saddened was the Tree of Life

Detail from Tree of Life. Artist: Burne-Jones, Sir Edward Coley (1833-1898). Found in the collection of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Greatly saddened was the Tree of Life
when it beheld Adam stolen away from it;
it sank down into the virgin ground and was hidden
—to burst forth and reappear on Golgotha;
humanity, like birds that are chased,
took refuge in it
so that it might return them to their proper home.
The chaser was chased away, while the doves
that had been chased
now hop with joy in Paradise.

St. Ephrem the Syrian (Hymn on Virginity XVI, 10)

St. Ephrem (306-373) wrote some 400 hymns, many of them still used today. This ancient hymn by St. Ephrem is one of many on this theme, which is closely associated with the Nativity. One much-loved hymn sings of how the “Tree of Life blossoms forth from the virgin in the cave.” (I’ve shared that here on a previous Christmas.) Without claiming any direct connections, this theme certainly continues into other Christian traditions.

One example is “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” This old English Christmas carol was most likely written by Rev. Richard Hutchins, a Calvinist Baptist clergyman then in Long Buckby, Northhamptonshire. The first known publication, beginning “The Tree of Life My Soul Hath Seen,” was in London’s Spiritual Magazine in August, 1761. This credits “R.H.” as the submitter and presumed author. Another early printing, which cannot be dated and could be earlier, is an English broadsheet. This broadsheet uses the term “Methodists,” which certainly places it after about 1730. (Preceding details from Wikipedia.) Here are those lyrics.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green;
The trees of nature fruitless be,
Compared with Christ the Apple Tree.

His beauty doth all things excel,
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see,
In Jesus Christ the Appletree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought;
I missed of all but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the Appletree.

I’m weary with my former toil –
Here I will sit and rest awhile,
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the Appletree.

With great delight I’ll make my stay,
There’s none shall fright my soul away;
Among the sons of men I see
There’s none like Christ the Appletree.

I’ll sit and eat this fruit divine,
It cheers my heart like spirit’al wine;
And now this fruit is sweet to me,
That grows on Christ the Appletree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the Appletree.

Two Paraphrases from Matthew 10:28

Every early church father that I have found (Justin Martyr, Chrysostom and Origen) understands Christ in Matthew 10:28 to be saying that God can destroy body and soul (or breath) in hell (Vale of Hinnom). Only a tiny minority of recent scholars think that Christ is talking about Satan in Matthew 10:28. According to Peter Kreeft, N.T. Wright and Ben Witherington, Christ is saying that Rome is not the real enemy because Rome can only destroy your body, while Satan can destroy body and soul.

Reading over the passage some more, “fear” appears four times within a few verses: “do not fear” (them) twice in verses 26 and 28 followed by “instead fear” (the one) in verse 28 and finally “do not be afraid” (of my Father) almost immediately again in verse 31. This makes it clear that the overall message of Christ to his disciples is that they do not need to fear those who can kill them now and that their Father in heaven cares for every sparrow that falls and every hair on their heads and will honor this care for them despite their calling now to pick up their own cross and to suffer with Christ.

Finally, Christ speaks positively about the loss of our soul (or breath) just a couple verses later: “whoever loses his soul for my sake will gain it” (verse 39). Paul also says that our “soulish body” must die in order for us to receive our “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44-45). The same Greek word for soul (or breath) is used twice by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ uses in Matthew 10:28 and 39, with both Christ and Paul indicating that our soul must be lost in order to inherit the fullness of life with God (having received what Paul calls a “spiritual body”). [As an aside, N. T. Wright and David Bentley Hart had an exchange a few years back over this passage from 1 Corinthians 15.]

Taking all of this together surrounding Matthew 10:28, a good case can be made for understanding Christ to be saying:

  • Don’t be afraid of the Romans who can kill your body because the real threat is Satan who can kill body and soul. My Father in heaven, however, cares for every sparrow that falls and every hair on your head, and you therefore have no reason to be afraid. I will recognize you as my own before my Father if you have recognized me as your own by giving up your life for me when terrible persecutions will come upon you. In fact, you need to be willing to give up your body and your soul for my sake in order to gain eternal life with me for your soul.

