Wednesday, 11 December 2013

We offer Thee incense...?

This post is more of an open question which will probably interest very few people, and to which I do not know the answer. Among Eastern Orthodox, the use of incense in personal prayer at home is a very common practice and, in my over-keen teen-convert days, my room often looked like something out of a cypress-scented Cheech and Chong movie. As such, I was quite surprised to discover that in Cyprus – where, despite centuries of foreign occupation and plenty of Western influence, many ancient traditions are preserved which have been lost elsewhere – the use of incense in the home is a novel practice, not known to the older generations. Dried olive leaves are used, but incense is strictly for church.

The practice is also largely unknown among laypeople in the Oriental Orthodox churches (another repository of ancient liturgical traditions now lost to us). While in the Eastern Orthodox (Byzantine) tradition, only a priest can bless the incense, the Oriental churches also maintain the older tradition whereby only the priest may apply incense to the thurible. The word “thurible” itself derives, via French and Latin, from the Greek “θύειν”, meaning “to sacrifice.” Someone with better knowledge of Greek than I will have to confirm whether the Greek “θυμίαμα” (incense) derives from the same root. However, when the priest blesses the incense, the notion of sacrifice is clear: “We offer Thee incense, O Christ our God, for a savour of spiritual fragrance. Having accepted it at Thy heavenly altar, send down upon us in return the grace of Thine all-holy Spirit.” The Liturgy of St. James, which contains several longer prayers for the blessing of incense, brings this out even more clearly. To sacrifice, as we know, is the prerogative of the priesthood. Laypeople may bring offerings – bread, wine, wheat, oil, incense – but it is the priest who blesses and the priest who offers.

The incense used in private devotion is not blessed, so it is not, strictly speaking, a case of laypeople taking upon themselves the roles which belong exclusively to the priesthood, but in that case, is it an “offering”? If so, in what sense? Perhaps in the same way that the oil in ones votive lamp, lit while at prayer (or constantly), is an offering, but the role of incense in worship is something much more substantial than a mere sign of devotion, and certainly more than a religious mood-setter or liturgical air freshener. It is an act of sacrifice.

This is not a question about “right or wrong”, but I’m hoping someone can satisfy my nerdy curiosity as to when the use of incense among the laity became widespread and normative, and whether it arose as something completely unrelated to the use of incense in church (and later became identified with it) or if it was a borrowing (perhaps inappropriately) by the laity of a priestly liturgical function. In the latter case, might it stem from the now common malpractice, particularly in the Greek tradition, of allowing altar-servers (or sometimes any random man in the congregation) to cense during the Great Entrance or when being handed the censer by a priest or deacon?[1]

Thoughts anyone?

[1] Strictly speaking, use of the censer is not permitted to anyone below the rank of deacon, nor mere handling of the censer by anyone below the rank of subdeacon.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Protoevangelion of St. James

On the 9th of December, the Church celebrates the conception by St. Anna of the Most Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary. The information we have about this story comes from the so-called Protoevangelion of St. James. The book is not regarded by the Church as Scripture, but She nonetheless recognises that much of its content is true and reliable (One could perhaps compare it to St. Jude quoting the non-canonical Book of Enoch and Assumption of Moses in his Epistle, v.9, 14-15). As such, those parts of it which are not made use of in the Church's hymnography and iconography should be read with a certain degree of caution. The below translation is taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8.

The Birth of Mary the Holy Mother of God, and Very Glorious Mother of Jesus Christ

1.  In the records of the twelve tribes of Israel was Joachim, a man rich exceedingly; and he brought his offerings double, saying:  There shall be of my superabundance to all the people, and there shall be the offering for my forgiveness to the Lord for a propitiation for me.  For the great day of the Lord was at hand, and the sons of Israel were bringing their offerings.  And there stood over against him Rubim, saying:  It is not meet for thee first to bring thine offerings, because thou hast not made seed in Israel.  And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and went away to the registers of the twelve tribes of the people, saying:  I shall see the registers of the twelve tribes of Israel, as to whether I alone have not made seed in Israel.  And he searched, and found that all the righteous had raised up seed in Israel.  And he called to mind the patriarch Abraham, that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac.  And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying in himself:  I will not go down either for food or for drink until the Lord my God shall look upon me, and prayer shall be my food and drink.

2.  And his wife Anna mourned in two mournings, and lamented in two lamentations, saying:  I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness.  And the great day of the Lord was at hand; and Judith her maid-servant said:  How long dost thou humiliate thy soul?  Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand, and it is unlawful for thee to mourn.  But take this head-band, which the woman that made it gave to me; for it is not proper that I should wear it, because I am a maid-servant, and it has a royal appearance.  And Anna said:  Depart from me; for I have not done such things, and the Lord has brought me very low.  I fear that some wicked person has given it to thee, and thou hast come to make me a sharer in thy sin.  And Judith said:  Why should I curse thee, seeing that the Lord hath shut thy womb, so as not to give thee fruit in Israel?  And Anna was grieved exceedingly, and put off her garments of mourning, and cleaned her head, and put on her wedding garments, and about the ninth hour went down to the garden to walk.  And she saw a laurel, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying:  O God of our fathers, bless me and hear my prayer, as Thou didst bless the womb of Sarah, and didst give her a son Isaac.

3.  And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow’s nest in the laurel, and made a lamentation in herself, saying:  Alas! who begot me? and what womb produced me? because I have become a curse in the presence of the sons of Israel, and I have been reproached, and they have driven me in derision out of the temple of the Lord.  Alas! to what have I been likened?  I am not like the fowls of the heaven, because even the fowls of the heaven are productive before Thee, O Lord.  Alas! to what have I been likened?  I am not like the beasts of the earth, because even the beasts of the earth are productive before Thee, O Lord.  Alas! to what have I been likened?  I am not like these waters, because even these waters are productive before Thee, O Lord.  Alas! to what have I been likened?  I am not like this earth, because even the earth bringeth forth its fruits in season, and blesseth Thee, O Lord.

4.  And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying:  Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth; and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world.  And Anna said:  As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.  And, behold, two angels came, saying to her:  Behold, Joachim thy husband is coming with his flocks.  For an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying:  Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God hath heard thy prayer.  Go down hence; for, behold, thy wife Anna shall conceive.  And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying:  Bring me hither ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they shall be for the Lord my God; and bring me twelve tender calves, and they shall be for the priests and the elders; and a hundred goats for all the people.  And, behold, Joachim came with his flocks; and Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck, saying:  Now I know that the Lord God hath blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive.  And Joachim rested the first day in his house.

5.  And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself:  If the Lord God has been rendered gracious to me, the plate on the priest’s forehead will make it manifest to me.  And Joachim brought his offerings, and observed attentively the priest’s plate when he went up to the altar of the Lord, and he saw no sin in himself.  And Joachim said:  Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins.  And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house.  And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth.  And she said to the midwife:  What have I brought forth? and she said:  A girl.  And said Anna:  My soul has been magnified this day.  And she laid her down.  And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.

