On the Cross (CPG 4101)

St. Ephrem the Syrian

On the Cross[1]

Translated by Tikhon Alexander Pino

The Cross is present, brethren, in the holy places just as the tree was planted in the midst of Paradise. The one tree gave forth the fruit of life, while this Tree has been put forth as a source of life eternal. The one tree gave forth from its side a fountain of everlasting irrigation, while this Tree has produced a fruit from whose side has flowed a fountain of blood and water. The one tree was in the middle of Paradise, while this Tree has been planted in the middle of the earth, just as the Prophet David bore witness, saying of God, Though hast accomplished salvation in the midst of the earth (Ps. 73:12). There he planted, but here he accomplished. For he created Paradise as God, but he bore the Cross as man.

The one tree gave life naturally, but this Tree has issued an everlasting Life that is freely chosen by all who wish to have it. The one tree was given only to Adam under authority, but this Tree is accessible for the enjoyment of all who desire it. From the one tree Adam was forbidden from taking pleasure after he sinned, but from this, the Tree of Life, even those who fall partake straightaway through repentence. The one tree naturally possessed a fruit conducive to everlasting life, but this Tree acquired what it did not have. For being corruptible, it became incorruptible. And through faith it is no longer a tree, but the fountain of life eternal. That the Cross is a fountain of Life even Jesus said: I am the life and the resurrection (Jn 11:25). And the Apostle said that, We have been baptized into the death of Christ, unto life eternal (Rom 6:3-4). O the divine power of the Cross! For it has made us to enjoy Paradise, giving forth the life in Christ.

Woe to the Jews and the Greeks! For they do not behold the Tree of life though they dwell in the same Paradise.[2] Woe to the Jews! For although they were entrusted with the husbandry of God, they do not recognize the fruit of life. Woe to the Jews! For being blind they do not see the priceless pearl affixed to the Tree. Woe to the Jews! For having possession of the field (Mt 13:44), they have not understood the treasure upon the Cross. On the contrary, they have handed it over to the Gentiles! Woe to the Jews! For having charge over the vineyard (Mt 21:33-46), they were deprived of the gladness of this Tree. Failing to obtain this treasure, they give way to us. For this reason Satan does not cease to mock them as blind and foolish. Their grapes have withered away from being left on the vine. Wherefore God has given it to us instead. He has taken the vineyard and given it to the Gentiles. Whence it has produced fruit for him a thousandfold.

Who is the fruit of the vineyard of Christ if not us? For there as many bunches of grapes as there are crowds of you. Christ sought even a single grape in the synagogue. But the Prophets said to him: All have fallen away. They are altogether wanting (Ps 13:3). Yet you, as miraculous grapes, rejoice at his coming, bringing yourself to him. Christ looked for fruit in the synagogue, but the saints said to him: There is none that doeth good. There is not even one (Ps 13:3; Rom 3:12). Yet you, being mixed as wine with the grace of Christ, are all the the fruit of this vineyard, in which this Tree has been planted.

That the peoples of each Covenant are both the fruit and the husbandry of God even Paul says: Ye are the husbandry of God; ye are God’s building (1 Cor. 3:9). Yet Isaias, too, say about the Jews: For the house of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Sabbaoth, and the man of Judah the newly-planted that he loves (Is 5:7). This is where the Lord came looking for fruit. But the same Isaias says to him: Why do you seek fruit on a dessicated vine? Why do you sit down beside a desolate vine to pick grapes? Why do you abide them and remain with them? Do you demand the care of the farming from the blind? They would render unto thee thistles in place of grapes—thorns and thistles in place of fruit (cf. Gen 3:18). For I, too, waited for it to produce the grape. But it produced thorns (Is 5:2).

Being blinded by the passions, the Jews did not even persist in the care of the vine that had already been established before them. But whatsoever work their fathers had put into it, they destroyed through their carelessness. For this reason another Prophet has said to Christ when he comes looking for fruit: The bushhog has trampled it and the wild boar has overrun it (Ps 79:14). But when the Master of the vineyard came, he caused the fig tree that rendered the vineyard idle to be withered up (Mt 21:18-22) and planted within it the ancestral piety, giving the vineyard over to us. He dried up the fig tree and planted the Cross within it. For it is he about whom the Prophet Ezekiel said, He dries up the withered tree, and maketh the living one to sprout up (Ez 18:24). Has not the Cross sprouted up, sending forth such a quantity of fruit? For it has greatly filled the whole Church, and all the peoples within her.

O the power of the Cross! The Tree of the Cross has become an olive tree and a vineyard, and likewise an ear of wheat and a land of harvest. For the fruit that budded forth on it is poured out as both bread and wine and oil, spiritually, upon all the nations. That Christ is all these things, he himself says in the Gospel: I am the bread which came down from heaven (Jn 6:51); and that he also became wine, he says, I am the vine, ye are the branches. My Father is the hudbandman (Jn 15:5, 1). Concerning the fact that he is oil, he says through the Prophet: I am like a fruitful olive in the house of God (Ps 51:10).

Great is the mystery of this field, brethen. For in three days it produced perfect fruits. On the eve of the Sabbath, it received the seed, and after one day it gave forth a complete ear of wheat. Two days prior, this vine was planted, and on the third it produced the grape, immediately supplying an adundance of wine for the enjoyment of all. What is more, the wine itself that was harvested was wondrous, for it was better than the one that came before (cf. Mk 2:22). Yet everyone, it says, distributes the inferior one not first, but last (Jn 2:10). Still, Christ, arriving last, was first. For as a figure of the Law, John said, He who cometh after me was before me (Jn 1:15); even I had not seen him. O the immortal fountains that shoot forth from this tree! For it imparts to all, according to his capacity, the enjoyment of immortality. Paul, too, says, We have this treasure in earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7). But I would say, on the contrary, that we have these treasures in these vessels of wood. This land of harvest has no need of rain, of sensible water, of the rotations of the heavens, of good days, of yearly seasons, or of summer droughts. Rather, like the Manna, it produces the fullness of its fruits each day. However, lest anyone should take issue with our speech, when we say that Christ is bread, wine, and oil, let everything that has been said be confirmed even from the Old Testament. For David says: Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed the man who hopes in him (Ps 33:9). Come, then, let us eat the fruit of the eternal life of Christ, that we too may be good. For if we are reared in these adornments,[3] we shall become celestial men, in Jesus Christ our Lord. To whom is the glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] Λόγος ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ, ἐπί τῶν έγκαινίων, καὶ περὶ τοῦ ἁγίου ξύλου τοῦ σταυροῦ (Oratio in crucem) (CPG 4104), ed. Konstantinos G. Phrantzoles, Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα, vol. 7 [Thessalonica: Perivoli tis Panagias, 1998], 62-68).

[2] I.e., although they also live in the Holy Land.

[3] Ἐνδέσματα here has the sense of something worn and seems to evoke, in keeping with the concept of ‘vessels of wood,’ the crosses carried around the neck of Christians from childhood.

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