Apolytikion for the Sunday of Orthodoxy
Τὴν ἄχραντον Εἰκόνα σου προσκυνοῦμεν Ἀγαθέ,
αἰτούμενοι συγχώρησιν τῶν πταισμάτων ἡμῶν,
Χριστὲ ὁ Θεός·
βουλήσει γὰρ ηὐδόκησας σαρκὶ
ἀνελθεῖν ἐν τῷ Σταυρῷ,
ἵνα ῥύσῃ οὓς ἔπλασας ἐκ τῆς δουλείας τοῦ ἐχθροῦ·
ὅθεν εὐχαρίστως βοῶμέν σοι·
Χαρᾶς ἐπλήρωσας τὰ πάντα, ὁ Σωτὴρ ἡμῶν,
παραγενόμενος εἰς τὸ σῶσαι τὸν Κόσμον.
Tin achranton ikona sou proskynoumen Agathe,
aitoumeni synchorisin ton ptaismaton imon,
Christe o Theos.
Voulisi gar ivdokisas sarki
anelthin en to Stavro,
ina risi ous eplasas ek tis doulias tou echthrou;
othen efcharistos voomen si:
charas eplirosas ta panta, o Sotir imon,
paragenomenos is to sose ton kosmon.
We fall down before Your pure Icon, O Good One,
seeking forgiveness for our failings,
for it seemed good to You to ascend willingly on the cross,
in order to rescue those whom You created from slavery to the enemy;
for this reason we cry out with thanksgiving to you;
You have filled all things with joy, O our Savior,
having come to save the world.
Sung in Greek
Sung in English
A Divine Symphony
The themes of this hymn are tightly woven throughout, like the themes of a great symphony which the composer introduces and then intertwines, till they blend together into a great crescendo conclusion. The hymn, using ring composition, begins and ends in prayer. This prayer, however, is tightly interwoven with the catalyst for that prayer, the great act of love of God going in the flesh to the cross for our salvation.
The Icon and the Sinner
The hymn, as we have often seen, falls into two parts. The main themes of the hymn are introduced in the first two lines:
- We venerate the icon of Christ
- We beg forgiveness of our failings
The language of the first line explains its connection with the celebration of the restoration of the Icons, by employing the language of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (The Second Council of Nicaea–AD 787; for an explanation of Iconoclasm and the Orthodox doctrine of icons as expounded by the Council, please see https://www.goarch.org/search?p_p_id=101&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_state=maximized&p_p_mode=view&_101_struts_action=%2Fasset_publisher%2Fview_content&_101_returnToFullPageURL=%2F&_101_assetEntryId=2182246&_101_type=content&_101_urlTitle=first-sunday-of-lent-the-sunday-of-orthodoxy&_101_redirect=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goarch.org%2Fsearch%3Fp_p_id%3D3%26p_p_lifecycle%3D0%26p_p_state%3Dmaximized%26p_p_mode%3Dview%26_3_groupId%3D32058%26_3_keywords%3Dlent%26_3_struts_action%3D%252Fsearch%252Fsearch%26_3_redirect%3D%252F&inheritRedirect=true)
We venerate (proskynoumen) the icon, since worship (latreia) belongs to God alone, and not to wood and paint. However, an icon is worthy of veneration because of the subject it portrays. And icon is more than a picture; it produces a real link between the image the reality behind the image. In this case, we honor the image by asking forgiveness of our sins and failings (ptaismaton imon). Through the image portrayed in the icon, we have access to the One who gave His life for the remission of our sins, and so by honoring the icon, we have a direct connection to Christ, the fountain of forgiveness.
The Icon and the Cross
These two themes, honoring the image of Christ in the icon and the forgiveness of sins, are expanded in the second part of the first half of the hymn. The pivotal words in the first part are eikona (image), synchorisin (forgiveness), and ptaismaton (failings). The cause for these words flows from them and is connected to the first part by the conjunction gar (because).
The image of Christ leads to the image of His death on the cross through which the forgiveness of sins is open to us. The hymn insists that this is an act of pure love on the part of our Lord: voulisi…ivdokisas anelthin en to stavro (You were well pleased to ascend willingly on the cross). Forgiveness flows from a pure act of love.
The hymn then expands on the other two words. The word eikon is truly pregnant with meaning. In the first line, it refers to the icon, the image of Christ. However, the word was also used to express true human nature, made in the image of God (eikon tou Theou). Like the painted icon, we as human beings were created by God to reflect His presence in the world. But we failed at this mission; the tempter deceived us by telling us we could become gods without grace, without God. Instead of the usual word for sin (amartia), the hymn uses the word ptaisma which means a failure, but can also have the connotation of a defeat. We were defeated in our battle with Satan, and so we became douloi, slaves, to Satan. Through the cross, Christ defeated Satan and the power of death through which he kept us enslaved. All this is expressed in the next line: ina risi ous eplasas ek tis doulias tou echthrou. Our Lord’s love for us is expressed in His going to the cross for the purpose of freeing us from slavery, of reversing our defeat by His victory.
Filled with Joy
The second half of the hymn is an ecstatic prayer of joy, a prayer of celebration of victory. The cause and effect is expressed by othen (for this reason, hence). This time, the quiet request for forgiveness before the icon of Christ is transformed into a shout of victory and thanksgiving (efcharistos voomen si). The sorrow of the first part is transformed into joy, the joy of the whole creation, delivered from slavery and death.
The hymn adds a wonderfully intimate touch in the last line. There are many words in Orthodox hymns to express Christ’s coming to earth and taking on our human nature. Usually the word used expresses some sort of condescension as, for example, in the Creed, where this action is described as descending (katelthonda). Here, however the hymn chooses a different perspective. Christ comes to save us; the word used is paragenomenos. The root of this verb, gignomai, means to be or become. The prefix para- gives the sense of being next to something else.
And so, our Lord doesn’t save the world by some divine strike from on high; He saves us from within ourselves, so to speak. Salvation comes from God taking His place next to us, as one of us. This emphasis on our shared humanity touches back on both sections of the first part: Christ willingly goes to the cross sarki–in the flesh; and, the very existence of an eikon of the Son of God is only possible because, as our hymns say, the uncircumscribed God can now be depicted in icons because He has been circumscribed by the flesh.
We Are the Images of Christ
This beautiful hymn with its tightly interwoven themes show us the incredible love that God has for us by taking on our nature and going to the Cross to free us from slavery. The image of God which once shone in and through us, but was tarnished by sin can now be repolished and restored to its original glory.
This hymn, then, not only reminds us of our true nature as images of Christ who is the image of the Father; it also sets the tone for Lent. Always shining through the spirit of repentance and fasting is the victory won by Christ in the flesh. Lent, then, becomes a time of liberation, not of suffering. We discipline the flesh in order to rejoice in our freedom.