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.


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 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.


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.


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.



It’s been a while! Life gets very hectic. I am going to try to revive my blog Salvation’s Beginning. During the summer I will periodically devote some space to looking at the hymns of our church, analyzing the poetry and seeing how our theology is encapsulated in the beautiful gems which are the hymns of our Church.

See you again soon!

Christmas time in our society seems to bring with it a lot of depression and down feelings. Perhaps it is from an unsuccessful attempt to recreate the innocent joy we all experienced as children on Christmas morning, getting up at the crack of dawn to see the presents Santa Claus brought. I still remember carefully averting my eyes if I needed to go to the bathroom during the night, since there was a clear view of the living from the hallway leading to the bathroom. The last thing I wanted to do was to ruin that pure surprise of seeing the presents. Now as adults, we can no longer experience that pure joy; maturity, society, our own skepticism have tarnished the experience for us.

I think, however, that there is another source for this depression. If you look around, if you listen to the “Christmas Songs” piped over radio and department store loudspeakers, you notice the unreality of the Christmas that is being presented. There should be “peace on earth”, we should all be “holly jolly” and “mistletoing”. War can cease, as long as we want it; people miraculously find their way home for the holidays. Even snowmen manage not to melt for the season.

We as human beings simply cannot exist in such an atmosphere of shallow yet pervasive happiness. Like a plant that has no roots, it quickly withers and dies; nothing is left but emptiness. Even though society has effectively removed Christ from Christmas, and even our own faithful seem to think that parties on Christmas Eve are the way to worship the new-born King, instead of the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion, yet we still have to schlog through the “Happy Holidays” without any protest. Society does not allow us to doubt and struggle and come to faith, because the mystery has been removed from Christmas. All that remains is vapid happiness.

The true celebration of Christmas, however, leaves a lot of room for what we might call “the darkness”. When we approach Christmas not as “for the children”, or “all about hope and joy”, but see it for the profound mystery that it really is–God emptying himself to take on our human nature–“willing to be gazed on as a young child, the God from before the ages” (Kontakion for the Preparation of the Nativity), we are confronted with something that our meager human minds cannot really comprehend. And so we struggle and wrestle with the mystery; we believe and we doubt, and in the struggle between the two our faith becomes stronger.

The Nativity of our Lord

Look at the icon of the Nativity. The mystery of God becoming man stands at the center; the little child and his mother immediately attract our attention. The two are surrounded by the actors in the story: the angels, the shepherds and the magi. But down in the corner, sometimes the right, sometimes the left, depending on the tradition–that is where we are. There we see the righteous Joseph huddled, deep in thought, struggling with everything he has seen and experienced. Unlike Mary, Joseph has been an outsider to the events (which is why he is placed at the outskirts of the icon), and has to come to some understanding and faith. But before him stands a figure in black–Satan; he engages Joseph in conversation, trying to turn his faith into disbelief. The most beautiful aspect of the icon is the face of the Theotokos–she does not look at her new-born son; nor does she look at the worshipper before the icon. Rather, she looks toward Joseph, praying that his faith will not wane, that he will be victorious in his struggle with doubt.

Mary looking toward Joseph

The hymns from the Royal Hours of Christmas also express this “permission” to struggle with doubt. In a doxastikon from the First Hour we sing:

Joseph spoke to the Virgin in this way: “What is this that I see happening in you, O Mary? I fail to understand and I am amazed! My mind is struck with dismay. Leave my sight therefore, with all speed! What is this which I see in you, O Mary? Instead of honor, you have brought me shame! Instead of gladness, sorrow! Instead of praise, rebuke! No longer can I bear the reproach of men. I was married to you by the priests in the Temple as one blameless before the Lord. And what is this that I now see?”

You can hear the hurt disbelief in the hymn. In a sense, the Church gives us the same permission to struggle and question, to wrestle with this profound mystery, so far beyond our understanding.

A doxastikon from the Ninth Hour approaches the same struggle of doubt from Mary’s perspective:

O Virgin, when Joseph went up to Bethlehem distressed by sorrow, you said to him: “why are you downcast and troubled at seeing me pregnant? Why do you not know the mystery which has come to pass in my? Cast every fear aside and understand this strange marvel: in my womb, God is coming down to earth for the sake of mercy, and He has taken flesh in me! you shall see Him when he is born! Filled with joy, you shall worship Him as your Creator! The angels ceaselessly praise Him in song and they glorify Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit!”

Even on the way to Bethlehem, Joseph is presented as sorrowful and confused. He is immediately obedient to the command of the angel, but he doesn’t really understand. But, the struggle cannot stay at this stage; if it does, it will only degenerate into rejection. There has to be some action; we have to pray, we have to read, we have to trust. Joseph does not remain unbelieving, but comes out of the other end of the struggle victorious, as we sing in the Doxastikon of the Third Hour:

Joseph, how can you bring to Bethlehem, pregnant with child, the Maiden whom you married in the sanctuary? “I have searched the prophets and have been warned by an angel. I am convinced that mary will give birth to God in a way surpassing all understanding. magi shall come from the East to worship Him with precious gifts!

