Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Joy that allows for a Peaceful Death

The following is a excerpt from Henri Nouwen's On Dying and Caring. He speaks about two kinds of joy and paints an image of what it means to die a peaceful death. I hope this resonates with all of you as it did with me.


Two of the greatest joys experienced are the joy of being different from others and the joy of being the same as others. The first of these I saw while watching the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona on television. Those who stood on the rostrum and received their bronze, silver, and gold medals experienced joy as the direct result of being able to run faster, jump higher, or throw farther than others. The difference might have been extremely small, but it had great significance. It was the distinction between defeat and victory, between rueful tears and ecstatic joy. This is the joy of the hero and the star, the joy that comes from successfully competing, winning the prize, receiving the honor, and walking into the limelight.

I know this joy myself. I know it from getting an award at school, from being chosen the leader of my class, from receiving tenure at the university, and from seeing my books published and receiving honorary degrees. I know the immense satisfaction that comes from being considered different from others. These types of achievements dispel self-doubts and bestow self-confidence. This is the joy having “made it”, the joy of being recognized for making a difference. We all wait for this joy somewhere, somehow. It remains the joy of the one who said, “I thank you God, that I am not like everyone else” (Luke 18:11-12).

The other kind of joy is harder to describe but easier to find. It is the joy of being the brother or sister of all people. Although this joy is closer at hand-more accessible-than the joy of being different, it is not as obvious, and only a few people ever truly find it. This is the joy of being a part of that vast variety of people-of all ages, colors, and religions-who together form the human family. This is the immense joy of being a member of the human race.  

At several times in my life, I have tasted this joy. I felt it most acutely in 1964, when I walked with thousands of people in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in a civil rights march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. I will never forget the joy I experienced during that march. I had come by myself. Nobody knew me-nobody had ever heard of me-but when we walked together and put our arms around each other’s shoulders and sang “We shall overcome one day,” I experienced a joy I had never experienced before in my life. I said to myself, “Yes, yes, I belong; these are my people. They may have different way of life, but they are my brothers and sisters. They love me, and I love them. Their smiles and tears are my smiles and tears; their prayers and prophecies are my prayers and prophecies; their anguish and hope are my anguish and hope. I am one with them”.

In an instant, all differences seemed to melt away as snow in the sun. All my comparing disappeared, and I felt surrounded by the welcoming arms of all humanity. I was aware that some of the people with whom I held hands had spent years in prison, were addicted to drugs or alcohol, suffered from loneliness and depression, and lived lives radically different from mine, but they all looked to me like saints, radiant with God’s love. They were indeed God’s people, immensely loved and radically forgiven. All I felt was a deep sameness, a profound communion with all people, an exhilarating sense of brotherhood and sisterhood.

I am convinced that it is this joy-the joy of being the same as others, of belonging to one human family-that allows us to die well. I do not know how I or anyone else could be prepared to die if we were mainly concerned about trophies we had collected during our best years. The great gift hidden in our saying is the gift of unity with all people. However different we are, we were all born powerless, as we all die powerless, and the little differences we live in between dwindle in the light of this enormous truth. Often this human truth is presented as a reason to be sad. It is not seldom called a “sobering truth”. Our greatest challenge is to discover this truth as a source of immense joy that will set us free to embrace our mortality with the awareness that we will make our passage to new life in solidarity with all the people of the earth.

A good death is a death in solidarity with others. To prepare ourselves for a good death, we must develop or deepen this sense of solidarity. If we live toward death as toward an event that separates us from people, death cannot be other than a sad and sorrowful event. But if we grow in awareness that our mortality, more than anything else, will lead us into solidarity with others, then death can become a celebration of our unity with the human race. Instead of separating us from others, death can unite us with others; instead of being sorrowful, it can give rise to new joy; instead of simply ending life, it can begin something new. 

Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, Pages 21-24.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Does it Mean to Forgive?

"Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude". Martin Luther King Jr.

The following is passage from Jean Vanier's book, "Becoming Human". This section is taken from the final chapter on, "Forgiveness".

To forgive is to break down the walls of hostility that separate us, and to bring each other out of the anguish of loneliness, fear, and chaos into communion and oneness. This communion is born from mutual trust and acceptance, and the freedom to be ourselves in our uniqueness and beauty, the freedom to exercise our gifts. We are no longer contained and held back by fear, prejudices, or the need to prove ourselves.
So the sense of belonging that is necessary for the opening of our hearts is born when we walk together, needing each other, accompanying one another whether we are weak or strong, capable or not. This belonging will not bring feelings or superiority if we are walking towards inner freedom. It will not seek to exclude but to include the weak, the needy, and the different, for they have a secret power that opens up people’s hearts and leads them to compassion and mutual trust. This belonging becomes a song of gratitude for each one of us.
Of course, all this takes time. But are we not all called to take this journey if we want to become fully human, to conquer divisions and oppression, and to work for peace? If each one of us today begins this journey and has the courage to forgive and be forgiven, we will no longer be governed by past hurts. Wherever we may be-in our families, our work places, with friends, or in places of worship or of leisure-we can rise up and become agents of a new land. But let us not put our sights too high. We do not have to be saviours of the world! We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time.
Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, Forgiveness, Pages 162-163.    

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Path to Freedom

"Being human is difficult. Becoming a human is a life long process. To be truly human is a gift." Abraham Heschel

The following is a passage from Jean Vanier's book, "Becoming Human". This section is taken from the chapter, "The Path to Freedom".
To be free is to know who we are, with all that is beautiful, all the brokenness in us; it is to love our own values, to embrace them, and to develop them; it is to be anchored in a vision and a truth but also to be open to others and, so, to change. Freedom lies in discovering that the truth is not a set of fixed certitudes but a mystery we enter into, one step at a time. It is a process of going deeper and deeper into an unfathomable reality.

In this journey of integrating our experience and our values, and of what we might learn we listen to others, there may be a period of anguish. We need to find links between the old and the new, links that will permit the integration of new, consciousness-expanding truths into what we already know and are living-our existing certitudes. As human sciences develop and the world evolves, we are called to grow into a new and deeper understanding of the source of the universe and of life. As we participate in this, our sense of the true expands. Freedom is to be in awe of this source, of the beauty and diversity of people, and of the universe. It is to contemplate the height and breadth of all that is true.

Freedom is to accept that when we belong to a group, a race, a tribe, a family, a community, a religion, that none of these are perfect, that each has its limits and weaknesses. Every community of humans has its light and its darkness. We are all part of something greater than ourselves. We all flow from a source that is unfathomable and we are all journeying towards it, carrying with us the light of truth and love. Each of us is called to be in communion with the source and heart of the universe. The infinite yearnings of our hearts are calling us to be in communion with the infinite. None of us can be satisfied with the limited and finite. Each cone must be free to follow the Spirit of God.

