Kontakion of the Sunday of the Last Judgment

Before the beginning of Great Lent, the Orthodox Church offers her faithful four Sundays of preparation. The period is called the Triodion after the book which contains the hymns for this period and for the Great Lent and Holy Week. Each of these preparatory Sundays presents a theme to help the faithful map their way through the journey to Pascha. The themes of these Sundays are:

  • The Publican and the Pharisee–humility and prayer
  • The Prodigal Son–humility, repentance, forgiveness
  • The Last Judgment
  • Forgiveness Sunday–forgiveness and prayer

Each Sunday has a special hymn, called a Kontakion, which is sung at the Divine Liturgy as the last in the series of hymns sung as the Gospel Book is brought in procession to the altar. These special hymns stress the theme of the Sunday.

Greek Text

Ὅταν ἔλθῃς ὁ Θεός, ἐπὶ γῆς μετὰ δόξης,
καὶ τρέμωσι τὰ σύμπαντα,
ποταμὸς δὲ τοῦ πυρὸς πρὸ τοῦ Βήματος ἕλκῃ,
καὶ βίβλοι ἀνοίγωνται,
καὶ τὰ κρυπτὰ δημοσιεύωνται,
τότε ῥῦσαί με, ἐκ τοῦ πυρὸς τοῦ ἀσβέστου,
καὶ ἀξίωσον, ἐκ δεξιῶν σου μὲ στῆναι,
Κριτὰ δικαιότατε.

English Transliteration

Otan elthis o Theos epi yis meta doxis,
ke tremosi ta sympanta,
potamos de tou pyros pro tou Vimatos elki,
ke vivli anigonde,
ke ta krypta dimosievonde,
tote ryse me ek tou pyros tou asvestou,
ke axioson ek dexion sou me stine,
Krita dikeotate.

English Translation

When You come, O God, to earth with glory,
and all things tremble,
and the river of fire flows before the judgment tribunal,
and the books are opened,
and the secret deeds are made public,
then save me from the unquenchable fire,
and make me worthy to stand at Your right hand,
O most just Judge.

last-judgment

God the Most Just Judge

As we have seen with many hymns, this hymn falls into two parts. The first part sets the scene, governed by the conjunction otanwhen. The second part picks up the first with the adverb tote–then. The whole hymn is united into a whole by the address to God in the first line (o Theos), who comes to earth with glory, and in the last line (Krita dikeotate) as the most just Judge.

5 Fearful Aspects of the End

The first part of the hymn lists 5 fearful events of the Last Judgment:

  • God’s coming in glory
  • all things trembling
  • the river of fire flowing
  • the books are opened
  • the secrets made public

God’s coming in glory is a reference to the Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Last Judgment. We hear the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which begins with Our Lord, identifying Himself as the Son of Man, coming in glory and sitting on His throne (Matthew 25:31. God finally takes His throne as true king of all creation.

But, instead of all creation rejoicing and welcoming its true king, we see the opposite reaction: fear is the prevailing emotion. The prevalence of this emotion is explained in the following actions: all the secret acts of our lives are revealed in public.

These two actions are joined together by the central image of the river of fire. The river flows past the judgment tribunal, and represents both the revelation and judgment of the actions during life of each person, and the punishment for these actions.

Saved from the Fire

The river of fire is taken up in the second part of the hymn with unquenchable fire of condemnation (ek tou pyros tou asvestou). This second part, however, takes an unexpected turn. The connection of the otan and the tote leads the hearer to expect a description of the judgment scene the first part of the hymn is building up to. However, instead of judgment, the second part of the hymn is a plea for mercy. In the light of the first part of the hymn, we realize that, before the light of God’s justice, our actions have made us worthy of a place in the fire. With that knowledge, we have no recourse but to throw ourselves on the mercy of God.

Becoming a Sheep

The unusual turn of the hymn then has an even more unusual conclusion: not only do we beg for mercy and rescue from the fire, we actually beg God to be placed with the saved, to be placed with the sheep. This reference to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats takes us back to the first line of the hymn, and leads to the concluding address to God. In a final twist, this address, following on a plea for mercy, is to the perfect justice of God Himself. The hymn, then, tells us that God as King and Judge shows Himself most just when He shows the greatest mercy.

 

 

The Apolytikion of the Meeting of the Lord with the Elder Symeon in the Temple

The feast of the Meeting of the Lord with the Elder Symeon occurs on February 2nd, about halfway between Christmas and Pascha. We celebrate the day when Mary and Joseph brought the Christ Child to the Temple to fulfill two commandments of the Law: the purification of the mother from the flow of blood from giving birth (Leviticus 12:1-8); and the “buying back” of the first born male from God (Exodus 13:11-16).

