Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Sermon for Holy Saturday, by St. Ephiphanius, Part 6

(Note: This sermon reproduced from it's translation as found on page 33 of "The Lamentations of Matins of Holy and Great Saturday", translated from the Greek and published by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, Massachusetts, 1981
© Copyright Holy Transfiguration MonasteryBrookline, MA, used by permission. All rights reserved.)

The God of tender mercies verily heard all these cries, and so Christ judged that it was not right that His love for man should only be shared with them that lived in His days and after Him, but that those also that before His coming had gone down to Hades and that sat in darkness and the shadow of death should be partakers of the same as well. Thus God the Word visited with body and soul men who were still in the flesh, but to the souls which were bereft of bodies He manifested Himself in Hades with His Divine and blameless soul, bereft of a body but not of Divinity.
Wherefore, let us hasten in mind and journey to Hades so as there to see how He masterfully mastered the tyrannical master of a mastership mightly [sic] mastered and how by the lightning flash of His brilliance He without hands captured in His hand20 the whole soldiery of the ranks of those deathless orders. He took away the doorless doors, nay, Christ the Door shattered those woodless gates by the wood of the Cross; by those divine nails He burst and broke the eternal bars; by the bonds of His Divine hands He dissolved like wax the indissoluble bonds; and by the spear [thrust] in His side He transfixed the heart of the tyrant. "There did He break the power of the bow,"21 when upon the Cross He stretched out the sinews22 of His Divine arms like a bowman.
Therefore, if thou followest Christ silently thou shalt presently see where He bound the tyrant; where He hung the latter's head; how exhumed that dungeon; whither He led the prisoners; how He trampled upon the serpent; where He suspended its skull; and how He liberated Adam; how He rasied up Eve; how He broke down the middle wall;23 how He punished the bitter dragon; how He made perdition to perish; and where He restored man to his ancient dignity.
Yesterday by way of oeconomy He refused to summon numerous legions of angels, saying to Peter, "Can I not now bring forward more than twelve legions of angels?"24 But today in a manner befitting God, a warrior and a sovereign, through death He tramples down the tyrant of Hades and death, having with Him the immortal legions — not simply twelve, but thousands of thousands and ten thousand ten thousands — of the bodiless hosts and the invisible ranks: the Dominions, the unthroned Thrones, the unwinged Six-winged, the eyeless Many-eyed and all the celestial bands.
For it is certain that they accompanied, escorted and honoured Christ as their own Master and King; but they were not allies — far be it! — for what assistance could Christ the Almighty need? But both by obligation and as loving to stand beside their Master and God, they are trusty spearmen, hoplites, glorious and astute staff-bearers of the Master's divine offices. At the Divine bidding alone they with zeal and speed anticipate one another in transforming act into deed by His command, and they are crowned with victory over the ranks of enemies and transgressors.
Therefore they descended then in haste, hastening with their God and Master to the subterranean chambers of Hades — which are deeper down than anything terrestial — and to the under-worldly abodes of them that have fallen asleep from ages past; there He gallantly brought forth them that from of old lay in fetters.
As soon as the glistering, divinely-accompanied presence of the Master reached Hades' windowless, sunless, nocturnal dungeons, hovels, lairs, and caves, Gabriel, the chief marshal was first of all — since, indeed, he is wont to bring men good tiding of joy — to exclaim with a mighty, archangelic, resounding, commanding, lion-like voice to the hostile powers, "Lift up your gates, O ye princes,"25 and with him Michael cries, "Be ye lifted up, ye everlasting gates."26 Thereafter the Powers say, "Stand back, ye iniquitous gate-keepers!" Then the Dominions say with dominion, "Be broken, unbreakable bonds!" And others, "Be abashed, abominable foes!" And still others, "Fear, ye lawless tyrants!"
