Aug 09 2018

Part37: The Third Stage: Christ Our Passover P.4, 3- The Cross of the Lamb (contd.), 4- The Marriage of the Lamb, and “O Lamb of God”

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ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY

Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed

Part Thirty-Seven

CHAPTER 6

The third stage: Christ Our Passover.

(Part 4)

3- The Cross of the Lamb (continued)

The Cross Sacrifice and the Priestly Ordinations:

In the liturgy of the ordination of a bishop in the Orthodox Church, the church uses a phrase that says about Jesus, “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (see John 10:11). Using the metaphor of the shepherd in the Gospel is not just a joyful description, but it has its sacrificial connotation as both the Shepherd and the Lamb immolate their life. And the ordination of a priest is a participation in the sacrificed love; whether the love of the Shepherd or the love of the Lamb. The Lord Jesus celebrates an inner liturgy within the hearts of all His faithful, whether they are from the congregation or the clergy ordained to priesthood. For the sacrifice is continuous, and the High Priest who is constantly completing this sacrifice, is the sacrificed Love.

4- The marriage of the Lamb

The apostle St. John the Theologian tells us in his vision that he “I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, …. the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” (Rev 19-6:7). Maybe this expression struck us as odd: “marriage of the Lamb.” We may ask, what is this marriage? We find the answer to the question on the tongue of one of the angels speaking to St. John in the vision, “I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” (Rev 21:9).

The marriage of the Lamb is the marriage of Christ with his bride the Church. The bride is the great city, the holy Jerusalem, which the angel showed to St. John the seer, and told him that this is the bride of the Lamb. St. John described it, as he saw it in a vision, coming down from the heavens … having the glory of God and described it with the wonderful symbolic descriptions concerning the fence, gates, length, width and height. And that God Almighty and the Lamb are its altar, and that the glory of God is illuminating the city and the Lamb is the light of the city (see Rev. 21:9-27). This is the marriage of the Lamb and this is His bride, the Church. In addition to this sense of marriage, there is a continuous Christian tradition that applies the metaphor of the bride and bridegroom to the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and the believing individual’s soul in a personal level.

We’ve already mentioned the close and strong relationship between the virgins, on the one hand, and between the Lamb “the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (see Rev. 14: 4). Both virgins and martyrs stand close to the Lamb. There is a link between these two groups. St. Methodius writes1: “The virgins commit themselves to a kind of perpetual martyrdom.” If they break the vow, they become “traitors of the Savior.” Eastern spirituality meets Western spirituality in this point; in the idea of __the wedding between Christ and the virgins.

Eastern Church, like Western Church, has entered into the depths of bridal mysticism; i.e. a kind of spirituality that expresses the relationship with God using conjugal love and spiritual adoration expressions. This bridal mysticism has very old and deep roots. For example, the words of God in the Old Testament: “I will betroth you to me forever” (Hosea 2:19), sums up the whole Book of Hosea. And the scholar Origen, by writing his sermons on the Song of Songs, set Christian spirituality in a direction approved by the Church. And the hymn of St. Macrina talks about the divine spouse who introduces her into “the chamber of the wedding.” We read of St. Methodius: “I keep my soul pure to You, my Bridegroom, and with a burning lamp I come to meet you.”2 Every night in Midnight prayer, the Orthodox Church teaches us to pray, saying: “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming….  take heed, O my soul, that you may not fall into deep sleep, and He may grant you the wedding of His true and heavenly glory.” (The first watch of Midnight). The Orthodox Church, no doubt, appreciates the spiritual mystic marriage and considers it a fact tested by many saints, and that it represents a very high level in the spiritual life. This is also the marriage of the Lamb.

We’ve already talked about human marriage, and made it clear that the church puts virginity (or celibacy for Christ’s sake) in a status higher than marriage. But we must give credit to the splendid vision offered by the Church for the real union between men and women. Marriage, in a full Christian sense, is a marriage in Christ; it is to participate in the marriage of Christ and the Church. The liturgy of the Orthodox marriage ceremony includes reading the Apostle Paul words: “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church: the savior of the body …. Husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her … and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church “(Eph 5:23, 25, 31, 32).

In addition, the Orthodox spirituality revealed to us that there is a link between marriage and martyrdom. Life that is shared between husband and wife and children requires “abandoning of self-will.” This abandonment is described by St. Barsanuphius as a shedding of blood. Although mutual Love is delightful and self-satisfactory, yet it also requires self-sacrifice. All this is evident in the Orthodox ceremony of marriage. Putting the crown on the head of the groom and the bride is recognized as a symbol of victory, like the laurel wreath of heroes, as if it is prepared for those who prevail in their fight against sinful lust. But it also means crowns of martyrdom, because without inner martyrdom, without a voluntary acceptance of pain and suffering there cannot be true marriage.3

Thus virginity and marriage (when the latter is as it should be), both share in the grace of the Lamb, i.e., they share in the Eucharistic and Paschal grace. As much as every Christian humbles and denies himself, by following the slaughtered and triumphant Lamb, and often in his or her dealings with others, as far as it can reveal to people around him or her in the world the fact of the Union of Christ and His Church.

(To be contd.)

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From Church Prayers: Selections from “Fraction to the Son”

O Lamb of God, who through Your sufferings have borne the sins of the world, blot our own iniquities through Your compassion.

O only-begotten of God, who through Your blood have cleansed the filth of the world, cleanse the filth of our souls through Your mercies.

O Christ of God, who through Your death have slain death that had slain all, by Your power raise up the deadness of our souls.

Enlighten our minds that we may behold Your praiseworthiness. Purify our thoughts and mingle us with Your glory.

And as You are one in Your Father and Your Holy Spirit, may we be one in You and You in us, that Your saying may be fulfilled, “That they may all be one in Us.”

So that with boldness we may call God Your Father, a Father to us and say in an expressive voice, Our Father Who are in heaven …

To see all previous parts of this study of Orthodox Spirituality
Go to any of these website addresses (Free and Public)
http://smofarchives.org/toc3.html
http://smofonline.org/category/spiritual-books/orthodox-spirituality

Footnotes:

  1. St. Methodius, the Banque of the Ten Virgins. Xi, 2. St. Methodius (260-312 AC) was a bishop for Olympus and Petra in Greece from late 3rd to beginning of 4th century he died a martyr in 312. He is the author of the famous book about celibacy titled “The Supper of the Ten Virgins.”
  2. St. Methodius, previous reference.
  3. The Inner Kingdom by Bishop Kallistos Ware. See also its partial Arabic translation ‘al-Shohada’a Bethar al-Kanisa’ by Dr. Nos’hy Abdel-Shaheed. Publisher: Beit el Takrees lekh’edmat al_Keraza, Pages 27,28.

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