6.  And the child grew strong day by day; and when she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to try whether she could stand, and she walked seven steps and came into her bosom; and she snatched her up, saying:  As the Lord my God liveth, thou shalt not walk on this earth until I bring thee into the temple of the Lord.  And she made a sanctuary in her bed-chamber, and allowed nothing common or unclean to pass through her.  And she called the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews, and they led her astray.  And when she was a year old, Joachim made a great feast, and invited the priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and all the people of Israel.  And Joachim brought the child to the priests; and they blessed her, saying:  O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations.  And all the people said:  So be it, so be it, amen.  And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her, saying:  O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be for ever.  And her mother snatched her up, and took her into the sanctuary of her bed-chamber, and gave her the breast.  And Anna made a song to the Lord God, saying:  I will sing a song to the Lord my God, for He hath looked upon me, and hath taken away the reproach of mine enemies; and the Lord hath given the fruit of His righteousness, singular in its kind, and richly endowed before Him.  Who will tell the sons of Rubim that Anna gives suck?  Hear, hear, ye twelve tribes of Israel, that Anna gives suck.  And she laid her to rest in the bed-chamber of her sanctuary, and went out and ministered unto them.  And when the supper was ended, they went down rejoicing, and glorifying the God of Israel.

7.  And her months were added to the child.  And the child was two years old, and Joachim said:  Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest perchance the Lord send to us, and our offering be not received.  And Anna said:  Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother.  And Joachim said:  So let us wait.  And the child was three years old, and Joachim said:  Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord.  And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord.  And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying:  The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations.  In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.  And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

8.  And her parents went down marvelling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back.  And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel.  And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying:  Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord.  What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord?  And they said to the high priest:  Thou standest by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto thee, that also will we do.  And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her.  And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him:  Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be.  And the heralds went out through all the circuit of Judæa, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran.

9.  And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods.  And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them:  but there was no sign in them, and Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph’s head.  And the priest said to Joseph, Thou hast been chosen by lot to take into thy keeping the virgin of the Lord.  But Joseph refused, saying:  I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl.  I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel.  And the priest said to Joseph:  Fear the Lord thy God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction.  And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in thy house.  And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping.  And Joseph said to Mary:  Behold, I have received thee from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave thee in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to thee.  The Lord will protect thee.

10.  And there was a council of the priests, saying:  Let us make a veil for the temple of the Lord.  And the priest said:  Call to me the undefiled virgins of the family of David.  And the officers went away, and sought, and found seven virgins.  And the priest remembered the child Mary, that she was of the family of David, and undefiled before God.  And the officers went away and brought her.  And they brought them into the temple of the Lord.  And the priest said:  Choose for me by lot who shall spin the gold, and the white, and the fine linen, and the silk, and the blue, and the scarlet, and the true purple.  And the true purple and the scarlet fell to the lot of Mary, and she took them, and went away to her house.  And at that time Zacharias was dumb, and Samuel was in his place until the time that Zacharias spake.  And Mary took the scarlet, and span it.

11.  And she took the pitcher, and went out to fill it with water.  And, behold, a voice saying:  Hail, thou who hast received grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women! And she looked round, on the right hand and on the left, to see whence this voice came.  And she went away, trembling, to her house, and put down the pitcher; and taking the purple, she sat down on her seat, and drew it out.  And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying:  Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found grace before the Lord of all, and thou shalt conceive, according to His word.  And she hearing, reasoned with herself, saying:  Shall I conceive by the Lord, the living God? and shall I bring forth as every woman brings forth?  And the angel of the Lord said:  Not so, Mary; for the power of the Lord shall overshadow thee:  wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of the Most High.  And thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.  And Mary said:  Behold, the servant of the Lord before His face:  let it be unto me according to thy word.

12.  And she made the purple and the scarlet, and took them to the priest.  And the priest blessed her, and said:  Mary, the Lord God hath magnified thy name, and thou shalt be blessed in all the generations of the earth.  And Mary, with great joy, went away to Elizabeth her kinswoman, and knocked at the door.  And when Elizabeth heard her, she threw away the scarlet, and ran to the door, and opened it; and seeing Mary, she blessed her, and said:  Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? for, behold, that which is in me leaped and blessed thee.  But Mary had forgotten the mysteries of which the archangel Gabriel had spoken, and gazed up into heaven, and said:  Who am I, O Lord, that all the generations of the earth should bless me?  And she remained three months with Elizabeth; and day by day she grew bigger.  And Mary being afraid, went away to her own house, and hid herself from the sons of Israel.  And she was sixteen years old when these mysteries happened.

13.  And she was in her sixth month; and, behold, Joseph came back from his building, and, entering into his house, he discovered that she was big with child.  And he smote his face, and threw himself on the ground upon the sackcloth, and wept bitterly, saying:  With what face shall I look upon the Lord my God? and what prayer shall I make about this maiden? because I received her a virgin out of the temple of the Lord, and I have not watched over her.  Who is it that has hunted me down?  Who has done this evil thing in my house, and defiled the virgin?  Has not the history of Adam been repeated in me?  For just as Adam was in the hour of his singing praise, and the serpent came, and found Eve alone, and completely deceived her, so it has happened to me also.  And Joseph stood up from the sackcloth, and called Mary, and said to her:  O thou who hast been cared for by God, why hast thou done this and forgotten the Lord thy God?  Why hast thou brought low thy soul, thou that wast brought up in the holy of holies, and that didst receive food from the hand of an angel?  And she wept bitterly, saying:  I am innocent, and have known no man.  And Joseph said to her:  Whence then is that which is in thy womb?  And she said:  As the Lord my God liveth, I do not know whence it is to me.

14.  And Joseph was greatly afraid, and retired from her, and considered what he should do in regard to her.  And Joseph said:  If I conceal her sin, I find myself fighting against the law of the Lord; and if I expose her to the sons of Israel, I am afraid lest that which is in her be from an angel, and I shall be found giving up innocent blood to the doom of death.  What then shall I do with her?  I will put her away from me secretly.  And night came upon him; and, behold, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, saying:  Be not afraid for this maiden, for that which is in her is of the Holy Spirit; and she will bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.  And Joseph arose from sleep, and glorified the God of Israel, who had given him this grace; and he kept her.

15.  And Annas the scribe came to him, and said:  Why hast thou not appeared in our assembly?  And Joseph said to him:  Because I was weary from my journey, and rested the first day.  And he turned, and saw that Mary was with child.  And he ran away to the priest, and said to him:  Joseph, whom thou didst vouch for, has committed a grievous crime.  And the priest said:  How so?  And he said:  He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord, and has married her by stealth, and has not revealed it to the sons of Israel.  And the priest answering, said:  Has Joseph done this?  Then said Annas the scribe:  Send officers, and thou wilt find the virgin with child.  And the officers went away, and found it as he had said; and they brought her along with Joseph to the tribunal.  And the priest said:  Mary, why hast thou done this? and why hast thou brought thy soul low, and forgotten the Lord thy God?  Thou that wast reared in the holy of holies, and that didst receive food from the hand of an angel, and didst hear the hymns, and didst dance before Him, why hast thou done this?  And she wept bitterly, saying:  As the Lord my God liveth, I am pure before Him, and know not a man.  And the priest said to Joseph:  Why hast thou done this?  And Joseph said:  As the Lord liveth, I am pure concerning her.  Then said the priest:  Bear not false witness, but speak the truth.  Thou hast married her by stealth, and hast not revealed it to the sons of Israel, and hast not bowed thy head under the strong hand, that thy seed might be blessed.  And Joseph was silent.

