Day 39/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The Old Testament sacrifices a symbol for Christ (Part 4) – St. Gregory the Theologian

Then comes the Sacred Night, the Anniversary of the confused darkness of the present life, into which the primæval darkness is dissolved, and all things come into life and rank and form, and that which was chaos is reduced to order. Then we flee from Egypt, that is from sullen persecuting sin; and from Pharaoh the unseen tyrant, and the bitter taskmasters, changing our quarters to the world above; and are delivered from the clay and the brickmaking, and from the husks and dangers of this fleshly condition, which for most men is only not overpowered by mere husklike calculations.

Then the Lamb is slain, and act and word are sealed with the Precious Blood; that is, habit and action, the sideposts of our doors; I mean, of course, of the movements of mind and opinion, which are rightly opened and closed by contemplation, since there is a limit even to thoughts. Then the last and gravest plague upon the persecutors, truly worthy of the night; and Egypt mourns the first-born of her own reasonings and actions which are also called in the Scripture the Seed of the Chaldeans (Judith 5:6) removed, and the children of Babylon dashed against the rocks and destroyed; and the whole air is full of the cry and clamour of the Egyptians; and then the Destroyer of them shall withdraw from us in reverence of the Unction. Then the removal of leaven; that is, of the old and sour wickedness, not of that which is quickening and makes bread; for seven days, a number which is of all the most mystical, and is co-ordinate with this present world, that we may not lay in provision of any Egyptian dough, or relic of Pharisaic or ungodly teaching.

Well, let them lament; we will feed on the Lamb toward evening — for Christ’s Passion was in the completion of the ages; because too He communicated His Disciples in the evening with His Sacrament, destroying the darkness of sin; and not sodden, but roast — that our word may have in it nothing that is unconsidered or watery, or easily made away with; but may be entirely consistent and solid, and free from all that is impure and from all vanity. And let us be aided by the good coals, (Isaiah 6:6) kindling and purifying our minds from Him That comes to send fire on the earth, (Luke 12:49) that shall destroy all evil habits, and to hasten its kindling. Whatsoever then there be, of solid and nourishing in the Word, shall be eaten with the inward parts and hidden things of the mind, and shall be consumed and given up to spiritual digestion; aye, from head to foot, that is, from the first contemplations of Godhead to the very last thoughts about the Incarnation.

Neither let us carry anything of it abroad, nor leave it till the morning; because most of our Mysteries may not be carried out to them that are outside, nor is there beyond this night any further purification; and procrastination is not creditable to those who have a share in the Word. For just as it is good and well-pleasing to God not to let anger last through the day, (Ephesians 4:26) but to get rid of it before sunset, whether you take this of time or in a mystical sense, for it is not safe for us that the Sun of Righteousness should go down upon our wrath; so too we ought not to let such Food remain all night, nor to put it off till tomorrow.

But whatever is of bony nature and not fit for food and hard for us even to understand, this must not be broken; that is, badly divined and misconceived (I need not say that in the history not a bone of Jesus was broken, even though His death was hastened by His crucifiers on account of the Sabbath); nor must it be stripped off and thrown away, lest that which is holy should be given to the dogs, (Matthew 7:6) that is, to the evil hearers of the Word; just as the glorious pearl of the Word is not to be cast before swine; but it shall be consumed with the fire with which the burnt offerings also are consumed, being refined and preserved by the Spirit That searches and knows all things, not destroyed in the waters, nor scattered abroad as the calf’s head which was hastily made by Israel was by Moses, (Exodus 32:20) for a reproach for their hardness of heart.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45]

Day 38/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The Old Testament sacrifices a symbol for Christ (Part 3) – St. Gregory the Theologian

What more? The First Month is introduced, or rather the beginning of months, whether it was so among the Hebrews from the beginning, or was made so later on this account, and became the first in consequence of the Mystery; and the tenth of the Month, for this is the most complete number, of units the first perfect unit, and the parent of perfection. And it is kept until the fifth day, perhaps because the Victim, of Whom I am speaking, purifies the five senses, from which comes falling into sin, and around which the war rages, inasmuch as they are open to the incitements to sin.

