Monday, April 25, 2016

Melito of Sardis: Happy Easter!

Firstly, I wish all eastern Christians happy Easter: Christos anesti ek necron! On this most glorious occasion of our faith, I'd like to share some of the wisdom of the ancients on this self-same occasion of Christ's resurrection. If Christ was not divine, how then could He have managed to raised Himself up from the dead? Melito of Sardis addresses that very issue.
Akhmimic text of Melito of Sardis
We've touched on before the prominent bishops of Asia Minor following the death of the last of the apostles. We have covered in some aspects the persons of Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Papias and Abercius of Hierapolis. The next in line now concerns bishop Melito of Sardis, near Smyrna in Asia Minor around mid-second century. 

The most celebrated ancient church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Ecclesiastical History, makes mention of the bishop in good detail, commencing thusly: "In these times also flourished Melito, bishop of the church in Sardis, and Apollinaris, the bishop of Hierapolis. Each of these separately addressed discourses as apologies for the faith to the existing emperor of the Romans already mentioned" (Book IV, 26:1). The apologia that Eusebius mentions as being penned under his name is that to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, composed circa A.D. 170.

But the most well-known work of the bishop was that On the Passover (or Peri Pascha), written during the outbreak of the so-called "Quartodeciman controversy" - questions regarding the date of the celebration of Easter, a topic I will not be addressing in this post. In this famous work, Melito beautifully articulates some of the earliest and clearest expressions of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His identification with God the Father. The references to Jesus' divinity are so explicit, unapologetically candid, and fearlessly bold that it defies all the modern opinions to the contrary with regards to the early Christian indubitable belief on the divinity of Christ:

And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was attached indicating who was being killed. Who was it? It is a grievous thing to tell, but a most fearful thing to refrain from telling. But listen, as you tremble before him on whose account the earth trembled!
He who hung the earth in place is hanged.
He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed in place.
He who made all things fast is made fast on a tree.
The Sovereign is insulted.
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.
This is the One who made the heavens and the earth,
and formed mankind in the beginning,
The One proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets,
The One enfleshed in a virgin,
The One hanged on a tree,
The One buried in the earth,
The One raised from the dead and who went up into the heights of heaven,
The One sitting at the right hand of the Father,
The One having all authority to judge and save,
Through Whom the Father made the things which exist from the beginning of time.
This One is “the Alpha and the Omega,”
This One is “the beginning and the end”
—the beginning indescribable and the end incomprehensible.
This One is the Christ.
This One is the King.
This One is Jesus.
This One is the Leader.
This One is the Lord.
This One is the One who rose from the dead.
This One is the One sitting on the right hand of the Father.
He bears the Father and is borne by the Father.
“To him be the glory and the power forever. Amen.”

As Dr.James White pointed out once: "they certainly knew how to preach back then." How true the sentiment. How lofty the expressions, how exalted the language. Only Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of God is worthy of such an acclaim; only the Son of God could assume such majestic prerogatives; only the suffering servant could be so exalted in His glory. Our ancient fathers have certainly done their bulk of the work in proclaiming the Godhood of Jesus and His Gospel; how much more so do we need messages of like nature in our day and age where such bold proclamations have been watered down to conform our modern religious, political and social sensibilities. The early fathers did not compromise their faith in the face of the menacing emperors, are we not under the same standard to share our faith in boldness?

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