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St Gregory of Nyssa Funeral Oration on Meletius, Complete

Translated by W. Moore and H. A. Wilson

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Funeral Oration on Meletius [2063] .

The number of the Apostles has been enlarged for us by this our late Apostle being reckoned among their company. These Holy ones have drawn to themselves one of like conversation; those athletes a fellow athlete; those crowned ones another crowned like them; the pure in heart one chaste in soul: those ministers of the Word another herald of that Word. Most blessed, indeed, is our Father for this his joining the Apostolic band and his departure to Christ. Most pitiable we! for the unseasonableness of our orphaned condition does not permit us to congratulate ourselves on our Father's happy lot. For him, indeed, better it was by his departure hence to be with Christ, but it was a grievous thing for us to be severed from his fatherly guidance. Behold, it is a time of need for counsel; and our counsellor is silent. War, the war of heresy, encompasses us, and our Leader is no more. The general body of the Church labours under disease, and we find not the physician. See in what a strait we are. Oh! that it were possible I could nerve my weakness, and rising to the full proportions of our loss, burst out with a voice of lamentation adequate to the greatness of the distress, as these excellent preachers of yours have done, who have bewailed with loud voice the misfortune that has befallen them in this loss of their father. But what can I do? How can I force my tongue to the service of the theme, thus heavily weighted, and shackled, as it were, by this calamity? How shall I open my mouth thus subdued to speechlessness? How shall I give free utterance to a voice now habitually sinking to the pathetic tone of lamentations? How can I lift up the eyes of my soul, veiled as I am with this darkness of misfortune? Who will pierce for me this deep dark cloud of grief, and light up again, as out of a clear sky, the bright ray of peace? From what quarter will that ray shine forth, now that our star has set? Oh! evil moonless night that gives no hope of any star! With what an opposite meaning, as compared with those of late, are our words uttered in this place now! Then we rejoiced with the song of marriage, now we give way to piteous lamentation for the sorrow that has befallen us! Then we chanted an epithalamium, but now a funeral dirge! You remember the day when we entertained you at the feast of that spiritual marriage, and brought home the virgin bride to the house of her noble bridegroom; when to the best of our ability we proffered the wedding gifts of our praises, both giving and receiving joy in turn [2064] . But now our delight has been changed to lamentation, and our festal garb become sackcloth. It were better, maybe, to suppress our woe, and to hide our grief in silent seclusion, so as not to disturb the children of the bride-chamber, divested as we are of the bright marriage garment, and clothed instead with the black robe of the preacher.

[2063] Meletius, Bishop of Antioch, died at Constantinople, whither he had gone to attend the second OEcumenical Council, a.d. 381. Of the "translation" of the remains to his own metropolis, described in this oration, Sozomen (vii. 10) says, "The remains of Meletius were at the same time conveyed to Antioch; and deposited near the tomb of Babylas the Martyr. It is said that by the command of the Emperor, the relics were received with honour in every city through which they had to be conveyed, and that psalms were sung on the occasion, a practice that was quite contrary to the usual Roman customs. After the pompous interment of Meletius, Flavian was ordained in his stead....This gave rise to fresh troubles." The rationale of the rising relic-worship, at all events of the sanctity of tombs, is thus given by Origen: "A feeling such as this (of bodies differing, as tenanted by different souls) has prompted some to go so far as to treat as Divine the remains of uncommon men; they feel that great souls have been there, while they would cast forth the bodies of the morally worthless without the honour of a funeral (atimasai). This perhaps is not the right thing to do: still it proceeds from a right instinct (ennoias hugious). For it is not to be expected of a thinking man that he would take the same pains over the burial of an Anytus, as he would over a Socrates, and that he would place the same barrow or the same sepulchre over each" (c. Cels. iv. 59). Again, "The dwelling-place of the reasoning soul is not to be flung irreverently aside, like that of the irrational soul; and more than this, we Christians believe that the reverence paid to a body that has been tenanted by a reasoning soul passes to him also who has received a soul which by means of such an instrument has fought a good fight," viii. 30.

[2064] This all refers to the very recent installation of Gregory of Nazianzum in the episcopal chair of Constantinople: on which occasion also Gregory of Nyssa seems to have preached.

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