From the Akathist to the Theotokos

Saturday is the Feast of the Annunciation, when we celebrate both the full willingness of an innocent young girl to do the will of God, and the conception of that same God as a human infant within her, a mystery that, we are told, even the angels find difficult to fathom.

An Angel, and the chiefest among them, was sent from Heaven to cry: Rejoice! to the Mother of God. And beholding Thee, O Lord, taking bodily form, he stood in awe, and with his bodiless voice he cried aloud to her such things as these:
Rejoice, thou through whom joy shall shine forth.
Rejoice, thou through whom the curse shall be blotted out.
Rejoice, thou the Restoration of fallen Adam.
Rejoice, thou the Redemption of the tears of Eve.
Rejoice, Height hard to climb for human thought.
Rejoice, Depth hard to explore, even for the eyes of Angels.
Rejoice, for thou art the Throne of the King.
Rejoice, for thou sustainest the Sustainer of all.
Rejoice, Star that causest the Sun to appear.
Rejoice, Womb of the divine Incarnation.
Rejoice, thou through whom creation is renewed.
Rejoice, thou through whom the Creator becometh a babe.
Rejoice, thou Bride unwedded.

The Akathist hymn is a lengthy acrostic hymn (the above is the Alpha section) written in the sixth century by St. Romanos the Melodist. The name “akathist” is given to a certain body of hymns sung during the singing of which no sitting is permitted. It’s one of the treasures of Orthodoxy, and the crowning gem of St. Romanos’ works. The translation above is from the beautifully produced Great Horologion (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1997).

Lovely Little Bible

I’ve just picked up a copy of the Oxford University Press RSV Catholic Bible Compact Edition. It’s about 5×6.5×1 inches, which is just a perfect size, and has a very nice two-tone bonded leather cover in burgundy and basketweave-imprinted black along the binding. Several years ago, Oxford also put out an NRSV with Apocrypha Anglicized Edition in the same size (the one I got is out of print, but new editions with the two-tone covers are about to come out; several are listed here), and it’s one of my favorite Bibles, so I appreciate having a comparable RSV one. I do, though, hope they do an edition of the whole RSV with Apocrypha in this compact size. The Catholic Edition is great in that the Deuterocanonicals are interspersed with the other books, and the additions to Daniel and Esther are integrated into those books. Yet there are several books lacking from the full translation of the RSV (1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees, all of which are in the appendix to the Vulgate; and Psalm 151 and 4 Maccabees, which are part of the Eastern Orthodox canon). There are various presentation and family record pages in the front, which is charming, reminding me of a huge family Bible we had when I was a child with all that kind of stuff in it (and, among many others, a reproduction of a completely ghastly Rembrandt painting of Samson’s eyes being put out, which I can still remember — shudder). There is an Introduction explaining the edition, and, niftily, the entire English text of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum of Pope Paul VI, which I’ve always found a fascinating read. The OT and NT each has an appendix with very short introductions to the books and very brief textual notes indicating differences with the Vulgate. At the very end of this Bible are several pages of Prayers and Devotions of the Catholic Faith.

Now, I’m not Roman Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox. I hope that our Orthodox Study Bible which is in preparation and due out Pascha 2007 (a.k.a. Easter 2007), will be quite as nice, though that’ll only be the Old Testament. It’ll be the first full modern translation into English of all the Eastern Orthodox books from the Septuagint/Old Greek text, which is our canonical version, in case you didn’t know, dear reader. There’s already a New Testament Orthdox Study Bible based on the New King James Version, about which I’m ambivalent, though I really have to say I hope they’ve listened to the critiques of this NT-OSB volume so that the Old Testament OSB comes out better. We’ll see. But it will be refreshing to have a Bible representative of my own religious tradition which is in my own “heart language.” In the meantime, the Catholic Edition RSV is as close as we get in English to an Eastern Orthodox Bible. And it’s so beautifully produced a book that I’m sure I’ll enjoy it for a long time even after the Orthodox translation is published.