Greek Text

Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη Θεοτόκε Παρθένε,
ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἀνέτειλεν ὁ Ἥλιος τῆς δικαιοσύνης,
Χριστὸς ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, φωτίζων τοὺς ἐν σκότει.
Εὐφραίνου καὶ σὺ Πρεσβύτα δίκαιε,
δεξάμενος ἐν ἀγκάλαις τὸν ἐλευθερωτὴν τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν,
χαριζόμενον ἡμῖν καὶ τὴν Ἀνάστασιν.

English Transliteration

Chere kecharitomeni Theotoke Parthene,
ek sou gar anetilen o Ilios tis dikeosynis,
Christos o Theos imon, photizon tous en skoti.
Efphrenou ke si Presvita dikee,
dexamenos en angales ton eleftherotin ton psychon imon,
charizomenon imin ke tin Anastasin.

English Translation

Rejoice full of grace Theotokos Virgin,
For from you arose the Sun of Righteousness,
Christ our God, enlightening those in darkness.
Rejoice also, righteous Elder,
having received in your arms the Liberator of our souls,
who grants us also the Resurrection.

The Hymn Sung in Greek and in English

A Dance Around Christ

The hymn, as is typical of many hymns, falls into two parts. Each part looks at a main character of the story, and directs the characters to the overarching main character, Christ.

The first part addresses the Thetokos, the second the Elder Symeon. Each is given a command to rejoice.

Chere kecharitomeni Theotoke Parthene

Efphrenou ke si Presvita dikee

They are then given the reason for this: the Theotokos has given birth to Christ; Symeon has received the Christ child in his arms.

The third line then applies a participle to Christ, attributing an aspect of our Salvation to the particular description of Christ.

  • In the first part, Christ is addressed as the Sun of Righteousness. His action is to enlighten those in darkness.
  • In the second part, Christ is called the Liberator of our souls. His action is to grant the Resurrection, the ultimate liberation from sin and death.

From Christmas to Pascha and Back

Since this feast fall roughly midway between Christmas and Pascha, it looks in both directions, thereby joining the themes of the two feasts together. In order to express this aspect of the feast, the Apolytikion uses language which captures all the highlights of the various feasts, melding them into one hymn.

The Previous Feasts

The first line:

Chere kecharitomeni Theotoke Parthene

is a variation on the greeting of the Angel Gabriel to Mary when he announced to her that she was chosen to be the mother of God (Luke 1:28).

Chere kecharitomeni, o Kyrios meta sou

Thus, the hymn begins at the beginning, at the Annunciation.

The second line:

ek sou gar aneteile o Ilios tis dikeosynis

mimics a line from the Apolytikion of the Nativity:

[tous magous] se proskynin ton Ilion tis dikeosynis

quickly moving from the Annunciation to the Birth of Christ.

The third line:

Christos o Theos imon, photizon tous en skotis

connects the hymn to the Feast of Lights, Theophany. In the Gospel for the Sunday after Theophany, we read how St. Matthew refers this prophecy of Isaiah to our Lord (Matthew 4:16):

O laos o kathimenos en skoti phos eiden mega, ke tis kathimenis en chora ke skia thanatou phos anetile aftis.

The people who were sitting in the shadow saw a great light, and upon those sitting in the land and the shadow of death a light has arisen.

The Future Feasts

The shift to the righteous Elder Symeon also shifts the perspective to the future, just as Symeon himself looks to the future of the child in his arms.

Symeon has received the liberator of our souls:

dexamenos en angales ton eleftherotin ton psychon imon.

The title eleftherotis is appropriate for our Lord’s death on the cross, since through His death He liberated us from sin and death.

Finally, through His conquest of death, Christ also grants to us the Resurrection, the promise of renewed life.

From Christmas and Pascha and Back…to Us

On this Feast Day, we too stand poised between Christmas and Pascha. Our hymn reminds us that we cannot separate the two events, that they are inextricably bound up with each other. Christmas can never be for the Orthodox Christian a warm cuddly feeling about a little child in a manger with cute little animals all around. Christmas must always point to God’s great sacrifice for us, it shows us the Child, not a sweet little boy, but as the Liberator of our souls. In the same way, the great acts of our salvation, our Lord’s Death and Resurrection, can never be separated from the initial sacrifice of the Son of God in becoming a human being, in taking on our human nature and living and sanctifying every aspect of our human lives. Very often in our “religious thought” we consider the only events of our Lord’s life to be Christmas and Pascha, and that these are two very distinct events. This Feast and its apolytikion remind us that these events frame a whole life and that they can never be separated but must be joined together into one whole continuum of salvation.

