The serpent found a second Eve in the Egyptian woman, and with words of flattery he sought to make Joseph fall. But, leaving his garment behind him, Joseph fled from sin; and like the first man before his disobedience, though naked he was not ashamed. (Bridegroom Matins, Canticle Nine).
Frequently during the course of Great Lent, as well as Holy Week, we look upon the example of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph. Earlier in the same service, we sing,
Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph, but his righteous son was seated in a chariot and honored as a king. For he was not enslaved to the pleasures of Egypt, but he was glorified by God who sees the hearts of men and bestows upon them a crown incorruptible. (Canticle One)
[Jacob’s] wise and glorious son was enslaved in body but kept his soul free from bondage, and became lord over all Egypt.
And lastly, we reflect upon a different type of robe:
I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there. Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me.
The fathers of the church teach that Adam and Eve, before the fall, were clothed in garments of glory. When they fell into sin, they were ashamed at their nakedness. It is not that they saw for the first time that they were not wearing clothes, it is that they realized the depravity and true nakedness of a human body that is not clothed in God’s glory. This shame drove them to hide when they heard God approaching. Afterward, they were clothed in garments of skin, which represents our present fallen tendencies, or as St. Paul calls it, the flesh.
The Enlightenment and the Renaissance art movements attempted to glorify man without God. In the arts, the natural beauty of the naked human body was celebrated and the teaching that Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness is scoffed at as an outdated “Puritan” morality.
But we cannot image the great heights from which our ancestors fell during after their sin, when they went from being clothed in the unspeakable glory of God to being stripped of that glory and having nothing besides corruptible human beauty. No matter the immense physical beauty a person possesses, they will die and they will decay. However, Christ offers us garments of incorruptible beauty and glory: if we will cast aside these fleshly ones.
In the services of Great Lent, we are encouraged to do as Joseph who fled naked from the seductions of this world. He shed his garment of skin and acquired a glorious robe over his soul and a crown incorruptible. However, that did not come without suffering. He was persecuted for his righteousness, and in the same way, we are called to take up our cross:
Let us also journey with [Christ], purified in mind; let us be crucified with Him and die for His sake to the pleasures of this life, that we may also live with Him.
St. Theophylact in his gospel commentaries, discusses Jesus’ command to sell our possessions and follow Him. What does this mean? Certainly we’re not all meant to live without any material possessions, are we?
The blessed saint explains that this statement can be understood in a spiritual sense: the possessions of our flesh are lust, pride, vainglorious thinking, judging others, envy, strife, anger, etc. We are to sell these. But who will be purchasing them? He says we are to sell these things back to those from whom they came: the demons. This is also the meaning of several other parables regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, in which people sell all they have to obtain it.
So, let us do like Joseph and leave our garment of flesh behind us so that we may be clothed in the wedding garment of glory and not be found like that man in Matthew 22:11 who had no garment and was cast out of the marriage supper.
How do we discard this fleshly garment that has become so entwined with our souls that we frequently mistake it as a legitimate part of our being? Through the long road of repentance. There is no other way. While God has granted to many martyrs who die for the faith a shorter road to obtaining this glory, most of us have been called to the lengthier everyday martyrdom.
While it is easy to be overwhelmed with our sinful state, there is no reason to despair. The God of the universe is on our side in this spiritual arena. All of the forces of hell surround us, seeking nothing but our physical and spiritual death. But at the same time, all of the angels of heaven as well as the saints, who have finished this course with victory, desire to come to our aid. Additionally, God does not allow us to be tempted and tried by the demons with more force than we can handle.
This fight, though a painful crucifixion at times, is for our benefit. No warrior is given glory or victory by sitting on his couch talking about battles. He must arise at every opportunity to fight for good. It is the same with us. We are given daily opportunities to show our love for God and what pleases Him over love for the world and what pleases the devil. Every day we are given a chance to prove our love for God, and I find that every day has its little victories as well as miserable failures. But we learn from these, we grow stronger, and we keep pressing on for the incorruptible prize to the glory of God. Amen.
END NOTES: Quotes come from The Lenten Triodion, translated by Mother Maria and Kallistos Ware.
Icon of Christ Harrowing Hades is from an ancient Italian manuscript dating back to the 1200’s.