And this freedom is for love and compassion, to give our lives more totally and more freely to others. It is the freedom to be kind and patient. This freedom does not seek personal honours; it believes all, hopes all, bears all, and endures all. Freedom does not judge or condemn but understands and forgives. Freedom is the liberation from all those inner fears and inhibitions and that we need to ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.

There is a freedom that I sense exists but that I do not have. I cannot always describe it but I do want it. I sense I still have a long road to walk in order to reach this freedom. I see the goal but I am not yet there. I love and want it but sometimes I am frightened on the road I must take.

I am frightened of the disappearance of my walls of defense, sensing that behind them there is an anguish and a vulnerability that will rise up. I see that I still cling to what people think of me and am fed by the way people love, want, and admire me. If all that fell away, who would I be? But that is where freedom lies, the freedom to be rejected, if that is the path I am to take in order to live more fully. Is that not the freedom that Jesus announces in his charter of the Beatitudes, when he says, “Woe to you when people speak well of you”?

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, The Path to Freedom, Pages 117-119.

Friday, August 28, 2015


The last entry looked at how we as humans can use strength and weakness to live with others. Becoming human is a struggle of finding your strength in weakness. For the following entry I would like to look at belonging and what it means to belong. Living in Canada this can be a difficult task because of the multicultural environment we find ourselves living in. Toronto is culturally the most diverse city in the world. What does it mean to belong?

Belonging, like anything else, can be a place of opening up as well as a place of closing in. It is a place where we discover what makes our humanity. Family, language, humanhood, culture, food, communication, love and respect for others sums up this notion of belonging. If we accept this then we must accept that at the heart of belonging, is the fact that, we have received our existence from others and need to grow and develop as individuals, physically, psychologically, and humanly.

Let's use the example of a child to see how a child can become a product of the society that we build around ourselves. Belonging is not an individual act but involves an entire group. The child goes to school, shares in the life of the community, and discovers a wider sense of belonging with others from the same city, region, country, religion, language and culture. Sometimes the child meets people who are different, strangers, people with disabilities, immigrants, people from different religious backgrounds etc. The child will quickly pick up, through the adults attitude whether such people are to be accepted and loved or ignored, or even ostracized because they do not belong. And so from a young age we learn, without realizing it, that those who are different, those who standout, are either acceptable or dangerous.

When a child acquires a language and learns how to relate to adults, to friends, to God, when he learns the customs and values that have been taught to him through his culture, how to deal with death, pain, sorrow, he cannot but think that what he has been taught is the only way of being and living. As children we learn that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing everything. We do not ask questions instead, we obey. As we grow to adulthood we begin to questions the values learned during our childhood. This is why many adults and youth go through a crisis of faith and of trust. Belonging begins from day one. We must constantly seek to grow our humanity by accepting everyone as a human being. "Differences" should never be a factor in accepting others. Let us cultivate a society that nurtures the ideals of love and acceptance no matter how one looks, talks, or eats. To be a human is to belong and to belong is to love all without any pretext or conditions. Love is at the heart of belonging and once we belong to a community we learn to love unconditionally.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Strength in Weakness

The last entry looked at the humanistic approach involved in Chaplaincy. I would like to expand this and speak on what it means to be weak and how this relates to becoming a human being. Becoming human is a title for many books written in the last century. Authors like Jean Vanier, John Behr and Olivier Clement have written on what it means to become a human. Becoming human, I can define from reading these books, is based on the idea of constantly seeking the good and beautiful in all that we do. In order to seek the good and beautiful we must however understand that, in order to find beauty and goodness, we must come from a place of weakness.

The paradox of weakness and strength can be difficult to understand. One can say, "How can I find beauty and goodness when I am lying in a hospital bed and I do not have control over the condition that has taken a hold of me?" People are infuriated by weakness that sometimes even the beautiful cry of a child can be a distraction. Weakness awakens hardness and anger in all of us. Equally dangerous, sometimes less obvious, weakness can lead people to a possessive love. However, in this mystery of weakness it can open our hearts to compassion; the place where we are concerned for the growth and well-being of the weak.

I see this on many levels in the hospital. The nurse, doctor, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and many more constantly seek to help others who are in a position of weakness trying to restore them to a position of strength. To deny weakness as a part of life is to deny death, because weakness speaks to our ultimate destruction of not being in control which is death itself. To be sick or dying is a stage of weakness and as that weakness becomes more apparent we begin to deny it all together.

If we deny our weakness and the reality of death by constantly seeking to be powerful and strong, then we deny part of our being creating a space of illusion, a bubble that becomes harder to break. To be a human being is to accept who we are, this mixture of strength and weakness. To be human is to be bonded to each other with our weakness and strengths, because we need each other. Lastly, weakness that is recognized, accepted and offered back is at the heart of belonging, which brings us together as a community of love.

I leave you with the beautiful words of Jean Vanier. Jean Vanier published a book called Becoming Human, inspiring me to write this post. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in wanting to understand and grow their knowledge of what it means to become a human being.

Weakness carries within it a secret power. The cry and the trust that flow from weakness can open up hearts. The one who is weaker can call forth powers of love in the one who is stronger. Do those who are stronger respond with love because in an unconscious way they identify with the one who is weak? Do they, in some way, know that one day they too will be weak and will cry out for help, recognition, and love?       

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, 40. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Humanistic Approach to Chaplaincy

One aspect that has really caught my attention during the last six months is a concept that has been popularized by Henri Nouwen. The wounded healer is the affirmation that all humans are wounded yet we find healing through the same wounds that make us vulnerable with each other. Henri Nouwen sums up the role of the priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, pendant etc. beautifully connecting the role to the wounded healer:

The Christian leader, minister or priest, is not one who reveals God to the people-who gives something to those who have nothing-but one who helps those who are searching to discover reality as the source of their existence. In this sense we can say that the Christian leader leads humans to confession, in the classic sense of the word: to the basic affirmation that humans are human and God is God, and that without God, humans cannot be called human. The Wounded Healer, Page 43.

The Humanistic approach to providing care was made popular following World War 2 by Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers was an influential American psychologist and was one of the main founders of the humanistic approach (client-centered care) in the medical field. This approach seeks to understand human personalities and human relationships in order to provide counseling, psychotherapy and education to all. Rogers was found to be the 6th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century and second, among clinicians, only to Sigmund Freud. The overall understanding of the humanistic approach can be summed up in the following manner: 

"Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity, there is no experience that this man or women has that I cannot share with them, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep there wound, they do not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever their story, they no longer need to be alone with it. This is what will allow there healing to begin". Carl Rogers. 

The broken human being is the paradigm into which healing can begin. If the chaplain or any medical care provider begins to understand their own brokenness and see that it can be used as a way to heal others then this is the starting point in which everyone can be restored in that image and likeness that God intended us to be fashioned in. One aspect of the humanistic approach deals with the development of personality. The last step to be achieved in the personality development is the "rich and full life". Carl Rogers summarizes this in the following way:  

"This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life". Carl Rogers, 1961.

