March 2010


Beautiful hymns from the Holy Thursday vigil on Mount Athos. The choir is from Xeropotamou Monastery. This monastery ranks eighth in the hierarchy of the Athonite monasteries. It was founded in the 10th century, and is dedicated to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.

In the divine services for this day the events which preceded the procession of the Savior to his voluntary passion are recalled: the fulfillment of Jesus Christ of the final Passover evening meal with the washing of feet and the establishment of the mystery of the Eucharist and the betrayal of Judas. In the Epistle reading both the establishment of the mystery and its purpose are described and the worthy paradigm of preparation for it and its reception. The Gospel reading tells about the circumstances, which preceded, accompanied and followed the Mystical Supper, and are selected from the passages of the holy Evangelists Matthew, Luke and John. To the various amazing Gospel events remembered on this day there also corresponds an abundant variety of touching feelings and thoughts represented in the church hymns for this day. Beholding the Savior already in the final minutes before His suffering, the Holy Church in its hymns deeply grieves and co-suffers the grief of His spirit with Him in terms so clear to the human heart. But, knowing, who this Sufferer is and for what and for whom He goes to His death, the Holy Church gives no less place and feeling of reverent love to the One going to His voluntary passion and His beneficial glorification. With special power wishing to express indignation for the snares of the Jews and to the perfidy of Judas, on the one hand, and reverent homage for the longsuffering of the Savior, on the other hand, the Holy Church exclaims: “The assembly of the Jews gathers together to deliver the Maker and the Creator of all to Pilate. What lawlessness! What faithlessness! The judge of the living and the dead, they prepare for judgment. The Healer of suffering, they prepare for suffering. O long- suffering Lord! How great is Thy mercy! Glory to thee!” Glorifying the eternal love of the Savior, who took up all the weight of human sins, and His inexpressible humility, the washing of the feet of His servants, the Holy Church reverences before the cup of eternal life offered by the Founder, glorifies the bloody prayer of the Savior in Gethsemane, also giving us a holy and profound lesson: to seek consolation in prayer and confirmation in bearing the cross in our life amidst tribulations and at the time of the approach of death.

S. V. Bulgakov, Handbook for Church Servers, 2nd ed.

Hymn of Kassiani

Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord, a woman of many sins

takes it upon herself to become a myrrh-bearer,

And in deep mourning brings before Thee fragrant oil

in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:

“Woe to me! For night is unto me, oestrus of lechery,

a dark and moonless eros of sin.

Receive the wellsprings of my tears,

O Thou who gatherest the waters of the oceans into clouds.

Bend to me, to the sorrows of my heart,

O Thou who bendedst down the heavens in Thy ineffable self-emptying.

I will kiss Thine immaculate feet

and dry them with the locks of my hair;

Those very feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise

and hid herself in fear.

Who shall reckon the multitude of my sins,

or the abysses of Thy judgment, O Saviour of my soul?

Do not ignore Thy handmaiden,

O Thou whose mercy is endless.

Saint Kassia

The Hymn of Kassiani, also known as the Hymn of the Fallen Woman, is a Penitential Hymn that is based on the Gospel reading for Holy Wednesday morning (Matthew 26:6-16), which speaks of a sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with costly ointment (distinguished from a similar incident with a different woman, St. Mary Magdalene). This hymn is chanted only once a year and considered a musical high-point of the Holy Week, at the Matins and Presanctified Liturgy of Holy Wednesday, in the Troparion Fourth Tone.

On Wednesday night the Lord passed into Bethany (Mt. 26:6-17). Here while He was in the house of Simon the leper and the high priests, scribes and elders in assembly already decided to seize Jesus Christ by trickery and to kill Him, a certain “sinful” woman) poured precious myrrh on the head of the Savior and in this way prepared Him for burial as He Himself judged her action). Here at the same time, as opposed to the disinterested action of the sinful woman, the criminal intention to betray his Teacher and Lord to the lawless assembly was born in ungrateful soul of Judas, one of twelve disciples of the Savior. Therefore in the church services of Great Wednesday the sinful woman is glorified and the love of money and betrayal of Judas is censured and cursed. “As the sinful woman”, the Holy Church sings this day, “was bringing her offering of myrrh, the disciple was scheming with lawless men. She rejoiced in pouring out her precious myrrh. He hastened to sell the Priceless One. She recognized the Master, but He departed from the Master. She was set free, but Judas was enslaved to the enemy”; “O the impieties of Judas! O God, deliver our souls from this”).