However, the vast majority of Christians from the earliest years understood Christ to be saying something more like:

  • Don’t be afraid of the Romans who can kill your body. Only God has the power to destroy your body and your soul in the final refuse heap. Do not fear my Father in heaven, however, who cares for every sparrow that falls and every hair on your head. I will recognize you as my own before my Father if you have recognized me as your own by giving up your life for me when terrible persecutions will come upon you. In fact, you need to be willing to give up your body and your soul for my sake in order to gain eternal life with me for your soul.

Here are a variety of resources that I found on Matthew 10:28 from various places:

The earliest commentary I could find, takes the position that has been the strong majority understanding throughout Christian history:

“Fear not them that kill you, and after that can do no more; but fear Him who after death is able to cast both soul and body into hell.” Matthew 10:28. And hell is a place where those are to be punished who have lived wickedly, and who do not believe that those things which God has taught us by Christ will come to pass.

Justin Martyr in The First Apology, Chapter 19

When Origen comments on Matthew 10:28 (and Luke 12:45), he admits that it is God who ‘can destroy both the body and the soul in Gehenna’ but emphasizes that while the text speaks of human beings who do in fact kill, it says of God only that God can destroy the sinner. How could God actually do such a thing, he wonders, ‘since the Savior has come to seek and save those who perished’? In view of Christ’s saving act, Origen seems inclined to doubt the eternal character of divine punishment, If there are some texts in which he speaks of Gehenna as a definitive state, there are many others which seem to view it as a purifying chastisement.

“Apocatastasis in Patristic Theology” by John R. Sachs, S.J., Weston School of Theology. Theological Studies 54 (1993).

In “Homily 34 on Matthew,” Saint John Chrysostom makes the case that Christ in the 10:28 passage is giving his disciples the ultimate confidence against persecution:

Then, because He had lifted them up on high, He again gives warning of the perils also, adding wings to their mind, and exalting them high above all. For what says He? Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Matthew 10:28 Do you see how He set them far above all things, persuading them to despise not anxiety only and calumny, dangers and plots, but even that which is esteemed of all things most terrible, death? And not death alone, but by violence too? And He said not, you shall be slain, but with the dignity that became Him, He set this before them, saying, Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell; bringing round the argument, as He ever does, to its opposite. For what? Is your fear, says He, of death? And are you therefore slow to preach? Nay for this very cause I bid you preach, that you fear death: for this shall deliver you from that which is really death. What though they shall slay you? Yet over the better part they shall not prevail, though they strive ten thousand ways. Therefore He said not, Who do not kill the soul, but, who are not able to kill. For wish it as they may, they shall not prevail. Wherefore, if you fear punishment, fear that, the more grievous by far.

Do you see how again He does not promise them deliverance from death, but permits them to die, granting them more than if He had not allowed them to suffer it? Because deliverance from death is not near so great as persuading men to despise death. You see now, He does not push them into dangers, but sets them above dangers, and in a short sentence fixes in their mind the doctrines that relate to the immortality of the soul, and having in two or three words implanted a saving doctrine, He comforts them also by other considerations.

Thus, lest they should think, when killed and butchered, that as men forsaken they suffered this, He introduces again the argument of God’s providence, saying on this wise: Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall into a snare without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Matthew 10:29-30 For what is viler than they? says He; nevertheless, not even these shall be taken without God’s knowledge. For He means not this, by His operation they fall, for this were unworthy of God; but, nothing that is done is hid from Him. If then He is not ignorant of anything that befalls us, and loves us more truly than a father, and so loves us, as to have numbered our very hairs; we ought not to be afraid. And this He said, not that God numbers our hairs, but that He might indicate His perfect knowledge, and His great providence over them. If therefore He both knows all the things that are done, and is able to save you, and willing; whatever ye may have to suffer, think not that as persons forsaken ye suffer. For neither is it His will to deliver you from the terrors, but to persuade you to despise them, since this is, more than anything, deliverance from the terrors.

