Hymn 6

It is only when studied within the context of Orthodox belief ("the keys of doctrine," stanza 1) that the Scriptures become truly meaningful, allowing the reader/hearer of the Paradise narrative to experience something of what Paradise is really like. In stanzas 4-5 St Ephrem describes just such an experience of the Garden's delights, and this simply serves to deepen his awe and wonder at the original state of Adam and Eve, for whose sake Paradise had been created. The Church now corresponds to Paradise, and this correspondence can be understood from two different aspects. On the one hand, we are ourselves undergoing the same period of testing that Adam and Eve underwent: whereas they were required to be obedient to the commandment not to eat of the Tree, we are now required to be obedient to Christ, whose fruit we are act- lally permitted to eat daily (stanza 8); once again all depends on our interior disposition and the proper exercise of the gift of free will. On the other hand, those who have successfully exercised this free will and have listened to Christ already experience the eschatological Paradise, and indeed themselves constitute fruits even more glorious than those of Paradise's own trees. This being so, the saints still on earth can be seen as revealing Paradise to the rest of humanity. This state of affairs indeed applied already under the Old Covenant, and it is from this that St Ephrem enumerates a series of examples with which the poem concludes.

The keys of doctrine
which unlock all of Scripture's books,
have opened up before my eyes
the hook of creation

Page 109

the treasure house of the Ark,
the crown of the Law.
This is a book which, above its companions,
has in its narrative
made the Creator perceptible
and transmitted His actions;
it has envisioned all His craftsmanship,
made manifest His works of art.

Blessed is He who through His Cross
has flung open Paradise

The keys of doctrine
Scripture brought me
to the gate of Paradise,
and the mind, which is spiritual,
stood in amazement and wonder as it entered,
the intellect grew dizzy and weak
as the senses were no longer able
to contain its treasures--
so magnificent they were--
or to discern its savors
and find any comparison for its colors,
or take in its beauties
so as to describe them in words.

Paradise surrounds the limbs
with its many delights:
the eyes, with its handiwork,
the hearing, with its sounds,
the mouth and the nostrils,
with its tastes and scents.
Blessed is that person who has gathered for himself
the company of all
who have kept vigil and fasted;
they, in return for their fasts,
shall delight to graze
upon its luxurious pastures.
Page 110

Paradise raised me up as I perceived it,
it enriched me as I meditated upon it;
I forgot my poor estate,
for it had made me drunk with its fragrance.
I became as though no longer my old self,
for it renewed me with all its varied nature.
I swam around
in its magnificent waves;
and in the place that, burning like a furnace,
had made Adam naked,
I became so inebriated
that I forgot all my sins there

Although I was not sufficient
for all the waves of its beauty,
Paradise took me up and cast me
into a sea still greater;
in its fair beauty I beheld
those who are far more beautiful than it,
and I reflected:
if Paradise be so glorious,
how much more glorious should Adam be,
who is in the image [ Gen 1:27 ] of its Planter,
and how much fairer the Cross,
upon which the Son of its Lord rode.*

It was not Paradise
that gave rise to the creation of mankind;
rather, it was for Adam alone
that Paradise had been planted,
for to its buds Adam's heart is superior,
to its fruits his words,
Page 111

because rational speech has more savor
than the produce of Paradise;
truth in mankind
surpasses its plants,*
and love is likewise more comely
than its sweet scents

God planted the fair Garden,
He built the pure Church; [ Eph 5:27 ]
upon the Tree of Knowledge
He established the injunction.
He gave joy, but they took no delight,
He gave admonition, but they were unafraid.
In the Church He implanted
the Word
which causes rejoicing with its promises,
which causes fear with its warnings:
he who despises the Word, perishes,
he who takes warning, lives.

The assembly of saints
bears resemblance to Paradise:
in it each day is plucked
the fruit* of Him who gives life to all;
in it, my brethren, is trodden
the cluster of grapes, to be the Medicine of Life.
The serpent is crippled and bound
by the curse, [ Gen 3:14 ]
while Eve's mouth is sealed
with a silence that is beneficial [ I Cor 14:34 ]
--but it also serves once again
as a harp to sing the praises of her Creator.
Page 112

Among the saints none is naked,
for they have put on glory,
nor is any clad in those leaves
or standing in shame,
for they have found, through our Lord,
the robe that belongs to Adam and Eve.
As the Church
purges her ears
of the serpent's poison,
those who had lost their garments,
having listened to it and become diseased,
have now been renewed and whitened.*

The effortless power,
the arm which never tires,
planted this Paradise,
adorned it without effort.
But it is the effort of free will
that adorns the Church with all manner of fruits.
The Creator saw the Church
and was pleased;
He resided in that Paradise
which she had planted for His honor,
just as He had planted the Garden
for her delight.

The diligent carry their own fruits
and now run forward
to meet Paradise
as it exults with every sort of fruit.
They enter that Garden
with glorious deeds,
and it sees
that the fruits of the just
surpass in their excellence
the fruits of its own trees.
Page 113

and that the adornments of the victorious
outrival its own.

