April 22, 2022

Third Great Friday Homily of Saint Photios the Great

Homily 6

When the devil’s might is being despoiled, when the sting of death is being blunted, when the trophy over Hades is set up, then the tablet of agreements is read out to us, then the document of the covenant is brought forward, then the written record of our promises is carried in triumph. Why so? In order that, as we see the common enemy vanquished and lying low, and the common Lord being praised in song for having through His own suffering and experience of death won victory and granted victory unto us, we should know clearly of what we stand in debt, and that we have made our life a contradiction of the hymns we sing, and that those of us who have departed from the covenant have deprived ourselves of every excuse. For when Christ fights for me as He is hanging on the cross, or rather awards me a brilliant victory, while the enemy of our kind is lying low helpless, and I not only do not exert myself against the prostrate one, but offer and dedicate myself entirely to passion- provoking indolence, breaking by my transgression the pact with God, and of my own free will handing to the enemy the power over me, what other refuge of excuse is left to me? What device will be found that I may not suffer an irrevocable and cruel punishment? For if those who set at nought imperial commands pay the unavoidable penalty when they render accounts for what they have been ordered to do, will not those who, not only disregard and pass by the commands of the King of kings and Lord of lords and Creator of all, but trample and spit upon the pacts they have made with Him, pay the ultimate penalty, and one which cannot be exceeded? Tell me, O man: Christ, fastened to the wood, is crucified for thee, and suffers the death of criminals; out of that, grace and victory over the foe accrue to us; the enemy fails, for the swords of the enemy have failed utterly; our free will has been liberated from the disabilities caused by the transgression; the pacts with God lie before us. Why do we not fulfill our promise? Why do we not repay at least a small part of our debt, but instead increase, and that every day, our obligation by heavy interest, having wretchedly forfeited’ our body and our very soul? Is it not out of negligence? Is it not from an indolent mind and an inclination prone to passions? If through indolence and negligence we are brought to barter away a wealth of so great and so many goods—the Lord’s victory, the foe’s defeat, the grace proferred to us, our free will, the covenant itself, then those who have betrayed all these things through the enjoyment of the passions, and considered their safeguarding and maintenance of no account, what room for forgiveness have they left themselves? Have they not shown themselves guilty of a multitude of evils? Are they not the enemies of their own salvation? Are they not the foes of the Cross? He saves, we destroy. Are we not fighting for the enemy? For by doing those things in which his strength against us lies, we are thereby proven to be fighting on his side and, worst of all, against our very selves. Are we not the denouncers of our liberty? For we have made it useless by remaining subservient to the pleasures. Are we not inconsiderate of the grace? Are we not ungrateful for the beneficence? For those who live contrariwise to the grace and the beneficence render a great insult and blasphemy both to that grace and to that beneficence.

2. But let us reverence Him who has been crucified for us. Let us be ashamed of the lance, the nails (Oh, what forbearance and long-suffering!), the stripes, the blows, the buffeting, the spitting, the crown of thorns, which the Lord of all has willingly suffered for our sake, so that by rising above passions and sin, we may conduct ourselves worthily of our portion in paradise. Let us be shamed by our own pacts which we have pledged to God before angels and men. For if indeed? those who transgress mutual agreements do not remain unpunished by the laws, how great a penalty will be exacted from us who have set at nought our pacts with God? Nay, let us sober down, beloved ones, let us awake, and though late, let us at last come to our senses. For this reason is the record of our agreements read out today, so that having considered all these matters, Christ’s sufferings, our promises, the deeds of our life, and impressed them well in our minds, we may arise from our heedless torpor and avoid the noose of deceit and error, and walk along the unswerving path of the Fathers, which is not beset by the serpent that bites the heel. Having thus received in our heart the teaching of the Spirit, and having fostered it well by continuous study, and, by our application to this study freed our eagerness for action, let us cultivate for ourselves the copious fruit of salvation. Let us not liken ourselves to the rocky and stony-hearted, who, receiving with joy the seed of the word, do not even allow it to grow roots, but as soon as a little grief befalls them, they wither up together with the shoot, having bloomed with salvation but a short time. Nor let us receive the catechism of Scripture as in passing, lest rousing up Satan against ourselves, we make him a robber and a thief of the good seed which has been sown, and through lack of spiritual food, destroy our life by wretched famine; lest the Lord say of us also, ‘‘And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; and when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.’