Becoming a human being is a process that consists of struggles and pains. The humanistic approach speaks to this struggle and challenges us to open ourselves and become vulnerable so that we can seek healing from those who are integrated in our lives. If we cannot open up as human beings then we cannot begin to understand the struggles and the pains that our patients and loved ones go through. Becoming human involves the process of being, living and opening up ourselves to pain and sorrow. Once we open ourselves we can start to heal and become healers for everyone.  

Monday, June 29, 2015

Spiritual and Religious Care: The Role of the Chaplain

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Pema Chodron

This post has been long overdue. It sadness me when people approach me and tell me that I should give up my profession as a chaplain and pursue teaching instead. This shows me how uninformed people are about chaplaincy and what it is that a chaplain does within the medical system. I hope to use this post to dispel any of those misconceptions people might have and I hope if anyone has any questions to ask because no question is ever a bad one.

Chaplains usually belong to a team (department) called spiritual and religious care. We are an integral part of the healthcare team, providing spiritual care to patients, families, and staff of all faith backgrounds 24/7, throughout the hospital. The role of the chaplain is to relate to patients, family, staff or other partners-in-care, as a whole person (seeking to reach the individual from a holistic perspective), with a particular focus on the spiritual or religious needs. Spiritual care affirms the inherent dignity and value of all persons, and respects different spiritual perspectives and practices-which may, or may not be rooted in a religious tradition. A wildly misunderstood point is that we only care for those who have a particular faith which is simply not true. We provide to care to all even those who express that they are an atheist or agnostic or pagan.

Spiritual care professionals (or chaplains) are first and foremost healthcare providers. We are part of the healthcare team and are no different from doctors, nurses, social workers or any other allied health profession involved with the care of the patient. So the next natural question people ask is what do you do? What do you say or give a patient?

Some of the "things" chaplains do, and I will provide some points as to what we do or what we can offer for the care of the patient, family or staff. We help people to rediscover meaning and significance in times of illness, crisis, and loss. We provide mindful and heart-felt listening. We help by assisting in identify and access inner resources for coping. We help by providing end-of-life bereavement support. We help by providing the space and time for mediation support in situations of conflict. We help by facilitating connections between patients, families or staff and spiritual leaders from diverse religious communities. We help by leading and facilitating ceremonies, rites of passage, religious rituals, meditation and prayer catering to the specific religious or faith tradition the patient belongs to. The list can go on but what is important in all of this is the attention to the human being at a time when he or she might think all hope is lost. We provide that support for the patient and family during difficult times.

Now I will mention a few points on what I AM NOT! I am not an ordained priest. Chaplains do not have to be ordained in order to be a chaplain. This is a misconception that sometimes I see from the medical team when they make a joke about me not having a white collar or white hair. Anyone with the training and passion for caring for patients can be a chaplain. Many times I get people telling me that "I am too young and wasting my life in this line of work". That is simply not true at all. You can be ordained and be a chaplain but it is not a requirement. If anyone is contemplating chaplaincy you can be reassured you do not have to be ordained in any way shape or form. Being an ordained minister is one type of ministry and chaplaincy is another form of ministry.

Lastly, why does it matter? It matters for many reasons. Firstly, staff feels directly and indirectly supported by the presences of a chaplain on the unit which helps reduce compassion fatigue. Spiritual care enhances patient connection with community support. Studies have shown that spiritual well-being is linked to their overall quality of life. Spiritual care can support increased health and shorten recovery periods. Religion and spirituality of any kind are often cited as major sources of support and coping. Also, many patients in acute care want to receive spiritual care and support from the little as listening to patients to providing prayer support to making a referral for a patient who needs access to community resources (IE. clergy to take confessions or give communion). These sample reasons and much more is why chaplains are needed in the medical system for the care of the patient, family members, and staff members. I hope this has helped clear the air to all my friends who have asked me about chaplaincy and the type of "things" we do for patients. If you want more information or have any questions feel free to ask! I leave you with this video when I was a student at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Beauty Will Save the World-Part 2

Firstly, we must respect all human life (those who are rich and those who are poor) because just like the rich build our society the poor teach our society. Secondly, the quote points to a central theme within humanity; the struggle and tension between physical and spiritual beauty in the midst of suffering. In the midst of trial and suffering how can one see beauty clearly? Beauty is a path leading to the truth but the modern world is disfigured and trapped in darkness. How can we overcome this train of thought? Authentic beauty unlocks the desire of the heart, the craving to know, to love, to unite with others and to reach beyond our capabilities. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us closely, that it sores us, that it has the ability to open our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing and most importantly to grasp the profound meaning of our existence. This is portrayed in the life of the idiot. The saving power of beauty could not overcome his sickness, but nonetheless illumined his vision, “What matter though it be only disease, an abnormal tension of the brain, if when I recall and analyze the moment, it seems to have been one of harmony and beauty in the highest degree-an instant of deepest sensation, overflowing with unbound joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion, and completest life?” In the midst of his suffering, he saw, in a paradoxical manner, the heart of reality.  

The fight for beauty is a battle of the soul and is linked to the crisis of faith. Dostoevsky indicated this tension in his epic, The Brothers Karamazov, “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man”. What looks beautiful might not be beautiful, and what seems terrible, such as a dead body, may show true beauty. Dostoevsky manifests this tension by placing the idiot in the midst of his suffering and insanity to speak the line, “Beauty will save the world”. Beauty is understood only in paradox. How can we see beauty in that which is good? We won’t appreciate beauty if we see it in good actions. However, when we encounter suffering or maybe death, it is at those moments that we begin to appreciate and clearly see beauty. As an individual dies we remember all the good moments and events he or she enjoyed when they were alive. Beauty that begins to develop from the deepest and darkest point of the heart is the starting point of authentic beauty. 

For good or bad, beauty has power. This power is not found in materialism and secularism but rather it is a power that illumines the path toward truth and goodness. If beauty does not point toward the truth and the good, it becomes divorced from our beings. It becomes a darkness, which makes human beings turn on each other. The Idiot demonstrates this when he said, “Such beauty is real power…with such beauty as that one might overthrow the world”. This beauty can be found in every simple act done with our fellow human. From eating a meal to talking to the stranger on the bus, beauty has the power to save humanity from utter destruction. When beauty sheds its light in the right direction, it saves the world, not overthrow it. It is in suffering that we find joy. The realism of suffering is scandalous (Christ on the cross), but suffering represents itself as an opportunity (Christ rose from the dead). We must learn to work with each other to overcome the darkness imposed by the deceptive beauty the world throws our way (materialism etc). In contemplating the suffering of Christ, in particular, we see a beauty which starts with Christ taking on our fallen nature and overcame the darkness. Christ suffering leads to the resurrection, a resurrection not done as a selfish act but rather as a redemptive one. This explains why the icon of the resurrection is always showing Christ rising from the dead holding in his hands Adam and Eve. It is a challenging beauty, but a powerful one-with power to transform our own suffering and lack of beauty. It is a beauty that scares us and makes us vulnerable and ultimately is the same beauty that will save the world.

