Liturgy


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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Resurrection Apolytikion–Plagal 2nd Tone

English Version

Greek Text:

Αγγελικά Δυνάμεις  επί  το μνήμα σου,
και οι φυλασσοντες απενεκρωθησαν:
και ιστατο Μαρία  εν τω τάφων,
ζητουσα το αχραντον σου σώμα.
Εσκυλευσας τον Αδην, μη πειρασθεις υπ αυτού:
υπηντησας τη παρθένων, δωρουμενος την ζώνη.
Ο αναστας εκ των νεκρών, Κυριε, δοξα σοι.

Transliteration:

Angelike dimanis epi to mnima sou,
ke i philassontes apenekrothisan:
ke istato Maria en to tapho,
zitousa to achranton sou soma.
Eskilevsas ton Adin, mi pirasthis up’ aftou:
ipindisas ti partheno, doroumenos tin zoin.
O anastas ek ton nekron, Kirie, doxa si.

English Translation:

The Angelic Powers were at your tomb,
and those guarding were struck unconscious:
and Mary stood in the tomb,
seeking your immaculate body.
You despoiled Hades, not having been attacked by him.
You met the Virgin, granting life.
O You who rose from the dead, Lord, glory to You.

The hymn falls into two parts. The first part sets the scene with somewhat static language. The major characters are present: the Angels, Mary Magdalene (representing the Myrrh-bearing Women), and the guards. The second part also has three characters: Christ, Hades and the Theotokos, and is filled with verbs and participles denoting action.

In the first part of the hymn we are in the realm of death. The angels and the guards provide bookends for the central image of Mary Magdalene searching for our Lord’s body. All three characters are static: the Angels have no verb at all, indicating a simple copulative “are”. They are simply “there”; they play no active role in this hymn. The guards too are unconscious; the verb used apenekrothisan (became unconscious) contains the word nekros  (dead), and indicate a state of motionlessness even beyond being unconscious. Even Mary, although she is searching for the body, indicating some action, the controlling verb is istato (stood). We have an image of Mary standing and looking around the tomb, rather than actively searching.

The hymn breaks, almost violently, in the middle. The scene shifts to our Lord and His very active resurrectional life. There is nothing static about this second part; the verbs are active and strong, and the only passive verb (pirathis/tested or attacked) is actually negated.

The second part begins with the very strong verb eskulefsas (you despoiled). This is a military word, and indicates the stripping of the arms from a conquered enemy. At the same time mi pirasthis (not having been tried or attacked) indicates that the battle was all one-sided; Hades did not have a chance. He was not only defeated, he was not even able to attack.

The victorious battle scene is balanced by the tender mention of our Lord meeting with His mother. Again, the verb upindisas (you met) is active, indicating that our Lord is truly living and active. The two participles (pirasthis and doroumenos) show the negative and positive sides of the resurrection. Our Lord was not the victim of Hades, but rather overcame and despoiled him. As a result, as the possessor of true life, He is able to bestow life, first and foremost to His own mother who gave Him life according to the flesh.

Although the discretion of the Evangelists naturally kept them from narrating this private moment, a reward for the steadfast faith and love of the Theotokos, the earliest tradition of the Church is that Mary was one of the women at the tomb. The scene is described by the 3rd century writer Origen who quotes an apocryphal Gospel called The Gospel of the Twelve Apostles:

mary-at-the-resurectionShe opened her eyes, for they were lowered in order not to view the earth, the scene of so many dreadful events. She said to Him with joy: “Rabboni, my Lord, my God, my Son, You are resurrection, indeed resurrected.” She wished to hold Him in order to kiss Him upon the mouth, but He prevented her and pleaded with her, saying, “My mother, do not touch me. Wait a little, for this is the garment which the Father has given Me when He resurrected Me. It is not possible for anything of flesh to touch Me until I go into heaven.

This body is, however, the one in which I passed nine months in your loins…Know these things, My mother. This flesh is that which I received in you. This is that which has reposed in my tomb. This is also that which is resurrected today, that which now stands before you. Fix your eyes upon my hands and upon my feet. O Mary, My mother, know that it is I, whom you nourished. Doubt not, O My mother, That I am your son. It is I who left you in the care of John at the moment I was raised on the Cross.

This passage also gives us some insight as to why the hymn speaks of our Lord appearing “to the Virgin” (ti partheno) rather than “to His mother“. The Fathers liked to compare our Lord’s passing through the sealed womb of the Theotokos without injuring her physical virginity with His passing through the walls of the tomb without breaking the seals on the stone at the entrance. This same body passed through both barriers and left both unharmed.

The final phrase is a prayer which wraps up the hymn in the spirit of doxology. When we at confronted with these profound mysteries: the empty tomb, the defeat and disgrace of Hades/Death, and the visit with the Virgin, the activity of life negating the passivity of death, we have only one possible reaction: falling down in worship and doxology.

This beautiful little hymn, by looking, like a movie camera, at individual scenes that made up the miracle of the first Paschal morning, expresses the profound truth that our Lord has overcome, defeated and despoiled death, and that His divine risen life brings the same life to all of us. Just as He visited the Virgin and granted her life, so also He visits us in the Divine Liturgy, in the very heart of our worship, and grants us His own risen life as well.