Now just as before a fearsome, invincible, all-powerful, regal, trophy-bearing battle array, terror and panic and pangs of dread seize the enemies of an unconquerable king, so and more so it befell those [evil beings] in Hades at the sudden, most strange coming of Christ to the nether world. The blinding bolt of lightning from above darkened the countenances of the hostile powers of Hades and they heard thunder-like voices and the [angelic] host commanding, "Lift up your gates, O ye princes! Do not merely open them, but lift them from the foundations, uproot them, remove them so that they never again be closed. Lift up your gates, O ye princes!
"Although the Master here present could enter even if the doors were shut, yet He commands you like run-away slaves to raise, remove, and break those everlasting gates. He orders not the common sort among you, but them that are esteemed by you to be princes, saying, 'Lift up your gates, O ye princes!' Your gates, none else but yours.
"Wherefore, O princes, though till now ye have wickedly held sway over those fallen asleep from ages past, from henceforth ye shall not be their rulers, nor rulers of others, but only of your own selves, but not even of yourselves. For Christ, the Heavenly Door is present. 'Prepare ye the way for Him that rideth upon the setting of Hades. Lord is His name, and the pathways leading forth from the gates of death are those of the Lords' Lord.'27 Ye made the ways of entrance, but He came to make the pathways leading forth.
"Therefore tarry not, lift up your gates quickly, take them away and return them not. But if ye think to procrastinate, we shall command the gates to be lifted up automatically of themselves. 'Be ye lifted up, ye everlasting gates!'"
And as soon as the hosts cried these things, straightway the gates were raised up, straightway the bonds were loosed, straightway the bars were broken, straightway the bolts fell away, straightway the foundations of the dungeon quaked, straightway the hostile powers were turned to flight, one pushing the other, one impeding the other, one exclaiming to the other, "Flee!"
They were terrified, they were shaken, they were awestruck, they were confounded, they were altered, they were frightened, they were dumbstruck and stupified [sic], confused and made to quake. One stood agape, another between his knees hid his head, another lay prostrate, another like one dead was motionless, another was possessed by awe, another lay with altered countenance, and another fled to an inner region.
For there Christ "cut asunder the heads of princes with amazement,"28 there "they trembled" at Him, there they "burst their bridles,"29 saying, "'Who is the King of Glory?'30 Who is the great Being that, with so many, works here such wonders? Who is the King of Glory, that now works in Hades that which has never been wrought in Hades? Who is this, that now leads out from hence them that from ages past have fallen asleep? Who is this that has destroyed and abolished our insuppressible audacity and power, Who leads forth from the prison of Hades those fettered from ages past?"
But to those [wicked spirits] the hosts of the Master cried, "Do ye wish to learn, O lawless tyrants, who is the King of Glory? It is 'The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty and strong and invincible in war'!31 This is He that banished and cast you down from the vaults of Heaven, ye spineless and lawless tyrants! This is He that in Jordan 'brake the heads of your dragons.'32 This is He that by the Cross publicly exposed you, triumphed over you, and slew you. This is He that bound, blackened and banished you to the abyss. This is He that consigns you to, and destroys you in, the everlasting fire and in Gehenna.
Wherefore, do not linger, do not delay, but speedily bring forth those in bonds which ye wickedly swallowed till this day. From henceforth your dominion is destroyed, your tyranny is come to an end, your insolence is miserably extinguished, your arrogance is quashed, your might is trampled and ruined."
These things the royal hosts of the King spake to the hostile powers and then made haste. Some excavated the dungeon from its very foundations, while some routed the enemy's hosts from the outer regions, causing them to flee within; but others ran and searched the hovels, the jails, and the caverns; and others brought prisoners before the Master from every quarter; others bound the tyrant with infrangible bonds; others speedily obeyed them; and some ran before the Master and He proceeded to the innermost regions, while others followed Him as the victorious King and God.

Stay tuned for the final Part, Part 7, in which Christ finds Adam, and then (Part 8) the Footnotes.

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