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 how bitter is this burial! You granted life to those in the tombs, but lie dead before my very eyes. Once You were wrapped in swaddling clothes; now I shudder to see You in a shroud. As a baby I washed you in a warm and gentle bath; now I have only hot and stinging tears. Once I took you up in my arms and you jumped for joy like all the other children; now I embrace You, and You lie lifeless among the dead. Then did I cover you with honey kisses, but now I drip with tears. Then was I rightfully called “Blessed” (Luke 2:28), because in a wonderful manner I became the Mother of my Creator. Now am I pierced with sorrow, because I have become the one who gives Him His funeral. Then the pains of giving birth fled from me; now I drink up the agonies of Your entombment. Many times You slept on my breast when You were a Child; now you sleep upon me as one dead. I bless you, Symeon! For all the prophets spoke joyful, glorious things concerning me; you alone spoke of sorrows and prophesied the sadness to come (Luke 2:35).
How am I to commit Your Body to the earth, You Who renewed the eyes of the man born blind with the clay of the earth? Look at the bruises, how those wicked knaves scourged You and beat You. How did You endure such a shameful death, O my sinless Son? They pierced Your hands and Your feet, driving those nails with all their pain into the midst of my soul. They cut open Your side, but it was my heart that was torn apart. I am crucified with You in my agony! I have died with You through my own passion! O let me lie by Your side in the grave! What is life to me now, if I have not You, my Creator and my longed for Son?
Where now is the choir of Disciples, that they may weep with me in my grieving? The Shepherd is smitten and the sheep are scattered (Zechariah 13:7). So now let Your head sleep, my beloved Son, and let Your hands and Your feet rest. Others bow their heads in death, but not before they give up the spirit. But You bowed Your head, commanding death to come; only then did You give over Your spirit (John 19:30). Therefore, were Your legs not broken, just as the sacrificial lamb in days of old (Exodus 12:46, John 19:33). I worship Your Passion, and I fall down in worship before Your mortal Body. Give me the Water running from Your side, through which I am marked with the laver of rebirth. Give me the Blood which also runs down, which is the image of the baptism of martyrdom, the baptism that sanctified the noble Thief who was baptized with Your baptism.
O how bitter now is that tasting of the tree (Genesis 3:6), which sent us back to the earth from which we were taken! But You, my Son, were not formed from the earth, neither were You made from the dust, nor did You sin through disobedience. You are the Maker, the Fashioner of all.
You have set the laws for all creation. What can You have in common with death? What union can there be between the grave and Life itself? What fellowship can there be of a throne in heaven and a sepulcher on earth? There You are enthroned with the Father; here you are entombed as a mere creature.
An adulterous generation has done this, repaying You evil for good. Now is the Pearl cast before swine! Now is the Sacred thrown to the dogs. Now is the wood thrust against the Divine Bread (1 Samuel 2:12-14). O the madness of greed that infected them! Yet it was not the silver; it was their hatred of humankind. For if it was greed, then why did they bother with One Who was called blessed by the poor? Everything is confused.
What an ineffable oeconomy, O Master! Who is worthy to praise You, O my God? Who can sing dirges to You as one dead? But as You have said: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Let this be the sum of all my words. I have no hymn worthy for You, neither funeral chant to offer You. I can only magnify Your works, O Lord; in wisdom have You made them all (Psalm 103:24, LXX).
~Translated by Mark Arey