I always look forward to the time in during Divine Liturgy when we sing St. Justinian’s Hymn. I don’t have to wait long, as it comes only a few minutes into the service. Nov 14 is the day we commemorate St. Justinian (along with St Gregory Palamas, St. Justinian’s wife St. Theodora, and the Apostle Philip), so I thought it a good day to share this hymn with you.
St. Justinian reigned as Byzantine emperor for nearly forty years during the sixth century. He was responsible for the construction of the glorious Hagia Sophia, and though he may not have written the ancient hymn affirming the Incarnation, he did command that it be sung every Sunday.
I love the way our choir sings this part of the Liturgy, and I always try to sing along. I found two examples on YouTube that most resemble the way I know it:
The words are simple but so fundamental to our faith:
Only begotten Son and Word of God,
Thou Who art immortal
And didst deign for our salvation
to become incarnate
of the Holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary,
without change becoming man,
and who was crucified O Christ God,
trampling down death by death;
Thou who art one of the Holy Trinity,
glorified together with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
You might be interested in this series on the Divine Liturgy in which Fr. Thomas Hopko gives a lecture about the theology of “Only-Begotten Son.”
“Virtually everything in our lives is gifted to us, and there are many ‘gifts’ that we would prefer never to have received. It is part of our incarnational existence. We are the offspring of others. To have an embodied existence in space and time is to have a body burdened with the DNA of eons and a family and culture that is both the product and carrier of history.”
“The Armenian writer Teotig tells a story about the genocide of the Armenians during World War I. Father Ashod Avedian was a priest of village near the city of Ezeroum in eastern Turkey. During the deportations, 4,000 Armenian men of that village were separated from their families and driven on a forced march into desolate regions. On their march to death, when food supplies had given out, Father Ashod instructed the men to pray in unison, ‘Lord have mercy,’ then led them in taking the ‘cursed’ soil and swallowing it as communion. The ancient Armenian catechism called the Teaching of St. Gregory says that ‘this dry earth is our habitation, and all assistance and nourishment for our lives [comes] from it and grows on it, and food for our growth, like milk from a mother, comes to us from it.’
“Teotig’s story is a reminder that we belong to the earth and that our redemption includes the earth from which we and all the creatures have come, by which we are sustained, and through which God continues to act for our salvation. If water is the blood of creation, then earth is its flesh and air is its breath, and all things are purified by the fiery love of God.
“For the earth to bring forth fruit there must be water and air and light and heat of the sun. Every gardener knows this, and so recognizes that the right combination of these elements lies beyond the control of science or contrivance. That is the wisdom and agony of gardening.”
–Vigen Guroian, in Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening
More than one of my readers has asked if I live near the potential flooding from the Oroville Dam spillway failure here in Northern California. [Update: Here is a place you can see videos of the scary action http://kron4.com/] I do not. But when I was a babe-in-arms my family lived in the county just south, and I started this post thinking I would paste in a photo — which I can’t find after all — of my mother cradling her swaddled first child as she stands in front of our house in water up to her hips.
It wasn’t the last time my poor parents had to deal with floodwaters and babies at the same time, living as they did in farmland fed by various rivers that had not yet been dammed or hedged out with levees. I’m thankful to say that as an adult, the floods I have known have not caused any personal property damage or even much inconvenience.