Tag Archives: hymns

Roused out of dreams.

This morning I attended the lovely Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week, cherished because it uniquely expresses the “bright sadness” of our preparations for the joy and victory of Pascha. In my parish we are able to hold these penitential services early in the morning, at a time when people might be able to attend before going to work. Even on my drive to church I felt the grace of the clear sky, a pre-dawn blue, with a friendly gibbous moon shining down on me.

 

 

Eight years ago after attending this very service I wrote a blog post about laziness, standing up straight, and what it means to be human. Whew! I feel a bit lazier of mind these days, so that I am amazed at all I learned from Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead and from just one chapter of Leon Kass’s book The Hungry Soul. I do often still remember the gist of the lesson, mostly when I am standing in church. If you don’t remember it well, I urge you to read it.

The article focuses on being physically upright, which helps us to be alert and attentive, ultimately to God and His will. It’s not hard to get distracted even in church, but at least we have in the Orthodox services many things to bring us back; for me it’s often necessary every minute or two, as I might simultaneously remember to put my shoulders back again and fix my gaze toward the altar. And especially during this week when we follow Christ to His voluntary sacrifice, our reverent attentiveness is facilitated by prostrating ourselves before God, which, though it is not upright posture, is the opposite of reclining in bed or watching whatever’s on TV.

When we are not in church, our Enemy probably has an easier time helping us to slouch away from Life, his methods so vividly portrayed in C.S. Lewis’s tale of correspondence between devils:

“You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep [your target] from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do…. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say… ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’”

One theme of Holy Week comes from Christ’s cursing of the barren fig tree, in the days just preceding his crucifixion. We exhort our own souls in the hymns of Bridegroom Matins:

Why art thou idle, my wretched soul?
What useless cares cause thee to be lost in dreams?
Why busy thyself with things that pass away?
The last hour is at hand, and we shall be parted from all earthly things.
Therefore, while there is time, rouse thyself and cry:
“I have sinned before Thee, O my Savior!
Do not cut me off like the barren fig tree!”
In Thy compassion, O Christ, take pity on me who call out in fear:
Let us not remain outside the bridal chamber of Christ!”

Busying myself “with things that pass away”… yes… I mean, No! I don’t want to do that. Lord, help me to rouse myself!

After the service — I’ve also done this before and made a blog post out of it! — I walked around the church gardens and took pictures, with which I decorated this page. Wherever you are in your liturgical cycle or in your heart’s journey, I pray that your souls may flower and bear fruit after the manner of these beautiful blooms.

Height and depth in a prayer song.

In “The Deer’s Cry,” or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” it is the saint’s prayer that Christ would be in the heart of “everyone who thinks of me.” Amen! Dear Father Patrick, your prayer has been for me the height and depth of encouragement over the last years, as it leads me straight to Christ Who is the Source of all courage and hope and strength. Because of it and flowing from it, you are in my mind and my heart, and so is He.

I did write before about this prayer when I first started to memorize and to sing it in the form of a hymn composed by Charles Villiers Stanford, using two traditional Irish tunes. The poetry was written in 1899 by Cecil Frances Alexander and is based upon a translation of the ancient Irish by Whitley Stokes.

Thanks be to God, this saint and prayer belong to all Christians (although, interesting fact, he has never been canonized by a pope). Patrick was a witness and missionary for Christ centuries before church unity was broken. You might like to read what one Orthodox site says about him: St. Patrick the Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland.

The lyrics as I have sung them at least a thousand times are those of the hymn known as “I Bind Unto Myself Today.” One can find on YouTube many renditions of this one sung beautifully by choirs such as the Kings College Choir, and many of them are cluttered with distracting and even, to my mind, inappropriate images. This is one of the better ones. Because the choir’s sung version is abbreviated, I am posting the entire text.

Only now do I notice two verses that I’d never seen before, and which I am glad to know Alexander included in her poem, as they are definitely part of the ancient prayer as it’s come down to us, and they round out the expression of our need for God’s help in every area of life. Though we moderns might not worry about the kind of “poisoned shaft” St. Patrick knew, that phrase and other vivid images are good metaphors for realities we do face, and for attacks from without and within.

I Bind Unto Myself Today

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan River;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Among the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

This morning I spent a little more time working on the version of this ancient and rich prayer that is my current stream of grace: Lisa Kelly singing “The Deer’s Cry”. Soon I will have learned it “by heart.” But CHRIST in ME — that is my prayer.

St. Justinian’s Hymn

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.Justinian contemp mosaic

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:

here and here.

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,
save us.

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.”

And finally, an icon of the Incarnation:

Heralds and singers all day long.

On the church calendar, we are still in Pentecost, that 50-day period between Easter/Pascha and Pentecost. We even take note of Mid-Pentecost, which was last week.

Of course, it’s never inappropriate to remind one another that “Christ is risen!” but during these weeks we make a special point of it and try to remember, instead of “Hello!” to greet one another with those words of joy and hope. For truly His resurrection from the dead, His overcoming of death, shows the power of God to deliver us from our own patches of darkness, no matter how impossibly deep and cold the current “grave” we find ourselves in.

Last night a robin came around to chirp the falling of dusk to me, “my” robin who always seems to be sent as an emissary from the Father – or more precisely, a herald: Gretchen, remember, God is here with you! I forgot to tell you that in my hotel in Atlanta earlier this month, the night when I was staying alone, a robin chirped right outside my ground-floor window just before darkness and a rainstorm.

This morning I woke to birdsong floating in from the garden and the trees. As I made my bed I joined in with them and sang a meditative version of the hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life.”

Next week will be the Leave-taking of Pascha, after which we will focus on the Ascension of Christ. At Vespers the evening before, we will sing all those rousing Paschal choruses for the last time liturgically. I know the little sorrows and worries, confusing thoughts and maybe even some big heartaches won’t disappear from my earthly life, and I will want to keep singing these re-orienting melodies of Christ’s transforming Life.

I’m counting on the birds to be my helpers.