16.  And the priest said:  Give up the virgin whom thou didst receive out of the temple of the Lord.  And Joseph burst into tears.  And the priest said:  I will give you to drink of the water of the ordeal of the Lord, and He shall make manifest your sins in your eyes.  And the priest took the water, and gave Joseph to drink and sent him away to the hill-country; and he returned unhurt.  And he gave to Mary also to drink, and sent her away to the hill-country; and she returned unhurt.  And all the people wondered that sin did not appear in them.  And the priest said:  If the Lord God has not made manifest your sins, neither do I judge you.  And he sent them away.  And Joseph took Mary, and went away to his own house, rejoicing and glorifying the God of Israel.

17.  And there was an order from the Emperor Augustus, that all in Bethlehem of Judæa should be enrolled.  And Joseph said:  I shall enrol my sons, but what shall I do with this maiden?  How shall I enrol her?  As my wife?  I am ashamed.  As my daughter then?  But all the sons of Israel know that she is not my daughter.  The day of the Lord shall itself bring it to pass as the Lord will.  And he saddled the ass, and set her upon it; and his son led it, and Joseph followed.  And when they had come within three miles, Joseph turned and saw her sorrowful; and he said to himself:  Likely that which is in her distresses her.  And again Joseph turned and saw her laughing.  And he said to her:  Mary, how is it that I see in thy face at one time laughter, at another sorrow?  And Mary said to Joseph:  Because I see two peoples with my eyes; the one weeping and lamenting, and the other rejoicing and exulting.  And they came into the middle of the road, and Mary said to him:  Take me down from off the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth.  And he took her down from off the ass, and said to her:  Whither shall I lead thee, and cover thy disgrace? for the place is desert.

18.  And he found a cave there, and led her into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to seek a widwife in the district of Bethlehem. And I Joseph was walking, and was not walking; and I looked up into the sky, and saw the sky astonished; and I looked up to the pole of the heavens, and saw it standing, and the birds of the air keeping still.  And I looked down upon the earth, and saw a trough lying, and work-people reclining: and their hands were in the trough.  And those that were eating did not eat, and those that were rising did not carry it up, and those that were conveying anything to their mouths did not convey it; but the faces of all were looking upwards.  And I saw the sheep walking, and the sheep stood still; and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them, and his hand remained up.  And I looked upon the current of the river, and I saw the mouths of the kids resting on the water and not drinking, and all things in a moment were driven from their course.

19.  And I saw a woman coming down from the hill-country, and she said to me:  O man, whither art thou going?  And I said:  I am seeking an Hebrew midwife.  And she answered and said unto me:  Art thou of Israel?  And I said to her:  Yes.  And she said:  And who is it that is bringing forth in the cave?  And I said:  A woman betrothed to me.  And she said to me:  Is she not thy wife?  And I said to her:  It is Mary that was reared in the temple of the Lord, and I obtained her by lot as my wife.  And yet she is not my wife, but has conceived of the Holy Spirit.

And the widwife said to him:  Is this true?  And Joseph said to her:  Come and see.  And the midwife went away with him.  And they stood in the place of the cave, and behold a luminous cloud overshadowed the cave.  And the midwife said:  My soul has been magnified this day, because mine eyes have seen strange things—because salvation has been brought forth to Israel.  And immediately the cloud disappeared out of the cave, and a great light shone in the cave, so that the eyes could not bear it.  And in a little that light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and went and took the breast from His mother Mary.  And the midwife cried out, and said:  This is a great day to me, because I have seen this strange sight.  And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her.  And she said to her:  Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to thee:  a virgin has brought forth—a thing which her nature admits not of.  Then said Salome:  As the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.

20.  And the midwife went in, and said to Mary:  Show thyself; for no small controversy has arisen about thee.  And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said:  Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire.  And she bent her knees before the Lord, saying:  O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; do not make a show of me to the sons of Israel, but restore me to the poor; for Thou knowest, O Lord, that in Thy name I have performed my services, and that I have received my reward at Thy hand.  And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by her, saying to her:  Salome, Salome, the Lord hath heard thee.  Put thy hand to the infant, and carry it, and thou wilt have safety and joy.  And Salome went and carried it, saying:  I will worship Him, because a great King has been born to Israel.  And, behold, Salome was immediately cured, and she went forth out of the cave justified.  And behold a voice saying:  Salome, Salome, tell not the strange things thou hast seen, until the child has come into Jerusalem.

21.  And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judæa.  And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judæa, for Magi came, saying:  Where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.  And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed, and sent officers to the Magi.  And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying:  How is it written about the Christ? where is He to be born?  And they said:  In Bethlehem of Judæa, for so it is written.  And he sent them away.  And he examined the Magi, saying to them:  What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born?  And the Magi said:  We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him.  And Herod said:  Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him.  And the Magi went out.  And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave.  And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary; and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judæa, they went into their own country by another road.

22.  And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them:  Slay the children from two years old and under.  And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall.  And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him.  And there was no place of concealment.  And Elizabeth, groaning with a loud voice, says:  O mountain of God, receive mother and child.  And immediately the mountain was cleft, and received her.  And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, watching over them.

23.  And Herod searched for John, and sent officers to Zacharias, saying:  Where hast thou hid thy son?  And he, answering, said to them:  I am the servant of God in holy things, and I sit constantly in the temple of the Lord:  I do not know where my son is.  And the officers went away, and reported all these things to Herod.  And Herod was enraged, and said:  His son is destined to be king over Israel.  And he sent to him again, saying:  Tell the truth; where is thy son? for thou knowest that thy life is in my hand.  And Zacharias said:  I am God’s martyr, if thou sheddest my blood; for the Lord will receive my spirit, because thou sheddest innocent blood at the vestibule of the temple of the Lord.  And Zacharias was murdered about daybreak.  And the sons of Israel did not know that he had been murdered.

24.  But at the hour of the salutation the priests went away, and Zacharias did not come forth to meet them with a blessing, according to his custom.  And the priests stood waiting for Zacharias to salute him at the prayer, and to glorify the Most High.  And he still delaying, they were all afraid.  But one of them ventured to go in, and he saw clotted blood beside the altar; and he heard a voice saying:  Zacharias has been murdered, and his blood shall not be wiped up until his avenger come.  And hearing this saying, he was afraid, and went out and told it to the priests.  And they ventured in, and saw what had happened; and the fretwork of the temple made a wailing noise, and they rent their clothes from the top even to the bottom.  And they found not his body, but they found his blood turned into stone.  And they were afraid, and went out and reported to the people that Zacharias had been murdered.  And all the tribes of the people heard, and mourned, and lamented for him three days and three nights.  And after the three days, the priests consulted as to whom they should put in his place; and the lot fell upon Simeon.  For it was he who had been warned by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death until he should see the Christ in the flesh.

And I James that wrote this history in Jerusalem, a commotion having arisen when Herod died, withdrew myself to the wilderness until the commotion in Jerusalem ceased, glorifying the Lord God, who had given me the gift and the wisdom to write this history.  And grace shall be with them that fear our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory to ages of ages.  Amen.

Friday, 22 November 2013

St. Ambrose of Milan on the Paralytic

"What was read yesterday? An angel, the scripture said, descended at a certain moment into the pool, and whenever the angel descended, the waters moved; and whoever was first into the water was healed of whatever sickness he had. That was a figure of our Lord Jesus Christ who was to come.