Kontakion, Tone 4

Though I have transgressed more than the harlot, O Good One, I have not offered Thee a flood of tears, But praying in silence I fall down before Thee. With love I embrace Thy most pure feet. As Master, grant me remission of debts. When I cry to Thee, O Savior: Deliver me from the filth of my deeds.

S. V. Bulgakov, Handbook for Church Servers, 2nd ed.

On Tuesday of Holy Week we commemorate the parable of the Ten Virgins, Matt. 25:1-13. Ethical preparation and wakefulness are the foundations of vivid faith. The parable of the Ten Virgins is developed around the theme of the Bridegroom: “Why are Thou heedless, O my soul? . . . Work most diligently with the talent which has been confided to thee; both watch and pray.” The hymnologist reminds us, “I do not possess a torch aflame with virtue, and the foolish virgin I imitate when it is the time for action”; and, “Into the splendor of thy saints, how can I, who am unholy, enter?” The exhortation is given: “Come Ye faithful, let us work earnestly for the Master . . . increase our talent of grace … Wisdom through good works.”

The Lord told the parable of the ten virgins to call attention to almsgiving, at the same time teaching that every man must be ready before the end comes. He had spoken many times to them about chastity. Virginity is held in great honor, because it is indeed a great thing. Yet, lest anyone, while practicing this one virtue, neglect the others, and particularly love, by which the lamp of virginity is given light, he will be put to shame by the Lord. The Holy Gospel introduces this parable, calling five of the virgins wise, because they represent readiness to practice both love and virginity, and five of them foolish because, though they had virginity, they did not have love commensurate with it. They are foolish, therefore, because they practiced a great virtue yet neglected one that is easier and were reckoned as being no better than harlots; the latter were defeated by bodily pleasures, whereas the former, by possessions.

As the night of the present life was going by, all the virgins fell asleep, that is, they died, for death is called a sleep. While they were sleeping, a cry rang out in the middle of the night, “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him!” (Matt. 25:6). Those who had their oil ready and lamps trimmed went inside to the Bridegroom when the doors were opened. Earlier, the others, who had insufficient oil after their sleep, had asked the first for oil. The wise virgins wished to give them some, but could not. Before they went inside, they replied, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves” (Matt. 25:9). While they went to buy, the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the wedding, and the door was shut (See Matt. 25:10). The foolish virgins knocked on the doors and called out, “Lord, Lord, open to us” (Matt. 25:11). But the Lord Himself uttered the terrible reply: “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt. 25:12). For how can you see the Bridegroom if you lack the dowry of mercy? On account of this depiction, the parable of the ten virgins was given its place here by our God-bearing Fathers to teach us always to be watchful and ready to meet the true Bridegroom with good works, especially almsgiving, because the day and hour of the end are unknown to us. Therefore, it is made quite clear that after death, correction of mistakes and wicked acts shall be impossible, a teaching which is also found in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar. (See Luke 16:19-31)

In the same way, we are taught by the All-comely Joseph to practice chastity and by the fig tree to produce spiritual fruit at all times. He who practices one virtue – and a great one indeed – but neglects the others, especially love, does not enter into eternal life with Christ but is turned back and is put to shame. There is nothing sadder and more shameful than to see virginity set at naught by possessions.

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Did you pay attention to the hymns and prayers in the services today? Here is what Bulgakov says about Great and Holy Monday, and what we commemorate.