 

Resurrection Hymn (Apolytikion) in Plagal 1st Tone

This coming Sunday is Plagal 2nd Tone. You can see the comments on this Apolytikion at Apolytikion Plagal 2nd Tone. This post goes back to last week’s Apolytikion.

Of all the 8 Resurrection hymns, the hymn in Plagal of the 1st Tone is probably the clearest example of theology expressed through poetry. The hymn is divided into two parts: the first part takes us to the life of the Trinity which expressed itself in the Incarnation of the Logos; the second part shows us the working out of that life and love in the Cross and the Resurrection.

Greek Text

Τον συναναρχον Λόγον Πατρι και Πνεύματι,
τον εκ Παρθένου τεχθεντα εις σωτηριαν ημών,
ανυμνησωμεν πιστοί και προσκυνησωμεν,
ότι ηυδοκησε σαρκί ανέλθειν εν τω σταυρών και θάνατον  υπομείνai,
και εγειρε τους τεθνεωτας,
εν τη ενδόξων Αναστασει αυτού.

Transliteration

Ton sinanarchon Logon Patri ke Pnevmati,
ton ek Parthenou techthenta is sotirian imon,
animnisomen pisti ke proskinisomen,
oti ivdokise sarki anelthin en to stavro ke thanaton ipomine,
ke egire tous tethneotas,
en ti endoxo Anastasi aftou.

English Translation

The Word co-beginningless with the Father and the Spirit
born of the Virgin for our salvation,
let us, O Faithful, hymn and worship,
for it pleased him to mount in the flesh on the cross and endure death,
and He raised those who had died
in His glorious Resurrection.

The Hymn in Greek

Awe and Worship

The hymn hinges on the central phrase, “Let us, O Faithful, hymn and worship (the Logos).” This command centers us in the action of worship. We are not asked to analyze these truths rationally, only to fall down before them in awe.

This central, connecting phrase is grammatically balanced: in the center is the noun (pistoi, O faithfu), the people addressed; on either side of this noun are the two verbs of command (animnisomen, proskinisomen–let us hymn, let us worship).

Uniting Earth and Heaven

What is the function of this central line?

The command to the faithful to praise and worship unites the first part of the hymn which looks to the inner life of God with the second part which looks to God’s saving actions on earth.

The tight grammatical structure of the first line reflects the unity of persons in the Holy Trinity. The emphasis is on the Word/Son of God, since He alone took on human nature while not leaving the life of the Trinity.

Ton synanarchon Logon Patri kai Pnevmati

The Word co-beginningless with the Father and the Spirit

The three persons of the Trinity are brought into immediate proximity; the Word (Logon) receives the emphasis, since it is the direct object of the main verbs. The Word is bound grammatically to the Father and the Spirit by the adjective synanarchon. The prefix syn (with) puts the adjective ananarchon into a relationship with other nouns by their using a special case (called the dative). Not only are the Persons of the Trinity united by proximity in the line; they are also bound together grammatically.

The three Persons of the Trinity are bound by a specific characteristic, being without a beginning (ananachon). This specific characteristic is mentioned because, as we see in the second line, the Word of God enters into human nature, taking on a beginning from the Virgin.

ton ek Parthenou techthenta

born from a Virgin

This line also gives us the reason for this condescension: for our salvation.

What’s the Point?

The second part of the hymn gives the proof of God’s concern for our salvation shown in the first part of the hymn; the life of the Trinity and the incarnation of the Word bring about the defeat of death on the cross and the subsequent resurrection of all people.

The reason proving God’s concern for our salvation produces two verbs, each used in an unusual way:

  • The first verb is evdokisas, which indicates assent or approval, but it also has the implication of happiness, of being content with the decision. Our Lord not only freely went to the cross and death; He went joyfully. The infinitives which completes the thought of the verb, indicate that our Lord was not the passive victim. The first infinitive anelthin give the image of a king mounting his throne. The second infinitive upomeinai indicates that, although our Lord did not cause His death, He did patiently endure this death; He went through this death willingly and not by compulsion.

