Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Robe of Glory

Antiochian Orthodox priest Fr. Philip LeMasters recently published an article titled How to Wear a Wedding Garment Everyday (Fr. Philip also blogs on Ancient Faith and is on the board of trustees for St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary). This article alludes to a very rich and ancient tradition which has its origins in Antioch, Syria, & Mesopotamia, especially within the Syriac-speaking regions. This post will be a sort of review of the article, going into more detail and building on some of the original tradition from which it comes.

Fr. Philip's article begins by talking about appropriate dress for appropriate occasions, places, etc., tying that in with Middle Eastern culture in the 1st Century, especially for wedding feasts, being that of "the Son of the King" drawing on the marriage feast from Matthew 22:1-14:

"And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests."

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The Orthodox Study Bible's commentary on this passage says:

"The wedding garment would have been provided by the king, and therefore the man had no excuse for not wearing one; thus he is speechless. His refusal to wear the garment that was provided is an illustration of those who refuse God's hospitality, or who want His Kingdom on their own terms. Specifically, the garment refers to the baptismal garment, and by extension, a life of faith, repentance, virtue, and charity. Without these, a person will ultimately be cast into outer darkness."

Building on the same concept quoted from the commentary, the article continues into explaining the same themes found in very early Syriac tradition, such as the anonymous Odes of Solomon & Hymn on the Pearl, and continuing into some examples from the poems and literature of St. Ephrem the Syrian and the general Syriac tradition altogether.

The foremost academic in the Syriac field today, Dr. Sebastian Brock, focuses very heavily on this topic in his book, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem the Syrian. In his writing, he describes how clothing imagery finds its origins in Semitic tradition--especially Jewish tradition--which is why it is unique to this part of the world and especially among the Aramaic-speaking communities.

Syriac Christianity inherited a Jewish, Rabbinical tradition regarding something called the “Robe of Glory.” The term is derived from Genesis 3:21, which in modern Bibles refers to garments of animal skin that God made for Adam and Eve after the Fall. However, in early Aramaic rabbinical traditions, it reads garments of light (or glory) and was interpreted to be prior to the Fall: “the Lord God had made for Adam and his wife garments of glory.”

Ephrem and other Syriac writers inherited this oral Jewish tradition from the earlier Aramaic-speaking Jewish communities from which they also received their Old Testament. As mentioned by Fr. Philip, in the Antiochian Orthodox Baptismal Rite, the priest declares, "The servant of God, N., is clothed with the garment of righteousness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." and the choir sings "Vouchsafe unto me a robe of light, O Thou who clothest Thyself with light as with a garment: Christ our God, plenteous in mercy."

The Odes of Solomon reads:

"I took off darkness and clothed myself in Light." (Ode 21)

The Robe of Glory is a key theme throughout the whole Hymn on the Pearl and the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite, as well as that of the Church of the East.

From the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite:

"And may Thy Living and Holy Spirit come, O Lord, and dwell in this water, and kindle it with Thy mighty power, and may He sanctify it and make it like the water which flowed from the side of Thy Only-Begotten One on the Cross; that those who are baptized in it may be refined and made white, and be purified and put on the clothing of righteousness, and clothe themselves with the garment of light and the heavenly robe, so that, being pure and holy, and clothed with the armor of salvation, they may be raised up by it, and offer up praise to thy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages, Amen. Amen." (Anonymous Syriac Baptismal Ordo, Sebastian Brock, 329-330.)

The Syriac version of Psalm 8:6 also reads, “You created man a little less than the angels: in honor and glory did you clothe him.”

Therefore, when Adam sinned, he lost, or was stripped of this Robe of Glory, hence the sudden realization of his nakedness; this feeling is caused by sin. In order to redeem Adam by re-clothing him with the Robe of Glory and restore him to Paradise, God descends and puts on “Adam,” or “puts on the body” from the Blessed Virgin Mary (a parallel of the body Adam received from the virgin earth) and laid the Robe of Glory in the river Jordan when He was baptized by John the Baptist, making it available once again for mankind to put on at baptism, as also emphasized in the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite, calling the water a womb from which we are born again.

