St. Nicholas Melbourne Publication
#37 February 2003
Work of Christ in care of mankind.
these changes did the Merciful One make,
off glory and putting on a body;
He had devised a way to reclothe Adam
that glory which he had stripped off.
was wrapped in swaddling clothes,
to Adam’s leaves,
put on clothes
place of Adam’s skins;
was baptised for Adams sin,
was embalmed for Adam’s death,
rose and raised Adam up in His glory.
is He who descended
Adam on and ascended.
St Ephrem the Syrian
Hymns on the Nativity XXIII.13
Translated by Sebastian Brock
This title is taken from an article by Sebastian Brock
in which he explores the use of such symbolic terminology as means of
theological expression within the Syriac tradition. We will find it useful
to pursue some of his ideas further. Brock describes the work of salvation
history as follows:
(1)Before the Fall Adam and Eve are in Paradise clothed
in ‘robes of glory’ or of ‘light.’
(2)At the Fall, Adam and Eve are stripped of these
(3) ‘In order to remedy the naked state of
Adam/mankind which had been brought about by the Fall, the Divinity himself
“puts on Adam” when he “put on a body,” and the whole aim of the
incarnation is to “reclothe mankind in the robe of glory.” The three
central “staging posts” of the Incarnation are the Nativity, the Baptism
and the Descent/Resurrection, events separate in profane time, but
intimately linked in sacred time, all three being seen as descent of the
Divinity into successive wombs: the womb of Mary, the womb of the Jordan,
and the womb of Sheol. Of central importance for our purpose is the descent
into the Jordan, for it is then that Christ deposits the “robe of glory/
light” in the water, thus making it available once again for mankind to
put on in baptism.’
(4)’The baptism of Christ is the fountainhead and
source of Christian baptism: at his descent into the Jordan Christ
sanctified in sacred time all baptismal water; at Christian baptism
it is the invocation to the Holy Spirit in the prayer of consecration of the
water which effectually makes the water of the individual font identical in
sacred time and space with the Jordan waters. Thus, when he or she is
baptised, the Christian is himself going down into the Jordan waters and
from them he picks up and puts on the “robe of glory” which Christ left
In another place Brock extends this framework to
include a fifth scene:
(5)When the Christian puts on the robe of glory in
Baptism he ‘reenters ‘the terrestrial anticipation of the eschatological
Paradise, in other words, the Church; finally at the Resurrection of the
Dead, the just will in all reality reenter the celestial Paradise, clothed
in their Robes of Glory. The Robe of Glory thus provides the thread which
links up between the primordial and the eschatological Paradise ... the
entire span of salvation history... emphasising the place of each individual
Christian’s Baptism within the divine economy.’
‘In these three closely linked stages of salvation history there is a certain merging of identity between the first and second Adam: the Fall brought a loss of the first Adam’s true identity; God then puts on Adam/Man in order that Adam/Man may put on God, in other words may attain, not just his pre-Fall status, but the status of divinity which was the intention of his creation.’
exalted One knew that Adam had desired to become a God, so he sent his
Son who put Adam on, to give
him his desire.'
Son of the most High came and dwelt in me, and I became His mother. Just as
I gave birth to Him - a
further birth, so did He give birth to me - a second birth: He put on His mother’s robe - her body, while I put on
Among the saints none is naked, for they have put on glory;
nor is there any clad in fig leaves, or standing in shame,
For they have found through our Lord,
the robe that belonged to Adam and Eve.
O children of the baptismal font,
babes who without spot have put on fire and Spirit,
preserve the glorious robe that you have put on from the water.
Whoever puts on the robe of glory from the water and the Spirit
will destroy with its burning the thorny growth of his sins.
Poems illustrative of our theme from St Ephrem the Syrian
At our Parish Baptisms we toll the bell of the Church gladly when we reach the procession, welcoming the newly illumined with the chanting of the hymn;
‘As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!’
References to works quoted:
S.P.Brock, ‘Clothing Metaphors as a Means of Theological Expression in Syriac Tradition,’in Typus, Symbol Allegorie Bei Den Ostlichen Vatern Und Ihren Parallelen Im Mittelalter, ed. Margot Schmidt (Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1982).
St Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise, trans Sebastian Brock (Crestwood NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990).
St Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, trans Alexander Golitzin, 3 Vols (Crestwood NY: SVSP 1995-1997).
St Cyril of Jerusalem First Catechetical Lecture NPNF Second Series Vol VII (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989).