Finally, here is the passage form Matthew’s Gospel with context (from a recent translation of the New Testament by David Bentley Hart):

13And if in-deed the household should be worthy, may your ‘Peace’ come upon it; but if it should be unworthy, may your ‘Peace’ revert back to you. 14And whoever should not welcome you, or should not listen to your words, on departing outside that household or that city shake the dust off your feet. 15Amen, I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that city. 16See: I send you forth as sheep into the midst of wolves; so be as wise as serpents and as guileless as doves. 17And beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and they will flog you in their syna-gogues; 18And you will be led before leaders and even kings for my sake, as a witness to them and to the gentiles. 19But when they deliver you up do not worry over how or what you might speak; for whatever you might say will be given to you in that hour; 20For you are not the ones speaking, but rather the Spirit of your Father is speaking in you. 21And brother will deliver up brother to death, and father child, and children will rise up against parents and put them to death. 22And you will be hated by all on account of my name; but whoever endures to the end, that one will be saved. 23And when they persecute you in one city, flee to another; for, amen, I tell you, you will most certainly not have finished with the cities of Israel before the Son of Man arrives. 24A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his lord. 25It suffices that the disciple become as his teacher, and the slave as his lord. If they have arraigned the master of the household as ‘Beelzebul,’ how much more so those who belong to his household? 26Therefore, do not fear them; for there is nothing that has been veiled that will not be unveiled, and nothing hidden that will not be made known. 27What I say to you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in your ear, proclaim upon the house-tops. 28And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in the Vale of Hinnom. 29Are not two sparrows sold for the smallest pittance? And not one of them will fall to earth without your Father. 30But even the hairs of your head have all been numbered. 31So do not be afraid; you are of greater worth than a great many sparrows. 32Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge him before my Father in the heavens; 33And whoever denies me before men, I also will deny him before my Father in the heavens. 34Do not suppose that I have come to impose peace upon the earth; I came to impose not peace but a sword. 35For I came to divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a bride against her mother-in-law-36And a man’s enemies: the members of his house-hold. 37Whoever cherishes father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever cher-ishes son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever gains his soul will lose it, and whoever loses his soul for my sake will gain it. 40Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who has sent me forth. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet because he is called prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a just man because he is called just will receive a just man’s reward. 42And whoever gives one of these humble ones a cup of cold water solely because he is called disciple, amen, I tell you, he most certainly will not lose his reward.

David Bentley Hart’s translation of this passage (Yale UP, 2017).

this genuine image for every human being is Christ

From Sergius Bulgakov’s The Bride of the Lamb:

It is necessary to understand that the parousia, the comíng of Christ in glory, that is, in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, is, as such, already the judgment. The parousia cannot be an external and mutually indifferent encounter between God who has come into the world and man who remains in his isolated state of being, as he was before this encounter. On the contrary, man too is clothed in glory and incorruptibility, and the creaturely Sophia becomes transparent for the Divine Sophia. This changes man’s very being, This encounter with God, this entering into the realm of the divine fire, is not something optional for human beings. It is inevitable. For some this is the time of liberation (“look up, and lift up your heads” [Luke 21:28). For others it is a time of fear and horror: “then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). No one can avoid this encounter, for it is not an outward encounter but an inward one. For many this will be an unexpected and undesired transformation of their being, for the transfiguration, the light of glory given to human beings, can do more than illuminate. It can also consume in fire.

What is this fire that burns the chaff? And how is the judgment accomplished? The Judge is the Son of man, to whom the Father has given the power to judge those whom “he is not ashamed to call…..brethren” (Heb. 2:11, 17; cf. P 82:1: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods”). About this judgment, which is the baptism of the world by fire, the Forerunner of the Lord says: “He (Christ) shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). This baptism by fire refers not only to the Pentecost of Zion, which opens up the kingdom of grace and serves as the precursor of the Pentecost of the world, the kingdom of glory in the parousia. This baptism is in fact the glory as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Christ enters the world in an evident manner for every human being by the power of the Holy Spirit. The parousia manifestly clothes every human being in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

It is precisely in this sense that the parousia is also the judgment. And Christ, as the Judge (John 5:27), judges by the Holy Spirit. Human beings are clothed in Christ, who is the Truth and the Life, by the life giving Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth. This means that every human being is inwardly confronted with the truth about himself. Every human being sees himself in the truth, by a vision that is not abstract but living, like the consuming flame of a fire from whose light one cannot hide, for all will become visible: “for judgment I am come into this world” (John 9:39), says the Lord. “Now is the judgment of this world” (12:31). But this judgment will be accomplished by Christ through the Comforter: “when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (16:8, 11).