St. Ephrem writes:

"The brightness which Moses put on (Exodus 34:29)
was wrapped on him from without,
whereas the river in which Christ was baptized
put on Light from within,
and so did Mary’s body, in which He resided,
gleam from within." (Hymn on the Church 36:6)

Regarding Christ, St. Jacob of Serug goes on to write that He “came to Baptism, went down and placed in the baptismal water the Robe of Glory, to be there for Adam, who had lost it.”

In the Scriptures, St. Paul refers to "putting on Christ" at baptism in Galatians 3:27 and Romans 13:14.  The understanding of these Scriptures is that by putting on Christ, we are putting on the Robe of Glory and re-entering Paradise, the Church, being able to eat from the Fruit of the Tree of Life, the Holy Eucharist, and, at the Resurrection, we will enter Paradise, clothed in our Robes of Glory, returning to the story in Matthew 22:1-14.

Fr. Philip remarks that, "In every Divine Liturgy, we enter mystically into that heavenly celebration, that eternal wedding banquet that is the salvation of the world."  The priest in the Antiochian Baptismal Rite declares, "He who hath put on thee, O Christ our God, boweth also his head with us, unto thee," in addition to quoting Galatians 3:27 several times during the rite.

Fr. Philip goes on to write, "The Second Adam has come to restore the entire creation" drawing on on St. Ephrem's view of God becoming man having reversed the Fall.

St. Ephrem writes:

"Christ came to find Adam who had gone astray,
to return him to Eden in the garment of light." (Hymn on Virginity 16:9)

"All these changes did the Merciful One make,
stripping off glory and putting on a body;
for He had devised a way to reclothe Adam
in that glory which he had stripped off.
He was wrapped in swaddling clothes,
corresponding to Adam’s leaves,
He put on clothes in place of Adam’s skins;
He was baptized for Adam’s sin,
He was embalmed for Adam’s death,
He rose and raised Adam up in His glory.
Blessed is He who descended,
put Adam on and ascended." (Hymn on the Nativity 23:13)

After the Fall, Adam’s glory was replaced by fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Drawing on this and fig tree imagery from the Gospels (including Jesus seeing Nathanael under the fig tree, John 1:48), Jesus curses the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22) and brings Nathanael and us all out from under the fig tree and restores our Robe of Glory:

"When Adam sinned and was stripped of the glory in which he had been clothed, he covered his nakedness with fig leaves. Our Savior came and underwent suffering in order to heal Adam’s wounds and provide a garment of glory for his nakedness. He dried up the fig tree, in order to show that there would no longer be any need of fig leaves to serve as Adam’s garment, since Adam had returned to his former glory, and so no longer had any need of leaves or garments of skin." (St. Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron 16:10)

Again he writes:

"Instead of with leaves from trees
He clothed them with glory in the water." (Hymns on the Epiphany 12:4)

"Among the saints their nakedness is clothed with glory,
none is clothed with leaves or stands ashamed,
for they have found, through our Lord,
the robe that belongs to Adam and Eve." (Hymns on Paradise 6:9)

Despite those of us interested in these kinds of parallelisms in early Christian tradition, what is more important is the application of this to our lives. Fr. Philip gives us key takeaways saying, "The question for each of us, then, is whether we are living in a way that is appropriate to our exalted identity as participants in this great banquet.  Do we act, think, speak, and believe in ways that fit with the beautiful garments Christ has given us?  Of course, He Himself is our garment for we have put Him on in baptism...We must not go around half naked spiritually or pretend that holiness concerns only one day of the week."

We must not live as if we have not been baptized and have not put on the Robe of Glory. In the washing of the feet, Our Lord said, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (John 13:10). Our Lord was referring to repentance, but still, there are those who even though they have put on Christ at baptism, live as if they haven't, and therefore will not inherit Paradise, as their fall will be worse than the first. The one who was cast out of the wedding feast in the Gospel had a wedding garment given to him before the wedding, yet didn't wear it to the wedding. 

Let us all keep the glory, light, grace, righteousness, Christ Himself, we have put on so that we can be with Him at the wedding and enter into His wedding chamber.

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

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