Commentary on St. Gregory’s Hymn of the Martyrs

Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings. Chapter 17 Commentary on St. Gregory’s Hymn Sung in Honor of the Martyrs

The Poem by St. Gregory

Victims yet living! Holocausts who reason!

Martyrs to Christ, God’s perfect oblations.

Sheep who know God, and whom God dearly knows,

By wolves can your sheepfold never be invaded.

Be our ambassadors by waters of repose.

That we may be with you, with you in fold.

While Dorothoes’s commentary addresses the entire poem I will relay just the first part to you. But I commend the rest of his commentary to you.

“Victims yet living! Holocausts who reason!” What are these victims who continue to live? A victim is anything that is purified for sacrifice to God – for example, sheep and cattle or something similar. Why then does she speak about the holy martyrs as “Victims yet living?” Because when a sheep is offered in sacrifice it has its throat cut and it dies: then it is dismembered, cut into pieces and offered up to God. But the holy martyrs, while still alive, were hacked, they were flayed; their flesh was torn; they were tortured and dismembered. The public executioners cut off their hands and feet, tore out their tongues and…(he goes on). All that, I tell you, they endured with patience, having life and spirit yet in them. For this reason they are called “victims yet living.” (Page 228)

It was a holocaust when they offered up the whole of the slaughtered victim and burnt it to ashes, so that the sacrifice was entire, complete and perfect. This is the symbol of the perfect, of those who say, “Behold I have given up everything and followed you. To this degree of perfection Our Lord invited the one who said to him, “I have kept all these things from my youth.” For Jesus replied, “Yet one things remains.” What was that? “Take up your cross and follow me.” The holy martyrs offered up their whole selves to God in this way, and not only themselves by all that was theirs and everything that had to do with them. “We ourselves are one thing,” St. Basil says, “what is ours is another and what has something to do with us is another.” (Page 230)

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