Here is a performance of “But who may abide the day of His coming” from Messiah, performed by the Brandenburg Consort and Choir of King’s College, with Hillary Summers as contralto soloist and Alastair Miles singing bass. Both soloists sing remarkably well – see what you think.
Here is another excerpt from a Father from past years on this blog, for the First Saturday in Advent. From one of the greatest of the fathers of the Syriac tradition, St. Ephrem the Syrian, here is a beautiful “Hymn on the Nativity” – the first of his hymns in that series. Ephrem lived in the fourth century and was a deacon as well as a prolific writer of theological treatises and hymns.
This is the day that gladdened them, the Prophets, Kings, and Priests, for in it were their words fulfilled, and thus were the whole of them indeed performed! For the Virgin this day brought forth Immanuel in Bethlehem. The voice that of old Isaiah spake, to-day became reality. He was born there who in writing should tell the Gentiles’ number! The Psalm that David once sang, by its fulfilment came to-day! The word that Micah once spake, to-day was come indeed to pass! For there came from Ephrata a Shepherd, and His staff swayed over souls. Lo! from Jacob shone the Star, and from Israel rose the Head. The prophecy that Balaam spake had its interpreting to-day! Down also came the hidden Light, and from the Body rose His beauty! The light that spake in Zachary, to-day shined in Bethlehem!
Risen is the Light of the kingdom, in Ephrata the city of the King. The blessing wherewith Jacob blessed, to its fulfilment came to-day! That tree likewise, [the tree] of life, brings hope to mortal men! Solomon’s hidden proverb had to-day its explanation! To-day was born the Child, and His name was called Wonder! For a wonder it is that God as a Babe should show Himself. By the word Worm did the Spirit foreshow Him in parable, because His generation was without marriage. The type that the Holy Ghost figured to-day its meaning was [explained.] He came up as a root before Him, as a root of parched ground. Aught that covertly was said, openly to-day was done! The King that in Judah was hidden, Thamar stole Him from his thigh; to-day arose His conquering beauty, which in hidden estate she loved. Ruth at Boaz’ side lay down, because the Medicine of Life hidden in him she perceived. To-day was fulfilled her vow, since from her seed arose the Quickener of all. Travail Adam on the woman brought, that from him had come forth. She to-day her travail ransomed, who to her a Saviour bare! To Eve our mother a man gave birth, who himself had had no birth. How much more should Eve’s daughter be believed to have borne a Child without a man! The virgin earth, she bare that Adam that was head over the earth! The Virgin bare to-day the Adam that was Head over the Heavens. The staff of Aaron, it budded, and the dry wood yielded fruit! Its mystery is cleared up to-day, for the virgin womb a Child hath borne!
Shamed is that people which holds the prophets as true; for unless our Saviour has come, their words have been falsified! Blessed be the True One Who came from the Father of the Truth and fulfilled the true seers’ words, which were accomplished in their truth. From thy treasure-house put forth, Lord, from the coffers of Thy Scriptures, names of righteous men of old, who looked to see Thy coming! Seth who was in Abel’s stead shadowed out the Son as slain, by Whose death was dulled the envy Cain had brought into the world! Noah saw the sons of God, saints that sudden waxed wanton, and the Holy Son he looked for, by whom lewd men were turned to holiness. The brothers twain, that covered Noah, saw the only Son of God who should come to hide the nakedness of Adam, who was drunk with pride. Shem and Japhet, being gracious, looked for the gracious Son, Who should come and set free Canaan from the servitude of sin.