This year there were two special cards in my bundle, both have the traditional and beautiful Icon of the Nativity on the front, but it is the message inside which concerns us now. In the first the printed message reads:
‘Come, let us seek and pay homage to the Christ born in us.’
This is a little more challenging than some for it calls us beyond a sentimental appreciation of the festival to play our own part in incarnation, in making ourselves available for God-bearing. The second is even more explicit. This time there is a hand-written message from the Mother Abbess of one of our Antiochian Monasteries in the Lebanon:
May this Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ bring you peace and may you become a residing place of the Lord. May His light shine in your heart through the Epiphany.
So, the goal is to have Christ in our hearts, moreover, to be able to recognise that He reigns there as King in His Kingdom. Twice in the first letter to the Corinthians we find St Paul asking his recent converts this same question: ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?’ (1 Cor3:16, cf.6:19-20). In the second letter to Corinth we have note that God ‘has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee,’ (2Cor 1:22). Toward the end of this letter St Paul challenges his people: ‘Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ is in you? - unless indeed you fail to meet the test!’ (2Cor.13:5).
More on Baptism
The Saints who followed St Paul continued in this practice. Today our Menaion gives record of Hieromartyr Clement of Ancyra: ‘You showed yourself to be an emulator of Paul, passing over the whole world, O most blessed one, sanctifying it with deifying baptism and the sprinkling of the blood of your confession.’ Matins at Ode 3. Here baptism is seen to be no mere formality but conveys to worthy recipients a fullness of life in God. It is necessary to be aware that not all is automatic in this. For as St Cyril of Jerusalem teaches in his first Catechetical Homily, while all are forgiven their sins when they are baptised, the degree of illumination received is dependent on the dedication of the heart. St Cyril speaks with determination.
Shew in ascetic exercise that thy heart is nerved. Cleanse thy vessel, that thou mayest receive grace more abundantly. For though remission of sins is given equally to all, the communion of the Holy Ghost is bestowed in proportion to each man’s faith. If thou hast laboured little, thou receivest little; but if thou has wrought much, the reward is great. Thou art running for thyself, see to thine own interest.”
We just looked at the ‘putting on of Christ’ in Baptism (Gal3:27). Let us follow with some reflection on this by St Symeon the New Theologian. We will find that this Saint is more explicit in his issuing of challenges than some.
Let us take a look at the sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist as presented by Symeon in his Tenth Ethical Discourse. On the one hand these are truly the means by which the Holy Spirit comes to tabernacle in the Christian.
They makes us one with the risen body of Christ. On the other hand, the mere form of the sacraments does not suffice. We must perceive in faith the Holy Spirit at work in them, and such perception is given us only is we in our turn give evidence of faith by following the commandments. Without this living and conscious communion, we will find no salvation.
Symeon is explicit that grace is invisible to those still filled with unbelief and passions but is revealed to those who with faith and in repentance seek to keep the commandments. So ‘Baptism alone does not suffice us for salvation, but ... communion in the flesh of Jesus God and in His precious blood is ... necessary for us ... “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him” (Jn 6:56).’ We need to be ‘Baptized spiritually by the Holy Spirit’ and to have the incarnate Word ‘tabernacle as light in us’ through Holy Communion, and to have ‘seen His glory.’ In this we are ‘born spiritually by Him and from Him, ... He has tabernacled in us bodily and we have made our abode consciously in Him.’ Then we see the glory of His divinity, glory of Father and of Son, ‘made known and revealed to all whom the Son wills, through the Spirit Who proceeds from the Father.’
Symeon’s Beatitudes are replete with this imagery:
Blessed are they, however, who have received Christ coming as light in the darkness, for they are become sons of light and of the day.
Blessed are they who even now have put on His light, for they are clothed already with the wedding garment. They will not be bound hand and foot, nor will they be cast into the everlasting fire.
Blessed are they who have seen the same Christ while in His body, but thrice-blessed are they who have seen Him intelligibly and spiritually and have worshipped him , for they will not see death forever. ..
are they who have kindled the light in their hearts even now and have kept
it unquenched, for on their departing this life they shall go radiant to
meet the Bridegroom, and go in with Him to the bridal chamber bearing their
Blessed are they who see their own clothing shining as Christ, for they shall be filled hourly with joy inexpressible and shall weep tears of astounding sweetness, perceiving that they have become themselves already sons and co-participants of the resurrection....
Blessed is he who has seen the light of the world take form within himself, for he, having Christ as an embryo within, shall be reckoned His mother ... so great a grace, because the thing was and is and will be possible, and has happened and happens and will happen for all who fulfil His ordinances.
