The Scriptures: A Wealth Beyond the Needs of All

 

“As for Ephraem’s own attitude to the scriptures and their interpretation, there is a passage in the commentary on the Diatessaron which, even if it may not have come from his pen, is nevertheless an apt expression of his point of view. The text says,

 

Many are the perspectives of his word, just as many are the perspectives of those who study it. [God] has fashioned his word with many beautiful forms, so that each one who studies it may consider what he likes. He has hidden in his word all kinds of treasures so that each one of us, wherever we meditate, may be enriched by it. His utterance is a tree of life, which offers you blessed fruit from every side. It is like that rock which burst forth in the desert, becoming spiritual drink to everyone from all places. [They ate] spiritual food and drank spiritual drink. (1 Cor. 10:3-4)

Therefore, whoever encounters one of its riches must not think that that alone which he has found is all that is in it, but [rather] that it is this alone that he is capable of finding from the many things in it. Enriched by it, let him not think that he has impoverished it. But rather let him give thanks for its greatness, he that is unequal to it. Rejoice that you have been satiated, and do not be upset that it is richer than you…Give thanks for what you have taken away, and do not murmur over what remains and is in excess. That which you have taken and gone away with is your portion and that which is left over is also your heritage.”

(Sidney H. Griffith, ‘Faith Adoring the Mystery’ Reading the Bible with St. Ephraem the Syrian, pp. 16-17)

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Ascending to God

In this way we live in God. We remove our life from this visible world to that world which is not seen by exchanging, not the place, but the very life itself and its mode. It was not we ourselves who were moved towards God, nor did we ascend to him; but it was He who came and descended to us. It was not we who sought, but we were the object of His seeking. The sheep did not seek for the shepherd, nor did the lost coin search for the master of the house; He it was who came to the earth and retrieved His own image, and He came to the place where the sheep was straying and lifted it up and stopped it from straying.

He did not remove us from here but He made us heavenly while yet remaining on earth and imparted to us the heavenly life without leading us up to heaven, but by bending heaven to us and bringing it down. As the prophet says, “He bowed the heavens also, and came down” (Ps. 18:10).

(St Nicholas Cabasilias, The Life in Christ, p. 50)

The Man Born Blind is Healed by His Creator

John 9:1-38  Jesus gives sight to the man born blind

St. Irenaeus (second century) interprets “that the works of God may be manifest in him” (John 9:3) as a direct reference to the continuing work of God as Creator of the human person:

‘Now the work of God is the fashioning of man. For, as the Scripture says, He made [man] by a kind of process: “And the Lord took clay from the earth, and formed man.” (Genesis 2:7)  Wherefore also the Lord spat on the ground and made clay, and smeared it upon the eyes, pointing out the original fashioning [of man], how it was effected, and manifesting the hand of God to those who can understand by what [hand] man was formed out of the dust. For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb [viz., the blind man’s eyes], He then supplied in public, that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not be seeking out another hand by which man was fashioned, nor another Father; knowing that this hand of God which formed us at the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back His own, and taking up the lost sheep upon His shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life…

As, therefore, we are by the Word formed in the womb, this very same Word formed the visual power in him who had been blind from his birth; showing openly who it is that fashions us in secret, since the Word Himself had been made manifest to men: and declaring the original formation of Adam, and the manner in which he was created, and by what hand he was fashioned, indicating the whole from a part. For the Lord who formed the visual powers is He who made the whole man, carrying out the will of the Father.'”

(Daniel B. Hinshaw, Touch and the Healing of the World, p. 38-39)

Overcoming Anger

for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  (James 1:20)

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  (Ephesians 4:31-32)

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St. Paul warns that those who act in anger will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:20-21).   The spiritual literature of Christianity through the centuries kept anger (or one of its manifestations – wrath, rage, revenge, hatred, etc) as one of the deadly sins or passions which Christians were to work to overcome.  And though the New Testament does allow for anger as long as it doesn’t involve sin (Ephesians 4:26), anger was viewed as a dangerous and destructive passion for it often overwhelms the rational thought process and pushes people to act hastily and with force disregarding wisdom or a measured response.

Christ does not want you to feel the least hatred, resentment, anger or rancor towards anyone in any way or on account of any transitory thing whatsoever. This is proclaimed throughout the four Gospels.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 13842-44)

Anger can give us a sense of empowerment – even when we are in the wrong or have not authority in a situation.  Our angry response towards others is often more a measure of our own feelings than a proper evaluation of the wrong we think someone else has done.  Anger can arise in prayer, making us think it is righteous, but often is a sign of our own spiritual illness.

When you pray as you should, thoughts will come to you which make you feel that you have a real right to be angry. But anger with your neighbor is never right. If you search you will find that things can always be arranged without anger. So do all you can not to break out into anger. Take care that, while appearing to cure someone else, you yourself do not remain uncured, in this way thwarting your prayer.  (St. John Cassian, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 1302-8)

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The cure for anger?  Humility is a cure all for much of what ails us spiritually in Orthodox literature.  The humble person maintains an even keel no matter what is going on – be it praise or criticism – and does not react to others but carefully chooses their actions.  Humility stops us from getting emotionally charged by everything that happens around us.  But anger can also be overcome by the combination of courage and mercy – which may not seem like they can go together, but they are at the heart of what it is to be a Christian.

