A prayer to the Good Shepherd

From a commentary on the Song of Songs by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, bishop
A prayer to the Good Shepherd

Where do you pasture your sheep, O Good Shepherd, you who carry on your shoulders the whole flock? For it is but one sheep, this entire human race whom you lift onto your shoulders. Show me the place where there are green pastures, let me know restful waters, lead me out to nourishing grass and call me by name so that I can hear your voice, for I am your own sheep. And through that voice calling me, give me eternal life.

Tell me, you whom my soul loves. This is how I address you, because your true name is above all other names; it is unutterable and incomprehensible to all rational creatures. And so the name I use for you is simply the statement of my soul’s love for you, and this is an apt name for making your goodness known. Very dark though I am, how could I not love you who so loved me, that you laid down your life for the sheep you tend? No greater love can be conceived than this, that you should purchase my salvation at the cost of your life.

Show me, then, says the bride, where you tend your sheep, so that I may find the saving pasture and be filled with heavenly nourishment. For whoever does not eat this food cannot enter eternal life. Let me run to you, the spring, and drink the divine draught that you cause to pour forth for the thirsty, offering water from your side opened by the spear. Whoever drinks of this becomes a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.

If you feed me thus, then you will surely make me lie down at noonday, and I shall at once sleep in peace, resting in a light that knows no shadow. Indeed, there is no shadow at noon, for the sun shines directly over that summit where you make those you tend lie down, and take your children with you to your bed. No one is judged worthy of this noonday rest who is not a child of light and of the day. But if anyone makes himself equally distant from the shadows of daybreak and those of nightfall, that is, from the origin of evil and its conclusion, the sun of righteousness makes him lie down at noontide.

Show me, then, says the bride, how I should lie down; show me the path to this noonday repose, lest my ignorance of your truth cause me to stray from your good guidance and consort with flocks which are strangers to yours.

Thus speaks the bride, anxious about the beauty God has given her, and seeking to learn how her comeliness may continue for ever.