Saint Ephraim the Syrian — “Death Slew and was Slain”


In his sermon “On Our Lord”, the masterful poet and orator St Ephraim the Syrian portrays with all his customary eloquence the theological significance of the death and Resurrection of our Lord. The Saint commences by confirming that our Lord did in fact die: “[death] trampled our Lord underfoot”. However, this trampling was in no way a defeat, for Christ “in turn treated death as a high road for His own feet”. In other words, Christ’s death was not an unintended consequence of His coming.

There was a mission from which God never departed. Christ submitted to death in order to defeat it. St Ephraim says, “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”. That same body was elected by God. God chose the “chariot” by which He would arrive on earth (the Theotokos), and thus subjected Himself to bodily mortality. Christ’s death involved the pain felt by the death of any mortal man suffering such extreme tortures. Christ did not use His powers to relieve the pain, to withdraw the sting of the nails, or to quicken His suffering. But death was only able to kill a natural human life, “[beneath] the cloak of His manhood, His Godhead engaged death in combat; in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain”.

What is Pascha, if not the Christian celebration of the defeat of death, the passing from death to eternal life, the opening of the gates of Paradise for generations to come? “Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life”. With this and by reference to Mary as the new Eve, St Ephraim draws a direct link between the Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection and the beginning of life in Genesis. He shows that the fruit of the Resurrection is the reversal of the first sin. Thus, the Saint reveals to us the purpose of Christ’s entire earthly mission: the restoration of man as the child of God and his ultimate salvation.


Source: Lychnos April 2018 / May 2018