The manifestation of God’s glory in the world is also the manifestation of the truth itself, as well as the abolition of falsehood and the power of the father of lies (John 8:44). No falsehood, no self-deception, no error will have a place in the kingdom of truth, and this “exposure” by the Spirit of truth is already the judgment. By virtue of the truth this judgment becomes for everyone a self-judgment, a shedding of the veils of falsehood and self-deception that cover emptiness. The enthronement of Christ in the world, the reign of God come in power, is the Holy Spirit that fully, without any kenosis, pours forth upon all flesh. Christ’s revelation in the Holy Spirit has an irresistible force, which is manifested both in the universal resurrection and in the transformation of the world, with a transfiguration and glorification that extend to all flesh. This illuminating and transfiguring power is expressed in the image of fire, not natural of course but “spiritual,” which will penetrate the “spiritual” body and the spirit itself. The fire of the future age consumes, but it also transfigures, illuminates, gladdens.

…The judgement and separation consist in the fact that every human being will be placed before his own eternal image in Christ, that is, before Christ. And in the light of this image, he will see his own reality, and this comparison will be the judgmnent. It is this that is the Last Judgment of Christ upon every human being. In this judgment, the “books” are opened, for the Holy Spirit gives the power to read them clearly. Human life in all its fullness and connectedness is manifested in the implacable, inwardly irrefutable light of justice. This is a global vista, referring to man not only as a personal being but also as a generic one. Both man’s life and his responsibility are conditioned by and linked with the destinies of the whole human race. He is judged or rather he judges himself in Christ as belonging to all humankind, to the whole history of “all the nations,” in the total concreteness of all-human, universal being. He now knows this being as the life of Christ’s humanity, which He assumed in His double nature

…The proper self-determination of every human being in his creaturely freedom presents itself here as a certain self-evident reality, and not only as an external judgment upon him. This means that the Father left the judgment to His Son, who Himself is the Son of man, and, in His humanity, every human being finds himself and the judgment upon himself. This judgment is therefore not transcendent but immanent. In every human being, his own unreality or nakedness, his failure to wear a wedding garment at the wedding feast, is clearly distinguished from Christ’s reality. Just as the Holy Spirit manifests Christ in glory, so it reveals Christ’s presence in every human being. The judgment is the theophany to the world of the Son sent by the Father in the Holy Spirit. Resurrection in incorruptibility and glorification is precisely the Last Judgment, in which creation appears before the face of God and sees itself in God. For the image of God, given to man at his creation, is also the judgment upon man in relation to his likeness, which is the realization of this image in creaturely freedom. The “likeness” is the book of life opened at the judgment. God’s image will be revealed to every human being by the Holy Spirit as inner justice and judgment for creaturely life. This judgment of Christ is also every human being’s own iudgment upon himself. It consists in each person seeing himself in the light of his own justice, in the light of his proto-image, which he perceives in his resurrection under illumination by the Holy Spirit. The Judgment is the judgment of every human being in his true image upon himself in his “likeness.” As such, the judgment is self-evidently persuasive. This genuine image for every human being is Christ: The judgment consists in the fact that the light has come into the world (see John 3:19). “For judgment I am come into the world” (9:39)

Is it possible to reject this ontological self-judgment upon oneself as inappropriate and unconvincing? No! It is not possible, for one is judged by one’s own being, by one’s own truth. St. Isaac the Syrian says that the torments of hell are the burning of love for God, the burning fire of this love (we will encounter this idea again when we consider the burning in hell). This idea is also applicable to man’s relation to his divine proto-image: being aware of how distant he is from his proto-image in his given state or likeness, a human being nevertheless recognizes himself in this image as he could and should be according to God’s thought. He loves this image of himself, judges himself by it, compares himself to it, does not and cannot retreat from it inwardly.

This proto-image is Christ. Every human being sees himself in Christ and measures the extent of his difference from this proto-image. A human being cannot fail to love the Christ who is revealed in him, and he cannot fail to love himself revealed in Christ. The two things are the same. Such is human ontology. Love is the Holy Spirit, who sets the heart afire with this love. But this love, this blazing up of the Spirit, is also the judgment of the individual upon himself, his vision of himself outside himself, in conflict with himself, that is, outside Christ and far from Christ. And the measure and knowledge of this separation are determined by Love, that is, by the Holy Spirit. The same fire, the same love gladdens and burns, torments and gives joy. The judgment of love is the most terrible judgment, more terrilble than that of justice and wrath, than that of the law, for it includes all this but also transcends it. The judgment of love consists of a revolution in people’s hearts, in which, by the action of the Holy Spirit in the resurrection, the eternal source of love for Christ is revealed together with the torment caused by the failure to actualize this love in the life that has passed. It is impossible to appear before Christ and to see Him without loving him.