3. Let us not reduce ourselves to this condition, beloved ones, nor show our soul to be thorny ground by rearing tares through our worldly preoccupations, and running to wood with the desires of the flesh, and being choked, but after cleansing her of the passion- causing pleasures, and watering her in advance with tears, and rendering her fertile,” let us thus receive the seed of the word in the furrows of our hearts, and bear fruit, if possible, as with the best husbandmen, an hundredfold. If we do not reach an hundred, let us bear fruit sixtyfold; and if our tilling has not thriven even to this point, let us bear fruit thirtyfold. In any case, let us bear fruit lest, like that barren fig-tree, we draw the curse on ourselves and be condemned to be cut down before a Judge who is righteous and whose judgment none gainsays. For it is not only the fig-tree that has remained fruitless, the barren and harsh synagogue of the Jews, whose produce amounted only to the growth of leaves, it is not the only one that is withered and cut at the root, but if any one, like all of us, has been deemed worthy of having Grace as his root, and does not show the branch worthy of the root, nor puts forth fruit appropriate to the plant, he too is subjected in like fashion to punishment and hewing down. For “every tree,’ the Planter of all good things hath said, “that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.’ Let us fear the threat, let us avoid the punishment, Let us consider who it is that has delivered this decree: not a man, nor an angel, nor one who is reckoned among a higher rank of incorporeal beings, but the Lord of all Himself, the Judge Himself, who is going to judge the whole world in righteousness.” Nobody has the power to annul the Judge’s verdict; there is none else to seek refuge with, whereby one could escape these punishments; there is no supplication on the other side, no begging for pardon, no means of mercy, no benefit in tears, nor in sighs: everything must yield before the Judge’s sentence. Merciful He is, but just; compassionate, but He sets a bound and does not pass it; long-suffering, but when we are unrepenting He gives a verdict of great harshness. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

4. Let us bring forth fruit unto God,? lest we are cut out, roots and all, and wretchedly wither away together with every hope of life and salvation, lest we end our life consumed in the unquenchable fire. Let us bring forth righteousness, which joins together and compacts? human things? most admirably, meting out to our neighbours”? by the same standard by which we wish to be measured ourselves; since unrighteousness is the worst of all sins, and easily seen by all men, at least those of good sense, to be a mean thing and a work of the Evil one. For a man surely knows that he should not have done to his neighbour what he does not wish to suffer himself. Art thou grieved when another deprives thee of thy farm, or thy field, or thy garment, or thy beast of burden? Neither do thou wrong thy neighbour in any such way. Thou hast an unwritten law, clearer and more obvious than any written one, namely thy own feeling and disposition over similar plights, when thou art let to suffer the same at the hands of others. Use the same standard for thyself as for thy neighbour. Whatever grieves thee, harms thee and distresses thee, consider that same thing grievous, distressing and damaging to thy neighbour. The precept is simple, the law is common to Greeks, barbarians and, if thou willest, to faithful and unfaithful. Many infidel nations live by this inborn law; many barbarians, while being barbarians in other respects, observe stead-fastly this natural law, having made sure, by not wronging others, that they are not themselves wronged by them. What then? Is justice sought after by infidels and barbarians, even without a written law, that they may live and keep society together, while for us faithful, who call on Christ, who possess written laws, to whom inexorable penalties have been appointed, and heavenly rewards promised, is it not a shame to be called faithful unless we observe justice towards one another in purity and steadfastness? And will not Thy name, O God, be on our account and through our actions blasphemed among the gentiles,? when the infidels excel and surpass in their way of life the conduct of those who call themselves “faithful”?

