St Severus of Antioch – Homily 56

Given on his arrival in Qinnasrin and at his reception by the faithful of the city. Only the beginning of this homily was preached, when it was interrupted due to a question of municipal affairs and disturbances, and then it was suddenly resumed at the end.  

When the Great Moses ascended to Mount Sinai, when he entered the cloud, and stayed there forty days without taking food, and he was with the Lawgiver, he became initiated into the mysteries of the Law. Then he descended, carrying in his hands these blessed tablets which had been written by the finger of God. The incorporeal finger of God is the Holy Spirit. Everything that God writes is written by the Spirit. This is why every divine book is said to be inspired by God. When the Pharisees said of our Saviour the Christ that he cast out demons by Beelzebub, Matthew said that he answered them and said: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, it is because the kingdom of God is near you.”

Luke, writing the same things, says that Our Lord said to the blasphemers: “If I cast out demons by the finger of God, it is because the kingdom of God is near you.” Pharaoh’s magicians and sorcerers sought, as it is written, to perform the wonders that had been accomplished by the hand of Moses and they were overcome, amazed at the invincible power of the Spirit who operated these wonders : “It is the work of the finger of God”, they exclaimed. This which Moses did, as a servant and a minister, was the work of grace which performed these miracles by his hands. But in Christ, the Spirit was his own as the Son, He was in his nature and of the same essence. This is why he breathed on his disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It was he who at the beginning formed man of the dust of the earth and blew in his face the breath of life.

All that was made, the Father made it through the Word and Son, and by the Spirit who participated in it and brooded over the waters which he struck, and through him he gave being to all. Through him we also live, we are moved, and we exist. He is the one who maintains the state of all that which exists.

When he was carrying the tablets that had been written by that Spirit, Moses, seeing that the people had become insensate, insulting and guilty, and that an image of an ox eating grass had been made, instead of the glory of God – this is how the Scripture mocks their fault in a beautiful manner – he threw down these tables written by God and broke them. God indeed establishes the law for those who are awake and not for those who are drunk. But, when they had repented of their sin, he again wrote on other tablets the same law. At first, however, Moses heard these words: “Ascend to me on the mountain and I will give you these tablets of stone, the law and the commandments that I have written, you will make it their law.”

After the sin, he did not speak in this way, but: “Cut two stone tables like the first ones; ascend to me on the mountain and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tables which you broke.” This word shows us by a symbol that when God had created man at the beginning and then recreated him again by the new baptism of the infant, he wrote his own laws on the pure tablets of his heart, which he had created and then renewed again: first the natural law, and at the end the evangelical and spiritual law. If someone breaks these tablets of the heart through sin, he is no longer worthy of the same book written by the finger of God, unless he himself cuts these tablets for himself by means of repentance, erasing in himself the horror of sin by works of purity.

If therefore the universal King and Master has not refused and rejected, but has deigned to give his law again and for a second time to the people who had displeased him, what excuse do we have, we who are dust and ashes, as it is written. Therefore, to you the beloved sheep of Christ who breathe the divine zeal, shall we not address the same speech which was brought to an end by the disturbance of some people? I must therefore repeat the words which have already been said. For you, this is the same discourse which you will hear. I know perfectly well that it is not in uncut tablets, but in the purified tablets of your heart that I will deposit it.

There are many reasons why I should not pass through your town in silence, but make my voice heard in this faithful and loving assembly of God, which is the Church of the living God, and to show the good will of my own thought, although I have nothing to say which is powerful or which is particularly useful.

One reason much more than any other encourages me, enflames me and stirs me up.  But the thought refuses to go ahead and run on without the organ of language, as if that were possible. Language precedes thought. So, what is this reason? It is that this church not only faithfully confesses the Orthodox faith, but also accepts the danger of suffering for it if the opportunity arises, and that, like a true daughter, she preserves the motherly image of the Apostolic Church. which was built in Antioch.

How then could I not greet her with all my voice, and without embarrassment, and not kiss her paternally? She is also dear to the fathers who are perfected in virtue and who ardently love those of their children who particularly preserve the image of those who fathered them, and who resemble them by the form and beauty of their physiognomy and who possess the character of their fathers. What is the character of the Apostolic Church established at Antioch? She cries out to Emmanuel with Saint Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” She confesses one and the same Christ and Son of the living God, the same both God and man in truth, and not one and another as the Chalcedonians have divided him in a perverse manner into a double nature after the inexpressible union. St. Peter in fact did not say: You are the Christ in whom we find the Son of the living God, so that one can understand another in another, as those who divide him desire. But he confessed: You are the Christ and the Son of the living God, using the word “you are” in its general and ordinary sense. As for the name of Christ, it is that which suits the self-sacrifice made for us and it is human. He was called Christ when he became a man without having experienced change, without having removed from himself his divine nature and without needing to do so.

