Friday, April 2, 2010

Ecce Homo

Discourse On the Passion of the Savior
by Our Venerable Father Ephrem the Syrian

I am afraid to speak and touch with my tongue this fearful narrative concerning the Saviour. For truly it is fearful to narrate all this. Our Lord was given up today into the hands of sinners!

For what reason then
was one who is holy
and without sin given up?

For having done no sin he was given up today. Come, let us examine closely why Christ our Saviour was given up. For us, the ungodly, the Master was given up.

Who would not marvel?
Who would not give glory?

When the slaves had sinned the Master was given up. The sons of perdition and the children of darkness went out in the darkness to arrest the sun who had the power to consume them in an instant. But the Master, knowing their effrontery and the force of their anger, with gentleness, by his own authority, gave himself up into the hands of the ungodly.

And lawless men, having bound the most pure Master, mocked the one who had bound the strong one with unbreakable bonds, and set us free from the bonds of sins. They plaited a crown of their own thorns, the fruit borne by the vine of the Jews. In mockery they called him ‘King’. The lawless spat in the face of the most pure, at whose glance all the Powers of heaven and the ranks of Angels quake with fear.

See, once again grief and tears grip hold of my heart, as I contemplate the Master enduring outrage and insults, scourgings, spitting from slaves, and blows. Come, observe well the abundance of compassion, the forbearance and mercy of our sweet Master. He had a useful slave in the Paradise of delight, and when he sinned he was given to the torturers. But when the Good One saw his weakness of soul he took compassion on the slave and had mercy on him and presented himself to be scourged by him.

I wished to remain silent because my mind was utterly amazed; but then again I was afraid lest I reject by my silence my Saviour’s grace. For my bones tremble when I think of it. The fashioner of all things, our Lord himself, was today arraigned before Caiaphas, like one of the condemned; and one of the servants struck him a blow.  My heart trembles as I think on these things: the slave is seated, the Master stands, and one full of iniquities passes sentence on the one who is sinless.

The heavens trembled, earth’s foundations shuddered; Angels and Archangels all quailed with terror. Gabriel and Michael covered their faces with their wings.  The Cherubim at the throne were hidden beneath the wheels;  The Seraphim struck their wings one with the other at that moment, when a servant gave a blow to the Master.

How did earth’s foundations
endure the earthquake
and the tremor
at that moment,
when the Master was outraged?

I observe and I tremble and again I am stunned, when I see the long-suffering of the loving Master.  For see my inward parts tremble as I speak, because the Creator, who by grace fashioned humanity from dust, he the Fashioner is struck. Let us fear, my brethren and not simply listen.  The Saviour endured all these things for us.

Wretched servant,
tell us why
you struck the Master?

All servants, when they are set free, receive a blow, that they may obtain freedom that perishes; but you, miserable wretch, unjustly gave a blow to the liberator of all.

Did you perhaps expect
to receive from Caiaphas
a reward for your blow?
Had you perhaps not heard,
had you perhaps not learned
that Jesus is the heavenly Master?

You gave a blow to the Master of all things, but became slave of slaves to age on age, a disgrace and abomination, and condemned for ever in unquenchable fire.  A great marvel, brethren, it is to see the gentleness of Christ the King! Struck by a slave he answered patiently, with gentleness and all reverence.  A servant is indignant, the Master endures; a servant is enraged, the Master is kind.

At a time of anger,
who could endure
rage and disturbance?
But our Lord
submitted to all this
by his goodness.
Who can express
your long-suffering,

You that are longed for and loved by Christ, draw near, with compunction and longing for the Saviour.  Come, let us learn what took place today in Sion, David’s city. 

The longed-for and chosen
offspring of Abraham,
what did they do today?

They gave up to death the most pure Master on this day.  Christ our Saviour was unjustly hanged on the tree of the Cross through lawless hands.  Come, let us all wash our bodies with tears and groans, because our Lord, the King of glory, for us ungodly people was given up to death.  If someone suddenly hears of one truly beloved having died, or again, suddenly sees
the beloved himself lying a dead corpse before their eyes, their appearance is altered, and the brightness of their sight is darkened. So, in heaven’s height,  when it saw the outrage to the Master on the tree of the Cross, the bright sun’s appearance was altered; it withdrew the rays of its own brightness, and unable to look on the outrage to the Master, clothed itself in grief and darkness.

Likewise the Holy Spirit, who is in the Father, when he saw the beloved Sonon the tree of the Cross, rending the veil, the temple’s adornment, suddenly came forth in the form of a dove. All creation was in fear and trembling when the King of heaven, the Saviour suffered; while we sinners for whom the only immortal was given up ever treat this with contempt. We laugh each day when we hear of the Saviour’s sufferings and outrage. We enjoy ourselves daily filled with great zeal to deck ourselves in fine clothing.  The sun in the sky because of the outrage to its Master changed its radiance into darkness, so that we, when we saw it, might follow its example.  The Master on the Cross was outraged for your sake, while you, miserable wretch, ever deck yourself in splendid raiment.