 

  • The verb egeire brings us to the Resurrection, but it is not referring to Christ, either as a passive verb (e.g. “raised by the Father”) or intransitive (e.g. “He rose from the dead”), but rather is active and has tethneotas, those who have died, as its object. This verb shows that the Resurrection is not something reserved to or unique to Christ; rather, it is through His own Resurrection that our Lord raises all the dead. The Resurrection, then, is not a passive act, just as the death on the Cross was not passive, but is active and effecting the salvation of humanity, promised in the first part of the hymn.

 

What about Us?

Where is all this heady theology leading us? The beginning and end of the hymn lead back to the middle. The great truths of our salvation, the Trinity and the Incarnation, are simply “put out there” without comment, but framed entirely by God’s desire for our salvation, for our ultimate participation in the life of the Trinity. We as human beings are not to speculate or analyze; the only response possible to such overwhelming love is worship.

 

 

 

 

The Apolytikion of Theophany (January 6)
The Baptism of our Lord in the Flesh

The Feast of the Theophany, or Manifestation, of our Lord on January 6 is the second most important feast of the Church year after the Pascha/Pentecost celebration. In the East, the Feast of January 6 commemorated the Birth of Christ, the coming of the Magi, and the Baptism by John in the Jordan River; it was a feast commemorating the earliest manifestations of our Lord on earth. In the 4th century, when the Eastern Church accepted the celebration of the birth of our Lord on December 25, the January 6 feast was restricted to the commemoration of the Baptism. Both at the evening Vesperal Liturgy at the beginning of the feast on January 5, and at the morning Liturgy on January 6 the Church celebrates the Great Blessing of Water to commemorate the blessing which the Jordan River received when our Lord entered it for baptism.

The great feast days of the Orthodox Church are not restricted to one day of celebration. The celebration of most feasts extend for 8 days. Theophany is extended an extra day; the last day of the celebration (the Apodosis or “Leavetaking”) is January 14.

Greek Text

Ἐν Ἰορδάνῃ βαπτιζομένου σου Κύριε,
ἡ τῆς Τριάδος ἐφανερώθη προσκύνησις,
τοῦ γὰρ Γεννήτορος ἡ φωνὴ προσεμαρτύρει σοί,
ἀγαπητὸν σὲ Υἱὸν ὀνομάζουσα,
καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα ἐν εἴδει περιστεράς,
ἐβεβαίου τοῦ λόγου τὸ ἀσφαλές.
Ὁ ἐπιφανεῖς Χριστὲ ὁ Θεός,
καὶ τὸν κόσμον φωτίσας
δόξα σοί.

Transliteration

En Iordani vaptizomenou sou Kyrie,
I tis Triados ephanerothi proskynisis,
tou gar Yennitoros i phoni prosemartyri si,
agapiton se Ion onomazousa,
ke to Pnevma en idi peristeras,
eveveou tou logou to asphales.
O epiphanis Christe o Theos,
ke ton kosmon photisas
doxa si.

English Translation

When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord,
the worship of the Trinity was revealed,
for the voice of the Father bore witness to You,
naming You the beloved Son,
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the surety of the word.
O Christ our God who appeared
and enlightened the world
glory to You.

The Hymn in Greek

The Hymn in English

 

The Meeting of Heaven and Earth

The hymtheophany02n for Theophany provides a narration which reflects the icon of the Feast, and fills out the theological meaning of the Scriptural narrative.

The first two lines of the hymn are a unit, setting up the union of heaven and earth. Each line follows the same structure: the central verbal form balances a noun phrase to the left and a single noun to the right. The first line sets the earthly scene; the second line expands the event to the heavenly realm.

 

En Iordani               vaptizomenou sou           Kyrie
I tis Triados             ephanerothi                      proskinisis

The first line has our old friend, the genitive absolute. It gives the circumstances under which the main verb occurs.

When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord,
The worship of the Trinity was revealed.

The Revelation of the Trinity from Heaven

So, how does the revelation of the worship of the Trinity come out of the baptism of the young prophet from Nazareth?

The Gospels tell us that the Father recognized this man as His only Son; the Spirit hovered about Him.

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11

The next four lines of the hymn summarize the scene. The lines alternate between a mention of the Person of the Trinity and what they contribute to the revelation of the Trinity.

tou gar Yennitoros i phoni prosemartyri si,
agapiton se Ion onomazousa,
ke to Pnevma en idi peristeras,
eveveou tou logou to asphales

The first and third lines mention the Person and the means of communication: in the first, the Father witnesses with His voice; in the third, the Spirit appears as a dove. In the second and fourth lines we see the result of this revelation: the Father names of Jesus as His beloved Son; the Spirit confirms the truth of the Father’s witness.

