Friday, April 18, 2008

A Patristic Poem on the Passion

Maintaining my tradition of posting material about the Passion on Fridays during Lent, here is probably the most graphic of the patristic materials I have found. It is most assuredly not my cup of tea, but here is "A Poem on the Passion," once ascribed to St. Lactantius. Although it is not his work, it is regarded by all authorities as well pre-Schism. As will be clear, it is not significantly different from the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian or St. John Chrysostom, but for some reason I find it more explicit; perhaps because of its first-Person narrative:
if you yourself wish to discriminate these things more fully, and if it delights you to go through all My groans, and to experience griefs with me, put together the designs and plots, and the impious price of My innocent blood, and the pretended kisses of a disciple, and the insults and strivings of the cruel multitude; and, moreover, the blows, and tongues prepared for accusations. Picture to your mind both the witnesses, and the accursed judgment of the blinded Pilate, and the immense cross pressing My shoulders and wearied back, and My painful steps to a dreadful death. Now survey Me from head to foot, deserted as I am, and lifted up afar from My beloved mother. Behold and see My locks clotted with blood, and My blood-stained neck under My very hair, and My head drained with cruel thorns, and pouring down like rain from all sides a stream of blood over My divine face. Survey My compressed and sightless eyes, and My afflicted cheeks; see My parched tongue poisoned with gall, and My countenance pale with death. Behold My hands pierced with nails, and My arms drawn out, and the great wound in My side; see the blood streaming from it, and My perforated feet, and blood-stained limbs. Bend your knee, and with lamentation adore the venerable wood of the Cross, and with lowly countenance stooping to the earth, which is wet with innocent blood, sprinkle it with rising tears, and at times bear Me and my admonitions in your devoted heart. Follow the footsteps of My life, and while you look upon My torments and cruel death, remembering My innumerable pangs of body and soul, learn to endure hardships, and to watch over your own safety. These memorials, if at any time you find pleasure in thinking over them, if in your mind there is any confidence to bear anything like my sufferings), if the piety due, and gratitude worthy of My labors shall arise, will be incitements to true virtue, and they will be shields against the snares of an enemy, aroused by which you will be safe, and as a conqueror bear off the palm in every contest. If these memorials shall turn away your senses, which are devoted to a perishable world, from the fleeting shadow of earthly beauty, the result will be, that you will not venture, enticed by empty hope, to trust the frail enjoyments of fickle fortune, and to place your hope in the fleeting years of life. But, truly, if you thus regard this perishable world, and through your love of a better country deprive yourself of earthly riches and the enjoyment of present things, the prayers of the pious will bring you up in sacred habits, and in the hope of a happy life, amidst severe punishments, will cherish you with heavenly dew, and feed you with the sweetness of the promised good.
You can read it all here. As with the film The Passion of the Christ, this is not "everyday reading"; it is stirringly emotional and may be too much for those of more delicate sensibilities. Even this excerpt is nearly too much; I merely posted it to show, perhaps to the surprise of some Orthodox, the depths of meditation the Fathers gave to Christ's suffering. The Fathers did indeed encourage meditation on the Passion, as well as the Resurrection, on the cross as well as on the glory, on His Servanthood as well as His Sovereignty. Again, reading it in context with the other patristic works in this series, one quickly finds it in line with their message: we must bear His wounds in mind to shun worldly fame, acclaim, or consolation and bear the inevitable suffering that comes to all servants of the Master.

Read the previous posts in the series:
St. Ephrem the Syrian: Meditate on the Passion of Christ.
Stations of the Cross: Another Similarity.
A Brief Post on St. Tikhon of Zadonsk on the Passion.
St. John Chrysostom: Meditate on the Sufferings of Christ.

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