Death Itself Was Slain

From the Homily “Of Our Lord” (4th Century)

Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.

Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. In slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of mortals. Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strongroom, and scattered all its treasury…

We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which the souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to you who put on the body of a single mortal and made it the source of life for every other mortal. You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of people raised from the dead.

St. Ephrem of Edessa (ca. 306-373) was a deacon and theologian, one of the great hymnwriters of the ancient church, widely considered the most influential of the Syriac church fathers. He wrote numerous commentaries, sermons, and founded the School of Nisibis, the great intellectual center of the Syriac Church, and later set up a school in Edessa. He died while caring for victims of the plague there. His feast day is June 9 or 10 in the West, January 28 on the Byzantine calendar and the 7th Saturday before Easter in the Syrian Orthodox Church.


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