"An angel: why? Because he himself is the angel of great counsel. At a certain moment: because the angel used to wait until the final hour, so that he might seize the day in its dying moments, and put off its decline. As often as the angel came down, the waters moved. You may be thinking: ‘Why does it not move now?’ Listen to the answer: signs are for the unbeliever, the believer has his faith.

"Whoever went down into the water first was healed of all his sickness. What does ‘first’ mean? Was it a priority of time or of dignity? It carries both meanings. The one to go down first in the order of time was healed first: that is, the Jews rather than the gentiles. The one to go down first in the order of dignity was healed first: that is, he who had the fear of God, zeal for righteousness, the grace of charity, the love of chastity. But in those days only one was saved. In those days, he alone was cured who went down first; and this was in figure. How much greater is the grace of the Church in which all those who go down into the water are saved.

"See the mystery here. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to the pool: many sick people were lying there. Yes, certainly there were many sick lying there, and only one was cured. Then he said to the man who was paralysed: ‘Go down into the water’. He replied: ‘I have no man to take me down’. See where you are baptised, see the source of your baptism. It is none other than the cross of Christ, the death of Christ. Here is the whole mystery: he suffered for you. In him you are redeemed, in him you are saved.

"‘I have no man’, he said: that is to say, ‘death came by a man, and the resurrection came by a man’. A man could not go down, could not be saved, if he did not believe that our Lord Jesus took flesh of a virgin. But he who said, ‘I have no man’, was waiting for ‘the mediator between God and man, the man Jesus’; he was expecting him of whom it is written: ‘And the Lord will send a man to save them’. And so he was found worthy to be healed, because he believed in Christ’s coming. Yet he would have been better and more perfect had he believed that he whose coming he was hoping for had already come."

Sermons on the Sacraments 2:3-7James Walsh, S.J. (Trans.) in Edward Yarnold, S.J., The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation: The origins of the R.C.I.A (2nd Ed.), Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994, pp110-112.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Only We Can Hurt Ourselves

by St. John Chrysostom

Check your anger, quench your wrath. If anyone does you injury or violence, weep for him. Do not be vexed, but sow sympathy for him, so that you may not become provoked and say: “My soul has been hurt.” No one’s soul is hurt, unless we hurt our own souls. How is this so? Let me tell you. Has someone stolen your property? He has not hurt you in your soul, but in your purse; but if you bear a grudge against him, you have hurt yourself in your soul. The loss of property did no hurt to your soul, but even helped it; if, however, you do not put aside your anger, you will pay the penalty hereafter for the grudge you bear. Has someone abused and insulted you? He has hurt neither your soul nor your body. But did you return his abuse and insults in kind? You have hurt your own soul and you are going to pay hereafter the penalty for the words you have spoken.

Indeed, I wish, above all things, that you understand that no one has the power to do harm to the soul of the faithful Christian, not even the devil himself. Not only is it a wonderful thing that God has made us incapable of being overcome by any treachery, but that He has fitted us for the practice of virtue. If we be willing, there is nothing to stop us, even if we be poor, weak in body, outcasts, nameless, or slaves. For neither poverty, nor weakness, nor bodily disability, nor slavery, nor any other such thing could be a hindrance to virtue.

And why do I speak of the poor man, the slave, and the nameless? Even if you are in prison, this is no hindrance to virtue. Let me tell you how this is so. Has someone in your household hurt or provoked you? Lay aside your anger against him. Neither prison, nor poverty, nor lack of fame is a hindrance to your doing that, is it? And why call these a hindrance? They even help us and work with us in checking our vanity.

Did you see some other man enjoying prosperity? Do not envy him, for poverty is no hindrance in this case either. Again, when it is time to pray, do so with a sober and wakeful heart, and there will be nothing here to hinder you. Show your meekness, all the mildness of your heart, your temperance, your holiness; these require no external aids. And this is the most important thing about virtue: it has no need of wealth, or power, or glory, or any other such thing. If only the soul be holy, virtue seeks nothing beyond that.

Note well that this same thing is true in the case of grace. Even if a man be lame, or his eyes have been torn out, or he be disabled in body, or has fallen into the most extreme weakness, none of these things prevents grace from coming into the soul. For grace seeks out only the soul which is eager to receive it, and ignores all these external things.

Baptismal Instruction 12:25 in Paul W. Harkins (trans.), St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instruction, Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1963, pp.180-2.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Modern Patristic scholarship

I thought these words by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna from a recent book review were a wonderfully pithy description of modern patristic scholarship, and something to keep in mind when reading the works of even Orthodox scholars from secular academic institutions, where such a presumptious and agenda-driven approach is not only favoured but required.
One of my misgivings about contemporary Patristic studies is that, while we pious Orthodox seek to find the common mind of the Fathers (the φρὸνιμα τῶν Πατὲρων) and study their writings by climbing the lofty peak of their spiritual insights and experience, secular Patristic scholars often mine that peak for predetermined thought deposits, sifting through the literary gravel of the dust that they thus collect and reducing it to rubble. They then arrange the surviving detritus into a peak or, more often I fear, a molehill of their own making, having lost the heights from which the Fathers write and missing the spiritual concord that allows us, in the first place, to speak of a common Patristic corpus as something more than a collection of writings compiled in historical sequence or according to some thematic scheme. 

That Orthodox scholars also navigate comfortably through talk about ”Chrysostomos,” ”Basil,” and ”Gregory,” et al., studying them with amateurish psychoanalytical imprecision and eschewing any appeal to their spiritual eminence, for fear that the ”objective” secular scholars who prevail today may ridicule them for ”religious tendencies,” is simply deplorable. These poor, insecure seekers after the approbation of the scholars du jour have rushed to be as fashionable as possible. Indeed, to the point of appearing comical in their efforts, they avoid with assiduity the one unpardonable transgression: referring to the Fathers with the title ”Saint” or any honorific designation, lest we attribute to them, in an egregious deviation from academic objectivity, anything but base and wholly mundane motivations in their lives and writings. Praeiudicium objectivum.

Orthodox Tradition, XXX:3 (2013), pp.17.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

St. Symeon the New Theologian on the Priesthood

But let us not deceive ourselves (1 Cor. 3:18)! Let us not follow after the desires of our flesh and "play the harlot in our doings" (Ps. 106:39). Let us not set ourselves up as teachers, that is, by becoming superiors and prelates and priests, while we despise God and our own salvation. For when Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Unless one is born again from on high, he cannot see the kingdom of God," and Nicodemus replied to him, "How can a man be born when he is old?" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?" (Jn. 3:3, 4, 10). He rebuked him, though as yet he did not believe at all and knew nothing about grace. How much more are we worthy of condemnation! We have become teachers after grace has come, yet we do not know the mysteries of grace. We enjoy the benefits of such great teachings and are daily taught by apostles and prophets and doctors, as well as by the Lord Himself, and hear their testimony beforehand! 

