Ezekiel 33:11

Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11; see also Ezekiel 18:31-32)

St. Romanos the Melodist offers us Christian insight into Ezekiel‘s prophetic words:

“Now I shall make all known to you and I shall prophesy to you, All-Holy, unblemished.

For fall and resurrection,

your Son is set, the life and the redemption and the resurrection of all.

The Lord has not appeared so that some may fall while others rise,

for the All-Compassionate does not rejoice at the fall of mortals.

Nor has he now come to make those who stand fall,

but rather he is here hastening to raise those who have fallen,

ransoming from death what he himself fashioned,

the only lover of mankind.

(On the Life of Christ: Kontakia, p. 31)

And from the desert fathers we find a very motherly and earthy understanding of the Ezekiel prophecy:

A brother asked Abba Macarius, “My father, I have fallen into a transgression.” Abba Macarius said to him, “It is written, my son, ‘I do not desire the death of a sinner as much as his repentance and his life’ [see 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pet 3:9].

Repent, therefore, my son; you will see him who is gentle, our Lord Jesus Christ, his face full of joy towards you, like a nursing mother whose face is full of joy for her child when he raises his hands and his face up to her. Even if he is full of all kinds of uncleanness, she does not turn away from that bad smell and excrement but takes pity on him and lifts him up and presses him to her breast, her face full of joy, and everything about him is sweet to her. If, then, this created person has pity for her child, how much greater is the love of the creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, for us!   (St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer: Coptic Texts Relating To Saint Macarius, Kindle Location 269-279)

The unconditional love of a mother for her child is a most exquisite image of God’s love for us.  God is not repulsed by the filth of our sins but desires to embrace us with God’s eternal love if only we will allow ourselves to be so embraced.

St Romanos: Prayer for the Meeting of the Lord

St. Romanos the Melodist (6th Century) wrote countless hymns, poems and prayers, some of which are still in use in the liturgical services and feasts of the Orthodox Church to this day.  Here is a prayer he composed as part of a longer hymn for the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple:

We implore you, O All-Holy, Long-Suffering, Life and Restoration, Source of goodness,

look down from heaven and visit all those who ever trust in you;

rescue our life, Lord, from all constraint and affliction,

and, in the faith of truth, guide us all,

at the prayers of the immaculate Mother or God and Virgin,

Save your world, and those in the world, and spare us all,

you who, for us, became man without change,

only Lover of mankind.

(On the Life of Christ, p. 34)

The Warmth of Putting on Christ

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great! You are clothed with honor and majesty, who covers yourself with light as with a garment…   (Psalm 104:1-2)

A very common idea among early Christians and also found in ancient Jewish writings is that Adam and Eve in Paradise were clothed with garments of light, given to them by God.

These garments were removed from them when they sinned, and thus they became aware of their nakedness and tried to cover themselves with leaves and hide themselves in the trees so that they would not have to stand naked before God.  The reversal of this in the early Church occurred when each person undressed before their baptism.  In baptism, they had nothing to hide, having confessed their sins (unlike Adam and Eve who tried to hide themselves and the fact that they had sinned), and so could stand naked before God and feel no shame.  Following baptism, a special white garment was placed on the newly baptized signifying their putting on the garments of light again.  And we sing the words of Galatians 3:27 – “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

As one early Syriac Christian notes:

At  the incarnation the Son ‘put on body’, and at His baptism in the Jordan He deposits the garment of glory in the river, so that it becomes once again available for human beings to put on. (Treasure House of Mysteries, p. 16)

Thus the baptism of Christ which we Orthodox commemorate in the Feast of Theophany is organically connected to our own baptisms.  Christ, the incarnate God, is clothed in the garment of glory since He has not sinned.  In His baptism, it is Christ who sanctifies the water rather than being sanctified by the water.  In the Syriac Christian tradition, Christ deposits the garment of glory into the Jordan River.  Before we baptize the catechumens, we pray over the water that God will send down upon the water “the blessing of Jordan”.  That blessing is the garment of glory which the baptized receive as they emerge from the triune baptism.

St. Romanos the Melodist writes poetically:

In Galilee of the nations, in the country of Zavulon and the land of Naphthalim,

as the prophet said, a great light has shone – Christ.