Dostoevsky was a Christian philosopher, and a person who contemplated the mystery of man. Even as a religious individual he allowed himself to grow as a free-thinker and a powerful artist. Being a religious man, a free-thinker and an artist were not differentiated in him and did not exclude one another, but penetrated all his thoughts and works. In his beliefs, he never separated truth from good and beauty. In his artistic creativity he never placed beauty apart from good and the truth. I agree with how Dostoevsky intertwined these three topics because these three lived only in unity with each other. If we separate the good, truth and beauty, they all become an indistinct feeling, a powerless surge; truth becomes empty words; beauty and good become nothing more than a mere idol. These three, understood in unity, form one absolute idea. The human body, having been revealed and become God, fitting into itself all aspects of Christ-becomes the greatest good, the highest truth, and perfect beauty. If Christ is understood as the perfect human, the one who personifies all that is good, beautiful and true, then we are called to live and to be held in the same standard as Christ. Truth is good, perceived by the human mind; beauty is the same good and the same truth expressed in living form. The full expression, the end, the ultimate goal, and being united to God-already exist's in everything. This is why Dostoevsky said that beauty will save the world. The world and life comes in full circle to its creator. If beauty saves the world then all that is beautiful and good is expressed in truth through humanity.  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beauty Will Save the World-Part 1

"Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to them. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, at the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty" Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

The Great Russian writer Fydor Dostoevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world”. I never thought much of this. Going to seminary challenged my way of thinking and the more I was challenged the more I was forced to think outside the box. I began to read more of Dostoevsky’s works and came to the conclusion that this challenge is not to be feared but embraced. At first I thought this idea was romantic, something expressed by such sentiments as “there’s beauty in everything, if we would only stop and appreciate the beauty around us.” This idea suggests there is a divorce between the world and ourselves. Today, I realized what Dostoevsky meant; beauty is the paradigm of our life. Beauty is not an influence that is found outside of human life; it is the principle which characterizes all that we do. Everything we do must be done with beauty. From the moment we wake up to the moment we sleep we must see the beauty in everything. This does not mean we are trying to make our waking up and going to sleep “beautiful”, rather, it has to do with the way in which we execute the task; the way we live every minute as we do what we do. It has to do with being attentive to the activity at hand, acting without being concerned with how we look as we act. Acts of beauty are innocent, not concerned with appearances or the perception of peoples' thoughts; it is not concerned with being treated fairly, with showing off or making impressions. I would even go as far as to say that it is not even concerned with acting out of certainty that this action “is God’s will”. Beauty is simply making the beautiful gesture. All that we do and say is beautiful. Why? 

If we look to the starting point of scripture we see this is the paradigm that is given. God created everything and he saw that it was good. All that was created was good and God let it be. Beauty is at the centre of all God’s creation. Beauty is where God is present. As I was cleaning the putrid washroom at work, I suddenly realized that I must do this seemingly repulsive work as a beautiful gesture. This is the only free action available to me. If I act out of resentment (because others are not cleaning the washroom like I am), or anger (because no one takes care of the washroom), then I am a slave to myself and my work will be exhausting. The opposite of this can also become a form of slavery also. If I work out of a sense of pride (I’ve got to make the washroom look good) or cleaning the washroom because it is my duty ("God expects me to do it" and somehow this will make me a good person), I am still a slave to myself. The only way to go about this task with joy, as a free human being, is to work in the presence of God realizing God is present in all. This is how beauty will save the world. When we realize we are free and doing actions by living for others. All my actions and thoughts become a beautiful gesture and if humanity comes to this understanding it is then the world will be saved through beauty. The paradigm is found in living for each other. If we can see that we are created in the image and likeness of God, it is then that we will realize that beauty will save the world.            

Dostoevsky spoke these words in his classic, The Idiot, because the struggle between humanity’s understanding of good and evil was ever-changing during his time (19th century). Dostoevsky used the main character from the book to speak this line. Out of the mouth of the idiot, comes a clearer vision of beauty and reality that those around him did not see. His clarity and way of thinking heightened even in the midst of his sickness. Can the words of an idiot set the tone for our response in the modern world? In a world that is characterized by its madness, maybe only the idiot is sane. It seems that we must trust him, now that the words of an idiot have become the stepping stone to everyone’s salvation. In a world that has largely rejected the ability to reason to know the truth and the moral order toward the good, this is the time to show humanity how beauty can save all. Beauty and its simplicity can show both the intellectuals and the uneducated that we are all created equal and created in order to live for one another. This quote is significant for many reasons. 

To be continued...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Healing the Wounds of Chalcedon

I collaborated with the main editor of Theologues regarding the council of Chalcedon. He allowed me to write a small entry on the history of the council and the implications for all Christians today. The following is the link to the original post (click here). I would like to thank Zach very much for giving me the opportunity to write on a delicate topic that needs to be treat with care and love. My philosophy is based on love; a love that unites in the body of Christ. Chalcedon was an event that for many, and I mean many, reasons divided the body of Christ. However, with time, wounds have begun to heal and I believe we are in a position today to finally let out a deep breathe, and with with confidence say, we can start moving forward and living out that unity once again! Leave your comments and questions and I hope this small piece will deepen your search for the truth! 

Top: Patriarch Ephrem II of Antioch and Patriarch John X of Antioch 
Bottom: Patriarch Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria

Pope Francis and Patriarch Tawadros II 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Theosis: Becoming God

Theosis (Greek for "making divine", Deification; to become gods by grace) leads to reconciliation and union with God achieved through a relationship or synergy between God and humanity. Union with God is not based on fusion (in a physical sense) but on free will. Since God created us with free will and all that is created by God is good, we have the potential to experience this union in all aspects of life (I.E. work, school, friendships, relationships, conversations, human interactions, prayers etc.).

Theosis should not be understood as a philosophical theory but is grounded in scripture, tradition and the writings of the early Christian writers.

The following scripture passages summarizes Theosis:

Psalm 82.6: I said, "You are gods"; you are all sons of the most high.

2 Peter 1:3–4: God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” through the knowledge of God, who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these things, He has given us His great promises so that we “may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

Romans 12:1–2: We are to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice,” doing so as part of our spiritual worship. And we are to “be transformed” by the renewing of our minds into the likeness of God.
1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:17: We are reminded that we are God’s “temple” and that “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him”—union with God.

Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Philippians 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ.”

Colossians 3:3: We have “died” and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God”—total participation in Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:23: May God “sanctify you completely”—complete conformity to the image and likeness of God.