He was anointed for us by the mystical oil, as the principle of our race and the second Adam, to grant us the adoption of sons and the grace which operates by the Spirit. These things had been preached by the prophet Isaiah who said in his time: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because of which he has anointed me.” He shows clearly by these words that Christ took upon himself for us the humiliation and the abasement of self-sacrifice, and the name and the work. He says in effect “the Spirit”, which is in me by nature, because it is of the same essence and divinity, He came on me, as if he had come from outside and settled by the waves of the Jordan like a dove, not as if he was not in me, but because “he anointed me.” Why then did he desire and accept being anointed, if it was not for us who are deprived of the Spirit, because of this ancient decree of God who had said: “My Spirit will not dwell in these men because they are flesh.”

The name “Son of the living God” is appropriate to God, and to the Word, suitable for the one “who was begotten divinely before the worlds by the Father.” For if he had said: You are the son of God, we would perhaps understand this name in a general manner and not as specific to him and belonging to him particularly. It is said indeed of Israel, as representing the person of God: “My first son, Israel.” But he added “living” to show that it is his own name and unique, and not shared. When Saint Peter considered it in complete clarity, so that he was enlightened in the sight of his mind by the splendid beauty of the divinity and when he had received a vision that was not of flesh and blood, but a vision from on high, he discovered that he was the life of Life, of the Father, and the true light of the true Light. Marvelling and full of the Spirit, he cried out “You are the Christ, the son of the living God”, who made himself humble for me and who is raised because of the sublimity of the nature from on high; which is one of two without confusion, namely of divinity and humanity, in one person and one hypostasis; such it is and is known.

One must be confessed of the nature of the Word and of the one who has been incarnated in flesh of the same essence as ours, who has a soul endowed with reason. This beautiful Orthodox confession which is found naturally in the person of the mother of the Oriental churches, I see that it also shines in the face of this church as in a true daughter. And when I examine it carefully, I find it to be as the Apostle says: “There is in it neither stain, wrinkle, or anything like it; but she is holy and spotless.”

She does not have a beauty borrowed from the make-up with which we smear the face as prostitutes do, that is to say, of unstable imagination, the atheistic dreams of Eutyches. Nor does it alter its maternal beauty by the obscurity of the worship of the man of the Nestorians, still less by the Jewish depravity and horror, I mean by the duality of natures. This is why she ran with joy towards me as towards a father; she came to meet me, crowding out of the city gates, trusting that I had not changed anything of the family beauty. Also, showing by her works, a virtue worthy of faith, even though I am not a prophet, but a sinner and a weak man, she welcomed me as a prophet, expecting to receive the salary of the prophet, for the One who promised without falsehood, said, “Whoever receives a prophet in the name of prophet will receive the salary of the prophet.”

As those who once greeted Samuel by welcoming him, they also cried out: Peace is in your coming, O Seer! This is why we too, in paying him these evangelical words according to the commandment of our Saviour, we say: Peace be in this house! And as it is the abode of those who are worthy of it, may our peace come upon it in particular, and may it remain stable, and without change. She manifested herself in truth because she received me, I who am nothing, like an angel of God, much more like Christ even when he was seated on an colt, and she has neither despised nor rejected me, as Saint Paul says in writing to the Galatians.

Christ also stands at the door, she feeds him when he is in need; she brings him under her roof while he is a stranger; when he is naked, she clothes him; when he is oppressed by illness or in a prison, she visits him. This is why we still say: May our peace come upon her through the grace of Him who said: “I give you my peace, I leave you my peace.”

Surrounding it with peace like a powerful wall, let him guard her from all damage; so that he might save her from the hatred of the Slanderer; and so that he might show that she was called by the name of Chalcis, that is to say of brass; and that this appellation is not necessarily deceitful because it shines and is resplendent. May she be strengthened and made powerful by the purity of the Orthodox faith. May she reject and repel the corruption of heretical perversity. I say to her what God once said to the prophet Jeremiah: “Behold, I have established you today as a strong city and as a powerful wall of brass”, let all the people answer: Amen, amen! And may these people, in turn, give me, as a final blessing, their priestly prayers. May they raise the glory of the dispenser of all blessings, to whom all glory and power belong, forever. Amen!

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