Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pascha: The Blessed Renewal
"From on high He came down as Lord,
from within the womb He came forth as a servant;
Death knelt before Him in Sheol,
and Life worshipped Him at His resurrection.
Blessed is His victory!"
--St. Ephraim the Syrian

Christ is risen!  Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!  Christos voskrese!  Today the whole earth rings out its joy, echoing the Paschal hymn, for death is vanquished and our Light has returned from the three-day night.  So all shall praise the all-glorious and life-giving Resurrection of Christ!  One voice, St. Proclus of Constantinople, here echoes from Heaven to proclaim the meaning of this Feast of Feasts.  Christ is risen!

Reverential awe should be the prevailing mood on this feast when our salvation is accomplished. Let every loquacious tongue be silent, realizing its impotence to proclaim in adequate terms the resurrection of Christ crucified. What event has ever occurred of similar magnitude as that which we now witness by faith? When has mind imagined, or heart contemplated, or thought conceived, or word expressed, or eye seen, or ear heard such a grace as Christ has now donated to the world by his incarnation? Never before has sun viewed on the cross the devil branded in dishonor. Never has cross ransomed human nature from the curse under which it had fallen. Never did thirty pieces of silver buy the redemption of the world. Never did innocent suffering bring about the confounding of sin. Never did a living being crucified on a cross triumph over the tyrant. Never did a monument of death announce the death-knell of death. Never did the heavens become dark at noon so as not to witness the drama daringly attempted against divinity though it only affected his humanity. Never did hell shake in carrying off its prey. Never was earth adorned by a tomb which sheltered actual life, or rather by a tomb which proved to be a wedding chamber. For the one entombed was not liable to death, and he descended to the tomb to celebrate a marriage. Never after three days and three nights has nature brought about a resurrection. But he who fashioned his own body in the virgin's womb has united has separated soul to his flesh after three days and manifested himself in his resurrection. Then time bore witness to his birth that he was man. Now the tomb bears witness to his power, that he is God. For the lamb who takes away the sins of the world was never placed on the altar until God took the form of a servant. He who created the dust inexplicably assumed the dust of his own making. His flesh is life, his blood is redemption. His spirit is the seal. His divine nature is without beginning.
The blessed Paul has well said: the former things have passed away; behold they are made new (II Cor 5:17). The heavens are made new for he who came down from them consecrated them by his ascension. The earth is made new for it was sanctified by his human birth in the stable. The sea is made new since it kept afloat on its surface the footsteps of him whom neither flesh conceived nor sin had rendered heavy. The earth is made new since he freed it from war and filled it with a great calm. Mankind is made new since it was washed by him in water and moulded in the fire of the spirit. The worship of God is renewed since sacrificial fumes and circumcision have disappeared and now faith is resplendent, praising and adoring three persons in one substance.

The prophet Isaiah in announcing this blessed renewal said, On that day God will be resplendent in wisdom and glory throughout the earth (Is 4:2 LXX). On what day, O prophet? That day, he means, on which God assumed flesh from a woman in defiance of all the laws of nature. For a virgin without man's intervention begot this mystery. He was born man, the friend of mankind, but he was not subject to change. Death disgorged him whom it swallowed unknowingly. The tomb became the treasury of life and resurrection. The prison was the mother of freedom. Why dilate? When God the Word became man and was crucified on the cross his flesh suffered but his divinity triumphed. But tell us, O prophet, how did God illuminate those on earth? Was it without his humanity, without his flesh? No, no. Eye does not withstand the ray of divinity. The devil shrinks from the contest. For death trembles before the creator and does not dare to swallow an incorruptible nature. Hell trembles before God who is stripped of his flesh. Hell also trembles before him at whom the cherubim do not gaze. Christ's divinity needed covering, not to conceal it but to conceal our infamy. It needed not the veil of Moses because that was darkness and cloud. Nor did it need the variegated veil, which was flowered with many tints; nor the golden veil of propitiation because that was material beauty, nor the finely-wrought cherubim, the masterpiece of all art. Divinity assumed the form of a lamb to bring about the destruction of the wolf who was devouring men....

Tell us, angels, archangels, and all ye heavenly powers: Who is it who has appeared on earth and is crucified in the flesh? And they will all answer through the prophet David, saying: It is the Lord, the God of powers, it is the king of glory (Ps 23:10). To him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Proclus of Constantinople (d. 446/447)

Nota Bene: The quote from St. Ephraim is from his Hymns on the Resurrection 1.8, as found in Hymns, translated by Kathleen E. McVey as part of the Classics of Western Spirituality series (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989).  The sermon by St. Proclus of Constantinople is his Sermon 13 ("The Coming of God") as found in The Paschal Mystery: Ancient Liturgies and Patristic Texts, edited by A. Hamman, O.F.M. volume 3 of the ALBA Patristic Library edited by Thomas Halton (Staten Island, NY: Society of St. Paul [Alba House], 1969).

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