Thursday, October 23, 2014

Romanos the Melodist and the Parables (part 2)

Romanos the Melodist

Romanos’s kontakion, “On the Prodigal Son,” incorporates elements of two sacraments: the Eucharist and baptism. Overall, however, the sermon stresses that God is a loving parent who celebrates a great feast when a sinner returns home. In addition, the sermon gives an answer to a question that the parable itself leaves open: the older brother listens to his father’s entreaties and joins the celebration.
The kontakion begins with the speaker identifying with prodigal sons. Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, this opening implies that everyone hearing the sermon also should identify with the prodigal son, in the sense that they have sinned and are in church to repent and seek God’s forgiveness:

Prelude 1
I have rivaled the prodigal by my senseless deeds
and like him I fall down before you and I seek forgiveness, Lord.
Therefore do not despise me,
Master and Lord of the ages.

The kontakion identifies the feast with which the father celebrates his son’s return with the Eucharistic table. Since the Greek term for the Last Supper is to mystikon deipnon, the English term, the mystical table, is used for both the Last Supper and the Eucharist (see Lash 1995: 101):

Prelude 2
Of your mystical table, O Immortal,
Count me worthy, who have been corrupted by living as a prodigal.

This reference to the Eucharist is immediately followed by a reference to baptism, which signifies also the forgiveness of sins. Here baptism is symbolized as “the first robe of grace,” which also symbolizes theologically the “first robe” given to Adam before the “Fall” (103), which is connected . This symbolism of connecting baptism to the robe in the parable that the father gives to the returning son:

And the first robe of grace,
which I have befouled, wretch that I am, by the stains of the passions
in your unattainable mercy give me once again,
Master and Lord of the ages.

The focus of the sermon then turns to imagining the supper prepared by the father for the prodigal as symbolizing God’s love for humankind and God’s receiving all repentant prodigals. It identifies the sacrificed calf with the sacrificed Jesus, who died for the sins of humankind. This emphasis is reinforced in the second stanza, where the food at the banquet (i.e., Eucharist) is bread—the body of Jesus—and the “holy blood” of Jesus.

The third stanza explores the meaning of the Eucharist by starting with the supper that celebrates the return of the prodigal:

What is the banquet? Let us first learn of the supper
from the Gospels, so that we too may celebrate.
I will therefore recall the parable of the Prodigal.
For he was formerly stripped bare of every grace,
having squandered all his substance,
and he runs to his father with many lamentations crying, “Father, I have sinned.”
So the one who sees all things saw, hurried,
and met him and kissed him,
flung his arms around the neck of the one who had returned,
for he is the God of the repentant.
In his compassion he had mercy on his son who had fallen, he the
Master and Lord of the ages.

“The Saviour of all,” upon seeing his son dressed in “filthy apparel,” tells his slaves to bring his son the “first robe” (i.e., the baptismal robe, the “first robe” of Adam before the Fall) which “the enemy” (i.e., Satan) had stripped from him. Here the kontakion echoes elements of Genesis 1-3 (1:26; 2:1-15; 3:7) to connect the sin of the prodigal with the sin of all humankind against their Creator. God cannot bear to look at the prodigal’s (i.e., Adam’s) nakedness, because it reflects God’s image (Gen 1:26); God commands that the repentant prodigal be clothed “with the robe of grace.” Stanza six declares that the ring given to the prodigal represents “the undivided Trinity to guard him” against his enemies, demons, and the devil. Likewise, stanza seven says that the shoes given to the prodigal will protect his heel from “the all-wicked and crafty serpent” (cf. Gen 3:16) and give him the power to “trample on the dragon as powerless.”

Just like God offered the obedient and sinless Jesus as the sacrifice for the redemption of sinful humankind (stanza eight), likewise the priests re-enact this sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist and give “all who are worthy of [God’s] supper . . . the spotless calf.”

More on this kontakion in the next post. It next turns to the elder brother out in the fields.

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