In the resurrection, there is no longer any place for anti-Christianity, for enmity toward Christ, for satanic hatred of Him, just as there is no place for fear of Him as the Judge terrible in His omnipotence and the fury of His wrath. The Lord will come as He was on earth: meek and humble in heart, though now in glory. But this meekness and humility will burn hearts by their love and their judgment. God-Love judges with love the sins against love.

a regal, relentless and miraculous enmity

We are to be guided by the full character of what is revealed of God in Christ. For after all, if it is from Christ that we to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless and miraculous enmity. Sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are a part of the eternal work or purposes of God, which it is well to remember.

From chapter 9 of The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? by David Bentley Hart. [Transcribed from the audible book version with my own punctuation.]

Obtain the Lord as a friend

O Bridegroom, brilliant in Thy beauty above all mankind, Who didst call us to the spiritual banquet of Thy chamber, cast away from me the likeness of rags of iniquity by participation in Thy Passion, and adorn me with the robe of Thy beauty. Distinguish me as a brilliant guest in Thy kingdom; for Thou art compassionate.

…Behold, the Master entrusteth thee with a talent, O my soul. Wherefore, receive thou the gift with fear. Lend to the giver and console the poor. Obtain the Lord as a friend, that thou mayest stand on His right hand when He cometh in glory, and that thou mayest hear that blessed voice: “Enter, O servant, into the joy of thy Lord.” Prepare me, a prodigal, for it. O Savior, for the multitude of Thy mercies.

Bridegroom Matins (celebrated evening of Holy Tuesday)
Bridegroom Icon

attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity

Simone Weil on her birthday. First, from Gravity and Grace (1947):

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.

…We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.

The will only controls a few movements of a few muscles, and these movements are associated with the idea of the change of position of nearby objects. I can will to put my hand flat on the table. If inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought were necessarily associated with attitudes of this kind, they might be the object of will. As this is not the case, we can only beg for them… Or should we cease to desire them? What could be worse? Inner supplication is the only reasonable way, for it avoids stiffening muscles which have nothing to do with the matter. What could be more stupid than to tighten up our muscles and set our jaws about virtue, or poetry, or the solution of a problem. Attention is something quite different.

Pride is a tightening up of this kind. There is a lack of grace (we can give the word its double meaning here) in the proud man. It is the result of a mistake.

…Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.

Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.

If we turn our mind toward the good, it is impossible that little by little the whole soul will not be attracted thereto in spite of itself.

From an April 13, 1942 letter to poet Joë Bousquet:

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

On the Christian faith.

Last letter to Father Joseph-Marie Perrin, from a refugee camp in Casablanca (26 May 1942), as translated in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by George A. Panichas:

Wrongly or rightly you think that I have a right to the name of Christian. I assure you that when in speaking of my childhood and youth I use the words vocation, obedience, spirit of poverty, purity, acceptance, love of one’s neighbor, and other expressions of the same kind, I am giving them the exact signification they have for me now. Yet I was brought up by my parents and my brother in a complete agnosticism, and I never made the slightest effort to depart from it; I never had the slightest desire to do so, quite rightly, I think. In spite of that, ever since my birth, so to speak, not one of my faults, not one of my imperfections really had the excuse of ignorance. I shall have to answer for everything on that day when the Lamb shall come in anger.

You can take my word for it too that Greece, Egypt, ancient India, and ancient China, the beauty of the world, the pure and authentic reflections of this beauty in art and science, what I have seen of the inner recesses of human hearts where religious belief is unknown, all these things have done as much as the visibly Christian ones to deliver me into Christ’s hands as his captive. I think I might even say more. The love of these things that are outside visible Christianity keeps me outside the Church… But it also seems to me that when one speaks to you of unbelievers who are in affliction and accept their affliction as a part of the order of the world, it does not impress you in the same way as if it were a question of Christians and of submission to the will of God. Yet it is the same thing.

Letter to Georges Bernanos (1938), in Seventy Letters, as translated by Richard Rees (1965):

I have sometimes told myself that if only there were a notice on church doors forbidding entry to anyone with an income above a certain figure, and a low one, I would be converted at once.

As quoted in Simone Weil (1954) by Eric Walter Frederick Tomlin:

Love is not consolation, it is light.

