On the Lament of the All-Holy Theotokos
When She Embraced the Precious Body of our Lord Jesus Christ
A Homily of our father Among the Saints
Symeon the Metaphrast, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (15th Century)
O Mighty One, You manifested such great things in me! You chose me out of every generation!
You declared me through the tongues of the Prophets! When You were about to descend from heaven, as You Yourself knew, You waited for me until I grew up, because You had no other vessel worthy to receive Your divinity. I was betrothed to You alone, even before my parents had conceived me. I came forth into the light of life, and for just a little while I remained with my parents. No sooner had I been weaned from the breast than I bade farewell to them. I was ushered into the temple and offered utterly to You, that I might become a most pure temple for You. My father and my mother left me, but You embraced me and fed me by the hand of an Angel, as David says: “Man did eat the bread of Angels” (Psalm 78:25)
I saw the Captain of the Angels, who addressed me as his Mistress, whom Zacharias when he saw him was struck mute and remained unable to speak. The infant Baptist rejoiced in the womb answering my salutation in dance. He worshiped You, my Son, You who were growing within me. For in me have you dissolved the laws of nature. You were conceived without seed, as You Yourself knew, and after being born your preserved my virginity. You made me a mother full of joy over her child.
As David, the forefather of God, and Solomon proclaimed concerning me, “I am above all the daughters of men” (Psalm 44:2, LXX) Kings came like slaves to me in my poverty to offer veneration. You made me more spacious than the heavens, because from me has the Sun of glory gone forth! What words can suffice to describe the awesome wonders You have performed in me? Let it be enough that all generations shall call me blessed, and that on my account, You have ordained that the world above be filled!
But now – and I do not understand why – everything is confused; everything is troubling. My honey-sweet joy has turned to gall. Now I feel that I am dying with You, and being buried with You, and hastening to hell with You. The prophets who beheld me in ancient times named me the luminous cloud; now, instead of clouds, I am become a fountain of tears. Is this not what they spoke of beforehand concerning me: “The daughter of Sion is abandoned like a tabernacle in the vineyard?” (Isaiah 1:8) Behold my cluster, my living Vine of grapes! Stretched out on the Cross He pours out His Blood like wine, making glad the hearts of the faithful!
O, how like iron is this cold slab of the tomb! How it crushes Your mighty strength and shoots sparks into my deepest heart. Shall I cleave my own breast and obtain a mystical tomb within?
Must I bury You in my heart, as I once received You in my deepest being? Am I not that mystical shell, which like coral clinging to the rocks cannot be ripped away? Have I not borne within my womb the Pearl, which was ignited within me by the lightning bolt of Divinity?*
O that I could behold anything but this! Once a star shone in the middle of the day, announcing that You, my Child, were coming from heaven itself to make the world even better than new. But now, the visible sun has hidden its rays and night falls in the midst of the day. That star once called those unbelieving Persians to You on bended knee, but now even your friends and kinfolk stand afar off for fear of the God-murderers. Then there was worship and offering of gifts; now there is the parting of garments and a shameful crown of thorns.
Let those who once sought a sign from heaven (John 6:30) now look on the sun turning to night, hiding from those deserving of this darkness. Now even the temple – full of dead customs – mourns You, my Son. For as the blasphemers divided your vesture, the temple rent its veil like a curtain, when it saw You buffeted by the enemies of God. The earth shuddered and quaked, groaning at the sight of Your Passion.
Where now is the multitude of the Five Thousand, whom You fed in wondrous manner? There is only Joseph of Arimathea, who alone has the boldness to approach Pilate and beg for Your Body, that it not remain unburied. Where now are the throngs of the ill and infirm, whom You healed of every manner of disease? Where now are those whom You raised from the dead? There is only Nicodemus, who pulls the nails from Your hands and feet, that he might take You down from the Tree of the Cross and place You in my pained and wretched bosom, where once I cherished You as a child. And my hands, which once caressed You as a baby, are now forced to bury You.
* An ancient theory held that pearls were formed from lighting strikes to the oyster as it dwelt in the sea.
~Translated by Mark Arey