Tag Archives: hymns

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 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 are 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!

Now you are light in the Lord.

The Monday after Pentecost Sunday, we Orthodox celebrate Holy Spirit Day.

When He came down and confused the tongues,
the Most High divided the nations;

but when He distributed the tongues of fire,
He called all people to unity.

Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the most-Holy Spirit.

(Hymn of the Feast)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.  And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

(From the epistle for the day, Ephesians 5)

From generation to generation.

Long before I found my home in the Orthodox Church, a friend introduced me to the Private Prayers of Lancelot Andrewes, which sustained my devotional life for a long time. Andrewes was one of the translators and editors of the King James Bible and died in 1626. Various arrangements of his prayers and sermons have been compiled; the edition I have uses the F.E. Brightman translation (from the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew of the original) of 1903, and includes an essay by T.S. Eliot, which I am reading again after a long time, having taken the book of prayers from my shelf to refresh my memory on several points.

Eliot compares the homilies of Andrewes with those of John Donne, and says that Andrewes is “the more medieval, because he is the more pure, and because his bond was with the Church, with tradition. His intellect was satisfied by theology and his sensibility by prayer and liturgy.”

When he writes of the emotional sensibilities of the preacher, it reminds me of the tone of our Orthodox worship:

“When Andrewes begins his sermon, from beginning to end you are sure that he is wholly in his subject, unaware of anything else, that his emotion grows as he penetrates more deeply into his subject, that he is finally ‘alone with the Alone,’ with the mystery which he is seeking to grasp more and more firmly….Andrewes’s emotion is purely contemplative; it is not personal, it is wholly evoked by the object of contemplation, to which it is adequate; his emotion wholly contained in and explained by its object.”

That dear man loved Christ! Here is the first of his Morning Prayers, typically rich in the words of Holy Scripture:

Following closely from that, the ancient prayer hymn of the church, known as “Gloria in excelsis Deo” or the “Great Doxology.” This was the one in Andrewes’s collection that most thrilled my heart and made it say, “Amen.” When prayed aloud it seems to carry the soul quickly to heaven while the body is most feeling its lowliness and affinity with the humble earth.

In the Orthodox Church we have begun the weekday Lenten Matins, and I managed to get there this morning and make that wonderful start to the day. One of the best parts of the service for me is our version of the “The Great Doxology,” which made me think about Christ-lover Andrewes, one of my first mentors in the kind of prayer that connects me to the church that has prayed through the ages.

Below is the text as we sing it in my parish, and here: The Great Doxology, is a video I found, if you would like to hear it sung, not too differently from what I’m used to. Of course, every parish and every choir does it uniquely, and I like the way we sing it the best.  🙂  This morning I was sitting on the other side of the cathedral from my usual, and enjoyed the perspective on the dome and the icon of Christ Pantocrator, with the words in the encircling border: “He hath looked out from His holy height. The Lord from heaven hath looked upon the earth, to hear the groaning of them that be in fetters.”

THE GREAT DOXOLOGY

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will among men.
We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee,
we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.
O Lord, Heavenly King, God the Father Almighty;
O Lord, the Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit.
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us;
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father,
and have mercy on us.

For Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord,
Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, Amen.

Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name forever,
yea, forever and ever.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
and praised and glorified is Thy name unto the ages. Amen.

Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Master, grant me understanding of Thy statutes.
Blessed art Thou, O Holy One, enlighten me by Thy statutes.

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from generation to generation.
I said: O Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul,
for I have sinned against Thee.
Lord, unto Thee have I fled for refuge;
teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God,
for in Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light shall we see light.
Continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
both now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.