Does your heart not tremble,
does your mind not quail,
when you hear such things?

The One who alone is sinless was for you given over to a shameful death, to outrages and revilings, while you hear all this with lofty indifference.  The whole rational flock should look intently on its shepherd, and ever long for him and respect him, because for its sake he suffered, he the dispassionate and all pure. Nor should it deck itself in corruptible garments, nor yet indulge in pleasure and worldly nourishment, but should give its Maker pleasure by ascesis and true reverence. Let us not become imitators of the Jews; a people harsh and disobedient and that ever rejects the blessings and benefactions of God.

God Most High for the sake of Abraham and his covenant from the beginning bore the stubbornness of the people. From heaven he gave them Manna to eat; but they, the unworthy, longed for garlic, evil-smelling foods. Again, he gave them water from the rock in the desert, while they in place of these gave him vinegar when they hanged him on a Cross. Let us be careful, brethren, not to be found as fellows of the Jews who crucified the Master, their own Creator.  Let us always be fearful, keeping before our eyes the Saviour’s sufferings. Let us always keep in mind his sufferings, because it was for us he suffered, the dispassionate Master; for us he was crucified, the only sinless One.

What return can we make
for all this, brethren?

Let us be attentive to ourselves and not despise his sufferings.  Draw near all of you, children of the Church, bought with the precious and holy blood of the most pure Master.  Come, let us meditate on his sufferings with tears, thinking on fear, meditating with trembling, saying to ourselves, ‘Christ our Saviour for us the impious was given over to death’.  Learn well, brother, what it is you hear: God who is without sin, Son of the Most High, for you was given up. Open your heart, learn in detail his sufferings and say to yourself:

God who is without sin
today was given up,
today was mocked,
today was abused,
today was struck,
today was scourged,
today wore
a crown of thorns,
today was crucified,
he, the heavenly Lamb.

Your heart will tremble, your soul will shudder. Shed tears every day by this meditation on the Master’s sufferings. Tears become sweet, the soul is enlightened that always meditates on Christ’s sufferings.  Always meditating thus, shedding tears every day, giving thanks to the Master for the sufferings that he suffered for you, so that in the dayof his Coming your tears may become your boast and exaltation before the judgement seat. Endure as you meditate on the loving Master’s sufferings, endure temptations, give thanks from your soul.

Blessed is the one who has before his eyes the heavenly Master and his sufferings, and has crucified himself from all the passions and earthly deeds, who has become an imitator of his own Master. This is understanding, this is the attitude of servants who love God, when they become ever imitators of their Master by good works.

Shameless man,
do you watch the
most pure Master
hanging on the Cross,
while you pass the time
that you have to live on earth
in pleasure and laughter?

Don’t you know, miserable wretch,
that the crucified Lord
will demand an account
of all your disdainful deeds,
for which, when you hear of them,
you show no concern,
and as you take your pleasure
you laugh and enjoy yourself with indifference?

The day will come, that fearful day, for you to weep unceasingly and cry out in the fire from your pains, and there will be no one at all to answer and have mercy on your soul.

I worship you, Master,
I bless you, O Good One,
I entreat you, O Holy One,

I fall down before you, Lover of humankind, and I glorify you, O Christ, because you, only-begotten Master of all, alone without sin, for me the unworthy sinner were given over to death, death on a Cross, that you might free the sinner’s soul from the bonds of sins.

And what shall I give you
in return for this, Master?

Glory to you, Lover of humankind!
Glory to you, O Merciful!
Glory to you, O Long-suffering!
Glory to you, who pardon
every fault!
Glory to you, who came down
to save our souls!
Glory to you, incarnate
in the Virgin’s womb!
Glory to you, who were bound!
Glory to you, who were scourged!
Glory to you, who were crucified!
Glory to you, who were buried!
Glory to you, who were raised!
Glory to you, who were proclaimed!
Glory to you, who were believed!
Glory to you, who were taken up!

Glory to you, who were enthroned with great glory at the Father’s right hand, and are coming again with the glory of the Father and the holy Angels to judge every soul that has despised your holy sufferings in that dread and fearful hour, when the powers of heaven will be shaken; when Angels, Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim will come all together with fear and trembling before your glory; when all the foundations of the earth will tremble, and everything that has breath will shudder at your great and unendurable glory.

In that hour your hand will hide me under its wings and my soul be delivered from the fearful fire,the gnashing of teeth, the outer darkness and unending weeping, that blessing you, I may say, ‘Glory to the One, who wished to save the sinner through the many acts of pity of his compassion.


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