonished everyone even more by pouring out blood and water from His most pure ribs. In the end, St. Longinus’s confusion was completely resolved when he was assigned to another task related to Jesus Christ. St. Longinus was charged with guarding His tomb, and thus he became a witness to the greatest miracle in history: the Resurrection of Christ. As we know from the Gospel, the Jewish elders, who were embittered and darkened, had begged Pontius Pilate to guard the Tomb of Christ, to ensure that His disciples would not be able to come and take His body, since they remembered His words that after three days he would rise again. They believed that their conspiracy of the Cross and the Tomb would stop His teaching at the grave and that the disciples would disperse and give up, and thus even His memory would be completely extinguished.
However, that isn’t what happened. St. Longinus saw the Resurrection of Christ with his own eyes and from then on he was completely transformed. He became an unshakable witness and preacher of the Good News. The chief priests and elders of the people offered him and the other soldiers large sums of money to keep quiet about the miracle and to say that while they were sleeping, the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus. However, he did not accept but instead began to openly preach about the Resurrected Lord. But see what envy, hatred, and malice do! When these satanic characteristics take hold of a person, they become very dark and do not think normally, so that even facts do not mean anything to them anymore. It is incomprehensible to us how after hearing that He had risen and was alive, the One they had put to death out of envy, instead of changing their behavior, darkened themselves even more and even tried to hide what could in no wise be hidden. Envy simply did not allow them to act rationally. On the contrary, they used the most miserable of the world’s vices, which has killed the human spirit throughout history: greed. Judas’s thirty pieces of silver. It is like people say even today, what cannot be achieved with money can be achieved with a lot of money. So they too, seduced by this demonic passion, tried to bribe the guards, so that they would lie and say that they fell asleep while guarding the Tomb and that the disciples stole the dead man. They even made sure to protect the soldiers and made sure they would not be subjected to a court-martial, because normally if a soldier fell asleep on guard duty, he would be punished. Thus, they also paid off the governor so that he would not conduct an investigation.
However, Saint Longinus and his two faithful companions did not accept any of this. Spiritually reborn and ennobled by the Divine Glory they had seen, they abandoned everything, left military service, and were baptized by the Holy Apostles, becoming apostles of the Resurrection themselves. They returned to their homeland in Caesarea Cappadocia where St. Longinus had come from and preached the Gospel. In the end, they too fell victim to the malice of the Jewish elders and were handed over to the Roman authorities and by order of Caesar, they were beheaded. In so doing, they joyfully received martyr’s crowns and departed to the joy of their Lord in Heaven, from where they bless us and answer our prayers.
Thus, my beloved, all of us in the Church should live the Cross and the Resurrection and be witnesses to our Lord Christ. He is present and speaks to us in many ways. He is with us in our sorrows, He is with us in our joys. All we need to do is ask Him to open the eyes of our inner man as He did for the thief and the centurion so that we can see Him and His ineffable goodness and beauty at every moment of our life. Seeing Him, our hearts will cry out: “Lord, I want to be with You forever! Remember me, O Lord, in Your kingdom!”