2 Thessalonians 2:14: We were called by God “for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 John 4:17: “Because as He is, so are we in this world”—the possibility of deification, total participation in Christ this side of eternity.

John 17:22: In His high priestly prayer, Jesus says that He has given us the glory that the Father gave Him.

Revelation 21:7: At the beginning of the eschaton, Christ says of each of us, “I will be his God and he shall be My son.”

1 John 3:2: “We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Philippians 3:21: Christ will “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.”

The early Christian fathers bore witness to Theosis. More often it was the Alexandrian Fathers who preached and defended Theosis as being the aim of the Christian life. It was because of Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection that we as humans are able to achieve this union in God through Christ. Christ show's us what it is to be God in the way he lived and died as a human being. The following are a few quotations from the Fathers writing on Theosis:

St. Athanasius: "God became man so that men might become gods".

St. Gregory of Nazianzuz (who's liturgy is prayed in the Coptic Church): "Man has been ordered to become God"...and..."For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but what is united with God is also being saved".

St. Basil the Great (who's liturgy is prayed in the Coptic Church and Byzantine Church): “From the Holy Spirit is the likeness of God, and the highest thing to be desired, to become God.”

Origen noted that the spirit “is deified by that which it contemplates.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria commented that we are all called to take part in divinity, becoming the likeness of Christ and the image of the Father by “participation.”

St. Irenaeus noted, “If the Word is made man, it is that man might become gods.”

Theosis is a truly catholic understanding of the goal of our relationship with God in Christ. It is through Theosis that we can truly become human. St. Irenaeus reminds us that, "The glory of God is a living (alive) human being". In God we live and become life for others. The reason for our existence is made whole in God's existence (taking on human flesh) and the reason the Creator united with us was to complete, in its fullness, the bestowing of His grace on us because he gives abundantly. The best of gifts that God could have given us was His own self and it is because of this gift we are able to unite with Him. This is the first steps in achieving our potential in Christ!

Of the centrality of theosis and of theosis in Orthodox missiology, His Eminence Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Osthathiose (Indian Orthodox) writes: 
“Salvation is more than liberation of humanity or humanization, but divinization of the humanity and the cosmos. Finite salvation of the created is not infinite liberation, that is the infinite divinization as humanity is not created for one another alone, but for the Creator as well.
The aim of salvation is not restitution of the unfallen state and Adam and Eve, but elevation to the status and fulness of the Second Adam, which is called Christification or Trinitification.
The first Adam fell when tempted, but the Second Adam did not fall. Therefore our aim is not just humanization, but theosis. It is for this theosis that the Incarnation took place as "good news of a great joy which will come to all the people" (Lk 2:10)...
Ulltimately all the differences and separations between human beings will be dissolved in a mutual sharing of beingness (perichoresis) where 'thine and 'mine' are different in the case of property, purpose or will, but different only in different personal and group identities with full openness to penetrate each other...
The aim of mission can't be anything less than the deification, unification and reconciliation of all churches and the whole world into the unity of the measure and the stature of the fullness of Christ. It is not humanization or socialization but divinization, which is social transformation in the model of Holy Trinity, which may be called Trinification. The aim of mission is not only Theosis but along with it the establishment of the Kingdom of God.” 

+ Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Osthathiose . “Sharing God and a Sharing World” (India: ISPCK & CSS, 1995), 150-152.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hymns of St. Ephrem: Nisibene Hymn-Christ's Victory over Death (Part 2)

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! Continuing on our theme of the death and resurrection of Christ we will continue to look at poetry that explains to us what it is that Christ did through his death and resurrection. The following is a poem entitled, "Christ's Victory over Death" (part 2), which explains how Christ destroyed death!

This will be the last poem in this series on explaining the death and resurrection of Christ. If you would like more material please do not hesitate to contact me!

Blessed is Christ! He gave to us the dead, hope for life, and consoled our race. Although now we are subject to decay, we will be renewed. 

Listen, you mortals, to the mystery of the resurrection which is hidden now, but in the Last Days will be revealed in the Holy Church. 

Jesus a traveler [in the realm] of Death for three days, liberated his captives, robbed his camp, and renewed our race. 

Previously Death had prided himself and boasted, saying: “Priests and Kings are enchained in my dwellings.” 

But the glorious Warrior suddenly broke into the realm of Death; as a thief his voice stole therein and put an end to his glory. 

The dead in Sheol perceived the fragrance of life and began preaching to each other that their hopes come to fulfillment. 

Death reigned over mortals from the beginning, until the one Sovereign shone over and destroyed his pride. 

His voice, like peals of mighty thunder, readied the dead and heralded to them that they were liberated from bondage.

The following hymn is found in Metropolitan Hilarion, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, 131.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Hymns of St. Ephrem: Nisibene Hymn-Christ's Victory over Death (Part 1)

Christ is Risen. Indeed He is Risen! Continuing on our theme of the death and resurrection of Christ we will continue to look at poetry that explains to us what it is that Christ did through his death and resurrection. The following is a poem entitled, "Christ's Victory over Death", which explains how Christ destroyed Death!

Another poem, "Christ's Victory over Death," presents the story of Christ's descent into Hades, victory over Satan, and the devastation of Shoel:

This whole region is the region of the dead; terrifying darkness is the keeper of its treasures; its lord, Death, roars as a lion every day...

Who can imagine the terrors of this region? Who will describe by what horrors it is surrounded? Everyone who enters it, shudders...

Death rejoices and makes merry, Sheol jubilates but keeps silent.

With gladness she opens its gates and gulps down ages and

And as this fierce tyrant is accustomed to swallowing up the beautiful ones, so he has swallowed up and stolen the most Beautiful and the Most Holy One.

He ushered him in into his halls and concealed the Giant. But the Strong One arose in glory, bound Death in his own dwelling, enchained and deposed the Tormentor, who boasted o f his power over humanity.

Finally he plundered the insatiable Sheol who gulped down and tormented even the bodies of the righteous; he cried out and the demons trembled, and darkness shrank from his voice.

He put to terror the hordes and retinue of Death; that moans in his fetters; loudly howls Sheol in her

Death has been put to shame, the head of this rebel, who willed to become God, has drooped. The voice of Christ resounds in the realm of perdition, and the rebel, besieged, has surrendered.

Christ has cried out to Adam in the darkness, into which he had been plunged, and said: “Where are you beautiful Adam, once seduced by the counsel of a wife?

Rise up now, O splendid one, rise up, you majestic and corrupt image! The head of the dragon has been crushed, Death and Satan are put to death.”...

Adam rose up, bowed down to the Lord who had come in search of him, and said: “Together with my own children I bow down to you, my Lord, who has come to restore us, the fallen ones.”

