Melito of Sardis is considered an early church apologist. The word, apology, comes from the Greek term, apologia, which means, “to defend.” He gave a defense of Christianity sometime around the year 170 AD to the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. The only reason we know this document exists is because of the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and the document, Paschal Chronicle.
Melito of Sardis was the bishop of Sardis, which was in Asia Minor at the time. It appears that he was in the middle of the controversy surrounding the celebration of Easter between the Eastern and Western Churches. In recent years, one of his complete Easter homilies was found, which mentions the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Incarnation of Christ.
The content of this Easter homily has essentially a Christological dimension, which most homilies on Easter should contain. When he composed this homily he did so in the style of an Easter Proclamation. The homily, which you can read below, has three distinct points focusing on the saving work of Jesus Christ –
- The Incarnation
Melito focuses on the mystery of Mary’s maternity in the section on the Incarnation and the Nativity of Jesus Christ. An essential element of the mystery of the Incarnation and Jesus’ birth relies heavily on the Virginity of Mary. In the homily below, Melito names her the “fair ewe”, which connects beautifully and poetically to the Gospel of John (1:29) where Jesus is called the “Lamb of God.”
He it is, who came from heaven to earth for the same of suffering man; he clothed himself in man’s flesh in the womb of a Virgin from he came forth as man and took upon himself the sufferings of him who suffered, by means of a body capable of suffering, and destroyed the sufferings of the flesh and slew death-dealing death by his spirit which cannot lie….
It is he who became incarnate in a Virgin, who was hung upon the wood, who was buried in the earth, who was raised from among the dead, who was lifted up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, he is the slain lamb, he is born of Mary, the fair ewe, he is taken from the flock and delivered over to immolation and slain in the evening and buried in the night; who was broken on the wood, was not captured in the earth, he rose from the dead, and raised man from the depths of the tomb….
He it is who made heaven and earth, who formed man in the beginning, who was announced by the law and the prophets, who became incarnate in a Virgin, who was hung upon the wood, who in the earth was buried, who rose from the dead and ascended into the heights of the heavens.
As we begin the 50 days of Easter, let us keep in mind the importance of Jesus’ Passion and Death, which leads us to the Resurrection and eventually his Ascension into Heaven. Allow Mary’s maternity, which conceived and bore Jesus, to envelop us and always through her intercession lead us closer to Him.
Gambero, Luigi, Mary and The Fathers of the Church, Ignatius Press. 1999.