In the Divine service for this day the Holy Church invites the faithful to walk with Christ, to be crucified with Him, to die to the pleasures of this life for His sake in order to live with Him. Through mystical contemplation drawing together the events of the Old and New Testaments, she shows us the future innocent suffering of the Savior in the Old Testament prototype of the chaste Joseph, whom the envy of the brothers innocently sold and humiliated, but later was restored by God. “Joseph,” it says in the Synaxarion, “is the prototype of Christ, because Christ also becomes an object of envy for persons of the same race, the Jews, and is sold by the disciple for thirty silver coins, is confined in a gloomy and narrow pit, a tomb, and, having risen from it by His own power, reigning over Egypt, i.e. above any sin, and in the end conquers it, rules over all the world, will through His love for man deliver us by the bestowal of the mysterious wheat and to eat the heavenly bread, His own Life-bearing Flesh.” From the events of the Gospel the Holy Church recalls the drying up of the barren fig tree. According to the mind of the Holy Church, the barren fig tree represents a Jewish assembly, in which Jesus Christ did not find true fruit but only the hypocritical shadow of the law which convicted and condemned it. But this fig tree as well represents any soul which does not yield the fruit of repentance, and is why the Holy Church also calls to us: “The fig tree was withered up because it was unfruitful. We should fear the same punishment, O brethren, and bring worthy fruit of repentance to Christ, who grants us great mercy”. Besides the narration about the drying up of a fig tree, the Matins Gospel will edify us this day with a parable told by the Savior about the unrighteous vinedressers who first killed the servants of their lord who were sent for the grapes, but later even the son of the lord. In this parable, representing the nearest paradigm of the hardness of the Jews, who before slew the prophets, and with coming to earth of the Son the God crucified even Him, it is impossible not to also see the terrible condemnation for Christians boldly breaking the commandments of the Apostles and the Holy Fathers, and in this way continuing to crucify the Son of God through their sins (Refer to the note on page 544). In the Gospel reading in the liturgy the Holy Church recalls the fate of the apostate Judaic people even to end of the world, as they were described before by Jesus Christ. The faithful are motivated by the description of great and various afflictions and signs of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age amidst evil through magnanimity, impartiality, patience, spiritual prayer and vigil and are comforted in the promise of the Savior about the spread of the gospel throughout the world but “for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Mt. 24: 14, 22).

S. V. Bulgakov, Handbook for Church Servers, 2nd ed., 1274 pp. (Kharkov, 1900) pp. 534-5 Translated by Archpriest Eugene D. Tarris © April 18, 2005. All rights reserved.

Before St. Andrew of Crete wrote the first liturgical canon in the early 8th century, lengthy hymns called “kontakia” were sung at the Orthros (Matins) in their stead. The short hymns we today sing called a “kontakion”  is really only one short verse of the longer full kontakion – which have fallen out of use and been replaced by the canons.

St. Romanos the Melodist (early 6th century) has been attributed as the first author of kontakia, and they are understood as having originated with him. Here is his kontakion on the raising of Lazarus,  which is read on Lazarus Saturday in the tradition of the Orthodox Church.


St. Romanos the Melodist

Kontakion on the Raising of Lazarus

O Christ, Thou who knowest all things,
Thou hast asked to learn where the tomb of Lazarus is,
And arriving there, Thou hast raised him up on the fourth day,
O All-powerful One,
Taking pity, Merciful One,
On the tears of Mary and Martha.

The Master, checking the lamentations of Mary and Martha,
Immediately stilled them when He raised up their brother.
It was possible, then, to see marvel of marvels,
How the lifeless suddenly was seen to be alive.
For when His voice descended,
It caused the bolts of the gate of Hades
To shake; and it broke down the bars of the door of Death;
And on the fourth day, He raised up the dead; as the Merciful One,
He took pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha.

Let us all, with love, hurry to Bethany to see Christ there,
Weeping for his friend.
For wishing all things to be ordained by law,
He controls all things in His dual nature.
He suffers as son of David; as Son of God,
He redeems the whole world from all the evil of the serpent,
And on the fourth day, He raised up Lazarus, taking pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha.

Together sustained by faith,
The two announced to Christ and God the death
Of their brother, saying,
“Hasten, come, Thou who art always present in all places,
For Lazarus whom Thou dost love is ill: if Thou come near,
Death will vanish, and Thy friend will be saved from corruption,
And the Jews will see that Thou, the Merciful One,
Hast taken pity on
The tears of May and Martha.”

The Creator of all spoke on behalf of the disciples, saying:
“Friends and companions, our friend has fallen asleep.”
He was secretly teaching them in advance,
Because He knows and care for all things,
“Let us go, then, let us advance and see the unusual tomb,
And let us cause the mourning of Mary and Martha to cease
As I raise up Lazarus from the tomb,
And as the Merciful One take pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha.”

When the heard these words, the apostles
As with one voice cried out to the Lord,
“Sleep exists for man for his safety
And not at all for his destruction.”
And so He spoke to them openly: “He is dead.
As mortal I am away from him; but as God, I know all things.
If we truly arrive at the opportune time,
I shall resurrect the dead, and cause to cease
The tears of Mary and Martha.”

They all, then, arrived together,
When Mary and her sister came to meet them, crying bitterly,
“Lord, where wert Thou? For he whom Thou lovest has departed,
And lo, he is not here.”
As they cried out these words, He, himself, wept.
But he asked, “Where is the tomb of my friend? Now
I am going to release him from the chains of Hades,
Since as the only lover of mankind, I take pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha.”