The lines are also linked by the verbal forms: the section is framed by the two finite verbs of the sentence (proesmartyri and eveveou), expressing the action of the revelation. The inner sentences contain participles: the Father’s witness is expressed by naming (onomazousa); although the second participle is not expressed, the parallelism requires that the Spirit’s confirmation must come from an implied participle indicating “appearing”.

The structure of these lines, with all the action centered on the person of the Son, reflects the common action of all the Persons of the Trinity in revealing the communal nature of the Godhead.

The Revelation of the Trinity on Earth

How is this revelation brought back to the earth?

The hymn brings us back to our beginning, the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The concluding prayer (doxa si) is introduced by two participles fundamental to the story.

O epiphanis Christe o Theos,
ke ton kosmon photisas

The hymn addresses our Lord both as man (Christos, the Messiah) and God (Theos). This is the most important part of the revelation of the Trinity, that the man who comes to John to be baptized is actually God who has assumed our human nature. The participles (epiphanis and photisas) remind us of the Gospel of John (1:5)

And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (or overcome) it.

By this revelation, our Lord now, in turn, shines the light of the true nature of God into the world.

The Revelation of the Trinity to Us

How does this revelation of the Trinity affect us?

Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we can only truly know who we are if we truly know who God is. Since God at the baptism reveals himself as a community of love, we now know that we as human beings are meant to live as a community of love. The darkness of our selfishness and isolation has been overcome by the light of the eternal love of the Persons of the Trinity for one another.

The hymn also teaches us that, through the revelation of the Trinity, heaven and earth have been reunited. The Father once again speaks to His people, as He once did with Adam in the garden. The Spirit once again hovers over the waters, bringing forth the new creation. We, in turn, are called to participate in this new union of heaven and earth, seeing creation as being once again penetrated by heaven and once again able to reveal the presence of God. As a result, we should treat creation with the respect due to an icon of God.

 

 

The Apolytikion of the Nativity of our Lord

Why are we talking about stars at Christmas?

In the Orthodox liturgical tradition, the Divine Liturgy of Christmas day commemorates the arrival of the Magi to offer their gifts to the Christ Child. The role of the star in this story helps to reinforce the theme of the Divine Light coming into a world of darkness.

The Greek Text

Ἡ γέννησίς σου Χριστὲ ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν,
ἀνέτειλε τῶ κόσμω, τὸ φῶς τὸ τῆς γνώσεως,
ἐν αὐτῇ γὰρ οἱ τοὶς ἄστροις λατρεύοντες,
ὑπὸ ἀστέρος ἐδιδάσκοντο,
σὲ προσκυνεῖν,
τὸν Ἥλιον τῆς δικαιοσύνης,
καὶ σὲ γινώσκειν
ἐξ ὕψους ἀνατολήν,
Κύριε δόξα σοί.

The Transliteration

I yennisis sou Christe o Theos imon,
anetile to kosmo to phos to tis gnoseos,
en afti gar i tis astris latrevontes,
ipo asteros edidaskondo,
se proskinin
ton Ilion tis dikeosynis,

ke se yinoskin
ex ipsous anatolin,

Kyrie, doxa si.

The English Translation

Your birth O Christ our God
raised upon the world the light of knowledge
and to those who worshiped the stars
through a star learned
to worship You the sun of righteousness
and came to know You the Orient from on high.
Lord, glory to You.

The Apolytikion sung in English by the Boston Byzantine Choir

(Not) Blinded by the Light

The hymn of Christmas is full of light; not just any light, but the light that casts out the darkness of the world. The poetry of the hymn reinforces this image. The idea itself comes from two New Testament sources.

The light that overcomes the darkness comes from the Prologue to the Gospel according to St. John (John 1:4-5)

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (or overcome) it.

What is the light that overcomes the darkness? Naturally, it is the rising sun! This connection becomes clear in the hymn which Zacharias sang at the birth of his son, John the Baptist (Luke 1:76-79).

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high will visit us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The Morning Star

This complex of images underlies the poetry of the first part of the hymn. The birth of Christ causes the light of knowledge (to phos to tis gnoseos) to rise up. The verb anatello is the common word for the rising of the sun; it is used transitively (i.e. it conveys the action of a subject to the object) for raising something up. In Matthew 5:45 it is used in connection with the sun: “…so that you become sons of your Father in heaven, because he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good…”

Like the Light in John 1, the birth of Christ causes the light of knowledge to rise over the world. The image invokes the natural phenomenon of the morning star pointing to the rising of the sun. The birth of Christ becomes the morning star whose rising heralds the coming of the light of knowledge. This knowledge, as we have seen in the hymn of Zacharias, is the knowledge of salvation, which is the revelation of the true God through the God-man Jesus Christ. 