The following hymn is found in Metropolitan Hilarion, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, 130-131.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Hymns of St. Ephrem: Nisibene Hymn-A Dialogue between Death and Satan

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen. Continuing on our theme of the death and resurrection of Christ we will continue to look at poetry that explains to us what it is that Christ did through his death and Resurrection. The following is hymn 52 which serves as a dialogue between death and Satan!

Hymns 52-68 present a collection of dramatic dialogues in verse between Satan and Death, interspersed with the poet’s remarks. Satan and Death, who have “never prevailed and will never prevail,” argue with each other about which side the victory is on. In the course of this argument Satan and Death do no more than prove their helplessness in the face of God; they talk about Christ’s death on the cross as the source of their own torment and defeat. Each stanza is accompanied by a refrain that bears the central message: “Praise to you, O Son of the Shepherd of all, who has saved his flock from the hidden wolves, the Evil One and Death, whom he has swallowed up," “Praise to you, who has prevailed over the Evil One and through your resurrection has triumphed over Death.” In a condensed form the refrains contain the principal theological idea, which the reader would otherwise have to derive from the dialogues between Satan and Death. This particular way of presenting the material serves a didactic purpose and enables the reader to grasp the core idea of the poem in greater depth. The dialogue between Death and Satan in Hymn 52 demonstrates this.


I heard Death and Satan loudly disputing which was the stronger of the two amongst men.

Death has shown his power in that he conquers all men, Satan has shown his guile in that he makes all men sin.

Death: “Only those who want to, O Evil One, listen to you, but to me they come, whether they will or not.”

Satan: “You just employ brute force, O Death, whereas I use traps and cunning snares.”

Death: “Listen, Evil One, a cunning man can break your yoke, but there is none who can escape from mine.”

Satan: “You, O Death, exercise your strength on the sick, but I am the stronger with those who are well...”

Satan: “Sheol is hated for there is no chance of remorse there: it is a pit which swallows up and suppresses every impulse.”

Death: “Sheol is a whirlpool, and everyone who falls in it is resurrected, but sin is hated because it cuts off a man’s hope.”

Satan: “Although it grieves me, I allow for repentance; you cut off a sinner’s hopes if he dies in his sins.”

Death: “With you his hope was cut off long ago; if you had never made him sin, he would have made a good end.”

Chorus: “Blessed is he who set the accursed slaves against each other so that w e can laugh at them just as they laughed at us.” 

Our laughing at them now, my brethren, is a pledge that we shall again be enabled to laugh, at the resurrection.

The following hymn is found in Metropolitan Hilarion, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, 126-128.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hymns of St. Ephrem: Nisibene Hymn-A Dialogue with Satan

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! Continuing on our theme of the death and resurrection of Christ we will continue to look at poetry that explains to us what it is that Christ did through his death and resurrection. The following is hymn 41 which is a dialogue with Satan.

In this hymn, humor, a distinctive feature, also serves as a literary device. Characters appear to ridicule themselves by acknowledging their own weaknesses and falsehoods while at the same time they present arguments that attempt to prove the contrary. Matters may be depicted distortedly because the despicable characters dwell on them. Therefore it is up to the reader to unravel this unassuming riddle and to define the original, intended message of the text. For instance, in Hymn 41 Satan delivers a long speech on how, despite his old age, he still does not neglect small children but takes care of them. This care consists of his attempt to accustom youngsters to evil from a tender age. The following example is the entire text of Hymn 41:


Said the Evil One: “I am afraid of that Jesus. He will destroy my ways. I am a thousand years old and have never been idle: Nothing in creation which I saw did I neglect or miss, and now comes he, who teaches profligate chastity. I weep now, for he has destroyed everything I had built. For it took me much effort and labor to entangle the whole of creation in wiles.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

“I used to set off with the fastest [runners] and would outrun them. I would do battle, and confusion of crowds would be my weapon. I would rejoice in people’s agitation for it gave me a fast opportunity to harden the onslaught of the crowd. By means of a crowd I built a great mountain— a tower reaching up to heaven. Had they declared war on the heights [of heaven] how much simpler would it have been for them to overcome that one on earth!”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

“Along with time and its benefits I struggled prudently. The people heard that God is one, but made for themselves a multitude of gods. Because, having seen the Son of God, they rushed toward the One God, so that under the pretext of confessing God to deny him. On the pretext of being zealous they ran away from him. Thus, every time they would be found perverse, for they are godless.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

“I am a great many years old, but I never despised a child. I have taken particular care of infants, so that from the very beginning they would acquire bad habits, so that their defects would grow with them. But there are foolish fathers who do not harm the seed I have sown in their sons. And there are such who like good farmers, uproot vices out of the minds of their children.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

“Instead of chains I bound people by sloth, and they sat down in idleness. I deprived their senses of everything good: their eyes— from reading, their lips— from psalm singing their minds— from learning. How excellent they are at barren stories, how expert at empty talk and stories, but if the word of salvation falls on their ears, they will push it aside, or stand up and leave.”

Blessed is he ‘who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

“How many satans are inside a man, but it is me everyone curses! For the anger of man is like a demon, who every day harasses him; other demons are like wayfarers, they leave when they are compelled to, However, when anger is concerned, all righteous put it under oath, and cannot eradicate it. Instead of hating a destructive envy, everyone hates a weak and miserable demon!”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles oft he Evil One.

“The magician and a snake charmer was put to shame, he who binds snakes every day; a viper inside of him rebels, for he cannot subdue the lust within him. Concealed sin is like an asp; when someone blows on it, he gets burned. Even if he catches the viper through his craft, falsehood has invisibly struck him: he puts the snake to sleep by his incantations, but also arouses great wrath against himself by his very incantations.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

"I have prepared my sting and sat waiting. Who is able to subject anyone to his own opinion?...(line is missing in the original text)...Who else is so patient with everyone? And little by little I led him astray, so that he fell into listlessness.” “The one [who] shrinks from wrongdoing, habits subject him: little by little I trained him, until he fell under my yoke; and grew accustomed to it, so that he did not wish to abandon it.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

“I have noticed and seen that patience is able to overcome everything. In the time when I triumphed over Adam, he was alone. So I left him, till he begat descendants and meanwhile looked for another job to do, so that idleness did not overtake. I began to count sea sand, so that through this my spirit became more patient and to train my memory, so that it did not let me down, when sons of men will become a multitude. Before they became numerous I tested them in many ways.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

Servants of the Evil One argued with him and refuted his words by objections:
“Here Elisha revived a dead one and won over death in the high chamber, and brought to life the son of the widow; now he is bound in Sheol.” However, the intellect of the Evil One is far greater: he beat them with their own words: “How can Elisha be overpowered if in Sheol his remains still bring dead to life?”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

If Elisha who is so weak has such a great power in Sheol that he could revive the dead, then how many dead ones would be resurrected by the death of strong Jesus? Thus, following that you may learn, how considerably Jesus surpasses us, my friends! For, behold, his cunning has deceived you, and you have not been able to discern his greatness, for you simply compared him with prophets.

