23 April 2011

The First Easter Oration of St. Gregory Nazianzen: modestly redacted for the Easter Vigil

It is the Night of the Resurrection. Let us therefore keep the Feast with splendor, and let us embrace one another. Let us say “Dear Brother,” or “Dear Sister,” even to those who hate us, and much more to those who have done or suffered anything out of love for us. Let us forgive all trespasses against us, for the sake of the Resurrection; let us give each other pardon.

The Great Mystery of Christ has anointed me — the Mystery of His Cross and Passion. I withdrew a little while from the Mystery, as was needful to examine myself. But now I come in with another Mystery, bringing with me the New Day as a good defender of my cowardice and weakness; that He who has risen this night from the dead may renew me also by His Spirit, and adorning me with Himself, may give me also to you — you who are His New Creation, begotten of God — that I may be a good model and teacher of Christ, willingly dying with Him and rising with Him again.

Yesterday, the Lamb was slain, and the door-posts were anointed; Egypt bewailed her firstborn, while the Destroyer passed us over, for the Seal is dreadful and reverend, and we are surrounded by the Precious Blood. Thus, today we have escaped altogether from Egypt and from Pharaoh, and there is no one to hinder us from keeping the Feast to the Lord our God — the Feast of our Exodus. There is no one to keep us from celebrating the Feast — not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, taking with us nothing of ungodly and Egyptian leaven.

Yesterday, we were crucified with Him; today, we are glorified with Him. Yesterday, we died with Him; today, we are quickened with Him. Yesterday, we were buried with Him; today, we rise with Him. And now, then, let us offer right treasures to Him who suffered and rose again for us. I do not mean gold or silver, nor tapestries, nor precious and costly stones, the mere passing materials of earth, which remain here below, and which for the most part are always possessed by the wicked, who are slaves of the world and of the prince of the world. But no, let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting. Let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honor the Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died.

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become divine for His sake, since He for our sake became Man. He assumed the worse, that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonored that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin.

Let us give all, and offer all, to Him who gave Himself as a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like himself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He has become for ours.

As you see, He offers you a pastor (a shepherd); for this is what your Good Shepherd is hoping and praying, who lays down His life for His sheep, that you might be His sheep. So does He give you Himself, as it were, double instead of single, and He makes the shepherd’s staff of this poor man a staff for your spirit.

Thus He adds to the building of His Church this living temple; and to His exceedingly beautiful and heavenly shrine, this poor and small one, yet to Him of great value, and built with much sweat and many labors. Would that I could say it is worthy of His labors! But He places at your disposal all that belongs to Him (O great generosity! O Fatherly love!): His hoary head and His youth, His Temple and Himself, the merciful and great High Priest, the Testator, the Heir, and the Gospel sermon you were longing to hear. Not like those that are in vain and poured out into the air, which reach no further than the outward ear, but those which the Spirit writes and engraves on tablets of stone, or of flesh; not superficially written, nor easily rubbed off, but etched very deep, not with ink, but with grace.

These are the gifts that are given to you by your venerable Abraham, the “Everlasting Father,” the honorable and reverend Head of all the faithful, the Patriarch, the Resting-place of all good, the Standard of all virtue, the Perfection of the Priesthood, who has offered to the Lord His willing Sacrifice, that of the only-begotten Son, the One Who was promised.

On your side, then, offer to God your willing ears to hear and heed your pastors, dwelling in a place of lush green grass, and being quenched by waters of refreshment. Know your Good Shepherd in His voice of the Gospel, as you are known by Him, and follow when He calls you as your Shepherd frankly through the door into His fold. Do not follow a stranger climbing up into the fold like a robber and a traitor, nor listen to a strange voice when it would call you away by stealth and scatter you from the truth across mountains, in deserts and pitfalls, and to places where the Lord does not visit. Avoid those who would lead you away from the orthodox faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the One Power and Godhead, whose Voice you have heard from me in my preaching by His grace (and may you always hear it); for deceitful and corrupt words would entice and force you away from the great Good Shepherd of us all.

From all that may hurt us or deceive us, may we all be kept, both shepherds and sheep, as from a poisonous and deadly weed; guiding and being guided far away from it, that we may all be one in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and unto the heavenly rest: To whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all the honor and glory and power and might, for ever and ever. Amen.

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