On The Lord's Pascha – Excerpts

by St. Melito of Sardis

Our father among the saints, Melito, bishop of Sardis, was a prominent figure of second-century Christianity. A leader of the Church in Asia, Melito was, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, a supporter of the Quartodeciman theory. Hippolytus of Rome reports that he was among the earliest proponants of the two natures in Christ, and Jerome echoes Tertullian in noting that Melito was considered a prophet by many in his own day.

The present text, On Pascha, was written c. 167/168, and is the earliest Christian sermon that has survived from antiquity.

A preliminary sketch is made of a future thing

out of wax or of clay or of wood,
in order that what will soon arise

taller in height,
stronger in power,
beautiful in form,
rich in its construction,

may be seen through a small and perishable sketch.

37 But when that of which it is the model arises,
that which once bore the image of the future thing
is itself destroyed as growing useless
having yielded to what is truly real the image of it;
and what once was precious becomes worthless
when what is truly precious has been revealed.

38 For to each belongs a proper season:

a proper time for the model,
a proper time for the material,
a proper time for the reality.

You make the model;

You wish to do so
because You see in it the image of the future thing.

You produce the material before the model;

You wish to do so
because of what is going to arise in it.

You complete the work;

You wish this alone,
You love this alone,
because in it alone You see the pattern and the material and the reality.

40 The people then was a model by way of preliminary sketch,
and the law was the writing of a parable;
the Gospel is the recounting and fulfilment of the law,
and the Church is the repository of the reality.

41 The model then was precious before the reality,
and the parable was marvellous before the interpretation;
that is, the people was precious before the Church arose,
and the law was marvellous before the Gospel was elucidated.

42 But when the Church arose

and the Gospel took precedence,
the model was made void, conceding its power to the reality,
and the law was fulfilled, conceding its power to the Gospel.

43 In the same way as the model is made void, conceding the image
to the truly real,
and the parable is fulfilled, being elucidated by the interpretation,

just so also the law was fulfilled when the Gospel was elucidated,
and the people was made void when the Church arose;
and the model was abolished when the Lord was revealed,
and today, things once precious have become worthless,
since things truly precious have been revealed.

44 Once, the slaying of the sheep was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the life of the Lord;
the death of the sheep was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the salvation of the Lord;
the blood of the sheep was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the Spirit of the Lord;
a speechless lamb was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the spotless Son;
the temple below was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the Christ above.

45 The Jerusalem below was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the Jerusalem above;
the narrow inheritance was precious,
but it is worthless now because of the widespread bounty.
For it is not in one place nor in a little plot
that the glory of God is established,
but on all the ends of the inhabited earth
His bounty overflows,
and there the almighty God has made His dwelling
through Christ Jesus,
to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

46 You have now heard the account of the model and what corresponds to it;
listen also to the constitution of the mystery.
What is the Pascha?
It obtains its name from its characteristic:
from suffer (pathein) comes suffering (paschein).
Learn therefore who is the Suffering One,
and who shares the suffering of the Suffering One,

47 and why the Lord is present on the earth
to clothe Himself with the Suffering One
and carry Him off to the heights of heaven.

It is He that delivered us from slavery to liberty,

from darkness to light,
from death to life,
from tyranny to eternal royalty;
and made us a new priesthood
and an eternal people personal to Him.

69 He is the Pascha of our salvation.

It is He who in many endured many things:
It is He that was in Abel murdered,

and in Isaac bound,
and in Jacob exiled,
and in Joseph sold,
and in Moses exposed,
and in the lamb slain,
and in David persecuted,
and in the prophets dishonoured.

70 It is He that was enfleshed in a virgin,
that was hanged on a tree.

72 It is He that has been murdered.
And where has He been murdered? In the middle of Jerusalem.
By whom? By Israel.
Why? Because He healed their lame
and cleansed their lepers
and brought light to their blind
and raised their dead;
that is why He died.
Where is it written in law and prophets,
‘ They repaid me bad things for good
and childlessness for my soul,
when they devised evil things against me and said,
“Let us bind the just one,
because he is a nuisance to us”‘?