5. But may none of you be, God forbid, either more cruel than barbarians or more wretched than infidels; rather let us all conduct ourselves worthily both of our faith and of our vocation,”’ maintaining fairness towards each other rightly and unalterably, and storing up mercy for ourselves for the expiation of our sins at the time of judgment. For mercy rejoiceth against judgment,” and the merciful shall obtain mercy,” and blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. What is easier than this transaction? What is more profitable than this contract? What is more wretched than to dis- regard this commerce? Hast thou seen a beggar in distress? Hast thou overlooked a fellow-man crying out? Then thou hast barred to thyself the stream of the Lord’s mercy; and by not having given here a drop of thy overflowing wealth to the poor, thou hast kindled over there the unquenchable flame of Hell for thy mercilessness. But hast thou pitied him? Hast thou given him mercy according to thy means? Thou wilt find mercy, and wilt quench that fire which the thorns of thy other faults have lit, as it dies down and is wasted away by the drops of mercy. The property of oil is to feed the fire on earth, and kindle it, and produce great flames when poured on it ; while the grace of mercy wilts that other fire, and the more abundantly one sheds it, the more it lessens it and quenches it. Even one who is liable to that insufferable and terrible fire places himself above condemnation because of compassion. Faithful is the guarantor of this pledge—the Judge Himself, the Lord Himself. In judging He shall not forget His own words. He Himself crieth aloud, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’’ The beggar has running wounds, and sleeps out naked, and looks up to thy hands, O man. Does not his plight abash thee? Art thou not ashamed of human nature? Does not his misfortune bend thee to pity? Wipe his wounds with water, that thou mayest rid thyself of the ulcers of thy soul. Clothe him that thou mayest bedeck thyself with a fair cloak—charity. Receive him under thy roof that thou mayest have him prepare thy way in the heavenly tabernacles, knowing that inasmuch as thou doest it unto one of these thy fellow-slaves, thou doest it to the common Lord. Let us give Him small things out of the wealth wherewith He has endowed us; let us bring Him offerings through the poor, out of what He has granted us Himself. Nor let us ask for another Lazarus to correct us, since the correction yields great and unspeakable pain and repentance, but does not result in any benefit or salvation. Let that Lazarus in the Gospels, by the example of the rich man at whose gate he was laid, suffice for thy correction. Let not that miserable rich man, more wretched than all beggars, be erased from our memory, as he is standing in the midst of the flames, melting away, wasting away, calling out to Lazarus, and seeking to lick, as if from a fountain, a drop of watery from the finger of the beggar, whom he had abominated, as a respite from the burning fire. Remember him straightway, and Lazarus too, when thou seest a beggar, and remembering them, abominate such behaviour, that thou mayest escape Hell. Instead take him in thy arms, clothe him, feed him, that thou mayest hear those blissful words, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.’

6. Having thus watered ourselves with charity, and tilled well the fallow land with sympathy for the poor, let us bring forth the crowning virtue, love, through which peace and calm accrue to our own life, and also piety and faith in God are expressed. For “by this they will know,” saith the Lord, ‘‘that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.’’ It is from the same source that the friend of peace, the bosom disciple, has drawn for us his flowing streams, which he pours out saying, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?’’, well nigh meaning, ‘‘O man, when thou severest from thyself and hatest one with whom thou dwellest in the same city, who breathes the same air as thou, who cherishes the same manner of life, and perchance embraces the same pursuit, and bears the same aspect, and has shared of the same blood, and to whom thou hast been bound with the unbreakable bond of nature, then how wilt thou be believed when thou sayest thou lovest God, whom it is impossible to see with human eyes, and who, we know, is above all human intercourse?’’ It is impossible to be man-hating and not be God- hating, as it is impossible to be man-loving without being God- loving. Wherefore, let us love one another, beloved ones, using again the Divine as a good counsellor and exhorter, who crieth out in a loud voice, ‘“Love is from God; and-he that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God: for God is love,’’ and, “if a man saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, he is in darkness, and he that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him; he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and goeth in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because darkness hath blinded his eyes.’' Hearest thou, O man, how he who has divorced himself from the love of his neighbour, is also torn away from love of God, and is filled with darkness, and having had the eyes of his mind blinded, he wastes away his life in distant straying and deceit and deep murk, neither perceiving the light, nor knowing wherein he is walking; while he that loveth his neighbour is acknowledged as God’s friend, inasmuch as he provides clearer evidence of his love for the common Lord by his affectionate actions towards his fellow-slave; and he is further held to have been born of Him, since he has not darkened the splendour of his exalted birth with any base and alien seed of man-hating, and he is illuminated by the rays of light, and irradiated, as much as man is able, by knowledge of God.