How, tell me, can we be entrusted with guarding and caring for the flock of the Lord if we do not know how we must live in this life? If we do not know that we must grow in good works and yield ourselves as slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:16ff.), as those who stand before the Lord and not men (cf. 2 Cor. 8:21; Eph. 6:7) and have vowed to serve the living God (1 Thess. 1:9) without blame? If we do not know what are the character and the qualities that are required of us if we are to be leaders of others, how shall we tend that flock according to the will of Christ, the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) and lead it forth to pastures of eternal life (cf. Jn. 10:9, 3)? How great is our hardness of heart and our contempt for God and things divine! We are like "the adder that stops its ears" (Ps. 58:5), we have become as it were deaf and dumb (cf. Mk. 9:25) like those who are dead; our spiritual senses are disabled, we do not understand the words that are spoken. We do not even know that there is such a thing as Christianity, we are ignorant even of the mystery of the Incarnation and have no exact knowledge of the mysteries of Christians. Yet we shamelessly presume to teach the multitude about the light of knowledge, and even to show them the light of knowledge itself! Knowledge is not the light! Rather, it is the light that is knowledge, since "in it and through it and from it are all things" (Rom. 11:36). We refuse the vision of the light, and so make it plain that we have not been born again, and have not attained to the light that comes from above. We are still like the unborn, or, more accurately, we have been born prematurely - we who rush to the sacred places and take possession of apostolic thrones!

What is worse, most of us without fear buy the priesthood for money and seek to govern the King's flock as shepherds, though we have never been sheep. We do this merely to fill our own stomachs as if we were wild beasts, and to do all other things to which we are compelled by our propensity to evil, together with our desire and inclination for things below!

Brethren, were the apostles at the beginning like this? Were the successors of the apostles such? Did our fathers and teachers [act] thus? Woe to the dreadful audacity of such men! Not only do they become traitors and sacrilegious in the matter of material possessions, when they have eyes for nothing else than their money bags. They even dare to lay hands on the riches of God when they are not ashamed to say, "It pertains to us to bind and to loose (Mt. 16:19, 18:18), and we have received this power from on high for the present life." What impudence, if I am not to say, what utter madness! From whom, tell me, and for what purpose have you received this power from above? It is because you have left everything to follow Christ (Mk. 10:28)? It is because you have despised earthly glory? Is it because you have become humble in spirit? It is because you have sold all and given it to the poor (cf. Mt. 19:21; Mk. 10:21)? Is it because you have lost your life or become dead to the world, and have not found it in any "will of the flesh" (Jn. 1:13)? Or is it because you too, like Christ's disciples of old, have heard Him say as He breathed on you, "Receive the Holy Ghost. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn. 20:22f.)?

"But the power belongs to the priests," they say. I know it too, for it is true. But not simply to priests as such, but to those who serve in the priestly ministry of the Gospel (Rom. 15:16) in a spirit of humility and who live a blameless life. [Such priests] first present themselves to the Lord (cf. Rom. 6:16) and offer themselves as a "perfect, holy and well-pleasing sacrifice," as their own pure act of worship (Rom. 12:1f.; Jas. 1:27) in the temple of their own bodies (1 Cor. 6:19), inwardly and spiritually. They are accepted and appear on the altar that is on high (Heb. 9:24), offered by Christ the High Priest as a perfect sacrifice, changed and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. They have been transformed into Christ the High Priest as a perfect sacrifice, who died for us and rose in the glory of His Godhead. In perfect humility they repent night and day; they mourn and pray with tears not only for themselves, but also for the flock that has been entrusted to them and "for all the holy churches of God" (cf. 1 Cor. 11:16) in the world. In addition, they greatly bewail other men's offenses before God. They consume no more than their necessary food, nor do they seek in any way the convenience or enjoyment of their bodies, but, as it is written, they "walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). Further, for the sake of justice and of God's commandments they show no partiality to either poor or rich, ruler or subject, not even to him who wears the imperial diadem. No pretext, whether it be of mercy or gifts received, or of fear or anything else, visible or invisible, will cause them to grow soft or move them to ignore or transgress God's commandment, who is above all (cf. Rom. 9:5).

To such it belongs to bind and loose (Mt. 16:19, 18:18), to perform priestly acts and to teach, and not to men who have received their appointment and ordination from men only. As he says, "One does not take the honour upon himself, but he is called by God" (Heb. 5:4). He did not say, "He who has received appointment from men," but "He who was predestined by God and foreordained for this." Those who come from men and through men are thieves and robbers, as the Lord said: "I am the door. All who have come" and who come now, "not through Me, but climb in some other way, are thieves and robbers" (Jn. 10:7, 8, 1).

Discourse XXVIII:190-300 in C. J. deCatanzaro (trans.), Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980, pp.300-303

Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Death of the Firstborn

A while back I wrote a short post on how Christians should understand the more difficult passages of the Old Testament. I referred to the patristic exegetic tradition, but did not provide any clear examples or references. For that reason, I thought I should post this short passage from St. Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses, which is a perfect illustration of what I was trying to express in that post:

Let us proceed to what follows in the text. We have learned through the things examined already that Moses (and he who exalts himself by virtue in keeping with his example), when his soul had been empowered through long application and high and lofty life, and through the illumination which came from above, considered it a loss not to lead his countrymen to the life of freedom. 
When he came to them, he implanted in them a more intense desire for freedom by holding out worse sufferings to them. Intending to remove his countrymen from evil, he brought death upon all the firstborn of Egypt. By doing this he laid down for us the principle that it is necessary to destroy utterly the first birth of evil. It is impossible to flee the Egyptian life in any other way. 
It does not seem good to me to pass this interpretation by without further contemplation. How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right hand and his left. The infant lifts his eye only to his mother's nipple, and tears are the sole perceptible signs of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies his pleasure by smiling. If such a one now pays the penalty of his father's wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries, "The man who has sinned is the man who must die" and "A son is not to suffer for the sins of his father" (Ez. 18:20)? How can the history so contradict reason? 
Therefore, as we look for the true spiritual meaning, seeking to determine whether the events took place typologically, we should be prepared to believe that the lawgiver has taught through the things said. The teaching is this: when through virtue one comes to grips with any evil, he must completely destroy the first beginnings of evil. 
For when he slays the beginning, he destroys at the same time what follows after it. The Lord teaches us the same thing in the Gospel, all but explicitly calling on us to kill the firstborn of the Egyptian evils when he commands us to abolish lust and anger and to have no more fear of the stain of adultery or the guilt of murder. Neither of these things would develop of itself, but anger produces murder and lust produces adultery. 
Since the producer of evil gives birth to lust before adultery and anger before murder, in destroying the firstborn he certainly kills along with it the offspring which follows. Take for an example a snake: when one crushes his head, he kills the rest of the body at the same time. 
This would not have happened unless the blood which turns aside the destroyer had been poured out on our doors. And if it is necessary to perceive the meaning presented here more fully, the history provides this perception in both the killing of the firstborn and the safeguarding of the entrance by blood. In the one the first impulse to evil is destroyed, and in the other the first entrance of evil into us is turned away by the true Lamb. For when the destroyer has come inside, we do not drive him out by our own devices, but by the Law we throw up a defence to keep him from gaining a foothold among us. 
Safety and security consists in marking the upper doorpost and the side posts of the entrance with the blood of the lamb. While in this way Scripture gives us through figures a scientific understanding of the nature of the soul, profane learning also places it before the mind, dividing the soul into the rational, the appetitive, and the spirited. Of these parts we are told that the spirit and the appetite are placed below, supporting on each side the intellectual part of the soul, while the rational aspect is joined to both so as to keep them together and to be held up by them, being trained for courage by the spirit and elevated to the participation in the Good by the appetite. 
As long, therefore, as the soul is kept safe in this manner, maintaining its firmness by virtuous thoughts as if by bolts, all the parts cooperate with one another for good. The rational for its part furnishes safety to its supports and in its turn receives from them an equal benefit. 
But if this arrangement should be upset and the upper become the lower - so that if the rational falls from above, the appetitive and spirited disposition makes it the part trampled upon - then the destroyer slips inside. No opposition from the blood resists his entrance; that is to say, faith in Christ does not ally itself with those of such a disposition. 
For he says first to anoint the upper doorpost with blood, then to touch both side doorposts in the same way. How therefore would one anoint the upper first unless it be found on top? 
Do not be surprised at all if both things - the death of the firstborn and the pouring out of the blood - did not happen to the Israelites and on that account reject the contemplation which we have proposed concerning the destruction of evil as if it were a fabrication without any truth. For now in the difference of the names, Israelite and Egyptian, we perceive the difference between virtue and evil. Since the spiritual meaning proposes that we perceive the Israelite as virtuous, we should not reasonably require the firstfruits of virtue's offspring to be destroyed, but rather those whose destruction is more advantageous than their cultivation. 
Consequently we have been taught by God that we must destroy the firstfruits of the Egyptian children so that evil, in being destroyed as its beginning, might come to an end. And this insight agrees with the history, for the protection of the Israelite children took place through the pouring out of blood in order that good might come to maturity. But what would come to maturity in the Egyptian people was destroyed before it matured in evil.

