June 23, 2019

Encomium on All the Martyrs and Saints (St. Proclus of Constantinople)

Encomium on All the Martyrs and Saints
(or Homily 34)

By St. Proclus of Constantinople

1. The champions of piety not only crowned themselves (as victors) from the games, but also prepared those who honour them to attain the very same virtues.

2. For some, having delivered up their bodies to tortures, pluck from their very sufferings honour as fruit. And others, having displayed a like purpose of mind and surrendered themselves to toils and pains as a result of vigils, nevertheless receive a reward worthy of their zeal, even if it is not the season for those struggles.

3. For it is doubtless clear that he, who with fervent love, and readily, rushed into the present hardships, would also set himself upon greater (hardships) if he would look upon (the) present (hardships).

4. Since, then, (the) contests of martyrs have brought us together, come and let us put forward the sufferings (caused by) those contests as theme of our discourse, and observe closely with what kind of resolution they were throwing themselves onto those dangers, and let us (thus) effect a benefit to be shared in common by all.

5. They (i.e. the martyrs) were not then struck with fear of the tyrants’ threat, (and) were not afraid of an ardent wrath that has been confirmed by deeds, nor (were they afraid) of the impiety that yields evil as weapon. But while running risks as if (living) in another body, they were laughing at the tyrants.

6. And they (i.e. the tyrants) were inflamed in their heart because mere simple men were laughing at them, although they (themselves) have experienced so many wars. They could not endure to see their swords being tyrannised by a simple hand. But they, calling in all respects the name of Christ, endured with pleasure the designs11 of the torturers.

7. For they rushed in against the tyrants not only with resolution, but also with contempt. For they preserved their spirit intact for Christ, but kept their contempt for the tyrants.

8. They said:
‘You have a sharpened sword, o tyrant!
I have a mind sharper than a sword, sharpened with a view to piety.
You have torture-chambers ready, I have a suit of armour, which repels the pain of your torturers.
9. Our weapons are superior to your weapons:
A blacksmith made those (belonging to you), but the Holy Spirit devised these (belonging to us).
A craftsman dipped those in water, but Christ hardened these with (his) blood.
Those were bought by perishable money, but these were acquired by (his) saving slaughter.
Those are the cause of death, but these transact salvation.
10. Behold the Champion of our resolute spirit:
he had his hands nailed to a cross, but caught the whole world in his net;
he had a spear pierced through his side, but he destroyed the power of Death;
he had his hands bound, but digging through, he despoiled the tombs;
he had his eyes closed, but he woke those who have been asleep from the beginning.’

11. O new and unexpected transactions (deeds)!
Who saw defeat being the source of victory?
Who saw corruption bringing forth incorruption?
Who saw suffering being adorned with impassibility?
Who gathered a crown from torturers?
Who saw a corpse shining brighter than a warrior?
Who, having fallen, set up a trophy?
Who has constructed for himself wings from (his) blood?
Who leapt into heaven while being dragged down into a tomb?
12. This resolute spirit strengthened all the saints towards contests.
Possessing this will power,
they gave up their limbs to tortures,
jumped like lions onto the tyrants,
tumbled head foremost against death-threatening sufferings,
and judged the mutilations of their limbs (to be) a joy.

13. And they who have sharpened their swords, were at a loss, harbouring the following thoughts:
‘What shall we do to men conquering nature?
How shall we enslave a resolute spirit conquered by a love for the one who suffered?
How shall we persuade a soul drunk with love for a man who has been crucified?
How shall we hunt down a reasoning power, which is being lifted up towards heaven by sufferings?
What nets have they surrounded (themselves with), what devices of words have they found?
14. Whenever we plough (through) their side with a sword, they grow wings from their blood (to fly) towards heaven.
Whenever we cut off the head, having fallen (off), it yet makes a brighter sound.
Whenever we mow down the hands, they arm their tongue to refute (us).
Whenever we dig out (their) eyes, they see brighter than a ray (of sun).
Whenever we cut off the leg, they run everywhere faster than deer, and roam everywhere about catching through faith the world in their nets.
15. The sword is for us small against their will power, (and) they conquer our wrath by an ardent love.
Whenever we endeavour to persuade them with words, they upset our minds by wiser thoughts.
Whenever we threaten, they laugh.
Whenever we laugh, they draw their eyebrows together.
16. Ah, with what helplessness did the mental force of these men fill us?
No war has disgraced our might and power.
There was no one, who, having encountered the dragon, was not hunted down.
The multitude of trophies is a message of our courage, but these all are gone, conquered by the mental force of plain men.’

17. Nevertheless, flesh wasted away, and streams of blood sprang up when limbs were dislocated.
But Christ, mocking their madness, said:
‘O tyrant,
bring the ripple of your impiety into motion,
raise up the waves of your lawlessness,
strike against the victory of the martyrs with (your) loud roar of waves.
18. If you will sink the ship, am I not a steersman?
If you will rip the ship’s deck into pieces, have I not secured the ship well?
If you will shatter the rudder, do I not by experience know how to move the handle of the steering-paddle?
If you will rock the ship’s keel, laugh at the anchor!
19. Using my cross as material, I have put together the boards of the ship,
with faith as source I have raised the mast,
with good hope as source I have given wind to the sails.
The furious storms of impiety cannot prevail against my ship.
A hurricane, having come upon it, will not drag it down into the depths.

20. While the tyrant then was hearing this, he was plotting greatly as
‘I am ashamed that I am being conquered by human bodies.
I am ashamed that I was not capable of bending their mental force by the inflictions (of pain) of torturers.
I cannot endure the defeat.
I am persuaded to renounce (my power), necessity forces me to walk another road in future.
21. It is necessary to deal subtly with the resolute spirits of these men, if by any chance I should thus be able to overthrow them.
They have a law stemming from the man who was nailed to a cross, a law coloured (written) with ink on paper. This (law) is arming the people (the men) against me.
Having taken it, I shall tear it apart, and deceive by means of forgetfulness the memory of the people (the men).
22. But I do not know how I shall be able to destroy a law which love has painted on a soul,
how I shall be able to let sayings disappear that (shine) brighter than a memorial record (written) with (their) life;
how I shall be able to wipe clean a written document which provides the hope of a kingdom.
I am defeated and I cannot endure the shame, what I shall transact, I do not know.’

23. This then the tyrant and the slanderer of the salvation of the human race said. But the soldiers and witnesses (martyrs) of Christ, both holy ones and ascetics, having campaigned nobly, having trampled on his threats and despised his torturers, and having been made perfect by their faith in the crucified Christ and true God, received from him the crowns (of victory), and are now reigning with him, and are interceding for our sake, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom belong all the glory, honour and power till the boundless ends of the ages. Amen.