Star-Gazers and the Star

The initial image of sun and morning star leads naturally to the star which guided the astrologers from the East to find the newborn Christ Child. It is in the light of knowledge that the Magi, who were ancient astronomers, began their search for the newborn King of the Jews. Although they had worshiped the stars (oi tis astris latrevondes), God sent them a star which shone with light of knowlege (iper asteros edidaskondo). The roles are now reversed: the sun has become the morning star, pointing beyond itself to the greater truth.

How can the star teach? Every Christmas we are subjected to endless speculation about the nature of the star that the Magi followed. Was it a miraculous, moving star? Was it a confluence of planets? Was it some unusual astrological sign that had meaning for the astrologers? In the Orthodox tradition, none of these questions are meaningful. The true nature of the star lies beyond the simple physical phenomenon. We see what the star truly is in the icon of the Nativity. There the star is more than an astronomical event; it is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit Himself.

At the top of the icon is the dark blue semicircle which is the iconic symbol of the Father. From this circle emanates a ray which terminates in the star over the head of the Christ Child. This symbolism shows that the star is one of the Trinity, pointing to the incarnate Word. We see the same arrangement in the icon of the Baptism, where the Spirit is symbolized by a dove.

Ultimately, then, the Magi are led by the Spirit, who always points us to Christ. The Holy Spirit is the true light of knowledge.

Two Things to Learn

The third part of the hymn tells us the two things which the Magi learn through the star, the light of knowledge: to worship you (se proskynin) and to know you (se yinoskin). The order is the opposite of what we expect. Our rational, post-Enlightenment society has been taught that knowledge comes first.The debate about infant Baptism, for example, revolves around the objection that infants are too young to understand what is going on. For the Orthodox, however, worship always comes first, because the mystery always exceeds our intellect. When we are faced, like the Magi, with the pre-eternal God now lying in the food trough of dumb animals, all we can do, like the Magi, is to fall down and worship the mystery. The morning star has led us to the rising of the true Sun of Righteousness (ton ilion tis dikeosyne). The light that heralded the coming of the light of knowledge has now become the sun, and the light of knowledge yields to worship.

From worship follows knowledge. The true Sun is not just light of day, but the rising sun. In this way, the Holy Spirit leads us not only to the Christ Child, but moves immediately to the “other end” of the story, the Resurrection. The rising sun is the image of the risen Christ, and, for this reason, from the beginning, Christians face East when they pray, and especially at the ultimate meeting with the risen Christ, the Divine Liturgy. For the Orthodox, Christmas can never remain the sentimental meditation on a baby in the manger. It points to the entire plan of salvation. The hymn for Christmas takes us to the culmination of that plan through the beautiful image of the morning star leading us to the rising sun.

 

 

 

Resurrection Apolytikion in the 1st Tone

What would it have been like to be there that first Pascha? We can well imagine being witnesses to a massive burst of energy, of life, coming out of the tomb. The recent restoration of the sacred tomb in the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulcher) hints at that burst of energy (see the description of the strange electromagnetic field from the slab on which our Lord’s body lay: http://aleteia.org/2016/11/15/mysteries-surround-the-opening-of-the-tomb-of-christ/).

We can experience this same burst of energy in the Resurrection Apolytikion in the 1st Tone.

Greek Text

Τοῦ λίθου σφραγισθέντος ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, καὶ στρατιωτῶν φυλασσόντων τὸ ἄχραντόν σου σῶμα, ἀνέστης τριήμερος Σωτήρ, δωρούμενος τῷ κόσμῳ τὴν ζωήν. Διὰ τοῦτο αἱ Δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν ἐβόων σοι Ζωοδότα· Δόξα τῇ ἀναστάσει σου Χριστέ, δόξα τῇ Βασιλείᾳ σου, δόξα τῇ οἰκονομίᾳ σου, μόνε Φιλάνθρωπε.

Transliteration

Tou lithou sphrayisthentos ipo ton Ioudeon,
ke stratioton philassonton to achranton sou soma,
anestis tri-imeros Sotir, doroumenos to kosmo tin zoin.
Dia touto e Dinamis ton ouranon evoon si Zoodota:
Doxa ti Anastasi sou Christe,
Doxa ti Vasilia sou,
Doxa di ikonomia sou,
mone Philanthrope.