Life of Moses (Book 2), New York: Harper Collins, 2006, p.56-59.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


This Sunday we celebrated the holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea, which championed the Christian doctrine of God as Trinity against the Arian blasphemy that Christ was born of the Father in time, and therefore a finite creature, and declared that anyone who held to Arius’ heresy were anathema.

Particularly in recent times, the term anathema has itself become anathema to most people. The list of anathemas appointed to be read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in Lent is almost always omitted, and the existence of such a rubric is a source of embarrassment to many. Not only do people feel uncomfortable hearing anathemas pronounced against teachings which, in a pluralistic society, might be held by co-workers, friends and even family, but there is also a sense that it goes against the very spirit of Christianity. After all, Christ said “bless those who curse you,” not “curse those who disagree with you.”

The practice is, of course, biblical, rooted in the words of St. Paul the Apostle: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be anathema” (1 Cor. 16:22); “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8). Thus, by declaring someone to be anathema, the Holy Fathers are simply making apparent the fact that their gospel is a foreign one.

But even if we can justify it by appealing to the Apostolic Writings, how should we understand it? When we look up the word in normal English dictionaries, it is no wonder it sits so uncomfortably with people. Common definitions include “a person or thing detested or loathed,” “a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation,” “a curse,” and so on. Likewise, most English translations of the Scripture tend to render the word “accursed.”

However, when we look at the actual etymology of the word, we see that it literally means “a thing devoted,”  “set up” – i.e. to God (or the gods in Ancient Greek usage). In the Old Testament, the Greek word ‘anathema’ is used to translate the Hebrew word ‘herem,’ which comes from the verb to consecrate or devote. Once something was “so devoted to the Lord [it] could not be redeemed (Num. 18:14; Lev. 27:28-29); and hence the idea of exterminating [also] connected with the word” (Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary). The Encyclopedia Britannica (2008) says “(from Greek anatithenai: ‘to set up,’ or ‘to dedicate’), in the Old Testament, a creature or object set apart for sacrificial offering. Its return to profane use was strictly banned.”

St. Paul tells us that “As for a heretical person, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-judged” (Titus 3:10-11). It was only after ignoring the repeated admonitions of Orthodox bishops and persisting in their heresy that heretics were declared anathema by the Church. Once the Church had done all it possibly could to bring them to repentance, the only thing left to do was to turn them over to God, to end their dispute with them and leave them in His hands. Thus, when the Church declares someone anathema, it is not placing a curse upon them, declaring them detestable and sentencing them to damnation. Rather, it is a way of saying, “there’s nothing more we can do for this person, we entrust him – we set him up - to God.” To entrust someone to the God of love is not an act of hatred, but of mercy. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Repentance and Confession

by St. Cyril of Jerusalem
(Second Catechetical Lecture)

  1. Sin is a fearful thing, and unrighteousness is the sorest ailment of the soul, secretly sapping its sinews, and exposing it to eternal fire; a self-chosen evil, the offspring of a man’s set purpose of mind. For that of our own purpose we sin, the Prophet says plainly in one place. I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto Me?[1] The planting is good, the fruit is evil: and that evil is from our purpose of mind. The planter is blameless, but the vine shall be burnt with fire: for it was planted for good, yet hath of its own purpose borne fruit to evil. For God, according to the Preacher, hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.[2] And the Apostle says, We are His workmanship, created unto good works.[3] The Creator then, being good, created for good works: but the creature, of its own set purpose, turned to wickedness. Sin, then, is a fearful evil, as was said, but not an incurable one; fearful to him who clings to it, but quite admitting of a cure when a man through penitence puts it off. For suppose a man holding fire in his hand: while he holds the live coal, he is certainly on fire; but were he to put it away, he would also rid himself of that which was burning him. And if any think that while sinning, he is not on fire, to him saith the Scripture, Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?[4] For sin burns the sinews of the soul. 

  2. But some will say, What can sin be? Is it a living thing – an angel – an evil spirit? What is this which works in us? It is no foe from without, O man, wrestling against thee: but a shoot of evil taking its increase from thyself. Let thine eyes look right on,[5] and lust does not exist; keep thine own, and take not another’s, and a stop is put to robbery; remember the Judgement, and neither fornication nor adultery, nor murder, nor any unrighteousness shall prevail in thee. But when thou forgettest God, forthwith thou beginnest to devise wickedness, and to accomplish unrighteousness.

  3. However, nature is not the sole cause of evil; there is another, who miserably prompts to it, the devil. He prompts all, yet he prevails only over those who listen to him. Therefore saith the Preacher, If a spirit of the powerful rise up against thee, leave not thy place.[6] Shut thy door, and keep him far from thee, and he shall not hurt thee. But if thou indulgently admit the thought of lust, through thine imaginations, it will strike its roots into thee, and enthral thy mind, and drag thee down into a pit of evils. But perhaps thou sayest, I am a Believer; lust does not gain ascendant over me, even though my mind dwells on the objects of it: knowest thou not that  even a rock is cleft at length by a root which for a long while adheres to it? Admit not the seed, for it will break in pieces thy faith: root out the mischief, ere it blossom, lest by being idle at the beginning, thou have the trouble of axes and fire afterwards. When thine eyes first ail, attend to them in time, lest after thou art blinded thou begin to seek the physician.

  4. The devil then is the chief author of sin, and the parent of evils; and this hath the Lord said, not I: The devil sinneth from the beginning;[7] before him sinned no one. But he sinned not as having received by necessity of nature the principle of sin; (else the blame of sin returns to Him who thus framed him;) but having been framed good, he became a devil from his own purpose of mind, and received his name from his conduct. For being an Archangel, he was called devil, or slanderer, from his slandering; and from a good servant of God, he became Satan fitly so named; for Satan means an Adversary. These doctrines are not mine, but the inspired prophet Ezekiel’s. For he, taking up a lamentation against him, says, Thou sealest up the sun, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty, thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God; and soon after, Thou wast perfect in thy ways, from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.[8] Very rightly hath he said, was found in thee: for it was not brought in from without, but thou thyself didst beget evil. And the reason he assigns afterwards: thine heart was lifted up, because of thy beauty; I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God, I will cast thee to the ground. Parallel to this, is what the Lord says in the Gospel, I beheld Satan as lightning fallen from heaven. Thou seest the harmony of the Old Testament with the New. He, on his falling, drew many away from him. He puts lust into those who listen to him: from him is adultery, fornication, and all evil: through him our forefather Adam was cast out, and exchanged a paradise of wonderful and spontaneous fruits, for this earth with its thorns and thistles.

