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).

The Uncertain Path

Journeying upon the uncertain path of life, I have fallen among thieves, and am despoiled by my own thoughts; my wounds stink and are corrupt. O Physician of the sick, at the prayers of all Thy saints give me Thine hand.

The waves of grievous sin confuse my understanding; save me, O Jesus, as once Thou hast saved Peter, for I sing to Thee: O all ye works, bless ye and praise ye the Lord.

Let us kill the passions by abstinence, and through fasting let us make our spirit mount on wings to heaven; and let us cry with contrite hearts: We have sinned against Thee, O God; in Thy compassion forgive us.

Canticle Eight, Monday in the Second Week of the Great Fast. Text from Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos Ware, The Lenten Triodion: Supplementary Texts. Bussey-en-Othe: Monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, 1979.

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Yesterday was the Sunday of Orthodoxy, commemorating the Triumph of Orthodoxy over the Iconoclasts in 843 AD. There is a lengthy work called the Synodicon of Orthodoxy, from which only selections are usually read in parish churches, but which is somewhat of a history of heresies. Here is one paragraph:

To those who do not accept with a pure and simple faith and with all their soul and heart the extraordinary miracles of our Saviour and God, those of His immaculate Mother, our Lady, the Theotokos, and of the other Saints, but who attempt with sophistic demonstration and words to traduce those miracles as being impossible, or to misinterpret them according to their own lights and to dispose of them in conformance with their own opinion,

Anathema.   Anathema.   Anathema.

Text excerpted, pp 48-9, from “Synodicon of Orthodoxy,” The True Vine 27/28 (Spring 2000), 35-82.
This paragraph is from a section which dates to just after 1082, and was directed against John Italus and his followers, who preferred pagan Greek philosophy to the doctrines of the Church. It goes to show that “modern” man is not always original, and certainly is not so in his denial of the miraculous.

There is, as Solomon may once have said, nothing new under the sun.


Receiving the shining rays of abstinence, O my soul, become as lightning, and flee from the obscurity of sin: that through the divine Spirit the light of forgiveness may illuminate thee as the rising sun.

The deceiver enticed me with the hook of pleasure and made me captive. But, O apostles who by your preaching have caught the whole world in your net, deliver me from his malice.

O glorious apostles, ye shine as rays from the Sun of glory, dispelling the eclipse of error. Let your light also fall on me, for I am darkened by every evil.

by Joseph; Canticle Four, First Canon, Matins, Thursday of the First Week of Lent. p. 249 in The Festal Menaion, Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos Ware (St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2001).

It would be wrong to call this short canon the best summary of the Orthodox Christian Way, but surely it is a good one. In it are presented asceticism or personal piety, the goal of theosis in Divine illumination, repentance from complicity in sin, and the role of the Church itself, for it is only through the apostles of the Church that any of this knowledge has come down to us at all.

The message is simple. Though we are darkened by sin, we can be illumined: we are not beyond redemption! As long as we are breathing, it is not too late to repent!

From dark to light, from the deceiver to God, from sin to righteousness, from wrong to right, from dead to alive — this movement of conversion, of repentance, is part of the ancient, common Christian heritage, however forgotten it may be by some. Even among those who are often reminded of it, a full season of such reminders is not unwelcome.

First Day of Lent

Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendour of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage. So, clothed in raiment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life.

Seasonal Hymn, Tone Two, by Theodore. From Matins for Monday of the First Week of Lent, page 190 in The Lenten Triodion, Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos Ware. St Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2001.

Lent for Orthodox Christianity begins today. This is a period for us of fasting from the physical in order to feast on the spiritual. It’s a time in which we reflect both personally and collectively on the reasons for which God became man, suffered and died: we are the cause. We are the cause, not just “our sins,” saying which would distance us from our collusion with them, for we have all shamefully been happy collaborators in the death of God. Repentance, like Lent, is not just about “giving something up,” but about conversion, μετανοια, a change of the very self from one who loves sin to one who loves God and His law of life, rather than the lawlessness of death.

