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.


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


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:

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.


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.

This past Monday I had an incredible eye-opening experience, one of those "aha!" moments. I have had the privilege to receive His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios' blessing to serve on the Archdiocesan Translation Committee together with himself, two brother priests and a deacon. Our task for the present is to produce a new translation of the priest's parts of the Divine Liturgy.Our first meeting was Monday. We worked hard all day, word by word, phrase by phrase, in order to produce a faithful, accurate and beautiful translation of the Greek text. For a philologist like myself, it was an incredible and exciting day; I am still exciting about the work we did and the work we will be doing in the future. As a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I also find the work exciting and important. We are a major component in the first official translation of the Greek text; this is a breakthrough in our jurisdiction's approach to the text and language of the Liturgy.

But, for me, it was not the great cosmic signficance of our work that enthralled me. I was excited about looking at each individual word, turning it over and over until its meaning in context practically revealed itself to us. I had not before looked so closely at the Greek of the Liturgy. I am familiar with it, naturally, in a general sort of way, but, given the nature of our parish, we use mostly English, and the intensity of the Liturgy as prayer and as a ritual that needs careful coordination to maintain that prayerful atmosphere, I have never examined the details of the language. Now was the opportunity, and it was truly an amazing and humbling experience. The Greek of the Liturgy is incredible, delicate and weighty at the same time, highly poetic and very “down-to-earth”. It is full of the ambience of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, and yet is not overbearing with quotations and academic references.

One example particularly struck me, as it did my fellow workers. In the prayer of the Third Antiphon we read (please forgive my transliteration; I haven’t discovered the possibility of using a Greek script here):

O tas koinas kai symphonous imin charisamenos prosefchas

The translation from the Holy Cross Liturgy book reads:

Lord, You have given us grace to offer these commone prayers with one heart.

As we examined this text, it was pointed out that, in fact, there is nothing in the Greek about “offering”. What God is giving us is not the ability to do an action, but the very prayers themselves!

You who have granted us (literally “graced us with”) these common and harmonious prayers (we did not settle on the final translation of “symphonous”)

These prayers of the Liturgy are, in fact, a gift from God for us to pray; coming from God, they have unity and harmony as their primary characteristic, so that, we who pray them participate through them in the unity and harmony of the Holy Trinity.

But the prayer goes on, even deeper:

o kai dysi kai trisi sumponousin epi to onomati sou, tas aitisis parechin epangilamenos

The Holy Cross translation renders this phrase:

You have promised to grant the requests of two or three gathered in Your name

This translation misses the amazing nature of the Greek. The translators remembered the Scripture passage to which the text refers (Matthew 18:20) and simply renders it as such:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

However, the text of the prayer actually refers to the previous verse and, in fact melds the two verses together:

Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

By conflating these two verses, the prayer draws particular attention to the repetition: symphonous–symponousin.  The repetition is nearly impossible to reproduce in English. But the meaning of the prayer is clear: Our Lord has promised to two or three who agree/are harmonious in his name to grant what they ask; in order to accomplish this, he has already given us the very means we need in order to “qualify” for his promise–the very prayers of the Liturgy! God has given us these prayers himself so that we will please him by our harmonious prayer, reflecting the very life of the Trinity.

After we worked through the translation and meaning of this prayer, I sat for a few moments in amazed silence. It was almost like the work we had been doing, struggling over each word, had been leading up to this moment! I believe the Holy Spirit truly enlightened me, and I believe also my fellow workers, to get a glimpse at a much deeper aspect of the Liturgy we celebrate every Sunday and Feast Day. I came away from our translations labors that day with a renewed appreciation for the beauty of our Liturgy and its truly divine nature. How wonderful it would be if all our people could get even a small glimpse into that beautiful jewel, to appreciate it even more!