Melchizedek expected Him; as His vicegerent, looked that he might see the Priesthood’s Lord whose hyssop purifies the world. Lot beheld the Sodomites how they perverted nature: for nature’s Lord he looked who gave a holiness not natural. Him Aaron looked for, for he saw that if his rod ate serpents up, His cross would eat the Serpent up that had eaten Adam and Eve. Moses saw the uplifted serpent that had cured the bites of asps, and he looked to see Him who would heal the ancient Serpent’s wound. Moses saw that he himself alone retained the brightness from God, and he looked for Him who came and multiplied gods by His teaching:
Caleb the spy bore the cluster on the staff, and came and longed to see the Cluster, Whose wine should comfort the world. Him did Jesus son of Nun long for, that he might conceive the force of his own surname: for if by His name he waxed so mighty, how much more would He by His Birth? This Jesus that gathered and carried, and brought with him of the fruit, was longing for the Tree of Life to taste the Fruit that quickens all. For Him Rahab too was looking; for when the scarlet thread in type redeemed her from wrath, in type she tasted of the Truth. For Him Elijah longed, and when Him on earth he saw not, he, through faith most throughly cleansed, mounted up in heaven to see Him. Moses saw Him and Elijah; the meek man from the depth ascended, the zealous from on high descended, and in the midst beheld the Son. They figured the mystery of His Advent: Moses was a type of the dead, and Elijah a type of the living, that fly to meet Him at His coming. For the dead that have tasted death, them He makes to be first: and the rest that are not buried, are last caught up to meet Him.
Who is there that can count me up the just that looked for the Son, whose number cannot be determined by the mouth of us weak creatures? Pray ye for me, O beloved, that another time with strength endued, I in another legend may so set forth their foretaste, as I am able. Who is adequate to the praising of the Son of the Truth that has risen to us? For it was for Him the righteous longed, that in their generation they might see Him. Adam looked for Him, for He is the Cherub’s Lord, and could minister an entrance and a residence hard by the branches of the Tree of life. Abel longed after Him, that in his days He might come; that instead of that lamb that he offered, the Lamb of God he might behold. For Him Eve also looked; for woman’s nakedness was sore, and He capable to clothe them; not with leaves, but with that same glory that they had exchanged away. The tower that the many builded, in mystery looked for One, who coming down would build on earth a tower that lifts up to Heaven. Yea the ark of living creatures looked in a type for our Lord; for He should build the Holy Church, wherein souls find a refuge. In Peleg’s days earth was divided into tongues, threescore and ten. For Him Who by the tongues, to His Apostles divided earth. Earth which the flood had swallowed up, in silence cried to her Lord. He came down and opened Baptism, and men were drawn by it to Heaven. Seth and Enos, Cainan too, were surnamed sons of God; for the Son of God they looked, that they by grace might be His brethren. But little short of a thousand years did Methuselah live: He looked for the Son Who makes heirs of life that never ends! Grace itself in hidden mystery was beseeching on their behalf that their Lord might come in their age and fill up their shortcomings. For the Holy Spirit in them, in their stead, besought with meditation: He stirred them up, and in Him did they look on that Redeemer, after whom they longed.
The soul of just men perceive in the Son a Medicine of life; and so it felt desires that He might come in its own days, and then would it taste His sweetness. Enoch was longing for Him, and since on earth the Son he saw not, he was justified by great faith, and mounted up in Heaven to see Him. Who is there that will spurn at grace, when the Gift that they of old gained not by much labour, freely comes to men now? For Him Lamech also looked who might come and lovingly give Him quiet from his labour and the toiling of his hands, and from the earth the Just One had cursed. Lamech then beheld his son, Noah,—him, in whom were figured types relating to the Son. In the stead of the Lord afar off, the type at hand afforded quiet. Yea Noah also longed to see Him, the taste of whose assisting graces he had tasted. For if the type of Him preserved living things, Himself how sure to bestow life upon souls! Noah longed for Him, by trial knowing Him, for through Him had the ark been established. For if the type of Him thus saved life, assuredly much more would He in person. Abraham perceived in Spirit that the Son’s Birth was far off; instead of Him in person he rejoiced to see even His day. To see Him Isaac longed, as having tasted the taste of His redemption; for if the sign of Him so gave life, much more would He by the reality.