When they arrived at the tomb,
He who is in the bosom of His Father, called out:
“Thou hast sent me into the world
That I might bring life to the dead.
I have come, then, to raise up Lazarus
And to reveal to the Jews that I am going to arise from my tomb
On the third day, I who after the fourth day resurrect my friend And now
take pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha.”

In order that He might bring an end to the mourning of Martha,
The Savior of all spoke to her and addressed
These divine words to her:
“I exist as the Light of the world
And the resurrection of all from the dead;
It was for this end that I appeared in order to resurrect Adam
And the descendants of Adam
And on the fourth day to resurrect Lazarus
Taking pity, as a Merciful One, on
The tears of Mary and Martha.”

When the command was given with a nod of His head,
Hades was made to totter,
And also the power of Death and the arrogance of the Devil.
With the sound of His voice,
He raised up from the depths of the earth
The one who was four days dead.
When they saw this, Abraham and all the righteous cried out:
“Now, take courage, since the resurrection of all has come.
He has delivered from the bonds of death
The one whom He loves, as He, the Merciful One, takes pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha.”

Hades, now a prisoner, sees himself despoiled of this Lazarus,
Whom a short time ago he held enchained below;
For when the King of angels came against him,
The strength of demons was destroyed;
And the serpent who trails over the earth on his stomach,
Now, pierced in the mouth by the Wooden Spear, appears as dead.
But Adam rejoices when he sees Christ,
In His goodness, take pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha.

Rising from the tomb, the friend reveals his eyes
And hands bound by a cloth;
They release him — those who have their hearts
Bound by the ill will of slander,
Those who, as they plug up their ears like the adder,
Prepare their hands for most wicked slaughter,
That they may pour out
The harmless and innocent blood of the One
Who raises up the dead, and checks
The tears of Mary and Martha.

Having heard the words of the children,
Which came from pure hearts and innocent lips,
They were all filled with fear
Saying to one another, “Who is this man?”
O madness and complete stupidity!
A short time ago they saw raised from the dead
A corpse who had become fetid,
And they do not know who resurrected him,
And who destroyed with His voice the power of Hades,
And in accord with His merciful nature checked
The tears of Mary and Martha!

O Thy unspeakable compassion, all merciful Jesus!
Who didst consent to come for me and to me,
How didst Thou calmly ride upon the ass
And advance into the city of God-slayers?
Foreseeing their terrible lack of faith, Thou didst command them
To release the bonds of Lazarus, that they might see
The One whom in a short time they wish to put to death
With no pity for
The tears of Mary and Martha.

O Savior, all came with palms on the occasion of Thy arrival,
Crying, “Hosanna!” to Thee,
Now all of us bring hymns to Thee out of piteous mouths,
As we wave the branches of our spirit and cry out:
“O Thou, truly among those on high, save the world
Which Thou hast created, Lord,
And blot out our sins, just as formerly Thou hast dried
The tears of Mary and Martha.

O Lover of mankind, the Holy Church holds a high festival,
Faithfully calling together her children;
It meets Thee with palms and spreads out garments of joy
So that, with Thy disciples and with Thy friend,
Thou mayest advance and legislate a deep peace for Thy servants,
And release them from oppression, as formerly Thou hast checked
The tears of Mary and Martha.

Incline Thy ear, O God of the universe, and hear our prayers,
And snatch us from the bonds of death,
For our enemies who always surround us, visibly and invisibly,
Threaten to have us put to death, and besides,
To deprive us of our faith.
Arise, and quickly let all be destroyed and let them know
That Thou art our God and dost pity us as Thou didst have pity on
The tears of Mary and Martha.

Let us, who are dead because of our sins, and who dwell in the tomb
Because of our knowledge of evil,
Imitate the sisters of faithful Lazarus as we cry to Christ
With tears, in faith and in love:
“Save us, Thou who didst will to become man.
And resurrect us from the tomb of our sins, Thou, alone immortal,
Through the prayers of Thy friend, Lazarus,
Whom Thou didst raise up, O Lord, in checking
The tears of Mary and Martha.”

Let us depart the mere material world, which is always in a state of flux,
And hasten to meet Christ the Savior in Bethany.
Let us then dine with Him
And with his friend Lazarus and the apostles
So that we may, by their prayers, be delivered from our past sins.
If we cleanse every stain from our hearts, we shall see perfectly
His divine resurrection, which He offered to us when He took away
The tears of Mary and Martha.

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