“Faiths of Meditation; Contemplation of the divine” as translated in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by George A. Panichas:

Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.

…That is why St. John of the Cross calls faith a night. With those who have received a Christian education, the lower parts of the soul become attached to these mysteries when they have no right at all to do so. That is why such people need a purification of which St. John of the Cross describes the stages. Atheism and incredulity constitute an equivalent of such a purification.

Draft for a Statement of Human Obligation (1943) as translated by Richard Rees:

There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man’s mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.

Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world.

Another terrestrial manifestation of this reality lies in the absurd and insoluble contradictions which are always the terminus of human thought when it moves exclusively in this world.

Just as the reality of this world is the sole foundation of facts, so that other reality is the sole foundation of good.

That reality is the unique source of all the good that can exist in this world: that is to say, all beauty, all truth, all justice, all legitimacy, all order, and all human behaviour that is mindful of obligations.

Those minds whose attention and love are turned towards that reality are the sole intermediary through which good can descend from there and come among men.

Although it is beyond the reach of any human faculties, man has the power of turning his attention and love towards it.

Nothing can ever justify the assumption that any man, whoever he may be, has been deprived of this power.

It is a power which is only real in this world in so far as it is exercised. The sole condition for exercising it is consent.

This act of consent may be expressed, or it may not be, even tacitly; it may not be clearly conscious, although it has really taken place in the soul. Very often it is verbally expressed although it has not in fact taken place. But whether expressed or not, the one condition suffices: that it shall in fact have taken place.

To anyone who does actually consent to directing his attention and love beyond the world, towards the reality that exists outside the reach of all human faculties, it is given to succeed in doing so. In that case, sooner or later, there descends upon him a part of the good, which shines through him upon all that surrounds him.

Life from Inside of Death

“You may be certain that as long as someone is in hell, Christ will remain there with him.” Elder Sophrony gave this famous reply to a question from Olivier Clement regarding those who will not open their hearts to the love of God. In this Easter season, with Christ’s glorious and victorious resurrection preeminent, it is worthwhile asking if Jesus Christ is still, in any sense, within hell and among the dead. After all, we do see Jesus one time, long after the resurrection, appearing to be dead and yet enthroned in heaven. When we are introduced with John to the glorious “Lion of the tribe of Judah” enthroned in power at the right hand of the Father, what we actually see is “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:2-10). Even while reigning victoriously from heaven, Jesus Christ is revealed as a victim of sacrifice. Jesus remains, in some important sense, dead.

This idea is in keeping with many fundamentals of biblical truth: that we are united with Christ in his death as well as his life, that we are commanded to take up our cross daily as we follow Jesus, and that we feed ourselves repeatedly upon the sacrificed body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Many mothers and fathers of the church have taught that God is most fully revealed, in all of His glory and power, when Jesus is hanging upon the cross. Fr. Thomas Hopko shared in a lecture that, according to Hugo of St. Victor, “God wants to speak to us, to reveal himself to us, …and when he hangs on the Cross and his arms are open, the Book is open. The Book is totally open, like in the book of Revelation.”

Even before sin and death and all of creation, God was a God who emptied himself. Stephen Freeman has written about an “unfallen suffering” that is found within the life of our Trinitarian God even before creation and outside of time. Each person of the Trinity continually empties themselves in relation to the other persons of the Trinity. Within God’s inner life, there is a profound kind of self-giving, and this should not surprise us because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Therefore, God has always been one who gives Himself fully, and this God is only perfectly revealed by God’s entire self-emptying upon the cross.

Another way of understanding this is to recognize God’s entire strategy against sin and death itself. As Saint John Chrysostom said in his Paschal Sermon: “Hell was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. …It took a dead body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven.” God’s glorious and all-powerful strategy has always been to enter death itself, to find us at our weakest point and to join us there. Maximus the Confessor said: “Christ, the captain of our salvation, turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin” (from Ad Thalassium 61 “On the Legacy of Adam’s Transgression”). By becoming our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and entering death with us, Christ transformed death into something life-giving. Maximus further says that “the baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin.” By joining with us at our weakest point, Christ gives suffering and death back to us as great weapons against the ravages of our soul sickness and sin.