Joyous were to-day the Watchers, that the Wakeful came to wake us! Who would pass this night in slumber, in which all the world was watching? Since Adam brought into the world the sleep of death by sins, the Wakeful came down that He might awake us from the deep sleep of sin. Watch not we as usurers, who thinking on money put to interest, watch at night so oft, to reckon up their capital, and interest. Wakeful and cautious is the thief, who in the earth hath buried and concealed his sleep. His wakefulness all [comes to] this, that he may cause much wakefulness to them that be asleep. Wakeful likewise is the glutton, who hath eaten much and is restless; his watching is to him his torment, because he was impatient of stint. Wakeful likewise is the merchant; of a night he works his fingers telling over what pounds are coming, and if his wealth doubles or trebles. Wakeful likewise is the rich man, whose sleep his riches chase away: his dogs sleep; he guards his treasures from the thieves. Wakeful also is the careful, by his care his sleep is swallowed: though his end stands by his pillow, yet he wakes with cares for years to come. Satan teaches, O my brethren, one watching instead of another; to good deeds to be sleepy, and to ill awake and watchful. Even Judas Iscariot, for the whole night through was wakeful; and he sold the righteous Blood, that purchased the whole world. The son of the dark one put on darkness, having stripped the Light from off him: and Him who created silver, for silver the thief sold. Yea, Pharisees, the dark one’s sons, all the night through kept awake: the dark ones watched that they might veil the Light which is unlimited. Ye then watch as [heaven’s] lights in this night of starry light. For though so dark be its colour yet in virtue it is clear.
For whoever is like this clear One, wakeful and prayerful in darkness, him in this darkness visible a light unseen surrounds! The bad man that in daylight stands, yet as a son of darkness deals; though with light clad outwardly, inly is with darkness girt. Be we not deceived, beloved, by the fact that we are watching! For whoso does not rightly watch, his watch is an unrighteous watch. Whoso watches not cheerfully, his watching is but a sleeping: whoso also watches not innocently, even his waking is his foe. This is the waking of the envious one! a solid mass, compact with harm. That watch is but a trafficking, with scorn and mockery compact. The wrathful man if he wakes, fretful with wrath his wake will be, and his watching proves to him full of rage and of cursings. If the babbler be waking, then his mouth becomes a passage which for sins is ready but for prayers shows hindrance.
The wise man, if so be he that watches, one of two things chooseth him; either takes sweet, moderate, sleep, or a holy vigil keeps. That night is fair, wherein He Who is Fair rose to come and make us fair. Let not aught that may disturb it enter into our watch! Fair be kept the ear’s approach, chaste the seeing of the eye! hallowed the musing of the heart! the speaking of the mouth be cleared. Mary hid in us to-day leaven that came from Abraham. Let us then so pity beggars as did Abraham the needy. To-day the rennet fell on us from the gentle David’s house. Let a man show mercy to his persecutors, as did Jesse’s son to Saul. The prophets’ sweet salt is to-day sprinkled among the Gentiles. Let us gain a new savour by that whereby the ancient people lost their savour. Let us speak the speech of wisdom; speak we not of things outside it, lest we ourselves be outside it!
In this night of reconcilement let no man be wroth or gloomy! in this night that stills all, none that threatens or disturbs! This night belongs to the sweet One; bitter or harsh be in it none! In this night that is the meek One’s, high or haughty be in it none! In this day of pardoning let us not exact trespasses! In this day of gladnesses let us not spread sadnesses! In this day so sweet, let us not be harsh! In this day of peaceful rest, let us not be wrathful in it! In this day when God came to sinners, let not the righteous be in his mind uplifted over sinner! In this day in which there came the Lord of all unto the servants, let masters too condescend to their servants lovingly! In this day in which the Rich became poor for our sakes, let the rich man make the poor man share with him at his table. On this day to us came forth the Gift, although we asked it not! Let us therefore bestow alms on them that cry and beg of us. This is the day that opened for us a gate on high to our prayers. Let us open also gates to supplicants that have transgressed, and of us have asked [forgiveness.] To-day the Lord of nature was against His nature changed; let it not to us be irksome to turn our evil wills. Fixed in nature is the body; great or less it cannot become: but the will has such dominion, it can grow to any measure. To-day Godhead sealed itself upon Manhood, that so with the Godhead’s stamp Manhood might be adorned.