And it was chosen, not only out of the lambs, but also out of the inferior species, which are placed on the left hand (Matthew 25:33) — the kids; because He is sacrificed not only for the righteous, but also for sinners; and perhaps even more for these, inasmuch as we have greater need of His mercy. And we need not be surprised that a lamb for a house should be required as the best course, but if that could not be, then one might be obtained by contributions (owing to poverty) for the houses of a family; because it is clearly best that each individual should suffice for his own perfecting, and should offer his own living sacrifice holy unto God Who called him, being consecrated at all times and in every respect. But if that cannot be, then that those who are akin in virtue and of like disposition should be made use of as helpers. For I think this provision means that we should communicate of the Sacrifice to those who are nearest, if there be need.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45]

Day 37/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The Old Testament sacrifices a symbol for Christ (Part 2) – St. Gregory the Theologian

Thus then and for this cause the written Law came in, gathering us into Christ; and this is the account of the Sacrifices as I account for them. And that you may not be ignorant of the depth of His Wisdom and the riches of His unsearchable judgments, (Romans 11:33) He did not leave even these unhallowed altogether, or useless, or with nothing in them but mere blood. But that great, and if I may say so, in Its first nature unsacrificeable Victim, was intermingled with the Sacrifices of the Law, and was a purification, not for a part of the world, nor for a short time, but for the whole world and for all time.

For this reason a Lamb was chosen for its innocence, and its clothing of the original nakedness. For such is the Victim, That was offered for us, Who is both in Name and fact the Garment of incorruption. And He was a perfect Victim not only on account of His Godhead, than which nothing is more perfect; but also on account of that which He assumed having been anointed with Deity, and having become one with That which anointed It, and I am bold to say, made equal with God. A Male, because offered for Adam; or rather the Stronger for the strong, when the first Man had fallen under sin; and chiefly because there is in Him nothing feminine, nothing unmanly; but He burst from the bonds of the Virgin-Mother’s womb with much power, and a Male was brought forth by the Prophetess, (Isaiah 13:3) as Isaiah declares the good tidings.

And of a year old, because He is the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) setting out from heaven, and circumscribed by His visible Nature, and returning unto Himself. And The blessed crown of Goodness, — being on every side equal to Himself and alike; and not only this, but also as giving life to all the circle of the virtues, gently commingled and intermixed with each other, according to the Law of Love and Order. And Immaculate and guileless, as being the Healer of faults, and of the defects and taints that come from sin. For though He both took on Him our sins and bare our diseases, (Isaiah 53:4) yet He did not Himself suffer anything that needed healing. For He was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). For he that persecuted the Light that shines in darkness could not overtake Him.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45]

Day 36/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The Old Testament sacrifices a symbol for Christ (Part 1) – St. Gregory the Theologian

H20751-L156389161But we, standing midway between those whose minds are utterly dense on the one side, and on the other those who are very contemplative and exalted, that we may neither remain quite idle and immovable, nor yet be more busy than we ought, and fall short of and be estranged from our purpose — for the former course is Jewish and very low, and the latter is only fit for the dream-soothsayer, and both alike are to be condemned — let us say our say upon these matters, so far as is within our reach, and not very absurd, or exposed to the ridicule of the multitude.

Our belief is that since it was needful that we, who had fallen in consequence of the original sin, and had been led away by pleasure, even as far as idolatry and unlawful bloodshed, should be recalled and raised up again to our original position through the tender mercy of God our Father, Who could not endure that such a noble work of His own hands as Man should be lost to Him; the method of our new creation, and of what should be done, was this:— that all violent remedies were disapproved, as not likely to persuade us, and as quite possibly tending to add to the plague, through our chronic pride; but that God disposed things to our restoration by a gentle and kindly method of cure. For a crooked sapling will not bear a sudden bending the other way, or violence from the hand that would straighten it, but will be more quickly broken than straightened; and a horse of a hot temper and above a certain age will not endure the tyranny of the bit without some coaxing and encouragement.

Therefore the Law is given to us as an assistance, like a boundary wall between God and idols, drawing us away from one and to the Other. And it concedes a little at first, that it may receive that which is greater. It concedes the Sacrifices for a time, that it may establish God in us, and then when the fitting time shall come may abolish the Sacrifices also; thus wisely changing our minds by gradual removals, and bringing us over to the Gospel when we have already been trained to a prompt obedience.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45]

Day 10/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Let us offer ourselves – St. Gregory the Theologian

Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him. But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us — you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men, slaves of the world and of the Prince of the world. Let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting; let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honour our Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died.

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; (2 Corinthians 8:9. He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours.

As you see, He offers you a Shepherd; for this is what your Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep, is hoping and praying for, and he asks from you his subjects; and he gives you himself double instead of single, and makes the staff of his old age a staff for your spirit. And he adds to the inanimate temple a living one; to that exceedingly beautiful and heavenly shrine, this poor and small one, yet to him of great value, and built too with much sweat and many labours. Would that I could say it is worthy of his labours. And he places at your disposal all that belongs to him (O great generosity!— or it would be truer to say, O fatherly love!) his hoar hairs, his youth, the temple, the high priest, the testator, the heir, the discourses which you were longing for; and of these not such as are vain and poured out into the air, and which reach no further than the outward ear; but those which the Spirit writes and engraves on tables of stone, or of flesh, not merely superficially graven, nor easily to be rubbed off, but marked very deep, not with ink, but with grace.

