Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Selections from the Hymns and Homilies of Ephraim the Syrian and from the Demonstrations of Aphrahat the Persian Sage.: Hymn XXXVI.
1. Our Lord subdued His might and constrained it, that His living death might give life to Adam. His hands He gave to the piercing of the nails, instead of the hand that plucked the fruit: He was smitten on the cheek in the judgment hall, instead of the mouth that ate it in Eden. And because his foot bore Adam thence, His feet were pierced. Our Lord was stripped, that He might make us modest: with the gall and vinegar He made sweet the bitterness of the serpent, which he had poured forth into mankind. R. Blessed is He Who gave me the victory and quickened the dead to His glory!
2. (Death.)—If Thou be God show Thy power; and if Thou be man, feel our power. And if it be Adam that Thou seekest, get Thee hence! because of his transgressions he is shut up here; Cherubim and Seraphim await not, in his stead to pay his debt. There is none among them mortal, so as to give his life in his stead. Who can open the mouth of hell, and plunge and bring him up from her, who has swallowed him and keeps a hold on him, and that forever!
3. I am He who has conquered all the wise men; and lo! in the corners they are heaped for me in hell. Come, enter, son of Joseph, and see terrible things; the limbs of the giants, the mighty corpse of Samson, and the skeleton of the stubborn Goliath; Og, moreover, the son of the giants, who made for himself a bed of iron and lay thereon, from whence I hurled him and cast him down; that cedar I laid low to the gate of hell.
4. I by myself alone have conquered multitudes, and one may single-handed seek to conquer me. Prophets and priests and men of renown have I carried off; I have conquered kings in their armies, and mighty men in their hunts, and righteous men in their excellencies. Streams of corpses are hurled by me into hell, and though they pour into her she is athirst. Though one be near or though he be far off, the end brings him to the gate of hell.
5. Silver I despised at the hand of the rich, and their offerings corrupted me not. The lords of slaves never once persuaded me, to take a slave instead of his lord, and a poor man instead of a rich man, or an old man instead of a child. As for wise that are able to charm wild beasts, their charms enter not into my ears. Hater of persuasion all men call me; and I the thing that is commanded me that I do.
6. Who is this, or whose son is He, or what His lineage who has conquered me? The book of families is by me; lo! I went in and read and studied the names from Adam till now, and not one of the dead do I forget. Family by family, lo! they are written, upon my limbs. Because of Thee, O Jesus, I went in and made a reckoning, that I might show Thee that there is none that escapeth my hands.
7. Yet were there two men (that I lie not) whose names have escaped me in Hell. For Enoch and Elijah came not to me. In all the world I have sought them; yea thither where Jonah descended, I descended and sought and they were not. And though I suppose that into Paradise, they have entered and escaped, a mighty Cherub guards it. The ladder Jacob saw, what if haply by it they have entered into Heaven!
8. Who is there that has measured the sand of the sea, and has spilt only two grains? This harvest wherein every day there labour, diseases as harvesters, I alone carry the handfuls and gather them up; other gatherers in making haste, drop p. 197 handfuls. Vintagers overlook clusters; but two grapes have escaped me, in that great vintage which I alone have plucked.
9. I am He that has taken (said Death), on sea and on dry land, all prey in chase. Eagles of the air come to me; yea and dragons of the deep: creeping things and fowl and cattle; old men, youths and children. These will convince Thee, O Son of Mary, that this my power rules over all. Thy Cross how shall it conquer me, who by a tree lo! I have prevailed and conquered from old time?
10. But I was desirous to speak yet farther, for I am not wanting in words; yea words are not to be sought by me, for lo! deeds call on me close at hand. Not as you do I make promise, to the simple of secret things, that forsooth there is to be a resurrection at some time or other. If then Thou art very powerful, give a present pledge, that Thy distant promise also may be believed.
11. Death ended his speech of derision: and the voice of our Lord sounded into Hell, and He cried aloud and burst the graves one by one. Tremblings took hold on Death; Hell that never of old had been lighted up, into it there flashed splendours, from the Watchers who entered in and brought out the dead to meet Him, who was dead and gives life to all. The dead came forth, and the living were ashamed, they who thought that they had conquered the Life Giver of all.
12. But who gave me the day of Moses, (said Death) who made a feast for me? For that lamb that was slain in Egypt gave me, from every house the first fruit: heaps and heaps of the first born, at the gate of Hell he piled me them. But this Lamb of the festival, has robbed Hell; of the dead He has taken title and carried them off from me. That lamb filled the graves for me; but this has emptied the graves that were full.
13. The death of Jesus to me is a torment; I prefer for myself His life rather than His death. This is the Dead whose death (lo!) is hateful to me; in the death of all men else I rejoice, but His Death, even His, I detest; that He may come back to life I hope. While He was living He brought to life and restored three that were dead; but now by His death, at the gate of Hell they have trampled on me, the dead who have come to life, whom I was going to shut in.
14. I will haste and will close the gates of Hell, before this Dead, Whose death has spoiled me. Whoso hears will wonder at my humiliation, that by a dead man who is without I am overcome. All the dead seek to go forth, but this one presses to enter in. A medicine of life has entered into Hell, and has restored life to its dead. Who then has brought in and hidden from me, that living fire wherein have reposed, the cold and dark recesses of Hell?
15. Death has seen the Watchers in Hell; the immortal instead of the mortal; and he said Confusion has entered our abode, for in these two things is torment to me: That the dead have come forth out of Hell, and the Watchers that die not have entered therein. Lo! one at the pillow in this tomb, has entered and sat down by it, and a second his companion at His feet. I will entreat of Him and will persuade Him, with His pledge to ascend and go to His Kingdom.
16. Be not wroth against me, gracious Jesus, for the words that my pride has spoken before Thee! Who is there that when seeing Thy Cross, shall have doubted that Thou art man? Who is there that shall have seen Thy Power, and shall not believe that Thou art also God? Lo! thus by these two things I have learnt to confess that Thou art man and likewise art God! For as much as the dead in Hell repent not, go up among the living, O Lord, and preach repentance.
17. O Jesus King, receive my supplication, and with my supplication take to Thyself a pledge, even Adam the great pledge accept for Thyself, him in whom are buried all the dead; even as when I received him, in him were hidden all the living. The first pledge I have given Thee, the body of Adam; go Thou up therefore and reign over all; and when I shall hear Thy trumpet, I with mine p. 198 own hand will lead forth the dead at Thy Coming.
18. Our King living has gone forth and gone up, out of Hell, as Conqueror. Woe He has doubled to them that are of the left hand; to evil spirits and demons He is sorrow, to Satan and to Death He is pain, to Sin and Hell mourning. Joy to them that are of the right hand, has come to-day. On this great day therefore, great glory let us give to Him, who died and is alive that, unto all He may, give life and resurrection!
Next: Hymn XXXVII.
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