Tag Archives: hymns

Struggling and singing and floating to Pascha.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

It is the theme of the week, “Bright Week” for us Orthodox Christians who struggled and floated through Holy Week while practically living at church. In the ten days starting with Lazarus Saturday and rolling us along through Bright Monday, we had 19 unique services at my parish, including several that were 2-3 hours long. No one participates in all of them, but some people come very close.

Because of frequent changes in the last year as to who can and may sing and chant at which of our services, it fell out that during this Lent and especially Holy Week I had more chanting duties than ever, and all of that reading of Psalms and other prayers contributed to my joy — and fatigue! What time I wasn’t in church in the last twelve days, I gravitated to my bed, or accomplished minimal garden duties.

The service of Matins of Holy Friday, on Thursday evening, is a highlight of the week. Twelve separate Gospel passages are read, seemingly everything written about Christ’s passion. We stand holding candles, and most people sit down after each of the twelve readings for the prayers and hymns that set apart the Gospel passages. The first reading is more than four chapters long: John 13:31 – 18:1. Every year is a little different for me — I’m sure it’s like that for everyone — but whether you are distracted a lot or hardly at all, there is a blessing in just being there in body, and in hearing so many words of Good News, Christ’s willing self-sacrifice for us.

By Friday afternoon we have had three Holy Friday services by which to enter in to the Crucifixion. On Friday evening the services of Holy Saturday begin; Saturday afternoon is the radiant commemoration of Christ’s descent into Hades to free the faithful of the Old Covenant, and His victory over death. The choir leads us in singing “Arise O God; Judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations,” while all over the church people switch out the purple cloths for white.  The Old Testament story of Jonah three days in the belly of the whale is read at this service, because Jonah is seen in the Church as a type of Christ Who was three days in the tomb. It’s just one of fifteen Old Testament readings that are interspersed with two long and exultant hymns.

Afterward we go home to rest and eat a little, before returning a few hours later for the culmination of Great Lent and Holy Week, the celebration of the Holy and Glorious Resurrection of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Parishioners have been taking turns reading the Acts of the Apostles continuously since the end of the afternoon service, and do so right up until the beginning of the Pascha services just before midnight. Then all the lights in the church are turned off, and at midnight:

The Light of Christ’s Resurrection “breaks through” when the priest takes the vigil light from the altar and gives it to the faithful, while singing: “Come receive the light, that is never overtaken by night, and glorify Christ, Who is risen from the dead.”

From there the people process out of the church building, where the Gospel account of the empty tomb is read; verses from Psalm 68 are sung — “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face!”; and the famous Paschal hymn is joyously chanted by all: “Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life.” In this way the Church announces to the entire world the glorious news of the Resurrection. The Festal Midnight Liturgy of Easter is celebrated and the faithful partake of the Eucharist in the “Light of the Resurrection.”

The spiritual striving of the Lenten season and the blessed travel through Holy Week has been accomplished, and thus the Joy of the Resurrection is inexplicably palpable for all who have participated in this grace-filled journey.

We missed so much of this experience last year! It doesn’t break neatly into parts, a couple of which can be torn out of the whole and doled out over the Internet on a screen. But our deprivations made us all the more jubilant and grateful this year for our traditional over-the-top way of celebrating. The Death of Death is surely a reality we want to know in our hearts and lives. Somehow all of these Lenten and Holy Week labors empty us and humble us in mysterious ways to make us able to receive the grace of divine Life that is poured out at Pascha.

I stayed to break the fast with a few others afterward, with cheeses and meat, wine and chocolate, and didn’t get home until 4:00 a.m. Then we were back for Paschal Vespers at 1:00 — such a bright service! We couldn’t have our usual big barbecue this year but a few families stayed to picnic and visit all afternoon, and their children had an egg hunt.

Our bishop was with us on Bright Monday for Divine Liturgy, plus friends and deacons from a “sister parish” nearby. It was interesting how I began that hour of worship with so much verve, but about fifteen minutes in felt the weight of the residual exhaustion pulling me into a chair, where I tried to keep my mind awake, please God, for just a few more minutes!

At the end of Bright Monday’s service several of our men singers treated us, in English, to this Georgian Paschal hymn that has become one of my favorites. It must be getting more popular among the Orthodox worldwide, if the number of YouTube videos compared to last year is any indication. I found so many good versions, from cathedral to country folk to quarantine virtual choir, I am going to share several with you, in English and in Georgian.

Georgian Hymn in English – Virtual Choir

Kriste Aghdga – family in country

Kriste Aghdga – in English and Georgian

Kriste Aghdga – in a cathedral in Georgia

IN TRUTH HE IS RISEN!

The season we dread.

The California “wildfire season” has gotten off to an early and roaring start. In this era, mailings from the power company and other agencies remind us ahead of time that here, in addition to the usual four seasons, we have Fire, which can overlap both Summer and Fall. Others of you have Hurricane, which is another season that could be nicknamed “Scary.”

I don’t enjoy writing about flames and destruction, loss of buildings and human lives, and I trust that we all see plenty of horrific images of such things already. But because the location on my home page says “Northern California,” you might wonder if I’m okay. Yes, I am. I don’t live in a hilly, woodsy area, and my town has its power lines underground, so generally this is a less fire-risky place to live.

friend on bulldozer

But many of my friends nearby have been evacuated, as the same ones were last year. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the homes of other dear people are in danger, or may be gone. I pray that they are saved! I wrote about that area in a couple of posts here; this one, Bridges and Streams, has the most photos that will give you an idea of the terrain. It’s where my husband and I honeymooned, where his grandma had two cabins at different times, and of which most of our children retain strong memories.

