Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Paschal Mystery – Melito of Sardis

The Paschal Mystery, or, rather, the mystery of the Pascha or Passover, is a term often used since its revival in liturgical and theological circles in the last hundred years, but is first found in the famous homily On Pascha of Melito, Bishop of Sardis (who died about 180) – a homily only rediscovered in 1940, being found among ancient papyri as once Moses was found amongst the bullrushes.  Strangely, while the old Catholic Encyclopedia names him a saint, whose feast falls on the 1st of April, neither my old nor my new Martyrology includes him in the list of saints.  (Readers of Greek may consult Μελίτωνος Περὶ Πάσχα.)

What does he consider this mystery to be? He names it "the mystery of the passover, which is Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen." (On Pascha, 65.)

I was struck by the similarities between the mediæval Victimæ Paschali and the Peri Pascha of the Early Church: both focus upon Christ, the Lamb of God, striving by paradox to unfold the unfathomable mystery of the Lord's Passion.  Let the following extracts from Melito be considered and prayed over, in our continuing worshipful celebration of Easter:

1. First of all, the Scripture about the Hebrew Exodus has been read and the words of the mystery have been explained as to how the sheep was sacrificed and the people were saved.

2. Therefore, understand this, O beloved: The mystery of the passover is new and old, eternal and temporal, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal in this fashion:

3. It is old insofar as it concerns the law, but new insofar as it concerns the gospel; temporal insofar as it concerns the type, eternal because of grace; corruptible because of the sacrifice of the sheep, incorruptible because of the life of the Lord; mortal because of his burial in the earth, immortal because of his resurrection from the dead.

4. The law is old, but the gospel is new; the type was for a time, but grace is forever. The sheep was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible, who was crushed as a lamb, but who was resurrected as God. For although he was led to sacrifice as a sheep, yet he was not a sheep; and although he was as a lamb without voice, yet indeed he was not a lamb. The one was the model; the other was found to be the finished product.

5. For God replaced the lamb, and a man the sheep; but in the man was Christ, who contains all things.

6. Hence, the sacrifice of the sheep, and the sending of the lamb to slaughter, and the writing of the law–each led to and issued in Christ, for whose sake everything happened in the ancient law, and even more so in the new gospel.

7. For indeed the law issued in the gospel–the old in the new, both coming forth together from Zion and Jerusalem; and the commandment issued in grace, and the type in the finished product, and the lamb in the Son, and the sheep in a man, and the man in God.

8. For the one who was born as Son, and led to slaughter as a lamb, and sacrificed as a sheep, and buried as a man, rose up from the dead as God, since he is by nature both God and man.

9. He is everything: in that he judges he is law, in that he teaches he is gospel, in that he saves he is grace, in that he begets he is Father, in that he is begotten he is Son, in that he suffers he is sheep, in that he is buried he is man, in that he comes to life again he is God.

10. Such is Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.

66. When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death.

67. For this one, who was led away as a lamb, and who was sacrificed as a sheep, by himself delivered us from servitude to the world as from the land of Egypt, and released us from bondage to the devil as from the hand of Pharaoh, and sealed our souls by his own spirit and the members of our bodies by his own blood.

68. This is the one who covered death with shame and who plunged the devil into mourning as Moses did Pharaoh. This is the one who smote lawlessness and deprived injustice of its offspring, as Moses deprived Egypt. This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom, and who made us a new priesthood, and a special people forever.

69. This one is the passover of our salvation. This is the one who patiently endured many things in many people: This is the one who was murdered in Abel, and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, and exiled in Jacob, and sold in Joseph, and exposed in Moses, and sacrificed in the lamb, and hunted down in David, and dishonored in the prophets.

70. This is the one who became human in a virgin, who was hanged on the tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from among the dead, and who raised mankind up out of the grave below to the heights of heaven.

71. This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below.

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