  5. What then? some one will say. We have been seduced and are lost; is there no chance of salvation? We have fallen; cannot we rise? We have been blinded; cannot we recover our sight? We have been crippled; cannot our feet become straight again? In a word, we are dead; is there no resurrection? Shall not He, O man, who woke Lazarus, a corpse of four days, which stank, shall not He much more easily raise up thee, a living man? He who shed His precious blood for us, the same shall rescue us from sin. Let us not give sentence against ourselves, brethren; let us not abandon our case as hopeless: not to believe there is hope in penitence, is dreadful indeed. For he who is without expectation of salvation, spares not to increase the evil; but he who hopes for a cure, is easily induced to spare himself. Thus the robber who expects no mercy runs into recklessness; but if he hopes for pardon, often betakes himself to repentance. Nay does the serpent strip himself of old age, and shall not we cast the slough of wickedness? Does thorny ground by good tillage become fruitful, and is salvation to us irrecoverable? Nature then admits of salvation; all that is wanting is the purpose of mind.

  6. God is loving to man, and that not a little. For say not, ”I have committed whoredom and adultery: fearful things have been done by me, nor once only but often; will He forgive, will He forget?” Hear what the Psalmist says; O how plentiful is Thy goodness, O Lord.[9] Thy accumulated sins surpass not the multitude of the mercies of God; thy wounds baffle not the skill of the chief Physician. Only give thyself to Him in faith: tell the Physician thine ailment; say thou also as David did; I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord: and what he says next shall also be fulfilled in thee; And so Thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin.

  7. Wouldest thou see the loving-kindness of God, O thou that art lately come to the Catechising? wouldest thou see the loving-kindness of God, and the abundance of His longsuffering? Hear thou concerning Adam. Adam disobeyed, the first whom God created; might He not at once have visited him with death? But see what the Lord does, in His great love towards man: though He casts him out of the Paradise, the sin making him unfit to continue there, yet He places him opposite to Paradise,[10] that seeing that he had forfeited, and what a downfall he had suffered, he thenceforth might be saved by repentance. Cain, the first born man, became a fratricide, a deviser of evils, the cause of murders, and the first who envied; yet when he had slain his brother, to what was he doomed? a fugitive and a vagabond shat thou be in the earth.[11] How great the sin, how light the doom!

  8. This then in very deed is loving-kindness in God, yet it is small compared with what follows: for consider, I pray, the history of Noah. The giants sinned, and lawlessness was there lavishly poured out upon the earth; and in consequence the deluge was ordained to come upon it. In his five hundredth year God puts forth the threat, and in his six hundredth He brought the deluge on the earth. Seest thou the breadth of God’s loving-kindness, extending over the space of a hundred years? what He did then after the hundred years, could He not have done at once? but on purpose did He extend it, to give room for repentance. Seest thou the goodness of God? And had those men repented, they would not have come short of His loving-kindness.

  9. Let us proceed to others, who have been saved by repentance. Perchance some among the women will say, “I have committed whoredom and adultery, I have defiled my body with excesses; is there salvation?” Cast thine eyes, O woman, to Rahab, and do thou also expect salvation; for if she who openly and publicly committed whoredom was saved through repentance, shall not she, who has committed one such act before the gift of grace, be saved through penitence and by fastings? For enquire how she was saved: this only said she, The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.[12] Your God, for she dared not call Him her own, on account of her unchastity. And if thou wouldest receive a written witness that she was saved, thou hast it recorded in the Psalms, I will think upon Rahab and Babylon with them that know me.[13] Oh the great loving-mercy of God, which makes mention even of harlots in the Scriptures: and not simply I will think upon Rahab and Babylon, but with this added, with them that know me. On men therefore, and likewise on women, is salvation, viz. that which is secured to us through repentance. 

  10. And though the people sin as one body, it does not surpass God’s loving-kindness. The people made a calf, yet did not God give over His love-kindness. Men denied God, but God denied not Himself. These are thy gods, O Israel,[14] they said; yet again, as was His wont, The God of Israel became their Saviour.[15] And not only did the people sin, but Aaron too the high-priest. For it is Moses who says, And upon Adam came the wrath of the Lord; and I entreated, he says, for him,[16] and God forgave Him. What then? Did Moses, entreating for a high-priest who had sinned, prevail with the Lord, and does not Jesus, the Only-begotten, when He entreats for us, prevail with God? And did He admit Aaron, in spite of his fall, to the high-priesthood, and will He obstruct thy entrance to salvation who art come from the Gentiles? Repent, O man, henceforth thyself, and the gift shall not be withheld thee. Present thy conduct unrebukable before Him henceforward: for God is in very truth loving to man, nor can the whole race of man worthily tell out His loving-kindness. No, not if all the tongues of men were to come together, could they even thus unfold some part of His loving-kindness. For we declare some part of what is written concerning His loving-kindness to men: but we know not how much He forgave to Angels: for them also did He forgive, since One only is sinless, Jesus, who purgeth our sins; - but of these enough.

  11. If thou wilt, I will set before thee additional precedents respecting our state. Let us come to the blessed David, and take him for an ensample of repentance. He fell, that highly gifted man. Walking in the evening-tide on the house-top after his sleep, he looked unguardedly, and was moved by human passion. His sin was completed; but in it perished not that nobleness of mind which confesses a transgression. Nathan the prophet came, swiftly, to detect and to heal his wound. The Lord is wroth, he says, and thou hast sinned.[17] So spoke the subject to him who had the kingdom; yet the king, though in purple clad, did not take it ill, as regarding not the speaker, but Him that sent him. He was not blinded by the military circle which stood about him; for his mind discerned the Lord’s angelical host, and as seeing the Invisible, he submitted in the anguish, replying to his visitor, or rather through him to Him who sent him, I have sinned against the Lord. Thou seest how a king could be humble-minded, how he could make confession. Had it been brought home to him by any one? Were many privy to the matter? The matter was done quickly, and forthwith the Prophet came an accuser, and the sinner acknowledges the crime. And according to the frankness of his confession was the speed of his cure, for the prophet Nathan who had threatened him, says straightway, And the Lord hath put away thy sin. Thou seest how very quick was the relenting of the God of loving-kindness. Yet he says, Thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. For though on account of thy righteousness thou hadst many foes, yet thy self-command was thy protection; but now that thou has let go thy best weapon, thy foes, who were standing ready, are risen up against thee. The Prophet then thus comforted him.