English Translation

While/Although the stone was sealed by the Judeans,
and while/although the soldiers were guarding Your immaculate body,
You arose, O three-day Savior, granting life to the world.
For this reason the Powers of heaven were crying out to You the Giver of Life:
Glory to Your Resurrection, O Christ,
Glory to Your Kingdom,
Glory to Your plan of salvation,
O only Friend of Humanity.

 

A Burst of Energy!

The hymn divides into 2 parts:

  • The event of the Resurrection with its surrounding description
  • The result of the Resurrection in angelic songs of praise

The energy of the Resurrection is captured by the only active verb, anestis (You rose) in the center of the section. The strength of the active verb cuts through the background described by the three participles, and is nearly shocking to the ear which had been lulled into a sense of normalcy.

The Background “Noise”

The first two phrases set the seen. This setting is accomplished grammatically by a wonderful Greek construction called a genitive absolute. This construction is only loosely connected with the main sentence, and describes the circumstances under which the main verb takes place. That relationship can take a number of different forms: it can indicate simply the circumstances present when the main verb takes place; it can indicate cause or it can emphasize time; it can also indicate an adversative although relationship. In English we like to have these relationships specified and often translations will only give one possibility. The beauty of the Greek construction is the ambiguity; it can indicate a number of different types of relationships all at once.

Here, our hymn begins by setting the scene. We see the large stone rolled against the entrance of the tomb. It is not, however, just a stone: it has been sealed with the seals of the High Priest to make sure that the stone is not tampered with. At the same time, the temple guard has been stationed at the door of the tomb to make sure no one enters the tomb or breaks the seals. There is a quietness about these two phrases; everything seems to be in place; nothing has been disturbed.

A Burst of New Life-Energy

Against this background the anestis burst onto the scene. The “while” indicating the background circumstances has suddenly been transformed into an “although”! Despite all the precautions, the seals are broken and, as we know from St. Matthew’s Gospel, the guard collapses unconscious.

This burst of life-energy is followed up immediately with its consequences. The life which bursts from the tomb bestows this same life on the world. The participle doroumenos which has a more dynamic feel than the participles of the first two phrases, since it is wholly integrated into the main action by modifying the subject of the verb anestis: the one who has risen is the one who has the power to pass this life energy along. This participle comes from the verb doreomai which means more than simply granting. It signifies something given or presented; it implies not that the giver is superior to the receiver, some authority granting a special privilege to an underling, but rather it indicates a gift given in love.

Singing Angels

The second half of the hymn changes venue entirely. Now we are given a vision of the heavenly reaction to the actions of the first half.

The cause and effect is made clear by the conjunction dio (for this reason; therefore). The gift of new life on earth prompts the angels to offer glory to God. Their hymn consists of 3 parts:

  • Praise of the Resurrection
  • Praise of the Kingdom
  • Praise of the Divine Plan of Salvation

We are presented with an ever-widening vision of God’s work on earth. The kernel is the Resurrection; the angelic praise jumps directly from the narration in the first part. The Kingdom (or more properly, the royal power) looks to all those who have received the new life of the Resurrection. Finally the oikonomia or the whole divine Plan of Salvation tells us that the life-giving Resurrection and the establishment  of our Lord’s royal rule are actually parts of a larger whole, one that stretches back to the very beginning and forward to the consummation of the world. But, the essence of this plan is not wrath or fear, but the loving gift of true and eternal life.

What about Us?

What is unusual about this second half of the hymn? Although it technically narrates the glory given to God by the angels in heaven, yet we are, in fact, the ones who are singing this hymn and therefore singing the hymn of the angels with them! Because our Lord has presented us with the great gift of true and eternal life, the life of the Resurrection, we have become fellow citizens with the angels, and have already begun on earth to join in the angelic chorus glorifying God for all that He has done.

The hymn tells us, then, that since we are filled with the new life-energy, our whole life must be transformed into a life of doxology. Just as with the angels, so with us there can be nothing else of such importance in our lives that should prevent us from offering glory to God constantly. What an amazing vocation we are called to!

 

Resurrection Apolytikion in Plagal 4th Tone

They say, “Less is more.” This is certainly true of the Resurrection Apolytikion in Plagal 4th Tone. The story of our redemption is reduced to the bare minimum of words; the melody is also simple and somewhat standard for this tone. And yet, the whole mystery of redemption is contained in these few words!

Greek Text

Ἐξ ὕψους κατῆλθες ὁ εὔσπλαγχνος,
ταφὴν κατεδέξω τριήμερον,
ἵνα ἡμᾶς ἐλευθερώσῃς τῶν παθῶν.
Ἡ ζωὴ καὶ ἡ Ἀνάστασις ἡμῶν, Κύριε δόξα σοι.

