Before taking up for a second time our suggested Lenten reading I thought it might profit us by reading Melito of Sardis’ Peri Pascha (On the Pascha). I had heard about it many years ago, never having gotten around to reading it until now.
Reading this work has reminded me of why I fell in love with the Fathers of the Church when I discovered them all those years ago. The Fathers introduced me to Typology, which helped me to understand the relationship between Old and New Covenants. In the OT one finds types – “models”/prefigurements – of antetypes – realities/full embodiments – in the NT. The Deluge is understood as prefiguring Baptism; the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, the descent of the Holy Spirit in the Cenacle; Isaac, Jesus; the Tree in Eden, the Cross;… Is this approach a proper one to the Scriptures? Is it reading into the text what isn’t actually there? This was how the early Church read the Scriptures. St. Paul interprets them this way. Even Our Lord uses it Himself when He speaks of the sign of Jonah – the three days in the belly of the fish prefiguring the three days He would spend in the “belly of the earth”, the tomb.
The Scriptures suddenly came alive to me, and I relished in finding these types and antetypes. I questioned why had I only been taught the historical-critical approach to the Scriptures? When used properly it is a very helpful tool, but the way I was taught it was dry and only led to putting them into question.
The Fathers showed me that Christianity was so much more than just an ethical philosophy among so many others; that there was a transcendent dimension to it, and that their typological approach was complimented by the Liturgy, with its elaborate rites and symbols.
Opting to read the Peri Pascha outloud was one of the best things we could have done. The words read aloud came alive in a way that they could not if read silently. Coincidentally, the day after we finished the final reading father prior had this to say on his blog, while on the topic of a quote from St. Ambrose:
I have always said that the best school of homiletics is reading the Fathers, and reading them aloud. A mere visual reading dulls the effect of their rhetorical artistry with its brilliant alliterations, repetitions, and plays on words. One must hear the Fathers. This is the whole point of reading the Fathers at Matins every day.
On the Pascha presents us with the Christian interpretation of the Exodus story. It tells us of types and antetypes, of how the new supersedes the old:
Without the model, no work of art arises. Is not that which is to come into existence seen through the model which typifies it? For this reason a pattern of that which is to be is made either out of wax, or out of clay, or out of wood, in order that by the smallness of the model, destined to be destroyed, might be seen that thing which is to arise from it–higher than it in size, and mightier than it in power, and more beautiful than it in appearance, and more elaborate than it in ornamentation.
It goes all the way back to Adam, and how through him man became captive to death. Then, the Lord’s passion is foretold throughout the OT:
Accordingly, if you desire to see the mystery of the Lord, pay close attention to Abel who likewise was put to death, to Isaac who likewise was bound hand and foot, to Joseph who likewise was sold, to Moses who likewise was exposed, to David who likewise was hunted down, to the prophets who likewise suffered because they were the Lord’s anointed.
Christ is seen as the fulfillment of the paschal lamb:
This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below.
Why, O Israel did you do this strange injustice? You dishonored the one who had honored you. You held in contempt the one who held you in esteem. You denied the one who publicly acknowledged you. You renounced the one who proclaimed you his own. You killed the one who made you to live. Why did you do this, O Israel?
For you brought to him scourges for his body, and the thorns for his head. And you bound those beautiful hands of his, which had formed you from the earth. And that beautiful mouth of his, which had nourished you with life, you filled with gall.
The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel.
The text ends with a proclamation of Jesus’ victory, followed by what seems to be a form of the Creed (which I do not cite):
But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried, he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed.
Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.
Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness, I am the passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand.
Do you wish to regain a sense of mystery and wonder about the Christian faith this Lent? Do you want to deepen your understanding of what will take place during the Paschal Triduum? Do you want to learn how to see the Old in light of the New? Read this work with your family. Read it aloud; let the repetitions of the text impress upon your soul. (Re-)discover the Fathers.