God’s strategy (of entry into death to commune with those who flee from him) has not changed since Christ’s resurrection. Although God’s entry into death is only accomplished in Jesus Christ, we now also participate in it through our union with Christ. God is now entering into suffering and death through all those who commune with Jesus. In fact, this is the only place to find full communion with Christ, the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). We see this at work in every Christian life and when Paul says: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Even after the end of time, worship around the throne of our majestic and living king will always include a recognition of his greatest moment: “his voluntary, glorious, and life-giving death” as Christian liturgies repeatedly refer to it. The resurrection power that Jesus Christ displayed on Easter morning came easily to him. His first action after this surge of life brought breath back to his dead body, was to lift the small square of cloth from his face and fold it gently before laying it down. Christ’s great labor came in the final hours of an entire adult life that was directed toward the cross, and this is all that he empowers us to do. If we would seek to exercise the power of God graciously offered to us by Christ’s resurrection, we must shoulder our own cross and pray for the strength to enter death itself. Christ reopened the gates of Paradise that had been shut behind Adam, but he set these gates up just inside the gates of Hades.

He provided a new, sacramental mode of presence

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

The Divine Liturgy, we may say, is the oven of the Holy Spirit. That grain of wheat which was sown in the earth on Good Friday sprang forth as the infinite paschal harvest and now abides forever in the granary of heaven. Christ our Lord is not content, however, simply to abide in His glorified Body. In this Body, Christ can be found in only one place. He is needed, however, in many places, and this is the reason He provided a new, sacramental mode of presence. In the Holy Eucharist, He lives on thousands of altars at once, available—edible!—for the myriads of believers who draw near in the fear of God and with faith and love.

In the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the wheat, which is Christ’s glorified Body, is baked in the oven of the Holy Spirit, so that the nutritive energies of God may pass into those who receive Him in faith. Through the cells and sinews of our own flesh there course those divine energies that transform and deify our bodies and souls—our whole being—with the power, the dynamis, of immortality.

established our holy fathers as luminous stars upon the earth

From the hymns this morning. Troparion of the Holy Fathers, Tone VIII:

Most glorified art thou, O Christ our God, / Who hast established our holy fathers as luminous stars upon the earth, / and through them didst guide us all to the true Faith // Oh most merciful One, glory be to Thee.

Kontakion of the Holy Fathers, Tone VI:

The Son Who shone forth from the Father / was ineffably born, two-fold in nature, of a woman. / Having beheld Him, we do not deny the image of His form, / But depict it piously and revere it faithfully. / Thus, keeping the True Faith, // the Church venerates the icon of Christ Incarnate.

Adam was made in the image of the incarnate Christ

Irenaeus concluded—amazingly—that Adam came into being as a result of Christ and his passion, that Adam was made in the image of the incarnate Christ, who himself is the beginning and the end.

From Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives by Peter C. Bouteneff. Here it is with more context (including several other profound points):

Adam as the sinner is the antitype of Christ as the glorious; indeed, the Jewish tradition that saw Adam as a priest, a patriarch, and a king, was utterly transformed in early Christian thinking, which saw Adam as failing in all these vocations and Christ as fulfilling them. The glory of Adam became the glory of Christ. The modern word “typology”—expressing this relationship and so many of the characters and features of the OT with those of the NT—hardly does justice to the transformative thrust of Christian thinking.

…One of the fullest expressions of this thinking came from Irenaeus, who interpreted the Lukan genealogy together with Romans 5:14 to mean that Christ joins the end to the beginning, recapitulating in himself all nations, languages, and generations. Irenaeus concluded—amazingly—that Adam came into being as a result of Christ and his passion, that Adam was made in the image of the incarnate Christ, who himself is the beginning and the end. This trajectory of thinking, which cannily stands temporal chronology on its head, was definitive for the patristic era and right on through the fourteenth century in Nicholas Cabasilas, who puts it this way:

It was for the New Man that human nature was created at the beginning. . . . It was not the old Adam who was the model for the new, but the new Adam for the old. . . . For those who have known him first, the old Adam is the archetype because of our fallen nature. But for him who sees all things before they exist, the first Adam is the imitation of the second. (The Life in Christ 6.91–94)

“Typology” must be understood against the backdrop of this reconfiguration of history, which, then, began not in some calendrically datable time five thousand, six thousand, or even 13.7 billion years ago, but with Christ and his incarnation and, even more, with his passion. Indeed, to the extent we dwell with the fathers in this perspective, the significance of the age of the world is entirely limited to the sphere of science and bears no theological significance whatsoever.