These are the gifts given you by this august Abraham, this honourable and reverend Head, this Patriarch, this Restingplace of all good, this Standard of virtue, this Perfection of the Priesthood, who today is bringing to the Lord his willing Sacrifice, his only Son, him of the promise. Do you on your side offer to God and to us obedience to your Pastors, dwelling in a place of herbage, and being fed by water of refreshment; knowing your Shepherd well, and being known by him; (John 10:14) and following when he calls you as a Shepherd frankly through the door; but not following a stranger climbing up into the fold like a robber and a traitor; nor listening to a strange voice when such would take you away by stealth and scatter you from the truth on mountains, (Ezekiel 34:6) and in deserts, and pitfalls, and places which the Lord does not visit; and would lead you away from the sound Faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the One Power and Godhead, Whose Voice my sheep always heard (and may they always hear it), but with deceitful and corrupt words would tear them from their true Shepherd. From which may we all be kept, Shepherd and flock, as from a poisoned and deadly pasture; guiding and being guided far away from it, that we may all be one in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and unto the heavenly rest. To Whom be the glory and the might for ever and ever. Amen

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 1]

Day 4/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Why was it Christ’s Blood was shed? – St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Athanasius the Apostolic

 

Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worth enquiring into. To Whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was It shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and High priest and Sacrifice.

We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause? If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for whose sake it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether.

But if to the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed; and next, On what principle did the Blood of His Only begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being offered by his Father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the Incarnation, and because Humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things? So much we have said of Christ; the greater part of what we might say shall be reverenced with silence.

But that brazen serpent (Numbers 21:9) was hung up as a remedy for the biting serpents, not as a type of Him that suffered for us, but as a contrast; and it saved those that looked upon it, not because they believed it to live, but because it was killed, and killed with it the powers that were subject to it, being destroyed as it deserved. And what is the fitting epitaph for it from us? O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? You are overthrown by the Cross; you are slain by Him who is the Giver of life; you are without breath, dead, without motion, even though you keep the form of a serpent lifted up on high on a pole.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Second Oration on Pascha]

 

Some points of contemplation and prayer from the above:

+ God the Father was not thirsty for blood, nor was He “angry” at the Son – the act of the Incarnation and our Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was an act of love, of His own volition for our sake. The Lord Christ did not “have” to die for us, He chose to do so. And God the Father did not “require” death or blood to fulfill a “Divine Justice” – it is not justice for the Innocent to die for the guilty. The consequences of sin, (which is defined as any separation from God, the Source of Life itself) were corruption, and then death (Rom 6:23), natural consequences of separation from God, the Source of Life. Natural consequences, and not desired by God. So a Divine Plan for salvation because of His love was set in motion, a plan which existed before the creation itself. The Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was in order to cure these fundamental ailments, of corruption of human nature and death. He came in the perfect union of human nature and Divine nature in the One Incarnate Nature of God the Word (our Lord Jesus Christ). And in dying on the cross, St. Athanasius the Great tells us:

 

“The body of the Word, then, being a real human body, in spite of its having been uniquely formed from a virgin, was of itself mortal and, like other bodies, liable to death. But the indwelling of the Word loosed it from this natural liability, so that corruption could not touch it. Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. Death there had to be, and death for all, so that the due of all might be paid. Wherefore, the Word, as I said, being Himself incapable of death, assumed a mortal body, that He might offer it as His own in place of all, and suffering for the sake of all through His union with it, ” might bring to nought Him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver them who all their lifetime were enslaved by the fear of death.” (Heb 2:14)

Have no fears then. Now that the common Savior of all has died on our behalf, we who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfillment of the threat of the law. That condemnation has come to an end; and now that, by the grace of the resurrection, corruption has been banished and done away, we are loosed from our mortal bodies in God’s good time for each, so that we may obtain thereby a better resurrection. Like seeds cast into the earth, we do not perish in our dissolution, but like them shall rise again, death having been brought to nought by the grace of the Savior. That is why blessed Paul, through whom we all have surety of the resurrection, says: “This corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality; but when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:53).

[St. Athanasius the Apostolic, On the Incarnation of the Word]

 

+Thank You Lord for Your infinite mercy and love for mankind. Glory be to You forever, Amen+

He came down that we may be exalted – St. Gregory the Theologian

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; (2 Corinthians 8:9) He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours.

[St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 1]

Let us have mercy on ourselves – St. Gregory the Theologian

 

Far be it from me that I should ever, among other chastisements, be thus reproached by Him Who is good, but walks contrary to me in fury (Leviticus 26:27-28) because of my own contrariness: “I have smitten you with blasting and mildew, and blight; without result. The sword from without (Deuteronomy 32:25) made you childless, yet have you not returned to Me, says the Lord.