In order to deal with challenges to his plausibility Symeon proceeds at this point to quote Paul ‘My little children with whom I am again I travail until Christ be formed in you.’ Gal. 4:19. He proceeds to argue determinedly as to where it is that Christ is to be formed in them, leading them to the heart. He then addresses the fact that this formation will be ‘bodilessly and as is proper to God.’ He further draws out the analogy of the pregnant mother, who is able to recognise the stirring of the growing child within her womb, without any doubt. So, similarly:
the one who has Christ take form within himself and is aware of His stirring, which is to say His illuminations, is in no way ignorant of His leaps, that is His gleamings, and sees His formation within himself. Christ is not, for example, reflected like the light of a lamp in a mirror, is not an apparition without substance like the reflection, but appears in a light which is personal and substantial; in a shape without shape, and a form without form He is seen invisibly and comprehended incomprehensibly.
Symeon takes issue in his fifth Ethical Discourse with those Baptised who say that they possess the Spirit of God unconsciously. There are those who say that they possess the Spirit of God without any perception of that gift, that is by faith alone and with no experience of it. Symeon will not countenance this and argues his case in some detail. ‘As many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal.3:27). So, if we are baptised we are clothed in Christ. Symeon issues a challenge:
“Very well, you people, then tell us what this garment is. Christ?” “Yes,” they say. “Well then, is Christ something or - I speak as a fool to other fools - is He nothing?” “Of course,” they would say (if they have not gone completely insane), “He is something.” “If therefore you confess Him to be something, then say first of all what He is, so that you may teach yourselves thus to speak like believers, and not unbelievers.” “What else,” they say, “is Christ, if not perfect God truly become perfect man?”
Christ who is truly God became truly human, which latter He was not before - and why? For the good reason of making humans beings god, which they had never been before. This is effected by His divinity and not by flesh alone. Then, with a call for thoughtful attention he proceeds:
If the baptised have put on Christ, what is it that they have put on? God. He then who has put on God, will he not recognise with his intellect and see what he has clothed himself with? The man who has clothed his naked body feels the garment that he sees, but the man who is naked in soul will not know that he has put on God? If he who is clothed with God does not perceive Him, what has he put on in fact? According to you, God would be nothing at all. For, if He were something, those putting Him on would know it. When we put nothing on, we feel nothing, but whenever we are clothed by ourselves or by others, so long as our sense[s] are intact, we are quite aware of it. Only the dead feel nothing when they are clothed, and I am very much afraid that those who say such things are the ones who are really and truly dead and naked. So, the question is resolved.
Symeon argues from certainty that the Christian is called to see God in this life. He quotes Paul’s command that we should not quench the Spirit (1Thess.5:19). He enquires whether his hearers ‘see the Spirit wholly within yourselves, burning and shining as is proper to Him?’ This challenge is usually met with trouble and embarrassment. People prefer to deny that it is possible to see God in this life. Symeon counters with ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Matt 5:8). To which he receives the answer that this applies only to the future age.
If he said that God will be seen by purity of heart, then clearly when this purity comes to pass the vision will follow in consequence. And if you had ever purified your heart, you would know that what is said is true, but, since you have not taken this to heart, nor believed that it was true, you have accordingly also despised that purity and completely failed to obtain the vision. For if the purification takes place in this life, then so does the vision. On the other hand, if you should say that the seeing is for after death, then you certainly posit the purification as also after death, and thus it will turn out for you that you will never see God since after death there will be no work for you by which you might find purification.
The Lord has promised to manifest Himself to those who keep His commandments (Jn 14:21). When will this be likely to occur? Well, Symeon argues, the commandments need to be kept in this life, and wherever they are well kept the Saviour will manifest Himself, and then we will know the perfect love of God. Symeon looks substantiate his claims concerning experience of the vision of God and he does so out of the accounts of the saints. In this matter hearsay is insufficient, it is unconvincing to be told about an idea. What is required is an first-hand account of a living experience of the life of God. So, any guide to a city must know that city personally:
It is just the same with regard to the Jerusalem on high and the invisible God who dwells within it, or concerning the unapproachable glory of His countenance, or about the energy and power of His all-holy Spirit - in other words, His light. No one can say anything unless he has first seen the light with the eyes of his soul and knows precisely its illuminations and activities as they occur within himself. ... God is light and the vision of Him is as light.