The Apolytikion or Dismissal Hymn of Pentecost, chanted by Nikodemos Kabarnos

EuloghtoV ei Criste o QeoV hmwn

O pansofouV touV alieiV anadeixaV

katapemyaV autoiV to Pneuma to Agion

kai di autwn thn oikoumenhn saghneusaV

Filanqrwpe, doxa soi.

Evloyitos i Christe o Theos imon

O pansophous  tous aliis anathixas

katapempsas aftis to Pnevma to ayion

ke thi afton tin ikoumenin sayinevsas

Philanthrope, thoxa si

Blessed are you, O Christ our God

Who showed forth the fisherman all-wise

When you sent down on them the Holy Spirit

And through them you caught the whole world in the fishing net,

O Lover of humanity, glory to you.

The hymn for Pentecost presents some interesting features. First of all, unlike western hymns for Pentecost, this hymn is addressed not to the Holy Spirit, but to Christ. In a certain sense, it really reflects the role of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit’s presence pervades the hymn, but is not contained by the hymn. The Holy Spirit fills and transcends the work of Christ in the world.

We also see the two aspects of the descent of of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. First of all, the disciples, mostly fishermen, are shown to be able to speak to the people each in their own language. They have also become eloquent preachers. Peter’s words “cut to their heart” (Acts 2:37) and that day 3000 people were baptized. In this way, the presence of the Holy Spirit transformed the earthly occupation of the disciples into a missionary occupation. They were literally now “fishing for humans” and capturing them in the net of the Church.

And so, this hymn shows us the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Church. First of all, it transforms our mundane lives into spirit-filled lives. No matter how high or low the world values our occupations, the Holy Spirit finds each one valuable and is able to give a divine wisdom in it, so that the humblest uneducated peasant is able to refute the wise men of the world through the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost[1]

The icon of Pentecost also reflects this truth. As the disciples are seated in the upper room, the Spirit descends on them in the form of tongues of fire. As the flame lands on each one, he turns in a different direction. In this way, the icon shows that each disciples had a particular gift from God, but that all of these gifts were special and unique. The Holy Spirit uses our individual gifts and our individual occupations for a purpose; there is no single mind or single thought in the service of God.

The purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit is also beautifully expressed in the hymn: mission. The disciples become apostles (from the Greek apostello “to send out”). The first thing the Apostles do is to preach Christ crucified and risen and the need for repentance. The message, the Good News of resurrection and forgiveness of sins is something the world needs. When preached through the power of the Holy Spirit (and not through our own agendas or desire for self-aggrandizement), it strikes to the heart, and captures the world in the fishermen’s net.

Each Orthodox Christian experiences a personal Pentecost when he or she is chrismated after Baptism. Also, each Divine Liturgy is a personal and corporate Pentecost, when the priests asks the Father to “send the Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered”. At each Divine Liturgy we are filled with the Holy Spirit, transformed into the Body of Christ and then, like the Apostles on the first Pentecost, sent out into the world as missionaries. Preaching the Gospel is not the realm of specialists; it is the grace of the Holy Spirit working in and through our lives.

If we have not yet struck people to the heart through our preaching, not just in words but, more importantly, in deeds, then we should examine ourselves. Have we been cooperating with the grace of the Holy Spirit, or have we been standing in the way? Have we been conduits or obstructions? Have we spread out the nets, or have we folded them away?

As another Christmas gift, during this period of preparation for Christmas, I would like to offer some verses (troparia) from the Canon of Christmas, a beautiful set of hymns sung during Orthros. These hymns are small poetical gems through which we get glances of the depth of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Ode 1

 

Christ is born: glorify Him! Christ has come down from heaven: receive Him! Christ is now on earth; exalt Him! O earth, sing to the Lord! O nations, praise Him in joy, for He has been glorified!

Man fell from the divine life of grace. though made in the image and likeness of God, he became completely subject to corruption and decay through sin. but now the wise Creator re-creates man again, for He has been glorified.

When He saw man perishing, whom He ahd made with His own hands, the Creator bowed the heavens and came down. He took man’s nature from the pure Virgin and He truly became a man, for He has been glorified.

Ode 3

To the Son, born of the Father before all ages and without any change, to Christ our god who in these times was pleased to be incarnate of the Virgin Mary, let us lift up our voices an dsay, “Holy are You, O Lord: You have lifted us up from our fallen state!”

Though formed from dust, Adam shared in the breath of life from God; yet through the beguilement of a woman, he slipped and fell into corruption. but now, seeing Christ born of a woman, he cries aloud: “For my sake, You have become like me! Holy are You, O Lord!”

O Christ, You became a creature made of the clay from the earth; by sharing in our human nature, You made us share in Your divine nature. You became a mortal man, but You are still God. Holy are You, O Lord: You have lifted us up from our fallen state!”

People talk about the “meaning” of Christmas as love or peace or family or presents. How many of us think of the meaning of Christmas as “re-creation”, that by becoming a human being God is renewing human nature, He is making us over again by making Himself in our image and likeness. Unless we appreciate the tranformation brought about by the Incarnation, then we have missed the entire point of Christmas. As Orthodox Christians we need to reclaim the “true meaning of Christmas”!

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