Unlike polyanna society, the Church leaves us room to struggle with the mystery, to engage our doubt, to learn and to come to a strong and lasting faith. There is nothing superficial in this story; the strains of joy and relief that we hear in this last hymn are true and lasting, because a honest doubt and a prayerful inquiry into this great mystery will lead to a fuller participation in the life of God, who willed to become a baby out of love for us.

Sts. Barsanupios and John

The practical wisdom of the Desert Fathers always amazes me. You would think that these hermits, hardened by their ascetical practices in the merciless desert would have lost all connection to humanity. The common image of the “holy man” would also make us think that they were “other worldly”, not concerned at all with the affairs of this world, completely intent on God.

But when we read their words, they are full of such insight into the human condition, so full of compassion and even of humor, that they totally undermine all our preconceived notions of holiness. The closer they come to God, the closer they are to their fellow pilgrims.

I am particularly fond of two particular Desert Fathers, Sts. Barsanuphios and John. They lived in the Palestinian desert in the 6th century. Their remoteness attracted people to come to seek their wisdom and direction. Their responses are direct and amazingly sensitive to the weaknesses of humanity.

I would like to cite one particular question and answer that has always struck me by its compassion and directness. The questioner wants to know about the appropriateness of keeping church financial records.

Question: Is it a good thing to keep the accounts of a church?

Response by Barsanuphios

If you keep the accounts of the churhc, you are actually keeping the accounts of God. for you are God’s steward. Therefore, you are obliged to keep the accounts in such a way as to feed the poor and the orphans, if there is any surplus. After all, God is their Father and nurturer, and you are administering their goods. If there is no surplus, you should do what you can to make one. Otherwise, you are not keeping the accoutns of the church but only taking care of yourself. If that is what you are doing, then you are not keeping the accounts for God, but for the devil. Do everything, then, acording to God and you shall find your reward with him.

This is the time of year when churches are putting together their budgets. We do not hesitate to include line items for church repair, for salaries, for all sorts of “necessities”. But when it comes to putting in line items for the poor, for missions, for religious education, suddenly “there’s not enough money left”. Barsanuphios responds to that with a simple: “Then get some.” There is no excuse for not having money available from the church for the poor and needy; just as God has made us stewards of his creation and out of that we give an amount that serves as the token or symbol of our love for God, so also the Church itself needs to put aside a token or symbol of its love for God to take care of God’s children.

St. James, in his Universal Epistle, already expressed this thought:

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?

No excuses! We have the clear command of Scripture and the Fathers. We need to witness to the nature of the Church in the world. Our beautiful buildings and social halls are meaningless if we do not provide for the fundamental needs of those who are suffering want. And if we do not have the money to do so, we need to make sure we raise it!

I wanted to continue the theme from yesterday–being thankful for opportunities of showing our love for God. We saw St. Katherine offering prayers of thanksgiving before her martyrdom because giving her life was a public expression of her love. Today in our New Testament Challenge we are reading about the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. Although the story is told from the perspective of Herod, we can be sure that St. John as well was thankful for this opportunity to show his love for God.

So, am I saying that we need to be thankful for the chance to give up our lives? In a certain sense, yes. Few of us are going to be called to give the ultimate witness which St. Katherine and St. John the Baptist and all the martyrs have given, and have been grateful for the opportunity to witness this love before the world. But every one of us is called to sacrifice a part of our life out of our love for God, and to thank God for the opportunity. Our witness may not be seen by anyone at all, but we are still giving witness before the angels of God that we love God more than our lives.

What do I mean by this? Consider the scene: You are driving along the highway, minding your own business, perhaps lost in your thoughts of the next meeting, or of a family activity for the evening. Suddenly the guy in the next lane cuts you off, dragging you out of your reverie and forcing you to slam on your breaks, nearly avoiding an accident. The adrenaline is flowing, you are angry and your first instict is at least to say some choice and inappropriate words in response. That is our life, our fallen life. However, something deep inside intervenes; you know that if you react in this way you will be betraying the love you have for God and your desire to conform your life to his will. So you stop yourself and your angry reaction, and instead you say a quick Jesus Prayer that God will have mercy on the othe driver and on you. Your whole being screams out with the desire to curse the other person; sometimes the psychological need almost feels like some small part of the torture felt by the martyrs. But you have given up some little part of your fallen life and the satisfaction of your passions in order to give witness to your love for God. No one has seen it, but witness it is nonetheless. And, like the martyrs, your fallen life dies, little by little, to be replaced by the presence of God in your heart. The same pattern is repeated every time we are faced with all those daily temptations which bombard us.

And then, instead of feeling rotten and regretful that you have fallen once again, the heart is light and gives thanks to God for this opportunity to take one more “baby step” towards living a life in conformity with his commandments.

As the last bits of leftover turkey and stuffing are finding their final reincarnation and we are putting ourselves back in gear to prepare for Christmas, the martyrs are calling us to be grateful for these moments of witness, these moments of love, these moments of small triumphs in our daily struggles.

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