This issue of Contact is being compiled just prior to the count down towards Great Lent: The Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican will soon be upon us with its beautiful Troparia to follow Ps.50 at Matins:
Open unto me the gates of repentance, O Life-Giver: for early in the morning my spirit seeks your holy temple, bearing a temple of the body all defiled. But in your compassion cleanse it by your loving-kindness and mercy. ...
We have real opportunity during the period of Lent to attend in penitence to the state of our own souls, to seek indeed for God’s help to grow in purity and so become more able to receive the Lord in His fullness. For this work requires both: the grace of God and the effort of man. The Exapostilarion for Matins of Holy Week gives the picture:
I see your bridal chamber adorned, O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter therein. Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me.
So we move toward the Light of Pascha, to that time of many Baptisms, ready to be renewed in our hearts, ready to receive the Lord in His Light more fully, seeking to grow in blessing from glory to glory. (2 Cor.3:18).
Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. By Priestmonk Christodoulos Angelou. Holy Mountain. ISBN 960-90099-3-x
Reviewed by Ziad Baroudi
Elder Paisios was born in Cappadocia in 1924. Baptised Arsenios after his
parish priest, he had his mind set on divine matters from his childhood.
When he finished his military service, he went to Mount Athos, where he
became a novice. He was dedicated to the practice of obedience, and, we are
told, "did not trust his own judgment or will."
The book has a large collection of the Elders sayings. These centred on
one theme, filling one's mind with good thoughts regarding God and one's
neighbour. He truly believed this to be the way to acquiring Gods saving
A man "who did not have any positive thoughts in his mind" once
told the child Arsenios that his faith was an illusion. This left him
feeling sad and confused. He then decided to hold on to one positive
thought: he would believe in Christ and obey the Gospel, because Christ was
"the kindest man ever". "The power of [his] grateful thought
dissolved all the ambiguous ones". The Elder attributes being granted
to see the Lord to that one good thought.
For visitors who told of nothing but scandals and mismanagement in their parishes, the Elder had a telling story. In summary: "I know from experience that in this life people are divided in two categories. The first one resembles the fly. When a fly is found in a garden full of flowers with beautiful fragrances, it will ignore them and will go sit on top of some dirt found on the ground. If the fly could talk, and you asked it to show you a rose in the garden, it would answer: 'I don’t even know what a rose looks like. I only know where to find garbage'. The other category is like the bee whose main characteristic is to always look for something sweet and nice to sit on. When a bee is found in a room full of dirt and there is a small piece of sweet in a corner, it will ignore the dirt and will go to sit on top of the sweet. Now, if we ask the bee to show us where the garden is, it will answer: 'I don’t know. I can only tell you where to find flowers, sweets, honey and sugar’. This is the second category of people who have a positive thinking, and see only the good side of things. They always try to cover up the evil in order to protect their fellow men; on the contrary, people in the first category try to expose the evil and bring it to the surface."
I was privileged enough to spend some time in the Monasteries in
Victoria. My decision to spend my holiday there (and not at some resort) is
because I could focus my attention on becoming closer with God and restore
the image of God within me. In such a busy world, I feel that it is very
important to be able to spend our spare time focusing on the things most
important to us, and wanting Christ to be the center of my life, I could not
think of a better place.
My opportunity to stay at our Monastery of St Anna with Sister Virginia
for 5 days was very rewarding. My day consisted of prayer (or attempt of
it), spiritual readings, a few odd chores and talking with Sister Virginia
about books we’ve read, the saints, and the Orthodox Church today. It was
truly a blessing to be able to worship 6 times a day in English! I also had
the opportunity to spend some time in silence and focus on acquiring inner
prayer, which is an essential part of being an Orthodox Christian.
The next 5 days I spent at the Holy Monastery of Panagia Gorgoepikoos, a
Greek Orthodox Monastery for ladies in Geelong. On arrival I participated in
an English Liturgy held at the Monastery. I enjoyed my stay with Mother
Kallisthene and the sisters immensely. I had the opportunity to meet other
Christian ladies who were staying at the monastery at the same time. We
discussed our life in Christ and in the world, we prayed together, talked
about books we’ve read, and worked together. It was truly a joy to meet
In such a busy world, a monastery is a great place to be able to relax
and spend time to reflect, read and pray. Also not to forget to mention the
invaluable spiritual advice you receive by talking with Mother Kallisthene
and the sisters. I recommend a visit by ALL.
from Noura Cheded
2003 :deadline for written contributions April15th. Please send
Virginia. 14, Mihil Street, Preston, Vic. 3072. Tel. & Fax. 03 9484 2238.
We thank Archimandrite Nabil for his assistance.