The Apolytikion of the Meeting of the Lord with the Elder Symeon in the Temple

The feast of the Meeting of the Lord with the Elder Symeon occurs on February 2nd, about halfway between Christmas and Pascha. We celebrate the day when Mary and Joseph brought the Christ Child to the Temple to fulfill two commandments of the Law: the purification of the mother from the flow of blood from giving birth (Leviticus 12:1-8); and the “buying back” of the first born male from God (Exodus 13:11-16).

Greek Text

Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη Θεοτόκε Παρθένε,
ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἀνέτειλεν ὁ Ἥλιος τῆς δικαιοσύνης,
Χριστὸς ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, φωτίζων τοὺς ἐν σκότει.
Εὐφραίνου καὶ σὺ Πρεσβύτα δίκαιε,
δεξάμενος ἐν ἀγκάλαις τὸν ἐλευθερωτὴν τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν,
χαριζόμενον ἡμῖν καὶ τὴν Ἀνάστασιν.

English Transliteration

Chere kecharitomeni Theotoke Parthene,
ek sou gar anetilen o Ilios tis dikeosynis,
Christos o Theos imon, photizon tous en skoti.
Efphrenou ke si Presvita dikee,
dexamenos en angales ton eleftherotin ton psychon imon,
charizomenon imin ke tin Anastasin.

English Translation

Rejoice full of grace Theotokos Virgin,
For from you arose the Sun of Righteousness,
Christ our God, enlightening those in darkness.
Rejoice also, righteous Elder,
having received in your arms the Liberator of our souls,
who grants us also the Resurrection.

The Hymn Sung in Greek and in English

A Dance Around Christ

The hymn, as is typical of many hymns, falls into two parts. Each part looks at a main character of the story, and directs the characters to the overarching main character, Christ.

The first part addresses the Thetokos, the second the Elder Symeon. Each is given a command to rejoice.

Chere kecharitomeni Theotoke Parthene

Efphrenou ke si Presvita dikee

They are then given the reason for this: the Theotokos has given birth to Christ; Symeon has received the Christ child in his arms.

The third line then applies a participle to Christ, attributing an aspect of our Salvation to the particular description of Christ.

  • In the first part, Christ is addressed as the Sun of Righteousness. His action is to enlighten those in darkness.
  • In the second part, Christ is called the Liberator of our souls. His action is to grant the Resurrection, the ultimate liberation from sin and death.

From Christmas to Pascha and Back

Since this feast fall roughly midway between Christmas and Pascha, it looks in both directions, thereby joining the themes of the two feasts together. In order to express this aspect of the feast, the Apolytikion uses language which captures all the highlights of the various feasts, melding them into one hymn.

The Previous Feasts

The first line:

Chere kecharitomeni Theotoke Parthene

is a variation on the greeting of the Angel Gabriel to Mary when he announced to her that she was chosen to be the mother of God (Luke 1:28).

Chere kecharitomeni, o Kyrios meta sou

Thus, the hymn begins at the beginning, at the Annunciation.

The second line:

ek sou gar aneteile o Ilios tis dikeosynis

mimics a line from the Apolytikion of the Nativity:

[tous magous] se proskynin ton Ilion tis dikeosynis

quickly moving from the Annunciation to the Birth of Christ.

The third line:

Christos o Theos imon, photizon tous en skotis

connects the hymn to the Feast of Lights, Theophany. In the Gospel for the Sunday after Theophany, we read how St. Matthew refers this prophecy of Isaiah to our Lord (Matthew 4:16):

O laos o kathimenos en skoti phos eiden mega, ke tis kathimenis en chora ke skia thanatou phos anetile aftis.

The people who were sitting in the shadow saw a great light, and upon those sitting in the land and the shadow of death a light has arisen.

The Future Feasts

The shift to the righteous Elder Symeon also shifts the perspective to the future, just as Symeon himself looks to the future of the child in his arms.

Symeon has received the liberator of our souls:

dexamenos en angales ton eleftherotin ton psychon imon.

The title eleftherotis is appropriate for our Lord’s death on the cross, since through His death He liberated us from sin and death.

Finally, through His conquest of death, Christ also grants to us the Resurrection, the promise of renewed life.

From Christmas and Pascha and Back…to Us

On this Feast Day, we too stand poised between Christmas and Pascha. Our hymn reminds us that we cannot separate the two events, that they are inextricably bound up with each other. Christmas can never be for the Orthodox Christian a warm cuddly feeling about a little child in a manger with cute little animals all around. Christmas must always point to God’s great sacrifice for us, it shows us the Child, not a sweet little boy, but as the Liberator of our souls. In the same way, the great acts of our salvation, our Lord’s Death and Resurrection, can never be separated from the initial sacrifice of the Son of God in becoming a human being, in taking on our human nature and living and sanctifying every aspect of our human lives. Very often in our “religious thought” we consider the only events of our Lord’s life to be Christmas and Pascha, and that these are two very distinct events. This Feast and its apolytikion remind us that these events frame a whole life and that they can never be separated but must be joined together into one whole continuum of salvation.

 

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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.