kingdom


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.

 

 

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!