Feast Day: Sunday of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers (2nd Sunday after Pascha)
The Life of Saint Nicodemus: The Saviour explained to him how man is regenerated through Baptism…
Saint Nicodemus is one of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers
I bless Joseph and Nicodemus, for they replaced the Cherubim by uplifting and carrying God…
“When evening was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea named Joseph, and went boldly unto Pilate and begged from him the Body of Jesus. A mortal went in before a mortal, asking to receive God; the God of mortals he begs; clay stands before clay so as to receive the Fashioner of All! Grass asks to receive from grass the Heavenly Fire; the miserable drop seeks to receive from a drop the Whole Abyss! Who ever saw, who ever heard such a thing? A man grants to a man the Creator of Men; a lawless man undertakes to surrender the Definition of the Law of lawless men; a judge deprived of judgment permits the Burial of the Judge of judges Who has been judged to death.
When evening was come, he says, there came a rich man named Joseph. Truly was this man rich who carried away the entire Compound Hypostasis of the Lord. Verily was he rich, because he received the Twofold Nature of Christ from Pilate. He was rich indeed, because he was accounted worthy to carry off the Priceless Pearl. Truly was he rich, for he bore away the Pouch overflowing with the Treasure of Divinity. And how would that man not be rich who acquired the Life and Salvation of the world? How should Joseph not be rich, who received a Gift – Him that sustains and rules all things? When even was come for the Sun of Righteousness had then set into Hades. Wherefore there came a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea, who was a secret disciple for fear of the Jews. And there came also Nicodemus, which at first came to Jesus by night. O hidden mystery of Mysteries! Two secret disciples came to conceal Jesus in a Tomb, thus teaching by His concealment the Mystery concealed in Hades of the God concealed in the flesh. Each one of these men surpassed the other in their affection for Christ. For Nicodemus proved his magnanimity by the myrrh and aloes, and Joseph proved worthy of praise by his daring and boldness before Pilate. For he, casting off all fear, went in unto Pilate and begged the Body of Jesus. Now when he went in he acted very shrewdly so as to obtain his longed-for aim. Wherefore, he did not employ high-sounding and pompous words lest Pilate be moved to wrath and he fail in his request. Nor did he say to him, ‘Give me the Body of Jesus, Who but a short time ago darkened the sun, split the rocks asunder, shook the Earth, opened the sepulchres, and rent the Veil of the Temple!’ Nothing of the kind said he to Pilate.
But what, then? A certain pitiful plea, in every wise lowly. ‘O judge, I have come to make of thee a trifling request. Give me a Dead Man for burial, nay, the Body of Him that was by thee condemned, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the poor, Jesus the homeless, Jesus the crucified, the naked, the common, Jesus the carpenter’s son, Jesus the bound, the shelterless, the stranger, Who in a strange land is unknown, Jesus the contemptible, Who for all was suspended on the Cross. Give me this Stranger, for what profit to thee is the Body of this Stranger? Give me this Stranger, for from afar He came to this place to save a stranger, to a dark region He descended to draw up a stranger. Give me this stranger, for He alone is a Stranger. Give me this Stranger, Whose country we know not, the strangers. Give me this Stranger, Whose Father we know not, the strangers. Give me this Stranger, Whose place and Birth and ways we know not, the strangers. Give me this Stranger Who lived in a strange land a strange life and existence. Give me this Nazarite Stranger, whose generation and disposition we know not, the strangers. Give me this voluntary Stranger, Who had nowhere to lay His head. Give me this Stranger, Who as a homeless Stranger in a strange land was Born in a manger. Give me this Stranger, Who from the very manger fled Herod as a stranger. Give me this Stranger, Who from His very swaddling bands was a stranger in Egypt, Who has no city, no village, no house, no abode, no kindred, for this Stranger is found in foreign lands with His Mother. Give me, O prince, this naked Man on the Cross that I may cover Him that covered my nature’s nakedness. Give me Him that is both a Dead Man and God that I may shroud Him that has hidden mine iniquities. Give me, O prince, this Dead Man Who buried my sin in Jordan. I entreat thee for a Dead Man Who suffered injustice from all. Who by a friend was sold. Who by a disciple was betrayed. Who by brethren was persecuted. Who by a slave was smitten. For a Dead Man I intercede. Who was condemned by them that He freed from slavery. Who by them was given vinegar to drink. Who by them that He healed was wounded. Who by His own disciples was forsaken. Who of His own Mother was bereaved. For a Dead Man, O prince, I beseech, that homeless One Who was suspended on the Cross, for He has no father near Him upon the Earth, no friend, no disciple, no kindred, no burier. Nay, He is alone, the Only-Begotten of the Unique, God in the world, and none else save He.’