Truly I found this to be breathtakingly beautiful writing – I hope you enjoy it as well.
Next from Messiah, here is a performance of “Thus Saith the Lord” by bass Peter Thunhart, singing with the Chor und Orchester der Pfarre Gmünd-Neustadt. I think he has a good bass voice.
From prior years, in Chapter 23 of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, here is a passage by that great Father on the First Advent of our Lord – specifically the prophecies and predictions of His coming:
The patriarchs and prophets by pointing out the advent of Christ, fortified thereby, as it were, the way of posterity to the faith of Christ; and so the labours of the apostles were lessened inasmuch as they gathered in the fruits of the labours of others.
For which reason the Lord declared to the disciples: “Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look upon the districts (regiones), for they are white [already] to harvest. For the harvest-man receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. For in this is the saying true, that one soweth and another reapeth. For I have sent you forward to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour; other men have laboured, and ye have entered into their labours.” Who, then, are they that have laboured, and have helped forward the dispensations of God? It is clear that they are the patriarchs and prophets, who even prefigured our faith, and disseminated through the earth the advent of the Son of God, who and what He should be: so that posterity, possessing the fear of God, might easily accept the advent of Christ, having been instructed by the prophets. And for this reason it was, that when Joseph became aware that Mary was with child, and was minded to put her away privily, the angel said to him in sleep: “Fear not to take to thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. For she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.” And exhorting him [to this], he added: “Now all this has been done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken from the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel;” thus influencing him by the words of the prophet, and warding off blame from Mary, pointing out that it was she who was the virgin mentioned by Isaiah beforehand, who should give birth to Emmanuel. Wherefore, when Joseph was convinced beyond all doubt, he both did take Mary, and joyfully yielded obedience in regard to all the rest of the education of Christ, undertaking a journey into Egypt and back again, and then a removal to Nazareth. [For this reason,] those who knew not the Scriptures nor the promise of God, nor the dispensation of Christ, at last called him the father of the child. For this reason, too, did the Lord Himself read at Capernaum the prophecies of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me; to preach the Gospel to the poor hath He sent Me, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and sight to the blind.” At the same time, showing that it was He Himself who had been foretold by Esaias the prophet, He said to them: “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
I continue to marvel at how Irenaeus and others of the Fathers excelled in using the Scriptures to support their arguments – and for that matter, using the Scriptures to form their thoughts.
Here is a most enjoyable performance of “And the Glory of the Lord” from Messiah by the Bow Valley Chorus of Canada – one I have mentioned in the past. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.
For the First Thursday in Advent, I am posting this excerpt from Melito of Sardis yet again, as this is perhaps my favorite of the writings of the Fathers on the Incarnation, and worthy of posting yet again in another Advent season.
