Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Instead of a Sweet Smell there will be a Stench

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Keraza Magazine issue 13-14, April 7, 2017

One of the greatest hymns of the Coptic Church is the Hymn of "Fay etaf enf" in which we sing in gladness saying, "This is He who offered Himself up as an acceptable sacrifice on the Cross for the salvation of our race. His good Father smelled Him at the evening watch on Golgotha". In fact, this hymn is derived from the symbolism of the burnt sacrifice to the Lord Jesus Christ as it was fully burnt, "an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord" (Leviticus 1:9). There are other passages in the Holy Bible clarifying that the sweet aroma of the burnt sacrifice was not the only thing that pleased God. When Noah built an alter to the Lord after he went out of the ark, he offered burnt offerings on it "and the Lord smelled a soothing aroma" (Genesis 8:21). When Jacob presented himself to his father Isaac to get his blessing "he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him and said: 'Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed.'" (Genesis 27:27). Also, God ordered Moses to make an alter to burn incense in the Tabernacle "Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning…a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations" (Exodus 30:7-8). As for the bridegroom in the Song of Songs, he praises his bride saying, "How much better than wine is your love, and the scent of your perfumes than all spices...And the fragrance of your garments Is like the fragrance of Lebanon" (Song 4:10-11).

In St. Paul's saying, "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:15), he eloquently elaborates our relationship with the Father through Christ. If the Father smelled the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross as a sweet pleasing aroma, then whoever puts on Christ and be transformed to His image, he becomes to the Father the fragrance of Christ. This is the interpretation of the words "to God". No one can enter God's holy of holies and get the blessing like Jacob except the one who carries in himself the fragrance of Christ which is a unique fragrance that God the Father never misses. It is the fragrance of His precious blood that made His clothes and the clothes of all those who put on Him reddened.

How can then one acquire to himself the fragrance of Christ that pleases the Father? St. Isaac the Syrian says, "The table of a man who continually perseveres in prayer is sweeter than the scent of musk and the fragrance of perfumes". We can then similarly say, that every labor of asceticism and mortification of ego, every merciful deed, every righteous and holy thought, every speech seasoned with salt, and every heart filled with compassion toward others is a sweet aroma that rapidly prevails on earth as it is in heaven. This may be the cause lying behind the sweet fragrance that comes out of many of the saints' relics and accompanies their appearances as it is mentioned in their biographies documented in the Synaxerion.

The saying of Isaiah, "Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench" (Isaiah 3:24) prescribes the state of every reluctant, self-indulgent and lazy one in his worship and spiritual struggle. The smell of the stench of his sins, laziness, reluctance, and self-indulgence comes out of him. Therefore, the statement saying, "There is a stench" (John 11:39) becomes documented in his heavenly records. But we praise God who made the fragrance of His Son's blood much more strong than the stench of the sin. We thank the compassionate heart of Christ who, in order to fulfill our salvation, never becomes disgusted from the stench of our tombs. He is purer than He catches the stench of sin to Himself. But rather He enters our tombs to raise us spreading His exceedingly sweet aroma in and through them.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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