For the darkened, a shining beam has appeared, blazing out of Bethlehem,

or, rather, out of Mary – the Lord, the sun of justice,

has made his rays dawn on the whole inhabited world.

Therefore let us all, Adam’s naked children,

put him on that we may be kept warm;

for as a covering for the naked and a light for the darkened

you have come, you have appeared,

the unapproachable Light.

(On the Life of Christ, p. 80)

Romanos’ poem is sung at the Matins of Theophany as the Ikos hymn after the sixth ode of the Festal Canon.

The Mystery of the Miracle

St. Romanos the Melodist wrote a hymn based on the Gospel lesson,  Matthew 14:14-22 , in which Jesus Christ feeds more than 5,000 people by blessing five loaves of bread and two fish.  His blessing multiples the small quantity of food into a banquet in desert land.  The Gospel narrative gives no description as to what exactly happened to the bread and fish or what people might have seen of the miracle.  Romanos is quite comfortable with admitting he has no idea how the event actually unfolded,  what the people experienced or what the event might have looked like to an observer.  The reality is we are entering into a mystery of God – God is revealed to us while the physical details are lost to us.  For Romanos part of the mystery and miracle is that the bread itself obeyed the Word of God to multiply.

See how, like lords at a table, Christ’s slaves waited

for Jesus the servant and found him at once.

For the Master blessed the five loaves,

saying to them with an unseen voice,

“Increase perceptibly and multiply

and now nourish all those present here.”

At once the loaves obeyed the Lord.

They gave birth invisibly,

as Christ told them to, he who is

the heavenly bread of incorruption.

No human mind can wholly reason out this wonder,

how the invisible loaves flowed on invisibly.

Where did their ineffable increase occur –

in the hands of the disciples or was it on the tables?

Since I do not know the manner of the inexpressible sight,

I keep silence at the wonder, while by faith I correct

my mind, for I do not apprehend the depth of the mystery,

as I now see the twelve baskets

filled with fragments, as he alone knows

the heavenly bread of incorruption.

So also multiply for us all the multitude of your compassion

and just as then, Savior, you satisfied with wisdom

and fed with power the multitude in the desert,

satisfy us all with justice.

Strengthen us in your faith, Lord.

Nourish us all, as you are merciful,

and give us your grace and forgiveness of offences

at the intercessions of the Mother of God,

because you alone are good and full of pity as

the heavenly bread of incorruption.

(On the Life of Christ, pp. 96-97)

For St. Romanos, the more than 5,000 people present experienced a multiplication of the fish and bread, but an even greater miracle is possible for us as God multiples His blessings on us – His compassion, His wisdom, His justice, His mercy, grace and forgiveness.  We may experience even more of a blessing  than those folks who had only their hunger relieved.

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.

Holy Wednesday (2018)

It was common in the early church to personify Death and Hell especially in contemplating the crucifixion of Christ.  Death, Hell and Satan were often portrayed having a conversation trying to understand what the death of Christ meant for them – their victory over God, or, as they belatedly realized, the dead Christ was the seed of their own destruction.  Life burst forth from the tomb of Christ, bringing an end to Death’s power over humanity.

Three crosses Pilate fixed on Golgotha,

two for the thieves and one for the Giver of life,

whom Hell saw and said to those below,

“My ministers and powers

who has fixed a nail in my heart?

A wooden lance has suddenly pierced me and I am being torn apart.

My insides are in pain, my belly in agony,

my sense make my spirit tremble,

and I am compelled to disgorge

Adam and Adam’s race. Given me by a Tree,

a Tree is bringing them back

again to Paradise.

(St. Romanos, On the Life of Christ, pp. 155-156)

The personified Death, Hades and Satan all become mortally wounded by Christ’s own wounds.  They become weakened and sickened by the healing power of Christ’s resurrection.  Simultaneously, for us humans, we are being restored to health by Christ’s wounds.  “Those who repent with all their heart and cleanse themselves of all their aforementioned evils, and add nothing more to their sins, will receive healing from the Lord for their previous sins...”  (Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude 8:77:1-5)  Far beyond forgiveness of our sins, God gives us the gift of healing of soul and body through the suffering of His Son.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  (1 Peter 2:24)