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

“Therefore your consolation is in vain”— said the Evil One to his comrades. “For how could Death take hold of the one who resurrected Lazarus? And even if Death would be victorious over him, this is because he would subject himself to it. And if he subjects himself to Death voluntarily, you should be still more terrified, for he would not die for nothing. Great tumult he has caused us, for having died, he would enter'in to revive Adam.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles oft he Evil One. 

Death looked out of its cavern and was astounded for he saw Our Lord crucified and said: “Waker of the dead, where are you? Will you become my nourishment instead of sweet Lazarus, whose taste is still on my lips? Jairus’ daughter will come to look at your cross; the son of the widow will look up at you. The tree has ensnared Adam for me; blessed is this cross which has ensnared the son of David for me.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

Death opened its gullet and said: “Have you never heard, O Son of Mary, about Moses who was great and surpassed everybody? About how he became a god and performed divine actions, put firstborns to death and saved firstborns, warded off death from the living ones? However, I ascended to the mountain with this Moses; [God] handed him over to me let his might be praised! No matter how great was the son of Adam lo, dust returns to dust, for he came from earth.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

Satan came with his servants to look at Our Lord in Sheol and to rejoice with Death, his ally.’ But he saw Death sad and mourning for the dead, who at the voice of the Firstborn, returned to life and went forth from Sheol. The Evil One began to console Death, his relative: “You have not lost as much as you have acquired. Unless Jesus is within you, in your hands you will hold all who have lived and are living.”

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the  guiles of the Evil One.

“Open to us [the door], so that we can see and laugh at him. We will respond and ask: “Where is your might?” It is three days already, so let us tell him: “O, three days old, you have resurrected four days old Lazarus. So bring yourself back to life.” Death has opened the doors of Sheol, and the light of the face of the Lord gushed out from there, and like the Sodomites they were destroyed groping and looking for the door of Sheol, but it has disappeared.

Blessed is he who came and destroyed the guiles of the Evil One.

The following hymn is found in Metropolitan Hilarion, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, 119-126.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Hymns of St. Ephrem: Nisibene Hymn-Resurrection of the Dead

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! Continuing on the previous blog the following is another hymn written by St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373). The previous hymn was number 35. This hymn is 37. Enjoy!

Hymn 37 has the theme of the resurrection of the dead connected with reference to Ezekiel’s prophecy:


Death shed tears over Sheol seeing that her treasuries were despoiled, and he said: “Who has stolen your riches?” .. .

“I saw that Ezekiel in the valley, who resurrected the dead as he was bidden. And I saw the bones in disarray brought into motion. There was a commotion of the bones in Sheol, for a bone sought its companion and would reunite with its pair. And no one asked there as well as no one was asked: Are those bones indeed going to be brought back to life?’ For without questioning the voice of Jesus, the Ruler of Creation, has resurrected them." 

“Sheol was afflicted as she saw them (The entire hymn is a monologue by Death). She cried for Lazarus, as he abandoned [her]. Inside and outside there was weeping; for his sisters wept for him as he came down to me to the grave, and I wept for him because he left it. Upon his death there was a great mourning among the living, and in Sheol there was a great mourning as he rose.”

“Now I also have learned the taste of grief of those who bemoan their loved ones. If dead are so pleasing to Sheol, Still more, how much they should have been loved by their fathers! . . .”

“That suffering (hasha) which I bring to humans, which afflicts them because of their loved ones, eventually, has befallen me. For when the dead will leave Sheol everyone will undergo resurrection. Only I alone will undergo torture. And truly, who will be able to endure this which still lies ahead of me? For I will see Sheol in solitude (balhudeh), for that voice which destroyed the tombs, has emptied it. And he took out the dead that there remained.”

“When one reads prophets and learns about fair wars, one who meditates upon the life of Christ, learns charity and compassionate mercy. And if he thinks about Jesus as a stranger (nukhraya), (This term is used in relation to false gods as opposed to the true God) he offends me. No other key would match the gates of Sheol, except for the key of the Creator who has opened them. He will open them [again] at his second coming.”

“Who can knit the bones together, if not the power which has created them? The parts of the body who can join if not the hand of the Maker? What will restore the bodies but the finger of the Creator? The one who treated them and turned into [dust] and destroyed, only he is able to renew and resurrect. No other God can enter and restore the creatures which do not belong to him.” (Literally, who are not his!)

“If there be any other divine power existing, I would be very glad if it could visit me. It would go down into the entrails of Sheol and learn that there is only one God. Mortals who erred and preached about many gods, are now bound in Sheol for me, and their gods were never saddened because of them. I know only one God and only his prophets and apostles I acknowledge.”

The following hymn is found in Metropolitan Hilarion, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, 117-119.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hymns of St. Ephrem: Nisibene Hymn-The Descent into Hades

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! The next few blog entries (hopefully for the remaining 50 days of this joyous feast) I will try and post from the early Church Fathers (mostly poetry) on what it is that Christ did through His death and Resurrection. The feast of Pascha (Resurrection) is the pinnacle of the Christian faith. However, we have been stuck with how to "prove" Christ's resurrection without really understand what it is that he really did through His resurrection. I hope the next few blogs will enlighten us all.

St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373) was born in the region of Nisibis. He eventually found himself later on in life in the region of Edessa. There he founded the “school of the Persians,” a school for refugees, which later became a very important theological center for the entire Syriac-speaking Christian world. While the main subject of study in this school was the Holy Scriptures, a significant emphasis was also attached to church singing and recitation. With this in mind Ephrem composed his exegetical treatises as well as a host of poems for the school on theological, ethical, historical, and ecclesiastical themes.

The most detailed account of the descent can be found in the “Nisibene Hymns” (Carmina Nisibena), written in the form of a madrasha. As such, the “Nisibene Hymns” are characterized by a regular syllabic rhythmical pattern, which makes them suitable for congregational singing. In each hymn, stanzas in a fixed meter end in a common refrain (‘onitha). Hymns 35-42 are of particular interest to us as they are collected under the general title, “On Our Lord, Death, and Satan.”These are treated as a thematically unified whole along with hymns 52-68, which follow under the common title, “On Satan and Death” and are also connected with our subject.

In these works many strophes, and therefore much importance, are given to monologues by the chief actors—Sheol, Satan, and Death—and to dialogues between them. (Similar dialogues are found in the “Gospel of Nicodemus” and in the “Questions of Bartholomew” et al.) Hymn 36 contains a monologue by Death, who boasts that no one has escaped his power, be they prophets or priests, kings or warriors, rich or poor, wise or foolish, old or young. There were only two escapees: Enoch and Elijah. In searching for them Death goes “to the place where Jonah came down,” but even there they cannot be found. Death’s monologue is suddenly shattered by a vast panorama of the resurrection:

Our Lord subjected his might, and they seized him so that through his living death he might give life to Adam. He gave his hands to be pierced by nails to make up for the hand which plucked the fruit; he was struck on his cheek in the judgment room to make up for the mouth that ate in Eden; and while Adam’s foot was free his feet were pierced; our Lord was stripped that we might be clothed; with gall and vinegar he sweetened the poison of the serpent which had bitten man.