  12. But holy David, for all he heard it said, The Lord hath put away thy sin, shrunk not from penitence, king though he was: but put on sackcloth for purple, and for his gilded throne sat down, a king, in ashes on the ground; not only sat but fed on ashes, (as he saith himself, I have eaten ashes as it were bread,[18]) and wasted with tears his lustful eye. Every nigh, he says, wash I my bed and water my couch with my tears.[19] When his lords urged him to eat bread, he would not: for seven whole days he prolonged his fast. If a king thus made confession, oughtest not thou a private man to make confession? And after Absalom’s rebellion, though he had many roads for escaping, he chose to flee by the Mount of Olives, all but invoking mentally the Redeemer who should thence ascend to heaven. And when Shimei cursed him bitterly, he said, Let him alone; for he knew that he who forgiveth, shall be forgiven.[20]

  13. Thou seest how excellent it is to confess; thou seest that to the penitent there is salvation. Solmon also fell; but what saith he? Afterwards I repented.[21] Though Ahab, king of Samaria, was a most abandoned idolater, a monster, the murderer of prophets, a stranger to godliness, the coveter of other men’s fields and vineyards, yet when the prophet Elias came to him after he had slain Naboth through Jezebel, and only threatened him, he rent his clothes and put on sackcloth; and what says the merciful God to Elias? Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before Me?[22] as if, almost, He would persuade the fiery temper of the prophet to condescend to the penitent: for I will not bring, He saith, the evil in his days. Thus, though Ahab on his pardon was not about to leave his evil courses, the God of pardon pardoned him; - not as ignorant of the future, but bestowing on the penitence of the moment its corresponding pardon: for a just judge suitably answers each case as it arises.

  14. Again, as Jerobam stood sacrificing to idols on the altar, his hand withered, when he bade seize the Prophet who denounced him. On this experience of his power, he says, Entreat the face of the Lord thy God;[23] and for this word his band was restored. If the Prophet healed Jerobam, was not Christ healing power to deliver thee from thy sins? Manasses, again, was most extravagant in his crimes, who sawed asunder Esias, and was polluted with idolatries of every kind, and filled Jerusalem with innocent blood: yet, when he was led captive to Babylon, he converted his afflictions into a healing course of penitence: for Scripture says, that Manasses humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He was entreated of him, and heard his supplications, and brought him again into his kingdom. If he who sawed a Prophet in sunder, was saved through penitence, mayest thou be saved, who hast not done ought so great.

  15. Beware lest thou rashly mistrust its power; wouldest thou know how great force it hath? wouldest thou know this strong weapon of salvation, and learn what strength Confession hath? An hundred and eighty-five thousand enemies did Hezekias turn to flight through Confession. Yet great as this really is, it is but trifling compared with what is still to be told. Through repentance, the same king recalled a Divine decree which had already gone forth. For when he was sick, Esaias said to him, Set thy house now in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.[24] What was there to expect more? what remaining hope of life, when the Prophet said, For thou shalt die? Yet Ezekias did not stop from penitence; for remembering what was written, For turning away and sighing thou shalt be saved,[25] he turned away to the wall, and lifting his thoughts from his bed heavenwards, (for no thickness of walls hinder prayers devoutly offered up,) he said, “Lord, remember me: for it is sufficient for my cure that Thou remember me: Thou art not controlled by times, but Thou Thyself givest law to life; for not on our nativity, and on stars in conjunction, depends our life, as some idly talk; but of life and its duration Thou Thyself art the Lawgiver, according to Thy will.” And thus he, who through the Prophet’s sentence despaired of life, received and addition of fifteen years, the sun, in sign of it, tracing his course back. Now the sun turned back for Ezekias; for Christ, it was eclipsed; not retracing his steps, but suffering eclipse, and thereby shewing the difference of the two, Ezekias and Jesus. Ezekias prevailed to the cancelling of a sentence of God; and will not Jesus vouchsafe His free gift, the forgiveness of sins? Turn away, and bewail thyself, shut to thy door, and pray Him to forgive thee, and remove from around thee the burning fires; for Confession has strength to quench even fire; has strength to tame even lions.

  16. But if thou disbelieve, consider what befell Hananiah and the rest. What fountains did they open? How many waterpots had quenched a flame, which rose to forty-nine cubits? But wherever the flame, exceeded ever so little, there faith gushed out like a river, and there they uttered a spell against their sufferings, saying, Just art Thou, O Lord, over all things which thou hast done towards us: for we have sinned, and broke Thy commandments.[26] And penitence destroyed the flames. If thou disbelieve that it can quench the fire of hell, learn it from the history of Hananiah. But some quick hearer will say, “Them God rescued justly; because they would not commit idolatry, God gave them this power.” Since this has been suggested, I will proceed to one more example of penitence.

  17. What thinkest thou of Nebuchadonosor? Hast thou not heard from the Scriptures that he was bloodthirsty, savage, having a lion’s mind? hast thou not heard how he disinterred the bones of the kings? how he led the people into captivity? how he blinded the eyes of the reigning prince, first giving him to see the slaughter of his children? Hast thou not heard that he broke to pieces the cherubim, not the invisible – no, suppose it not, O man – but the carved cherubim; and that mercy-seat, from which God used to speak audibly? Nebuchadonosor trampled down the veil of holiness: he carried off the censer to a temple of idols; he seized on all the offerings; and burned down the Temple to its foundations? What multiplied punishment did he deserve for slaying kings, setting fire to holy things, leading captive the chosen people, and placing the sacred vessels within idol temples? Was he not worthy of ten thousand deaths?

  18. Such was the greatest of his evil deeds; now turn to the loving-kindness of God. He was turned into a wild beast;[27] he abode in the wilderness, he was scourged that he might be saved. He had claws like a lion, for he made the saints his prey; he had a lion’s mane, for he was a ramping and a roaring lion.[28] He ate grass as an ox; for he was as cattle not knowing Him who had given him the kingdom. His body was bathed with the dew, because he had already seen the fire quenched by dew, and believed not. And what happened? After these things, he saith, I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever.[29] When, therefore, he perceived the Most High, and offered up sounds of thanksgiving to God, and came to feel grief for what he had done, and learnt his own weakness, then God restored to him the honour of the kingdom.

  19. What then? Hath He given Nebuchadnosor, after such acts, pardon and the kingdom, on his confession, and shall He not give to thee on repenting the forgiveness of sins, and the kingdom of heaven, if thy life be in accordance? The Lord is loving to men, and swift to pardon, slow to vengeance; let no one then despair of his own salvation. Peter, the chiefest and first of the Apostles, before a little maid thrice denied the Lord; but when remorse touched him he wept bitterly; and to weep shews a heartfelt penitence. Wherefore, not only received he forgiveness for the denial, but was spared his Apostolic dignity.

  20. Having then, brethren, many ensamples of men who have sinned, and repented, and been saved, do yet also heartily make your confession to the Lord: that ye may both receive the pardon of your past sins, and be counted worthy of the heavenly gift, and inherit the heavenly kingdom with all the Saints in Christ Jesus; to whom is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

[1] Jer. 2:21, [2] Eccles. 7:29, [3] Eph. 2:10, [4] Prov. 6:27, [5] Prov. 4:25, [6] Eccles. 10:4, [7] 1 John 3:8, [8] Ez. 28:12-17, [9] Ps. 31:20, [10] Gen 3:24, [11] Gen. 4:12, [12] Josh. 2:11, [13] Ps. 87:4, [14] Exod. 32:4, [15] Is. 63:8, [16] Deut. 9:20, [17] 2 Sam. 12, [18] Ps. 102:10, [19] Ps. 7:7, [20] 2 Sam. 16:10-11, [21] Prov. 24:32, [22] 1 Kings 21:29, [23] 1 Kings 13:6, [24] 2 Kings 20:1, [25] Isa. 30:15, [26] Dan. 1:6-7, [27] Dan. 4, [28] Ps. 22:13, [29] Dan. 4:32.