There once was a beautiful, wise and courageous woman, the daughter of a wise and wealthy father. Her favorite pastime was to tend her rose garden, which was well-known for the beauty of form and size and scent of its roses. A day came when she plucked, from among these most beautiful and perfect roses, the most perfect rose. Its shape and the softness of its petals brought to mind all the beautiful things in the world. Its scent was strong and perfect, seeming to lift cares from a troubled mind. She carried her rose with her into the streets of the city in which she lived, wishing to share such bounty with all her friends, her neighbors, and any strangers she might meet. Everyone loved the rose, except for a few who were envious of its perfection. These people surrounded the wise and beautiful woman, and demanded the rose of her. With a gentle smile, she handed the rose to the most violent among them. They took the beautiful rose, perfect in form and scent, and viciously tore at it, ripping it apart with their hands, stomping on it with their feet, wishing to eliminate it entirely. The wise and beautiful woman stood to the side, watching with her wise and gentle smile, now seeming to be a trifle sadder for the solitary tear that slid down her cheek. When the rage of the mob was ended, all stood quiet, as though stunned. The wise and beautiful woman stepped forward and quietly said, “Now, smell your hands, smell the scent of the perfect rose which you have released for all to enjoy.” Indeed, the scent was even stronger now, even seemingly more perfect. It wafted on a gentle breeze throughout the city. The mob, ashamed, went their ways, and the wise and beautiful woman went home to tend her garden.
That rose is Christ.
I wrote this on Lazarus Saturday, 3 April 1999, roughly a year before converting to Orthodoxy. At the time I’d been compiling a number of lectionary indices, and for that Lenten season, read the appointed readings daily for various Western (Roman Catholic and Revised Common Lectionaries) and Eastern (Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and some ancient Armenian, Georgian and Syrian) lectionary traditions. By Lazarus Saturday in the Eastern calendar, this metaphorical story had distilled itself, and I sat down at an outdoor table at a local pub and wrote it out in the space of just a few minutes.
A powerful theme running through the Lenten readings in especially the older lectionaries is that of the suffering of Christ, and its necessity within the plan of God for the redemption of mankind. St. Gregory the Theologian said, specifically in the lengthy context of a long letter (number 101, available in this handy edition) on the Incarnation to Cledonios, “The unassumed is the unhealed.” That is, what our Lord Jesus Christ has assumed, has taken on, in sharing our human mortality, our weaknesses, and indeed even some of the most extreme sufferings possible for a human through the process of crucifixion, even death itself, was taken on in order to heal every last one of us of every last one of those dread items, including mortality itself.
The scent of a rose can hardly compare to that.