I first posted this over a decade ago (time flies!), as this portion of the writings of Melito, Bishop of Sardis in the second century A.D., touches on the Incarnation–indeed, all of Jesus’ life and ministry:
We have collected together extracts from the Law and the Prophets relating to those things which have Been declared concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may prove to your love that this Being is perfect reason, the Word of God; He who was begotten before the light; He who is Creator together with the Father; He who is the Fashioner of man; He who is all in all; He who among the patriarchs is Patriarch; He who in the law is the Law; among the priests, Chief Priest; among kings, the Ruler; among prophets, the Prophet; among the angels, Archangel; in the voice of the preacher, the Word; among spirits, the Spirit; in the Father, the Son; in God, God; King for ever and ever. For this is He who was pilot to Noah; He who was guide to Abraham; He who was bound with Isaac; He who was in exile with Jacob; He who was sold with Joseph; He who was captain of the host with Moses; He who was the divider of the inheritance with Jesus the son of Nun; He who in David and the prophets announced His own sufferings; He who put on a bodily form in the Virgin; He who was born in Bethlehem; He who was wrapped in swaddling-clothes in the manger; He who was seen by the shepherds; He who was glorified by the angels; He who was worshipped by the Magi; He who was pointed out by John; He who gathered together the apostles; He who preached the kingdom; He who cured the lame; He who gave light to the blind; He who raised the dead; He who appeared in the temple; He who was not believed on by the people; He who was betrayed by Judas; He who was apprehended by the priests; He who was condemned by Pilate; He who was pierced in the flesh; He who was hanged on the tree; He who was buried in the earth; He who rose from the place of the dead; He who appeared to the apostles; He who was carried up to heaven; He who is seated at the right hand of the Father; He who is the repose of those that are departed; the recoverer of those that are lost; the light of those that are in darkness; the deliverer of those that are captive; the guide of those that go astray; the asylum of the afflicted; the bridegroom of the Church; the charioteer of the cherubim; the captain of the angels; God who is from God; the Son who is from the Father; Jesus Christ the King for evermore. Amen.
This is eloquent, like the sermons of John Chrysostom; truly Jesus Christ is indeed our repose, our recoverer, our light, our deliverer, our asylum, and our King forevermore.
Here is another thought from St. John Chrysostom on the benefit of fearing the dangers of Hell – and alienation from God – from Faith and Life:
If we were not threatened with that Fire, if no immortal punishments were awaiting us, still the mere fact of being alienated from Christ, the gentle and the loving, who gave Himself up to death for us, and suffered every thing to rescue us from that punishment, and reconcile us, who were enemies by our transgressions, to His Father—this is greater than any punishment, and sufficient to arouse our souls, and induce us to be continually watchful.
–St. Chrysostom on Compunction, i. 10.
And we should be continually watchful over the state of our souls.
This is a different take on these pieces from Messiah, but I like the way the singer and his accompanying pianist interact. Sometimes there is indeed beauty in simplicity!
From Faith and Life: Readings compiled from ancient writers, here is an excerpt from John Chrysostom:
What is it which will enable us to retain fear continually? A constant attention to the Scriptures. For if the mere sight of a corpse has such a tendency to control our thoughts, how much more Hell and the fire that is not quenched, how much more the worm that dieth not? If we are always keeping hell before our minds, we shall not readily fall into it. For this cause it is that God has threatened men with punishment; since unless the consideration of it involved some great advantage, He would not have threatened us with it; but seeing that the remembrance of it is effectual towards great advancement in religious life, therefore did He fix the menace of it in our souls, as it were some salutary medicine. Let us not, then, neglect the great advantage thence derived, but continually turn it over in our thoughts, even at our daily meals. Are you afraid of the words, as painful to hear? Ah! but does your silence about hell quench it? does your speaking of it kindle it? Whether you speak of it or not, that fire will burn fiercely: speak of it habitually, that you may never fall into it. It is impossible that a soul which is anxious about Hell should lightly commit sin; for hear that best of all advice, “Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.” To despise a threat is a great evil; he that does so will speedily experience its reality. Nothing is so profitable as to discourse about Hell; it makes our souls purer than silver. For hear the Prophet saying, “Thy judgments are always before me.” And Christ continually discourses about it. For if it pains the hearer, still it does him the greatest good.There are many men who cherish good hope, not on the ground of avoiding sin, but of thinking that Hell is not so intense as it is said to be, but milder than the threatenings describe it, and temporary instead of eternal; and on this subject they speculate at large. However, I could bring many proofs that instead of being milder than it is described, it is even much more intense, and could infer this from the very words which mention it. But that it is not temporary, we may learn from Paul saying in this passage about those “who know not God, and believe not the Gospel,” that they “shall be punished with eternal destruction.” How then can what is eternal be temporary!–St. Chrysostom on Thess., Hom. ii. iii.
John Chrysostom was certainly no believer in a temporary punishment for the wicked, and I think his words should be heeded.