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)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Now I understand, O sweetest Jesus, why those Persians, who came to Your Nativity, brought not only gold as to a king, and incense as to a god, but myrrh as to a mortal. Now I feel the sword which Symeon prophesied would pierce my heart. Now O my Son, is that fire cast upon the earth, of which you spoke before; for the death of an only-begotten child is a searing flame to a loving mother.
It seems like just a short while ago that Gabriel kissed me with his salutation; and now, my Lord is no longer with me as the Angel once promised. Now You lie bereft of breath among the dead, shut up in the deepest caskets of hell, while I yet breathe the pleasant air and remain in the land of the living. I cannot comprehend how You could be murdered. Habakkuk said that Your virtue would cover the heavens (3:3), but now You – the beauty of the sons of men – lie dead without form or grace. You, Whose glory the heavens declare, are stretched out in disgrace upon the earth. How can a hewn tomb contain You, Whom Daniel (2:34) foresaw as the Stone hewn from the unhewn mountain? With such a vision he foreshadowed your passionless nativity, just as in the divine and burning bush was the image of your conjunction with humanity. And in the betrayal of Joseph the All-Comely by his brethren was the figure of the conspiracy against You, and in Isaac was the likeness of Your death. O now all that lacks is Jonah: the mystery of Your Resurrection!
Woe is me! You lie dead on a stone, You Who would have raised up children to Abraham from the very stones! In truth, because of Your Saving Passion those stones were spilt apart, but still, most did not believe in Your Name. As You said to Your adversaries, You had no place to lay Your head while yet alive (Matthew 8:20). Yes – You hinted that they were the foxes because of their deceitful motives. But You, my Son, did lay down your head in death on the Cross, when You found the faith of the discerning Thief. On the Cross, You stretched out as on a bed to sleep.
Then did the sun do me great injury, as the Psalmist prophesied (cf. Psalm 121:6). Jeremiah spoke to me: “The sun set in the midst of the day” (15:9). Deep gloom interrupted the visible sun, when it was robbed of the Spiritual Sun of Righteousness. And my heart was shattered like the rocks themselves. O Holy Flesh! Which was curdled in ways beyond nature from my very blood in order to make perfect restitution for the ancient debt. For this, O Master, in me did you bow the heavens and came down as an eagle on the fleece (cf. Ezekiel 17:3), in order to submit to death and raise up the bodies of Your holy ones who had fallen asleep – indeed, dying for the one who gave You birth.
What things are these, O my yearned-for Son? You preserved me unharmed in days of old when the most pure immaterial fire of divinity mingled with me and did not consume my innermost being. Rather, the fire pastured within me, devouring all my being and illuminating my heart.
Through the Angel I was betrothed to joy, but now am filled with grief. Even if I should possess every tear shed upon the face of the earth, they would not fill up the measure of my sorrow. I know that You have descended into the deepest depths to loose the captive souls, but I have also been swallowed up, dragged down as one slain, though still breathing.
O Word of the living God – You lie dead, naked; of Your own will You accepted condemnation and were exalted on the Cross, so that You might draw all people to Yourself. What member of Your sweet body did You not subject to torment? O divine countenance, pierced with thorns which now surround my heart! O lovely, holy head, which formerly had not place to lay or rest. Now You are to be laid in the tomb and there to rest, as Jacob says, “the lion that couched” (Genesis 49:9).
O beloved and desired head, struck by a staff that You might set aright and restore the staff corrupted by the evil one, which caused us to be far from Paradise. O the blows they gave to Your face! O mouth, sweeter than any honeycomb, which tasted the most bitter bile, and drank the stinging vinegar. O mouth in which there was found no deceit, handed over to death by a deceitful kiss! O hands, which fashioned all humankind, now nailed to the Cross, yet reaching out to those in hell, to raise up all of Adam from his disastrous fall – he the one who reached out with his own hand to touch the Tree of Life in the Garden of old. O side, pierced for the sake of the foremother, who was created from the side of her husband! O feet, which walked on the waves of the sea as on dry land, and manifestly sanctified the nature of the waters.
O woe is me! O Son, older than Your very mother! What burial dirges, what funeral hymns shall I sing to you? No longer am I the vessel of manna, for the soul-nourishing manna has been wasted, cast away in a sepulcher. No longer am I the burning bush that was not consumed, for Your noetic fire has been extinguished in the grave. No longer am I the golden lamp, for the light of the world has been placed under the bushel.
~Translated by Mark Arey