Transliteration

 Ex ipsous katilthes, o efsplachnos,
taphin katedexo tri-imeron,
ina imas eleftherosis ton pathon.
I zoi ke i Anastasis imon, Kyrie doxa si.


Translation

From on high You descended O Merciful One,
You accepted the three-day tomb,
In order to free us from the passions.
Our Life and Resurrection, O Lord, glory to You.

Sung in English

 

What’s in a Title?

 The hymn is structured around titles of our Lord:

  • Efsplachnos—Merciful One
  • Zoi—Life
  • Anastasis–Resurrection

The hymn opens with an address to “The Merciful One”. The ancients Greeks believed that the center of pity was the bowels, the efsplachna. This is not an unreasonable assumption; if we reflect on feelings of pity or empathy, the physical aspect of this emotion seems to arise from the center of our bodies. And so, someone who is “full of pity” is literally, a “bowel person” or “Efsplachnos.”

By opening the hymn with this title, then, the author wants to emphasize for us that God became a human being and underwent death and burial out of pity for us, for our condition of slavery to sin and death.

The other two titles, Life and Resurrection, reflect “the other end” of the story. When God undergoes death according to the flesh out of pity for us, He destroys death for us, and replaces it with life. The second title, Resurrection, is not simply another way of saying that. God does not grant us some abstract “eternal life” which is spiritual and disembodied. No—He grants us complete life as we were created—soul and body. Just as He rose from the dead physically and not just spiritually, so also He raises us to life, recreating and renewing us as a unity of soul and body.

How Do We Get There?

 In between these titles, we have the story of redemption. The balance of the first two lines of the hymn reveals the whole story. The phrases each consist of three words, balanced in the center by the verb.

              Ex ipsous                     katilthes                       o Efsplachnos

             Taphin                         katedexo                      tri-imeron

Both verbs—katilthes and katedoxo—are compounds of the simple verbs erchomai (to come) and dehomai (to accept) with the prefix kata, which indicates a downward motion. The first line takes us down from the spiritual realm of heaven into the earthly realm by God taking on our human nature and becoming a human being. The second takes us down farther into the tomb and, by extension, into the underworld and the realm of death, where Christ won the victory of life over death.

The nouns and the modifiers are also balanced in a chiastic manner (i.e. ABC—CBA), so that the realm of eternity (ex ipsous—from above) yields, ultimately, to the temporal confinement of the tomb (tri-imeronof three days). The balance of efsplachnos and taphin shows that God in Jesus did not die by accident, but planned the working out of our salvation through His pity for us.

Why Did It All Happen?

The next phrase adds the purpose, the way that our redemption works itself out in our daily lives. This third phrase consists of four words (an expansion from the previous pattern, indicating a completion of the action), balanced by the verb.

Ex ipsous                     katilthes                       o Efsplachnos

            Taphin                         katedexo                      tri-imeron

            Ina imas                      eleftherosis                  ton pathon

God takes pity on us, descends into time and space by taking our nature and then further descends into death and the grave. By freeing us from death (giving us life and resurrection), He also frees us from our passions. Here, the chiasm reaches its fulfillment: efsplachnos  in the first line (indicating the giver of freedom) is balanced with imas (us) in the third (indicating the receiver of the freedom). The ex ipsous (the heavenly realm) by descending into the earthly and fallen realm enables the slavery of ton pathon (the passions) to be broken.

The Holy Fathers saw the passions and the roots of sin, the expression of our fallen nature which pervert and warp the gifts which God originally gave us in creation. They are our desires gone wild, which then enslave us to sin, which we commit by following them.

(For a good discussion of the Patristic idea of the passions, please see Deacon Charles Joiner’s blog Orthodox Way of Life: Walking the Path to Theosis: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2009/07/what-are-passions.html)

When God enters our human nature and descends to death, in order to free us from the passions, it does not mean we are reduced to a state of emotionlessness. Rather, when God frees us from death, He also frees us from the slavery to these passions, and through His own life, transforms them into their original good state, a state in which they serve us in order to bring us to that true life.

So Where Does That Leave Us?

When we contemplate the great, cosmic truths which these few simple words contain, there is only one response: Doxology. Because of His pity for us, He entered our world, entered our death, destroyed its slavery and the slavery of the passions. Now, as free men and women we can only bow down in worship and thanksgiving: Kyrie, doxa siLord, glory to You.