Currently the only direct effect on me seems silly to mention. Smoke drifts through from nearby fires; I keep checking the AirVisual app to see if I am in the “Good” green range, or if the Air Quality Index has jumped past “Moderate” to “Unhealthy.” Daughter Pippin is not close to a fire, but has been suffering from unremitting high smoke levels for days and is on her way to Oregon in hopes of being able to breathe at least a little better up there.

If Green seems likely to last an hour or more and it’s not midday, I open the windows to cool off the house; most homes around here don’t have AC. So far we’ve had a Green period once or twice a day, and the recent heat wave has ended, so all is tolerable. But I did just order air purifiers, so that if evacuees need to come here, it will be a reliable refuge from smoke as well as danger.

This morning I woke thinking of a blogger I’d been missing. When I looked her up on my little phone, for some reason the first post that came up was from April of ’19. This was one of those Divine Meetings that angels can arrange, evidently even by means of WordPress Reader. Because it is about the Notre Dame fire, and includes a video (best to click through from her site) of the people who gathered to sing as they watched the devastation. I knew about that response but hadn’t seen any footage before. It was just what I needed, a connection to the prayers and sorrows of people everywhere, a reminder to sing myself. I know quite a few hymns that are appropriate.

Lord, have mercy!

When suffering and death come.

I almost broke out of my “cage” last week to visit my husband’s grave. My priest would meet me there, and we would pray on the memorial of my beloved’s repose, five years ago. But we changed our plan and had a virtual gathering with him praying in the church and more of us praying along via Zoom than would ever have been able to come to the cemetery. Before we had conceived the graveside plan and given it up, we had planned for me to bring a koliva to church to serve after a service there. I know people everywhere have been accomplishing many and various quick-change feats lately.

The Zoom meeting/service was a little odd; I’m certain it was the first prayer service ever held that way in my parish, but under the circumstances it was the best, and I was really glad we did it. More than 21 people were able to be with me that way, and some of you were among them. I could see that 21 devices were tuned in, and some of them represented couples or families.

Most of us had our microphones turned off, but even having two or three people singing or praying together on Zoom confuses the audio stream. I was thankful to all of those who were willing to listen above the superficial distortion to the beauty of the memorial, for the sake of praying with me and for my husband. It was sweet to see their names and/or faces, and after the hymn “Memory Eternal” more people turned on their mics to say it individually.

That was a blessing of the current version of normal, and a good alternative to standing in the rain six feet away from my priest. But when I do eventually feel free to visit the cemetery, that real and physical resting place (I will choose a sunny day), I can see me with my face in the grass, smelling the earth, feeling the breeze blowing over me and over all those waiting for the Resurrection of the Dead. Until then I am sharing a few pictures of events featuring more concrete, material remembrances, the sorts of gatherings which we will be less likely to take for granted in the future — I hope!

Today as I write, it is Saturday, which is the Sabbath, as we were reminded in our (streamed) morning prayers from church. The day of rest. But most of us don’t rest ourselves on this day. Rather, the church remembers those who are resting in death, waiting for the Resurrection, Resurrection Day, which we both celebrate and look forward to on Sundays, as Sunday is the Eighth Day.

When I “came home,” which meant coming downstairs, I read the passage from I Corinthians appointed for the day, and it is on the same theme, a topic on the minds of many in these days of a world pandemic, a time when death statistics are in nearly every news article one comes across. I keep thinking about Ivan in Tolstoy’s story, and how it was only in suffering that he began to get understanding. I will quote from my own blog post, written only a month ago, so soon pertinent to our moment:

“It is the disruption of Ivan Ilyich’s pleasant life, the pain of his illness, and the growing realization that he is dying, that make him pay attention, and even pray. His prayer is along the lines of, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ but nevertheless: ‘Then he was still, ceased weeping, held his breath, and was all attention; he listened, as it were, not to a voice uttering sounds, but to the voice of his soul, to the current of thoughts that rose up within him.'”

It is always a good thing to realize that one is dying. Those of us who will survive this recent threat and go on to live many more happy decades are no less under the sentence of death than those who will die from Covid-19. The realization can lead to repentance, and that in turn, to life.  Here is the epistle reading for today:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -I Corinthians 15:50-57

Let’s not only pray that we and the people we love be delivered from physical suffering and death, but also that when suffering and death come, as they will, we all will be able to hear the voice of God in our hearts. As it was for Ivan, for some it will be the beginning of true life.

For Thou art the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

-From Prayer for the Departed

Hovering over the meadow.

Our Orthodox commemoration of the Three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers was instituted as a result of 11th-century debates about which of them was the greatest. They themselves had to intervene by means of a vision given to St. John Bishop of Euchaita, who chose January 30 for their feast.

These three gifts to the Church are Basil the Great (330-379), Gregory the Theologian (329-389), and John Chrysostom (347-407). Each has his own feast day, but they are held in such esteem that it isn’t too much for us to remember them again together, they who in the words of a hymn, “have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines. They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom filling all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge.”

A hymn of Matins on their feast day echoes a theme that runs through hagiography generally; it is the sweetness of true theology and and God’s Word imparted to us.

Like bees hovering over the meadow of scriptures,
You embraced the wonderful pollen of their flowers.
Together you have produced for all the faithful
The honey of your teachings for their complete delight.
Therefore as we each enjoy this,
We cry out with gladness:
Blessed ones, even after death,
Be advocates for us who praise you!