Happy indeed is the person accounted worthy
to behold in Paradise
the glorious fruits of the trees
which so surpass--
but which then take second place
once they behold the fruits of the victorious!
The flowers of Paradise took the victory,
but then were vanquished
at the sight of the blossoms
of the celibate and chaste*
at whose garlands
both creation and its Creator rejoice.

The fruits of the righteous
were more pleasing to the Knower of all
than the fruits
and produce of the trees.
The beauty that exists in nature
extolled the human mind,
and Paradise lauded
the intellect;
the flowers gave praise to virtuous life,
the Garden to free will,
and the earth to human thought.
Blessed is He who made Adam so great!

More fitting to be told
than the glorious account
of Paradise
are the exploits of the victorious
who adorned themselves
with the very likeness of Paradise;

Page 114
in them is depicted
the beauty of the Garden.
Let us take leave of the trees
and tell of the victors,
instead of the inheritance
let us celebrate the inheritors.

If the beauty of Paradise
strikes us with astonishment,
how much more should we be astonished
at beauty of the mind:
one is the product of nature,
the other of the will.
Free will was envious
of the Garden
and from itself brought forth
victorious fruits
whose crowns vanquish
the very splendors of Paradise.

There, manifest and fair
to the eye of the mind,
are the coveted banquets of the just
who summon us
to be their companions and brothers,
their fellow members.
Let us not be deprived, my brethren,
of their company;
let us be their kindred,
or failing that, their neighbors,
and if not in their own dwelling,
at least round about their bowers.

How enviable is that person
held worthy of their treasuries' wealth,
Page 115

how blessed is that person
held worthy of even the dregs of their riches.
O make me worthy of that least part
which comes from there;
may the enemy see me
and be stricken with gloom,
for he imagined he would see me
in the place he had made ready for me;
may he now behold me in that place
which Your mercy has prepared for me!

Blessed is the person who is worthy
to look upon their raiment,
blessed is the person who is worthy
and has heard their wisdom,
blessed are the ears
that have drunk to the full of their voices,
blessed is the person who has achieved
their blessed state,
blessed the person who has toiled
to be among the first,
woe to him who made no effort
even to be among the last. [ Matt 20:8 and parallels ]

Blessed indeed is that person on whose behalf
they have interceded before the Good One,
woe to him whom they have opposed
before the Just One.
Those whom the Good One loves shall be in Eden,
those whom the Just rejects, in Sheol.*
The city against which they have shaken off
the dust from their shoes
will be in worse plight than Sodom; [ Matt 10:14-15 and parallels ]
but in the house where they have prayed
Page 116

the dead will come to life [ cf. Acts 20:9-12 ]
and peace will reside throughout.

They went down to Egypt
and provided food when famine reigned; [ Gen 41:54-57 ]
they came to the obstinate sea,
and taught it wisdom with a rod; [ Exod 14:16 ]
they went out into the hostile desert
and adorned it with the pillar; [ Exod 14:19 ]
they entered the furnace,
fiercely heated, [ Dan 3:19-28 ]
and sprinkled it with their dew; [ Dan 3:50 ]
into the pit where they had been thrown
an angel entered
and taught its wild beasts to fast. [ Dan 6:22 ]

The Salt that seasoned itself
to prevent losing its savor [ Matt 5:13 and parallels ]
had been scattered all over the world
by the hand of the Creator.
Just as His hand took from every quarter*
and created Adam,
so has he now been scattered
in every quarter.
The hand now gathers what had been scattered,
and scatters what had been gathered,
for progression is from the universe to Adam,
and then from him to the universe.
Page 117

The East has grown luminous with the saints,
with them the West has become brilliant,
the North is raised up by them,
from them the South has learned.
They have ascended to the firmament and opened it, [ cf 2 Cor 12:3 ]
they have gone down to the sea and explored it; [ cf 2 Cor 11;25 ]
the mystery that the apostle revealed
in a parable
have they extended to all humankind,
reaching every corner; [ cf Rom 16:25-26, Col 1:25-26 ]
all creation has embraced it
to draw strength from it.

One of them cleft
the air with his chariot; [ Elias (Elijah): 2 Kings 2:11 ]
the Watchers rejoiced as they met him,
seeing that a body
had lately taken up its abode among them;
and just as an earthly being
ascended in a chariot
and put on splendor,
so did the Lord, in His grace,
descend and put on a body;
He then mounted a cloud and ascended [ Acts 1:9 ]
to reign over high and low.

The Watchers* of fire and spirit
stood in wonder at Elias,
seeing hidden within him
the sweet treasure;

Page 118
in wonder at one formed of earth,
they gave thanks to his Fashioner.
Seeing his virginity
they exulted,
for it had exalted those below
and caused wonder to those above,
its contest being on earth,
its crown in Paradise.

With love and instruction,
commingled with truth,
the intellect can grow
and become rich with new things,
as it meditates with discernment
on the treasure store of hidden mysteries.
For my part, I have loved, and so learned,
and become assured
that Paradise possesses
the haven of the victorious.
As I have been held worthy to perceive it,
so make me worthy to enter it!

Prev -- Next