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory (Refrain written on behalf of death)!

Death'. “If you are God, show your might, and if you are man, make trial of our might! Or if it is Adam you are wanting, be off: he is imprisoned here because of his debts; neither cherubim nor seraphim are able to secure his release: they have no mortal amongst themselves to give himself up for him. Who can open the mouth of Sheol, dive down and bring him up from thence, seeing that Sheol has swallowed him up and holds him tight for ever?”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“It was I who conquered all the sages; I have them heaped up in the corners of Sheol. Come and enter, son of Joseph, and look at the horrors; the limbs of the giants, Sampson’s huge corpse, the skeleton of cruel Goliath; there is Og, the son of the giants, too, who made a bed of iron, where he reclined: I cast him off it and threw him down, I leveled that cedar at Sheol’s gate.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“I alone have conquered many, and now the Only-begotten (ihidaya) seeks to conquer me! I have led off prophets, priests, and heroes, I have conquered kings with their array, giants with their hunts, the just with their fine deeds—rivers full of corpses I cast into Sheol, who remains thirsty no matter how many I pour in! Whether a man is near or far, the final end brings him to Sheol’s gate.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“I have spurned silver in the case of the rich and their presents have failed to bribe me; owners of slaves have never enticed me to take a slave in place of his owner, or a poor man in place of a rich, or an elder in place of a child. Sages may be able to win over wild animals, but their winning words do not enter my ears. All may call me ‘hater of requests,’ but I simply perform what I am bidden.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“Who is this? Whose son? And of what family is this man who has conquered me? The book with the genealogies is here with me— I have begun and taken the trouble to read all the names from Adam onward, and none of the dead escapes me; tribe by tribe they are all written down on my limbs. It is for your sake, Jesus, that I have undertaken this reckoning, in order to show you that no one escapes my hands.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“There are two men—I must not deceive— whose names are missing for me in Sheol: Enoch and Elijah did not come to me; I looked for them in the whole of creation, I even descended to the place where Jonah went, and groped around, but they were not there; and when I thought they might have entered paradise and escaped, there was the fearful cherub guarding it. Jacob saw a ladder: perhaps it was by this that they went up to heaven.”

Blessed is he ’who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“Who has measured out the sea sand and only missed two grains? As for this harvest, with which illnesses like harvesters are daily busied, I alone carry the sheaves and bind them up. Sheaf-binders in their haste leave sheaves, and grape pickers forget whole clusters, but only two small bunches have escaped me in the great harvest that I have been gathering in by myself”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“It is I,” says Death, “who have made all kinds of catches on sea and land: the eagles in the sky come to me, so do the dragons of the deep, creeping things, birds and beasts, old, young and babes; all these should persuade you, Son of Mary, that my dominion reigns over all. How can your cross conquer me, seeing that it was through the wood that 1 was victorious and conquered at the beginning?”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“I should like to say much more— for I do not have any lack of words!— but there is no need for words, for deeds cry out close by; I do not, like you, promise hidden things to the simple, saying that there will be a resurrection; when, I ask, when? If you are so very strong, then give a pledge on the spot so that your distant promise may be believed.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

Death finished his taunting speech and our Lord’s voice rang out thunderously in Sheol, tearing open each grave one by one. Terrible pangs seized hold of Death in Sheol; where light had never been seen, rays shone out from the angels who had entered to bring out the dead to meet the Dead One who has given life to all. The dead went forth, and shame covered the living who had hoped they had conquered him who gives life to all.

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“Would I were back in Moses’ time,” says Death, “he made me a feast day; for that lamb in Egypt gave me the first fruits from every house; heaps upon heaps of firstborn were piled up for me at Sheds gate. But this festal Lamb has plundered Sheol, taken his tithe of the dead and led them off from me. That lamb filled the graves for me, this one empties the graves that had been full.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“Jesus’ death is a torment to me, I wish I had chosen to let him live: it would have been better for me than his death. Here is a dead man whose death I find hateful; at everyone else’s death I rejoice, but at his death I am anxious, and I expect he will return to life: during his lifetime he revived and brought back to life three dead people. Now through his death the dead who have come to life again trample me at Sheol’s gates when I go to hold them in.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“I will run and close the gates of Sheol before that Dead One whose death has plundered me. He who hears of it will wonder at my humiliation, because I have been defeated by a dead man outside: all the dead want to go outside, and he is pressing to enter. The medicine (In the Syriac tradition it is a symbol of Christ) of life has entered Sheol and brought its dead back to life. Who is it who has introduced for me and hidden the living fire in which the cold and dark wombs of Sheol melt?”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

Death saw angels in Sheol, immortal beings instead of mortal, and he said: “Trouble has entered our abode. On two accounts am I tormented: the dead have left Sheol, and the angels, who do not die, have entered it—one has entered and sat at the head of his grave, another, his companion, at his feet. I will ask and request him to take his pledge (rahbona) and go off to his kingdom.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“Do not reckon against me, good Jesus, the words I have spoken, or my pride before you. Who, on seeing your cross, could doubt that you are truly man? Who, when he sees your power, will fail to believe that you are also God? By these two indications I have learned to confess you both Man and God. Since the dead cannot repent in Sheol, rise up among the living, Lord, and proclaim repentance.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

“Jesus king, receive my request, and with my request, take your hostage, carry off, as your great hostage, Adam in whom all the dead are hidden— just as, when I received him, in him all the living were concealed. As first hostage I give you Adam’s body, ascend now and reign over all, and when I hear your trumpet call, with my own hands will I bring forth the dead at your coming.”

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

Our living King has arisen and is exalted, like a victor, from Sheol. Woe is doubled for the party of the left, dismay for evil spirits and demons, suffering for Satan and Death, lamentation for Sin and Sheol, but rejoicing for the party of the right has come today! On his great day, then, let us give great praise to him who died and came to life again, so that he might give life and resurrection to all!

Blessed is he who has conquered me and brought life to the dead to his own glory!

This hymn presents a clear theological statement: Death tries in vain to impede Christ’s entrance into Sheol. Having descended into it, he resurrects everyone there and leads them out. Sheol is left bare and destitute; there are no longer any dead inside. Only the evil spirits (demons), Satan, Death, and Sin remain waiting in Sheol for the second coming of Christ. On this day Death himself must hand over his victims to Christ. Ephrem does not segregate the prophets and the righteous from the rest of the dead but calls our attention to the fact that everyone is saved and resurrected in Christ.

The following hymn is found in Metropolitan Hilarion, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, 108-116.