Nothing so converts anger into joy and gentleness as courage and mercy. Like a siege-engine, courage shatters enemies attacking the soul from without, mercy those attacking it from within.   (St Gregory of  Sinai, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle 43079-43081)

 

The Resurrection: Christ Renews Creation

“We have an eloquent testimony to the ultimate restoration of the world from the great Syrian poet-theologian St. Ephrem:

At our resurrection, both earth and heaven will God renew,

liberating all creatures, granting them paschal joy, along with us.

Upon our mother Earth, along with us, did he lay disgrace

when he placed on her, with the sinner, the curse;

so, together with the just, he will bless her too;

this nursing mother, along with her children, shall he who is Good renew. “ 

(from Elizabeth Theokritoff, Living in God’s Creation, p. 38)

The Samaritan Woman: Desire Was Created for Christ

For those who have tasted of the Savior, the Object of desire is present. From the beginning human desire was made to be gauged and measured by the desire for Him, and is a treasury so great, so ample, that it is able to encompass even God. Thus there is no satisfaction, nothing stills the desire, even if men attain to all the excellent things in life, for we still thirst as though we had none of the things for which we long. The thirst of human souls needs, as it were, an infinite water; how then could this limited world suffice?

This is what the Lord hinted when He said to the Samaritan woman, “he who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst’ (Jn. 4:13-14). This is the water that slakes the thirst of human souls, for it says, “when I behold Thy glory I shall be satisfied with it” (Ps. 17:15 LXX). The eye was capable of perceiving light, the ear for sound, and each member for its appropriate end; the desire of the soul has for its object Christ alone.

(St. Nicolas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, p. 96)

Gospel of the Samaritan Woman:  John 4:5-42

A Pascha Which is Christ the Redeemer

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And certainly, Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place.” (1 Corinthians 5:7, (EOB)

“... the passover is not a type of the passion but a type of Christ Himself...” (Origen, 3rd Century)

From the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox until the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, we Orthodox celebrate Pascha – the resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.  We sing the Paschal verses gloriously and joyfully showcasing “PASCHA“, the Pascha of the Lord:

Today, a sacred Pascha is revealed to us, A new and holy Pascha, A mystical Pascha, A Pascha worthy of veneration, A Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer, A blameless Pascha, A great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, A Pascha which has opened for us the gates of Paradise, A Pascha which sanctifies all the faithful.

Pascha of beauty, The Pascha of the Lord, A Pascha worthy of all honor has dawned for us. Pascha! Let us embrace each other joyously. O Pascha, ransom from affliction! For today as from a bridal chamber Christ has shown forth from the tomb and filled the women with joy saying: Proclaim the glad tidings to the apostles.

And one thing that becomes clear is that Pascha, though being applied to the event of the Resurrection of Christ, is also Christ Himself.  As we sing: “A Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer“.   We could substitute in those hymns the word “Christ” or “Messiah” or the Name “Jesus” in each instance where “Pascha” appears.  That would enrich our understanding of the hymn, of the Feast, of salvation and of Christ Himself.  Pascha, like salvation, like Light, like the Word, like Love is a Who not a what: Jesus Christ.  Pascha is not just an event, a Feast, the 8th day – for it is the revelation of our God in Christ.  God has made “it” into our union with Him.

The idea is completely Scriptural.  In 1 Corinthians 5:7 St. Paul calls Jesus Christ our Passover.  [Often in the English translations of this verse they translate the text as “Paschal lamb“, but the word lamb is not in the Greek text, but is added by translators to try to make sense of the text to people for whom Pascha doesn’t mean much.  The Eastern Orthodox Bible (EOB) and David Bentley Hart in his “A Translation of the New Testament” both translate the text to say Christ is our passover.]

The idea that Christ is our Passover is defended by the 3rd Century’s most famous Christian biblical scholar, Origen.  As translator and scholar Robert Daly notes:

Origen‘s central insight is that the passover is not a figure or type of the passion of Christ but a figure of Christ Himself, of Christ’s passing over to the Father (of which the passion was only a historical part) and, by reason of our incorporation into Christ, of our own still ongoing passing over with Christ to the Father.”  (ORIGEN: TREATISE ON THE PASSOVER, pp 6-7)

When we read the Passover narrative in Exodus we are reading about Christ, not merely about history or just a prefiguring of the passion events.  As Jesus teaches in John 5:46 – “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.”  [So too we find the same idea in Luke 24:27 (And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.) and in John 1:45 – (Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”)  Moses wrote about Jesus, not just about history, nor prophecy, but about Jesus Christ.]