May I not become the vine of the beloved, which after being planted and entrenched, and made sure with a fence and tower and every means which was possible, when it ran wild and bore thorns, was consequently despised, and had its tower broken down and its fence taken away, and was not pruned nor dug, but was devoured and laid waste and trodden down by all! (Isaiah 5:1)

This is what I feel I must say as to my fears, thus have I been pained by this blow, and this, I will further tell you, is my prayer. We have sinned, we have done amiss, and have dealt wickedly, (Daniel 9:5) for we have forgotten Your commandments and walked after our own evil thought, (Isaiah 65:2)  for we have behaved ourselves unworthily of the calling and gospel of Your Christ, and of His holy sufferings and humiliation for us; we have become a reproach to Your beloved, priest and people, we have erred together, we have all gone out of the way, we have together become unprofitable, there is none that does judgment and justice, no not one.

We have cut short Your mercies and kindness and the bowels and compassion of our God, by our wickedness and the perversity of our doings, in which we have turned away. You are good, but we have done amiss; You are long-suffering, but we are worthy of stripes; we acknowledge Your goodness, though we are without understanding, we have been scourged for but few of our faults; You are terrible, and who will resist You? the mountains will tremble before You; and who will strive against the might of Your arm? If You shut the heaven, who will open it? And if You let loose Your torrents, who will restrain them? It is a light thing in Your eyes to make poor and to make rich, to make alive and to kill, to strike and to heal, and Your will is perfect action.

You are angry, and we have sinned, (Isaiah 64:5)  says one of old, making confession; and it is now time for me to say the opposite, We have sinned, and You are angry: therefore we have become a reproach to our neighbours. You turned Your face from us, and we were filled with dishonour. But stay, Lord, cease, Lord, forgive, Lord, do not deliver us up forever because of our iniquities, and do not let our chastisements be a warning for others, when we could learn wisdom from the trials of others. From whom? From the nations which do not know You, and kingdoms which have not been subject to Your power.

But we are Your people, O Lord, the rod of Your inheritance; therefore correct us, but in goodness and not in Your anger, lest You bring us to nothingness (Jeremiah 10:24) and contempt among all that dwell on the earth.

With these words I invoke mercy: and if it were possible to propitiate His wrath with whole burnt offerings or sacrifices, I would not even have spared these. You also imitate your trembling priest, you, my beloved children, sharers with me alike of the Divine correction and loving-kindness. Possess your souls in tears, and stay His wrath by amending your way of life. Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, (Joel 2:15) as blessed Joel with us charges you: gather the elders, and the babes that suck the breasts, whose tender age wins our pity, and is specially worthy of the loving-kindness of God. I know also what he bids both me, the minister of God, and you, who have been thought worthy of the same honour, that we should enter His house in sackcloth and lament night and day between the porch and the altar, in piteous array, and with more piteous voices, crying aloud without ceasing on behalf of ourselves and the people, sparing nothing, either toil or word, which may propitiate God: saying Spare, O Lord, Your people, and give not Your heritage to reproach (Joel 2:17)  and the rest of the prayer; surpassing the people in our sense of the affliction as much as in our rank, instructing them in our own persons in compunction and correction of wickedness, and in the consequent long-suffering of God, and cessation of the scourge.

Come then, all of you, my brethren, let us worship and fall down, and weep before the Lord our Maker; let us appoint a public mourning, in our various ages and families, let us raise the voice of supplication; and let this, instead of the cry which He hates, enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

Let us anticipate His anger by confession; let us desire to see Him appeased, after He was angry. Who knows, he says, if He will turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him? (Joel 2:14)  This I know certainly, I the sponsor of the loving-kindness of God. And when He has laid aside that which is unnatural to Him, His anger, He will betake Himself to that which is natural, His mercy. To the one He is forced by us, to the other He is inclined. And if He is forced to strike, surely He will refrain, according to His Nature.

Only let us have mercy on ourselves, and open a road for our Father’s righteous affections. Let us sow in tears, that we may reap in joy, let us show ourselves men of Nineveh, not of Sodom. Let us amend our wickedness, lest we be consumed with it; let us listen to the preaching of Jonah, lest we be overwhelmed by fire and brimstone, and if we have departed from Sodom let us escape to the mountain, let us flee to Zoar, let us enter it as the sun rises; let us not stay in all the plain, let us not look around us, lest we be frozen into a pillar of salt, a really immortal pillar, to accuse the soul which returns to wickedness.

[St. Gregory the Theologian,  Oration 16]

Yesterday I was crucified with Him, today I am glorified with Him – St. Gregory the Theologian

the resurrection

Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him. But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us— you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men, slaves of the world and of the Prince of the world. Let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting; let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honour our Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died.”

[St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily on Pascha]