What is Friendship?

Russian icon, The Mystical Supper (early 14th century). Fresco in Vatopedi Monastery, Mt. Athos.

5th Week of Easter, Friday

John 15:12-17

“I have called you friends.”

Extraordinary words uttered by Jesus. Pagan philosophers like Aristotle had already proven for centuries that friendship with the gods was impossible. Likewise, servants and kings did not mix. Unequal parties, superiors and inferiors, simply could not be friends. The distance in rank or nature made intimacy impossible.

Yet Jesus called the disciples his friends, “because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” This connection between friendship and Christ’s oneness with the Father is worth pondering. Initiates into the divine circle must somehow be adopted into that filial love between the Father and the Son through Jesus Christ. 

As for equality—the qualification of the Greeks for the possibility of friendship—none had predicted the Incarnation. That God would assume our human nature and become one with us—this was “foolishness” to the Gentiles, in St. Paul’s words. 

From the Cross to the tomb, and back to the Womb of the Father, Jesus divinized our humanity and made possible friendship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Friendship is between persons, not natures, but unity of nature is foundational and Christ did that for us when Mary uttered her “Fiat!” at the Annunciation. 

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Could the Cross be an expression in time and history of the eternal, self-emptying love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? If so, the standards of friendship have reached new heights undreamt of by philosophy.

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