An Orthodox Perspective
on Gibson's
The Passion of Christ

By Rev. Oliver Herbel


1. See, for example, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, "The Mel Gibson Controversy as Seen Through the Eyes of an Orthodox Jew," A Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights research paper. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights website includes additional research papers exploring the controversy.  Additionally, Gibson addressed the controversy in an interview with ABC's Primetime on February 17, 2004. He previously spoke to many elements of the film, including the charge of "anti-Semitism," in his discussion with Raymond Arroyo, aired on January 23, 2004.


2. Cathleen Falsani, "Greek Orthodox leaders tell flock 'Passion' isn't Accurate," Chicago-Sun-Times, February 26, 2004.


3. Igumen Vladimir Wendling, Letter no. 83, on behalf of Bishop Job, March 15, 2004.


4. Ibid.


5. See Frederica Mathewes-Green, "The Meaning of Christ's Suffering," Books and Culture: A Christian Review March/April, 2004.  See also Fr. Thomas Hopko, "Mel Gibson's Passion Monotonous and Misleading."


6. Berdyaev contrasts a Western focus on the cross and an Eastern focus on eschatology.  See Nicholas Berdyaev, "Unifying Christian of the East and the West," transl. Fr. Michael Knechten. A much more recent claim that Orthodox emphasize the resurrection, while the West emphasizes atoning sufferings can be found in Joshua S. Edward's letter to the editor (not available online) of The Brown Daily Herald.  For an example of the myth being presented in a book on church history or the history of theology, see Carl A. Volz, The Medieval Church: From the Dawn of the Middle Ages to the Eve of the Reformation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), 70.


7. Cf. Matthew 27.53.


8. Gibson elevates the sufferings in two ways.  First, the majority of his reflection on Christ is concerned strictly with those sufferings.  The Gospels of the New Testament, on the other hand, spend proportionately much less time describing and contemplating the physical sufferings of Jesus the Christ.  Second, Gibson adds some punishments, such as Jesus being thrown off a bridge, that are not in the Gospels.  Combined, these two aspects take us well beyond the Gospel accounts.


9. Cf. Matthew 28.2.


10. For example, Athanasios, says, "The Saviour assumed a body for Himself, in order that the body, being interwoven as it were with life, should no longer remain a mortal thing, in thrall to death, but as endued with immortality and risen from death, should thenceforth remain immortal."  Or, to put it another way, "He [the Son of God], indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God."  Athanasios, On the Incarnation of the Word, transl. and edited by a Religious of C.S.M.V. (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1998) 44, 54.


11. As the Apolytikia of the fifth and seventh tones state it, "Let us believers praise and let us worship the Word, who like the Father and the Spirit is without beginning, born from a Virgin for our Salvation; for he was pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh and undergo death, and to raise those who had died, by his glorious Resurrection.  You abolished death by your Cross you opened Paradise to the Thief, you transformed the Myrrhbearers' lament, and ordered your Apostles to proclaim that you had risen, O Christ God, granting the world your great mercy."  Translated in The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 62.

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