7. Such and so great is the power of love, and in this way it provides the enjoyment of all manner of good things to those who embrace it, and when it falls away, all grace is gone, every virtuous practice disappears, every kind of intercourse is severed, every commonwealth: with its laws and men is hurled into disaster; for just as when the bodily joints, wherewith an animal’s members are bound and held together, are broken and rent asunder, immediately the whole animal is dispersed and destroyed, so when love, which joins and holds everything together, is excised from our life, all virtue and order and every other good thing is likewise broken up and ruined, while wickedness, corruption and disorder are introduced instead, and generally no good thing is brought to a profitable end without love. Nay, nor is the possession of gifts useful without love, nor is the gift of prophecy precious, nor is faith, even if it removes and brings down mountains, considered piety without love; nor is the giving away of all one’s possessions to the needy, and denuding oneself of all one’s wealth accounted as charity. What say I? Nor is a martyr’s death by fire free of loss in the absence of love. Thinkest thou that what I have said is rash? The trumpet of the Spirit, the great Paul, sounds and speaks in accord with me, wherefore it is better to hear his clarion call. What then saith he? “If,’’ quoth he, “T speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; and though I have prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing; and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.’ Seest thou what an awesome and terrible utterance he has given out? What sayest thou, Paul? What? When thou bestowest all thy goods to feed the beggars, and hast faith that removes mountains, and offerest thy body to be burned with fire for Christ, thou findest no profit at all, but in vain and with harm dost thou abide in all these things, thy gifts, thy toils, thy sufferings? Yes, saith he, unless love be present, through which the rest is put in order and perfected, no single one of the aforesaid yields any profit to anyone, but even results in a harmful end for its user. Thus without love no gift, no virtue is of any benefit; on the contrary, it rather has its own usefulness perverted, and becomes on a par with wickedness for its possessor, and is seen to be the cause of great damage to those who have it. For he who has bestowed all his goods to feed the poor, and has given his body to the fire, and who has profited nothing without love, what great damage has he suffered! It is with good reason that in its absence the rest should remain useless: for just as when a source is stopped, the streams flowing from it dry up, and though some remnants of water are left in the crevices, they are useless and unfit for drinking, nay, rather cause great harm and nausea to anyone wishing to drink of them; so also when love, from which flow the graces of the virtues and gifts, is dried up by hate, they are likewise quenched and destroyed; and if thou shouldst perhaps see some remnant of righteousness, or mercy, or knowledge, or prophecy, or faith left in the depths of the soul, it is feeble,“ spurious, putrid and faded, and yields no benefit to him who tries to pride himself on it.

8. Wherefore, beloved ones, let us diligently cleave to love. Let us pursue it earnestly, let us take it in our home, let us make it our companion in market-places, in places of seclusion, in cities, in the wilderness, in councils, in tribunals; or rather, if we cling to it in all purity, we shall not see any tribunals at all. For it is the source of long-suffering, of kindness, of lenience, of absence of anger, of meekness, of faith, of hope, of patience. Where these qualities are present, strife and wranglings and trials and tribunals vanish, their use being clearly proved to be unprofitable and vain. That it gushes forth with these streams, hear again from the same wondrous Paul as he crieth: ‘‘Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not provoked; love thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, covereth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things; love never faileth.’’ Let us, therefore, love one another, beloved ones,” that we may keep the possession of the gifts given us by God, that we may not render useless the grace of the virtues. Let us love one another that we may be deemed worthy of becoming and being called God’s children, that we may be made heirs to the kingdom of heaven.