It’s during this season that the most affecting prayers and hymns are utilized in all the various liturgies that occur throughout this span of time, culminating in Holy Week and especially the services Holy Saturday night. These are treasures of Early Christianity and Late Antiquity in even a purely artistic and cultural sense. I’ll be presenting excerpts of these works here during this Lent because I know there are quite a few readers of this blog who are unfamiliar with Lent in Orthodoxy, and there are those who at the very least will appreciate the artistic quality, if not indeed the spiritual power, of these works.

During Lent in the Orthodox Church are to be found most of the liturgical readings of the Old Testament, as today, when you will no doubt find it interesting to know that on this First Monday of Lent, the Song of the Sea, Exodus 15.1-19, the first of the Biblical Canticles as found among the Odai in the Rahlfs Septuagint, is sung.


Sometimes the world seems simultaneously “too much” and “not enough.” You know what I mean?

It would take a different perspective to be able to both recognize and appreciate that, and not just to feel put upon.

Perhaps this approaching Lenten season will be an aid in reforming my perspective. That is, perhaps I’ll allow myself to actually experience that change.

With that in mind here’s a special Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem of Syria:
   O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not.
   But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant.
   Yea, O Lord King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Illumination and peace!

Some Outlook Files

I’ve just created three different files that are designed to be imported into Outlook. They may work with other programs as well, with a little tweaking, which you’re certainly welcome to do, but I don’t plan on creating a bunch of files for different calendaring programs.

The three files are based on a couple different web pages of mine:
1.) a file detailing the daily Psalm readings according to the traditional monastic pattern of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The web page describing this system is here. By importing this file into Outlook, every day in 2006 will have the appropriate Psalm reading according to this system.

2.) a file that imports to each day of 2006 the Bible readings required to make it through the entire NRSV with Apocrypha in one year (typically 4 chapters a day). This file will lead you through the books in the order in which they’re included in the NRSV with Apocrypha.

3.) a file which is like number 2, above, except that the Old Testaement readings essentially follow the traditional Eastern Orthodox Septuagintal order, which differs from the Hebrew and usual English Bible order, and from the presentation in Rahlfs’ edition to the extent that 2 Esdras is included in the position it occurs in Russian Bibles as 3 Ezra, and 4 Maccabees is at the end of the Old Testament readings, as though it were in an appendix. The NT books are in the same order as in the NRSV, though I did toy with the idea of placing the Catholic Epistles before Paul’s. I may make that change in the future, however.

The web page describing the two NRSV reading plans is here.

If you want to import them, click the above links and save the files.
Then open Outlook and go to the calendar (these instructions are correct for Outlook 2003, but may not be exactly the same for earlier versions).
Click File, then Import and Export.
Click “Import from another program or file”, the click Next.
Click “Microsoft Excel”, then click Next.
Click the Browse button to select the file where you saved it, and, just to be safe, Click “Do not import duplicate items” and then click Next.
Click Calendar and click Next.
You’ll see a checkmark next to “Import “import” into folder: Calendar”, and then you click the Finish button. It does the import and then you’re done.

I made the readings listings the same as holiday notices, so that they don’t actually have a time associated with them, and they don’t cause indications in the weekly/monthly views that those days have appointments on them if they’re the only things on that particular day. They show up at the top of the single day view. Double-click the “Daily Bible Reading” or “Psalm Reading” heading, which will open the usual appointment window. In the Description, you’ll find the citation of what to read. (A version with the readings included would be both enormous and a copyright violation, so I haven’t done that with the NRSV, though I may do it in the future with some other text, either Brenton’s, revised, or the upcoming Orthodox Study Bible LXX translation.)

So, if you’re an Outlook user, and you find these interesting, give them a try. Also, if anyone has trouble importing the files, email me, and I can help you out.