Genesis 3; Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 138 (139 MT), Hosea
Finally, we complete our study of the eight resurrectional-dismissal hymns for the Theotokos. Tone 6 is similar to tone 8, in that these two alone address Christ rather than the Theotokos herself. We sing this hymn during our celebration of St. Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzen) on January 25th; its lyrical and striking character offers an apt tribute to St. Gregory, who himself wrote poignant and profound poetry. Here is the hymn as it is frequently sung:
You Who called Your Mother blessed,
came of Your own will to the Passion.
Shining on the Cross, desiring to recall Adam,
You said to the Angels:
“Rejoice with me for the lost coin has been found.”
You Who have ordered all things in wisdom,
our God, glory to You!
Most of the imagery of this song comes from the New Testament, but one of its most arresting phrases propels us back to Eden: Christ was “desiring to recall Adam.” The original Greek uses a compound verb, which literally means: “seeking again so as to find” Adam. This phrase links the action of the God-Man with the earliest picture we have of the saving God. In the Garden, God was not content to leave Adam and Eve in their self-imposed hiding places, but called out, “Where are you?” and meted out a severe mercy in order to begin the process of redemption. So, too, Christ our LORD, after ascending the Cross for our sake, descended to the very depths of our world, seeking again His lost ones. Holy Saturday is, in one way, a day of divine rest after the ordeal of the Cross; in another, it is the time of the LORD’s hidden expedition, when He “preached to those who were imprisoned” (1 Peter 3:19), and led them forth with Himself.
We may be reminded of that wonderful Psalm 138 (LXX)/139 (MT), in which David meditated upon the God who is “everywhere present and fills all things.” Of course, we normally associate this characteristic with the Holy Spirit, as we are prompted to by the Psalm:
O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me!
Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up;
discernest my thoughts from afar.
Thou searchest out my path and my lying down,
and art acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou dost beset me behind and before,
and layest thy hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain it.
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Hades, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with thee.
For thou didst form my inward parts,
thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.
Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well;
my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
This Psalm, then, puts before our eyes the wonder of a God who knows us inside out, who is everywhere present, and from whom we cannot hide. Similar passages in the Old Testament speak of the way that God’s word is present to humankind, and not hidden from us. Deuteronomy 30:12-13 suggests that God’s people need not ascend to the heights or descend to the depths to hear God, but that His word is with them. And St. Paul uses this idea to point to God’s availability to us in Christ Jesus:
Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you (Romans 10:6-7).
The word of truth is near to us because the One who is the Word of God has already descended and ascended for our sake—there is no need for us to search, for He has searched for us, and has ascended into the heavens, taking us back to God.
What Psalm 138/139 ascribes to the Holy Spirit—His searching for us when we attempt to hide—is a divine characteristic shared by the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit searches the minds and hearts of those who have gone astray. The generous Father searches for His prodigal. The Shepherd Jesus searches for the lost sheep. He is a creating, and a recreating God, calling us into being and RECALLING Adam—all of us—when we are, by our own fault, lost.
This is the great mercy that we celebrate in this hymn, remembering the words of our Mother, holy Mary, who rejoiced that God had, through the conception of her Son, humbled the proud, and raised up the lowly of heart. How wonderful that we have been told this mystery of the Triune God: the divine Persons act in harmony to bring us back into communion with Him and with each other.
The rest of the hymn explores this mystery in other ways. God the Son is addressed, and we begin the song by saying that He called His mother “blessed.” Technically, of course, the Holy Spirit uttered this blessing, speaking through Gabriel, and also through the mouths of the prophetess Elizabeth and holy Mary herself— “you have found favor with God;” “blessed are you among women;” “from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:30, 42, 48). But as the divine Persons speak and act in concert, these prophetic words can be ascribed to the Son, as well, who bequeathed His mother to His beloved disciple, John, and so to the whole Church. Effectively, He also called this mother blessed.
This One who blessed the human race through blessing a humble and pure young woman also consented to climb what human beings thought was a cross of shame. In fact, it was a throne of glory, as the evangelist John puts it: “He entered into His glory.” And so we grasp the wonder that (as St. Paul says), what counts as foolishness among human beings is the wisdom of God. With God, there are reversals and surprises, for His ways are not our ways. Who among us could imagine a God who desires to walk with us in the garden, as He did with the first couple? Who among us could imagine a God who made us in His image, with the intent of taking on human flesh so that we could be in complete communion with Him? Who among us could imagine a God who sought His wayward people, as a scorned husband seeks a wayward wife, and who told us such a story through the prophet Hosea? Who among us could imagine a God shining in glory from the cross?
Sometimes Christians have misconstrued the story, and sadly put the Father and the Son at odds, as they try to explain the atonement. No, Jesus came of His “own free will” to the passion and to the Cross, though He knew the ordeal well enough to sweat drops of blood in praying about it. There is some merit in understanding that on the cross the Son received our punishment (as St. John Chrysostom puts it in his sermon on the Ascension, “He received from God the blows that were due to us”). However, we must never speak of God’s justice in such a way that we destroy, in our minds, the harmony of the Father and the Son. Scriptures tell us that “God put Jesus forth” as a sacrificial offering (Romans 3:25); they also declare that Jesus willingly accepted the cross, for our sake. Besides, judgment and punishment are only one aspect of what went on at Calvary. Here we also see the supreme act of self-sacrifice and love, the divine act of heroism and victory, the enthronement of an utterly humble God who loves humankind too much to leave us alone—He will complete His creation by taking on ALL that it is to be human in His Son, and so show His (and our!) glory. “He made the One who knew no sin to become sin, that we might become, in Him, the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:28). Divine glory—which recalls, remakes, and embraces us—is seen in full radiance on the cross. The first couple were made according to His image, as are we all; through the God-Man, we may take on his very likeness, and be brought into His fellowship.
And so the One who seeks us, desiring to recall Adam, rejoices like the woman who found the lost coin. The hymn puts before our eyes the picture of Christ calling on the angels to rejoice over this found object, merging together the parable with the words of Jesus that the angels rejoice in heaven over every one who repents. The words of the housewife who swept her whole house for what was lost are put in Jesus’ mouth, and perhaps we are reminded that holy Mary, the mother of our redeemed family, also seeks the lost with her prayers, and rejoices, with the hosts of heaven, when any one of us is found again. God, the One who orders everything in the household according to His wisdom, has given us Himself in Christ, has given us His blessed mother, and has given us each other, that we may rejoice with the angels, and give glory to Him—both by our words, and in our lives, which by His grace we can conform more and more to His will. He is desiring always to recall humankind (both you and me!), and we see traces of His victorious search for us wherever we look. “You Who have ordered all things in wisdom, our God, glory to You!”