9. But come today, thou seditious one, whoever thou art, who attemptest to rend asunder Christ’s flock, but rather partest thyself from Christ, and fallest away from thy mother, the Church, even if thou dost not wish it so, come, listen again to Paul’s advice and exhortation, or rather his verdict, as he clearly testifies saying, “Though I have faith so that I could remove mountains, and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, I am nothing, it profiteth me nothing.” But being thyself devoid of love, and having a faith which, far from removing mountains, is not even, so to speak, unadulterated (for how could one who tears himself away from the faithful and breaks off from the rightly-believing Church?), and neither bestowing thy goods to feed the beggars (for thou wouldst not have made thy uprising against the Church into a means of livelihood and a practice of trafficking), nor indeed hastening to a martyr’s death by fire, what hope of salvation dost thou leave thyself? What apology will suffice thee for the judgment over there? What kind of tribunal® will face thee on that day? Art thou ashamed to come up and ask forgiveness for thy distant straying? And does the murk of despair cover thy thoughts? And art thou afraid lest approaching thou be pushed away, and hastening towards love, thou fallest away from thy fellow-rebels, and be not received in the bosom of the Church? Do these things frighten and trouble thee and urge thee to be timid in the face of thy salvation? I make the first gesture of love, I stretch out my hand and welcome those who are willing, or rather I will strive to welcome even the unwilling; and neither will I reproach them for the rift, nor condemn them for vanity, nor overlook them because they are a small! and tiny party, and perhaps not even a party. But joining and adding them completely to the body of the Church, I will, strengthened by Christ, show the love and affection to be mutual, and the diligence mutual; or rather, if you will, I shall imitate my Lord, and seeing what had been dead coming back to life, and what had been lost hastening back to its mother, the Church, I will receive them with outstretched hands, and kill the fatted calf, the best, that is, of what I have to contribute in the way of making merry, and put a ring om their finger, helping eagerly to mark their repentance with the inviolate seal of a sincere return, and I will call together the friends, and they will join in rejoicing, all those who consider their neighbour’s salvation and recall as their own pleasure and delight. Only do you approach with willingness, and do not allow any longer the Deceiver, who first tore us away from the commandment, to check your eagerness and your intentions. For he who at that time by guileful speech contrived to banish our ancestors from the commandment and from paradise, is the same who every day entraps the human race with plots and deceits, and catches different men in different pits of perdition, but strives especially to break away and separate some men from the choir of the Church, so that finding the sheep gone astray and deserted both by the flock and the shepherd, he may thus easily devour it. But recognizing his complex wiles and his multifarious devices, let us flee his advice, let us watch for the treachery, and never break ourselves away from Christ’s fold and flock. Thus we may render vain the contrivances and wiles of the wild beast who seeks to snatch away our soul.

10. But the God of peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, who by His own death has destroyed the partition-wall of enmity and reconciled us, who had fallen away and sinned, to His own Father, may He now also maintain the Church, whom He has purchased with His precious blood, spotless and irreproachable, like a chosen bride standing on His right, radiating piety through the beauty of her teaching, and pacify her, drawing up to Himself those who are not yet entirely corrupted and engulfed by irreverence, and recalling them, binding and joining them to the Church with the indissoluble bonds of love; showing our pious and Christ-loving emperor acting within the limits of justice, and bedecked with the flowers of temperateness, thriving in truth and meekness, so that having David, God’s ancestor, to say to him, ‘Bend thy bow, and prosper, and reign, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness, for the right hand of the Most High will guide thee wonderfully,’ he may be deemed worthy also of the heavenly kingdom. May we all win it too by the intercessions of our most-holy Lady, the Mother of God, and of all those saints in whose counsels God is glorified.® Amen. 

Source: THE HOMILIES OF PHOTIUS PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE, English Translation, Introduction and Commentary by CYRIL MANGO.