For, if the God-seer was told by the Almighty “You shall not be able to see my face; for no man shall see my face, and live.” (Exodus 33:20), how might we dare to behold the radiance of His face, before which tremble Angels, Archangels, the Cherubim and Seraphim. The Great Moses could scarcely bear to behold His back, bowing to the earth to worship Him, proclaiming: “The Lord God, pitiful and merciful, long-suffering and very compassionate, and true.” (Exodus 33-34).
And His Prophet Isaiah, gazing upon the Lord of hosts in His glorious temple, cried out: “Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
For when the Prophet Ezekiel beheld the vision of His glory, he exclaimed “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And I saw and fell upon my face.” (Ezekiel 2:1)
Truly, His glory brings fear and trembling with great awe upon Heaven and earth and the things below the earth, as Prophet Habakkuk sang in prayer: “O Lord, I have heard your report, and was afraid: I considered your works, and was amazed. “(Habakkuk 3:2) It is He “Whose glance dries up the deep, and Whose threatenings melt the mountains” (Prayer from the service of Baptism).
But, despite His endless might and glory and radiance, He, in a manner surpassing understanding, deigns to reveal Himself and to come to us in all humility, in gentleness and simplicity, “the voice of a gentle breeze”, as He appeared to the Zealot Elias (I Kings 19:12). Or as Psalmist chants: “He shall come down as rain upon a fleece; and as drops falling upon the earth.” (Psalm 72:6)
O, Your wonders, surpassing all wonders, O Lord! “Who is like to thee among the gods, O Lord? who is like to thee? glorified in holiness, marvelous in glories, doing wonders.” (Exodus 15:11) For the Son of the Father, “Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary, and became man.” (The Symbol of Faith) “This is our God, and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of him. He hath found out all the way of knowledge, and hath given it unto Jacob his servant, and to Israel his beloved. Afterward did he shew himself upon earth, and conversed with men.” (Baruch 3:35-37).
The Lord did deign to come to us, humbling Himself, becoming conceived within the Spotless womb of the Virgin. He was born as a babe into a cave most cold and dark, He Who is the Light of the universe. He nursed milk from His creature, He Who nourishes all creation. He shows obedience, He to Whom every knee bows in heaven and earth and under the earth (Philippians 2:10). He puts off His garments, He Who clothes the Heavens with clouds. He is submerged in the waters of the Jordan, Who drowns error and disperses the hordes of the demons. He preaches, and heals both bodies and souls, that in every way, He might lead us back to the Father.
And He does not stop at this, but gives us His own Body and Blood, before His life-giving Passion. Behold! With the eyes of the soul, behold “the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) Behold the Man of Sorrows, Who bends His knee in prayer to His Father, giving us a type of fervent prayer. He pours forth sweat as drops of blood, earnestly seeking to deliver the world from death. He endures the kiss of betrayal from one of His Disciples, and suffers buffetings, and scorn, and slander. The Judge of the living and the dead, the Judge most just, stands condemned as a criminal before Pilate. The Creator is bound by His creation, and bitterly flogged. His flesh is torn apart, Who wove garments of skin for the first-formed. He receives a Crown of Thorns, He Who is the King of Angels, Whose glory cannot be fathomed. He receives spitting, Who formed eyes for the blind man with His spittle, and the Purple Robe of mockery, Who adorned the vault of the Heavens, and Who holds the universe in His palm. He carries His Cross, Who carries time and space upon His shoulders, and stretches out His hands, uniting things that were once sundered.
Come, O noble Joseph and Nicodemus, gather your boldness to bury the Body of God. Bring your shroud, and your precious myrrh to bury this Stranger in a new Tomb (Homily of St. Epiphanios on Great Saturday), hewn from the rock, Who was hewn from the Virginal Mountain without the hand of man (Daniel 2:45). Cover the face that is the glorious radiance of the Father, soak up the Blood which re-creates all things. Guard with a Stone the Supernatural Stone, from Which our Fathers drank. (I Corinthians 10:4)
And after He dwelt bodily in the grave, and His Soul freed the prisoners in Hades, while dwelling in Paradise with the Thief, and never departing the Throne of the Father (Hymn of Proskomede), He Who is uncircumscribable, arose on the third day. He passes unhindered through the stone, Who traversed the portal of the Virgin (from the Praises of Sunday Matins from Plagal of the First Tone) leaving her unharmed. He sends His Archangels to roll away the stone from His life-giving Tomb, at whose appearance, the guard of soldiers became as dead men. He brings joy to His Mother and her fellow Myrrhbearers, making them the Apostles to the Apostles, to tell of the Resurrection.
Run, O beloved Disciple, and outrun Cephas, and together behold the Tomb, the sudarium that was upon His head, and the grave-clothes that covered the Immaculate Body of the Master. Behold! He is not here! And with panting, and fear and exhilaration, behold the signs of your risen Lord! The Tomb is empty, the Angel sits upon the stone, and the shroud is left behind, bearing the marks of His Passion. “Hear, O heaven, and hearken, O earth: for the Lord has spoken!” (Isaiah 1:2)
Behold the Wisdom of God has built His house, He has been slain (and is alive again), and has poured His Blood, and prepared His table, and calls His servants with a loud proclamation to a feast! “Come, eat of my bread, and drink wine which I have mingled for you.” (Proverbs 9:1-5) He does not leave us orphans (John 14:18), but leaves us another Comforter (John 14:16) to ever abide with us. He leaves us His Divine Mysteries, and leaves us His Image, and the tokens of His Passion, in remembrance of Him. (Luke 22:19)
O Lord, “You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come.” (Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom) You use every part of creation, visible and invisible, to lead us to Yourself. After Your face was washed and Your Precious Icon was imprinted upon the Cloth, You sent it for healing and protection through Your Apostle, Thaddeus, to the ailing King Apgar. By grasping in faith and love, he received release from his bodily infirmity. Though beforehand he sought that You might visit his kingdom in life, through his repentance and baptism, You were truly brought to Him together with Your Icon, and he was brought to Your Kingdom.
The king and the people who beheld Your image cried out to Him, as in the words of the Greatly-suffering Job, to Him Who once appeared "through the whirlwind and clouds" (Job 38:1): "I have heard the report of thee by the ear before; but now mine eye has seen thee. Wherefore I have counted myself vile, and have fainted: and I esteem myself dust and ashes." (Job 42:5-6) Your presence remained hidden for many years, while persecutions raged among Judeans, pagan rulers, and apostates, but was later brought to light again to save the city of Edessa.
Though the City fell into the hands of her enemies, the glory of Your face proceeds forth unto Athens and Paris, unto Glastonbury and Torino and all the lands of the West. The humble and burdened among them take courage in You, as you spoke through Your Prophet: “Fear not; for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and will gather thee from the west. I will say to the north, Bring; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from the land afar off, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even all who are called by my name: for I have prepared him for my glory (Isaiah 43:5-6)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!