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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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For since that noble bridegroom has been taken from us, sorrow has all at once clothed us in the garb of black; nor is it possible for us to indulge in the usual cheerfulness of our conversation, since Envy [2065] has stripped us of our proper and becoming dress. Rich in blessings we came to you; now we leave you bare and poor. The lamp we held right above our head, shining with the rich fulness of light, we now carry away quenched, its bright flame all dissolved into smoke and dust. We held our great treasure in an earthen vessel. Vanished is the treasure, and the earthen vessel, emptied of its wealth, is restored to them who gave it [2066] . What shall we say who have consigned it? What answer will they make by whom it is demanded back? Oh! miserable shipwreck! How, even with the harbour around us, have we gone to pieces with our hopes! How has the vessel, fraught with a thousand bales of goods, sunk with all its cargo, and left us destitute who were once so rich! Where is that bright sail which was ever filled by the Holy Ghost? Where is that safe helm of our souls which steered us while we sailed unhurt over the swelling waves of heresy? Where that immovable anchor of intelligence which held us in absolute security and repose after our toils? Where that excellent pilot [2067] who steered our bark to its heavenly goal? Is, then, what has happened of small moment, and is my passionate grief unreasoning? Is it not rather that I reach not the full extent of our loss, though I exceed in the loudness of my expression of grief? Lend me, oh lend me, my brethren, the tear of sympathy. When you were glad we shared your gladness. Repay us, therefore, this sad recompense. "Rejoice with them that do rejoice [2068] ." This we have done. It is for you to return it by "weeping with them that weep." It happened once that a strange people bewailed the loss of the patriarch Jacob, and made the misfortune of another people their own, when his united family transported their father out of Egypt, and lamented in another land the loss that had befallen them. They all prolonged their mourning over him for thirty days and as many nights [2069] . Ye, therefore, that are brethren, and of the same kindred, do as they who were of another kindred did. On that occasion the tear of strangers was shed in common with that of countrymen; be it shed in common now, for common is the grief. Behold these your patriarchs. All these are children of our Jacob. All these are children of the free-woman [2070] . No one is base born, no one supposititious. Nor indeed would it have become that Saint to introduce into the nobility of the family of Faith a bond-woman's kindred. Therefore is he our father because he was the father of our father [2071] .

[2065] Casaubon very strongly condemns the sentiment here expressed, as savouring more of heathenism than Christianity. He gives other instances, in which the loss from the death of friends and good men is attributed by Christian writers to the envy of a Higher Power. That the disturbed state of the Church should be attributed by Gregory Nazianzen to "Envy" is well enough, but he in the same strain as his namesake speaks thus in connection with the death of his darling brother Caesarius, and of Basil. Our Gregory uses the word also in lamenting Pulcheria and Flacilla. It only proves, however, how strong the habit still was of using heathen expressions.

[2066] The text is tois dedokosin epanasozetai. The people of Antioch must here be referred to, if the text is to stand.

[2067] Meletius was president of the Council.

[2068] Rom. xii. 15.

[2069] According to Gen. l. 3, the Egyptian mourning was seventy days, but there is no precise mention of the length of the Israelites' mourning, except that at Atad, beyond the Jordan, they appear to have rested, on their way up, and mourned for seven days.

[2070] Gal. iv. 31.

[2071] i.e.the spiritual father of Basil, the "father" (brother really) of Gregory.

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