For Origen the Passover is not merely an historical event which happened in the past.  Origen writes, “the Passover still takes place today.”  We enter into the Passover, into Christ, in our own baptisms.  The Passover is living, and life-giving, not some event that occurred long ago in history which we can only read about – nor something we “remember” in ritual.  We participate in Christ, in the Passover, in salvation.  It is Christ who makes Pascha, the Passover personal – His person to whom we are united, but also for each of us in our union with the incarnate God.

 

St Ephrem of Syria On Paradise

A person who has acquired

good health in himself

and is aware in his mind

of what sickness is,

has gained something beneficial,

and he knows something profitable;

but the person who lies

in sickness;

and knows in his mind

what good health is like,

is vexed by his sickness

and tormented in his mind.

Had Adam conquered,

he would have acquired

glory upon his limbs,

and discernment of what suffering is,

so that he might be radiant in his limbs

and grow in discernment.

But the serpent reversed all this

and made him taste

abasement in reality,

and glory in recollection only,

so that he might feel shame at what he had found

and weep at what he had lost.

The tree was to him

like a gate;

its fruit was the veil

covering that hidden Tabernacle.

Adam snached the fruit,

casting aside the commandment.

When he beheld that Glory

within,

shining forth with its rays,

he fled outside;

he ran off and took refuge

amongst the modest fig trees.

In the midst of Paradise God had planted

the Tree of Knowledge

to separate off, above and below,

Sanctuary from Holy of Holies.

Adam made bold to touch,

and he was smitten like Uzziah:

the king became leprous;

Adam was stripped.

Being struck like Uzziah

he hastened to leave:

both kings fled and hid,

in shame at their bodies.

Even though all the trees

of Paradise

are clothed each in its own glory,

yet each veils itself at the Glory:

the Seraphs with their wings,

the trees with their branches,

all cover their faces so as not to behold

their Lord.

They all blushed at Adam

who was suddenly found naked;

the serpent had stolen his garments,

for which it was deprived of its feet.

God did not permit

Adam to enter

that innermost Tabernacle:

this was withheld,

so that he might first prove pleasing

in his service of that outer Tabernacle.

Like a priest

with fragrant incense,

Adam’s keeping of the commandment

was to be his censer;

then he might enter before the Hidden One

into that hidden Tabernacle.

The symbol of Paradise

was depicted by Moses

who made the two sanctuaries,

the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies;

into the outer one,

entrance was permitted

but into the inner,

only once a year.

So too with Paradise,

God closed off the inner part

but He opened up the outer,

wherein Adam might graze.

(Ephrem the Syrian, Treasure-house of Mysteries, pp. 48-50)

Holy Myrrhbearing Women

As the true friends of the Creator were saying this,

Mary, who was following, said,

“Initiates of the Lord and his truly fervent lovers, do not think like this;

but be patient, do not lose heart.

For what has happened was a dispensation,

so that women, as those who were the first to fall,

might be the first to see the risen One.

He wishes to grant to us who mourn the grace of his ‘Rejoice!’,

he who grants resurrection to the fallen.”

On the Life of Christ: Kontakia, p. 170)

Frequently, the Patristic writers see the Gospel events as an “undoing” of the Fall of Eve and Adam.  In the poem above, St. Romanos the Melodist, explains  that the Women Disciples of the Lord learn about the resurrection before the chosen Apostles so that woman would be given the opportunity to “reverse the curse”.  Eve fell before Adam, but now the women get to share the Good News with the men.  All sin is forgiven in the resurrection as humans are put on the path to the Kingdom of God and allowed to enter into Paradise again.

Humans Were Created for Christ

St Nicholas Cabasilas  says that we humans were created by God with our unique set of characteristics precisely that we might know Christ. Adam was created with Christ already “in mind”  –  God didn’t send Christ into the world in response to a broken Adam, rather God created Adam in Christ’s image so that Christ could become incarnate as a human.   The human was designed to be capable of bearing God.   God knew where He was going with these creatures created in God’s image – with mind, desire, reason and memory.  God the Trinity was planning for the incarnation of God the Son from before the humans were ever first created.  Adam was not the model for Christ, but rather Christ was the Archetype which made the particular human characteristics necessary so that God could be incarnate as a human.  God knew what was needed in a creature for the incarnation to take place, and God created us accordingly to prepare us and the world for the incarnation.

“It was for the new man that human nature was created at the beginning, and for him mind and desire were prepared. Our reason we have received in order that we may know Christ, our desire in order that we might hasten to Him. We have memory in order that we may carry Him in us, since He Himself is the Archetype for those who are created. It was not the old Adam who was the model for the new, but the new Adam for the old, even though it is said that the new Adam was generated according to the likeness of the old (Rom 8:3) because of the corruption which the old Adam initiated.

The latter Adam inherited it in order that He might abolish the infirmity of our nature by means of the remedies which He brings and, as Paul says, so ‘that which is mortal might be swallowed up by life‘ (2 Cor. 5:4).”   (The Life in Christ, p 190)