December 29, 2021

Why Did Christ at His Birth Allow Infants to be Slaughtered Because of Him? (St. Photios the Great)

By Saint Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople

(Amphilochia, Question 26)

Why did Christ at His birth allow infants to be slaughtered because of Him?

Your bewilderment is beautiful and compassionate, and perhaps the answer will be no worse, but even with a softer judgment. It was necessary for Herod's villainy to become clear and obvious to everyone, and therefore, if he showed it to people who had reached the age of maturity, then nothing would prevent the tribe of flatterers and henchmen from inventing some reasons that would make a criminal murder look more acceptable, and killed by the perpetrators of considerable evils, saying that it was not proper for the king to leave crimes unpunished. When applied to infants, even the most shameless lie can neither conceive nor invent anything like that, and in all things open and unreasonable misanthropy and unsurpassed villainy of the mind, language, and hand are exposed.

In addition, it was necessary that the offering, preceding a new and sinless sacrifice, cleansing the sin of the race, was free and pure from all sin, at least that which is contained in deeds, and did not offend the great sacrifice with its slaughter - and therefore it was more natural that before the Divine Lamb taking away the sins of the world, a host of infants were sacrificed, and not people tainted by some sins.

If you like, you can see how consolation is born from here for those tested in the greatest circumstances, because children whose lives are not subject to sin are exterminated, so that people in their suffering, thinking that they are suffering because of the severity of their sins, are not even more bitterly wounded by hardships, and do not fall into despair, but, looking at the sinlessness of children and the insolence of villains against them as an instructive example, sufficient to inspire courage, they rebelled in thanksgiving to the One who wisely manages all our affairs.

Further, these were the ones against whom no envy could be inflamed, for what reason for ill will would newborn babies provide? But the fact that they were moved against them to such a shameless and unspeakable extermination will easily answer the question and easily explain how the Christ-hating Jewish race, instead of praising and awarding crowns of gratitude to the Savior, who blessed the Jews and healed incurable diseases, condemned Him to the cross and shameful death. After all, if even where there was no place for envy, the leader of the Jews subjected the innocent to slaughter, then what would those who were brought up and already accustomed to murder by him not dare to do, all the more so led by such great envy? For if someone is seen doing great and wondrous deeds, attracting no less attention to themselves, than the more the disposition of many prompts the grateful to praise and respect them, the more this vile passion takes possession of the ungrateful and insidious, acquiring irresistible strength.

If you want to consider a larger number of reasons, then consider the first righteous Abel, who was innocent (at least from his own deeds), was betrayed and subject to death, making its foundation rotten. And since after him many of the guilty provided its structure with walls and a roof, like a fortress, the Savior, who came to benefit our race, intended to destroy the kingdom of death, then they, who were sinless and shed martyr's blood, were sent ahead, like a retinue and a vanguard of the great King, to those imprisoned in hades. They set off in order to simultaneously preach the coming of the Lord and the universal redemption by their arrival, showing what kind of murder they had undergone for the sake of the common Liberator, and confirming by themselves that the Savior of the race proclaimed by the prophets had appeared, - and also in order to frighten hades with the spectacle of a phalanx of martyrs, innocent of sins, advancing on it, and in an omen to announce his impending complete overthrow, for the murder of the sinless, and so many moreover, completely overthrowing and taking away the justification of death.

In addition to what has been said, the customary wisdom of God is especially manifested here. How so? The incomprehensible and ineffable wisdom of God is in the habit, for the most part, to deduce what gives joy and gladness from painful things and to exude the opposite from the opposite. With the help of the hostility of his brothers, it made the sacrifice of Joseph into the master of Egypt. After all, if it had not been for the envious gaze of his brothers, he would not have been sold into slavery; and not dishonoring the freedom of chastity, he would not end up in prison; if he had not become a prisoner, he would not have solved the dreams in captivity, would not have become known to the pharaoh because of this, and would not have received the second post after the pharaoh in Egypt. Do you see what blessing was born of envy and brotherly hatred, and with what glory God crowned Joseph?

Later, another pharaoh became angry with the Israelite tribe, and the wicked one came up with the idea of making the river an executioner for male babies. But because of this villainy, Moses, instead of being brought up in his own house, one of many and unremarkable among his fellow tribesmen, was brought up in the Egyptian royal palace, because Divine Providence showed by this that the victim of intrigues himself would take over the dominion of those who build intrigues. For, having been caught in the offense of murder by a fellow tribeman, he flees from there and, once again fortified with signs and extraordinary wonders, returns and scourges Egypt. And in the end he frees his fellow tribesmen from heavy slavery, and drowns the enslavers villainy with the whole army in the sea. Thus, because Pharaoh condemned the Jewish infants to death in the river, the whole race was delivered from captivity, and the arrogance of the Egyptians, with their army and chariots and horsemen, was drowned in the depths. And a lot more like this could be cited, collecting, like flowers, from the sacred meadows of the Church.

This is how, because of the villainous and criminal slaughter of infants, martyric and pure crowns blossomed and intertwined for the blessed ones, and they intercede before God with boldness, incessantly exulting along with disembodied armies in unspeakable joy and gaiety, and they delight in the most blessed and highest desirable spectacle - and what murders, what cruel executions can be considered comparable to this? So, not only was it no better to somehow prevent the lawless and untimely death of children, but it was much more preferable to leave it and let it happen, since so many eternal and untold blessings flowed from this for them.

But let it be to you, as it were, some kind of holy curiosity; if someone, having cognized the mysterious sayings of Paul, wants to secretly guide us in a more perfect way, then with pleasure and gratitude to this person we would learn together with him all our lives.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.