“Once through death we fell away from life, now it is by life that death is destroyed”

The true Sabbath rest, the one which received God’s benediction, in which the Lord rested from his own works by keeping Sabbath for the world’s salvation in the inactivity of death, has now reached its goal and has displayed its own grace alike to eyes and ears and heart, through all those features of the festival solemnized among us by which we have seen, by which we have heard, by which we have welcomed joy to the heart. The light seen by our eyes was torch-lit for us in the night by the cloud of fire from our candles. The night-long word resounding in our hearing with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, like some flood of happiness pouring into the soul through our ears, has made us full of good hopes. The heart shone brighter as it portrayed the unspeakable blessedness of the things said and seen, hand-led by perceptible things towards the invisible; so that the benefits of this day of rest, relied upon because of their own inexpressible expectation of what lies in store, became a picture of those other benefits “which eye has not seen nor ear heard nor have they entered into the heart of man.”

Since then this night of light, mingling its candle-rays with the dawning beams of the sun, has made one continuous day undivided by intervening darkness, let us consider, brothers, the prophecy which says, “This is the day which the Lord has made.” In it there is no hard or laborious work, but happiness and joy and gladness, as the word puts it, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 116:24). What kind commands! What sweet legislation! Who postpones obedience to such commands? Who does not reckon the slightest delay in the commands as loss? Joy is the task, gladness the injunction, and by these the condemnation for sin is lifted and sorrows are transformed into happiness. That is what the wise saying means, “In the day of gladness ills are not remembered” (Sir. 11:25).

This day brought the forgetting of the previous sentence against us, or rather its annulment, not just forgetting; it destroyed every single trace of our condemnation. Our childbearing once brought pains, our birth is now free from labor. Once we were born as flesh from flesh, now what is born is spirit from spirit. Once we were born sons of men, now as children of God. Once we were dismissed from heaven to earth, now the Heavenly One has made us heavenly. Once death reigned through sin, now justice has taken over power through life. There was one once who opened the way into death, and there is one now through whom life is introduced instead. Once through death we fell away from life, now it is by life that death is destroyed. Once for shame we hid behind the fig-tree, now for glory we approach the tree of life. Once for disobedience we were evicted from the garden, now for faith we come within the garden. Again the fruit of life lies open to our grasp for our enjoyment. Again the garden fountain, dividing fourfold in gospel rivers, waters all the face of the church, so that the furrows of our souls, which the sower of the word cut with the plough of teaching, are cheered with drinking, and the harvest of virtue abounds.

What then remains for such as us to do? What but to imitate prophetic hills and mountains in their leaping? “The mountains,” it says, “leaped like rams, and the hills like young lambs” (Ps. 112:4). So come, let us rejoice in the Lord who destroyed the might of the foe and set up the trophy of the cross for us on the enemy’s corpse. Let us cheer, for cheering is the triumphal shout raised by the victors against the vanquished. Since then the enemy line has collapsed and the very one who had command of the evil army of demons has himself gone, has vanished and has been brought already to nothing, let us say, “The Lord is a great God” and “A great king over all the earth” is he who “has blessed the crown of the year with His goodness” and gathered us into this spiritual choir in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

St Gregory of Nyssa

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