When these things Joseph spake to Pilate on this wise, Pilate commanded that the All-Holy Body of Jesus be given him. And he went to the place called Golgotha and took God in the flesh down from the Cross and laid Him on the Earth, naked God in the flesh, Him that was not merely a man. Lo, He is beheld lying low, Who drew all men on high. And He for a brief time is bereft of breath, Who is the Life and Breath of all. He is seen bereft of eyes, Who created the many-eyed beings. He lies prostrate, Who is the Resurrection of all. And God is slain in the flesh, Who raised up the dead. The thunder of God the Word is now silent for an instant and He is borne in the arms of men, Who holds the Earth in His hand. Dost thou really, O Joseph, know Whom thou was given when thou didst ask and receive? Dost thou truly know Whom thou didst carry when thou earnest to the Cross and didst bring down Jesus? If in truth thou knowest Whom thou didst carry, thou art now verily become rich. And how is it that thou givest burial to this most awesome Body of God? Praiseworthy is thine ardor, but even more praiseworthy the disposition of thy Soul. For dost thou not tremble, bearing in thine arms Him before Whom the Cherubim tremble? With what fear dost thou strip that Divine Flesh of the loin cloth? And how dost thou reverently restrain thine eye? Art thou not fearful when gazing upon and shrouding the Nature of God’s Flesh, He that surpasses nature? Tell me, O Joseph, dost thou really Bury towards the East a Dead Man that is the Dayspring of the East? And with thy fingers dost thou close the eyes of Jesus as befits the dead, nay, of Him that with His immaculate finger opened the eyes of the blind? And dost thou bind the mouth of Him that opened the mouth of the stammerer? Dost thou lay out with thy hands Him that extended the withered hands? Or dost thou bind the feet, as befits the dead, of Him that made motionless feet to walk? Dost thou place upon a bed Him that commanded the paralytic, ‘Take up thy bed and walk’? Dost thou empty out myrrh upon the Celestial Myrrh Who emptied Himself and Sanctified the world? Dost thou dare to wipe that Divine Side of Jesus bleeding still, the side of God Who healed the woman of an issue of blood? Dost thou wash with water God’s Body Which cleanses all and bestows purification? But what lamps dost thou light for the ‘True Light which enlighteneth every man’? What funeral odes dost thou chant for Him that is hymned unceasingly by all the Heavenly Hosts? And dost thou weep as though He were dead that wept and raised up Lazarus, the four days dead? And dost thou bewail Him that gave joy to all and banished the sorrow of Eve?
Albeit, I bless thy hands, O Joseph, which ministered and clasped the bleeding hands and feet of Jesus’ Divine Body. I bless thy hands which drew nigh to God’s bleeding side before Thomas, the believing disbeliever, the acclaimed inquisitive. I bless thy mouth filled insatiably and united to the mouth of Jesus, whence it was filled with the Holy Spirit. I bless thine eyes which thou didst press against the eyes of Jesus, whence they partook of the True Light. I bless thy countenance which drew nigh to the Countenance of God. I bless thy shoulders which bore the Bearer of All. I bless thy head against which Jesus, the Head of All, reclined. I bless thy hands wherewith thou didst carry Him that carries all. I bless Joseph and Nicodemus, for they replaced the Cherubim by uplifting and carrying God and, as God’s ministers, the six-winged Seraphim also, for not with wings but with a winding sheet they covered and rendered honour to the Lord. Him that the Seraphim hold in dread, the Same Joseph and Nicodemus carry upon their shoulders and all the Bodiless Orders stand in awe. When Joseph and Nicodemus came, the entire Divine populace of Angels swiftly gathered. The Cherubim run before them, the Seraphim hasten with them, the Thrones help them to carry, the Six-Winged cover Him, and the Many-Eyed are struck with dread seeing Jesus in the flesh bereft of vision; the Powers aid in shrouding, the Principalities offer hymns, the Orders of Angels tremble, and all the Hosts of the Celestial Ranks are stupefied. And marvelling they question and say one to another, ‘What fearsome thing is this? What this dread? What this trembling? What manner of deed? What is this great, strange and incomprehensible spectacle? He that as Naked God on high we cannot see, the Same on Earth is easily seen naked by men!’
Him before Whom the Cherubim stand with reverent fear, Joseph and Nicodemus bury fearlessly and looking upon Thee dead, stripped, and without burial, in his grief and tender compassion he (Joseph) lamented, saying : ‘Woe is me, my sweetest Jesus! When but a little while ago the sun saw Thee hanging on the Cross, it wrapped itself in darkness: the Earth quaked with fear and the Veil of the Temple was rent in twain. And now I see Thee for my sake submitting of Thine Own Will to death. How shall I bury Thee, my God? How shall I wrap Thee in a winding sheet? How shall I touch Thy Most Pure Body with my hands? What song at Thy departure shall I sing to Thee, O Compassionate Saviour? I magnify Thy sufferings; I sing the praises of Thy Burial and Thy Resurrection, crying: O Lord, Glory to Thee.’”
By Saint Epiphanius of Salamis