73 What strange crime, O Israel, have you committed?
You dishonoured Him that honoured you;
you disgraced Him that glorified you;
you denied Him that acknowledged you;
you disclaimed Him that proclaimed you;
you killed Him that made you live.

74 What have you done, O Israel? Or is it not written for you,
‘You shall not shed innocent blood’,
so that you may not die an evil death?
‘I did’, says Israel, ‘kill the Lord.

Why? Because He had to die’.
You are mistaken, Israel, to use such subtle evasions
about the slaying of the Lord.
He had to suffer, but not by you;
He had to be dishonoured, but not by you;
He had to be judged, but not by you;
He had to be hung up, but not by you
and your right hand.

77 But you, O Israel, did not make this cry to God,
nor have you cleared yourself before the Sovereign,
nor did you respect His deeds.

78 A withered hand restored to its body did not win your respect,
nor eyes of disabled ones opened by a hand,
nor impotent bodies made sound by a word;
nor did the most unprecedented sign win your respect—
a corpse roused from a tomb already four days old.

79 So, then, you set these things aside,
and rushed to the slaying of the Lord.
You prepared for Him sharp nails and false witnesses
and ropes and scourges
and vinegar and gall
and sword and forceful restraint as against a murderous robber.
For you brought both scourges for His body
and thorns for His head;
and you bound His good hands,
which formed you from earth;
and that good mouth of His, which fed you with life,
you fed with gall.
And you killed your Lord at the great feast.

80 And you were making merry,
while He was starving;
While you had wine to drink and bread to eat,
He had vinegar and gall;

87 Ungrateful Israel, come and take issue with me

about your ingratitude.
How much did you value being formed by Him?
How much did you value the seeking out of your fathers?
How much did you value the descent into Egypt
and your sustenance there through handsome Joseph?

88 How much did you value the ten plagues?

How much did you value the nightly pillar
and the daily cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea?
How much did you value the giving of manna from heaven
and the supply of water from a rock
and the law-giving at Horeb
and the inheritance of the land
and the benefits there?

89 How much did you value the suffering ones

whom by His own presence He healed?
Value for me the withered hand
which He restored to the body;

90 Value for me those blind from birth

to whom He brought light with a word;
value for me those who lay dead
whom He raised from the dead already four days old.

93 Bitter therefore for you is the feast of unleavened bread, as it is
written for you:
You shall eat unleavened bread with bitter flavours.

Bitter for you are the nails you sharpened,
bitter for you the tongue you incited,
bitter for you the false witnesses you instructed,
bitter for you the ropes you made ready.

97 O unprecedented murder! Unprecedented crime!
The Sovereign has been made unrecognizable by His naked body,
and is not even allowed a garment to keep Him from view.
That is why the luminaries turned away,
and the day was darkened,
so that He might hide the one stripped bare upon the tree,
darkening not the body of the Lord
but the eyes of men.

98 For when the people did not tremble, the earth quaked;
when the people were not terrified, the heavens were terrified;
when the people did not tear their clothes, the angel tore his;
when the people did not lament, the Lord thundered out of heaven
and the Highest gave voice.

99 Therefore, O Israel,
you did not quake in the presence of the Lord,
so you quaked at the assault of foes;
you were not terrified in the presence of the Lord,
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you did not lament over the Lord,
so you lamented over your firstborn;
you did not tear your clothes when the Lord was hung,
so you tore them over those who were slain.

You forsook the Lord,
so you were not found by Him;
you did not accept the Lord,
so you were not pitied by Him;
you dashed down the Lord,
so you were dashed to the ground.

(100) And you lie dead,

but He has risen from the dead
and gone up to the heights of heaven.

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About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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