Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Byzantine Paschal Hour

In the Roman Rite, the minor Hours of Easter and its octave are celebrated according to a very simple and archaic form, which consists solely of the psalmody, the antiphon Haec dies, and the prayer, with the usual introduction and conclusion. (Haec dies is labeled as an “antiphon” in the Breviary, but it is identical to the first part of the gradual sung at Mass each day of Easter week, and is called a gradual in the liturgical books of some other Uses.) This is said from Prime of Easter Sunday to None of the following Saturday. An analogous form is used at Compline, which consists of just the psalmody, an antiphon of four Allelujas, the Nunc dimittis, the Haec dies and the prayer, again, with the usual introduction and conclusion.


The Byzantine Rite observes a very similar practice; from Prime of Easter Sunday to None of Bright Saturday, the minor Hours, including Compline and the Midnight Office, are all sung according to the same brief and highly simplified form, without varying any part of the text from one Hour to another. This form is meant to be sung by the choir, whereas normally, the minor Hours are done by a single reader, with the priest saying the opening and closing formulas, and the doxologies (e.g. “For thine is the kingdom…” after the Lord’s Prayer.)

After the brief introduction “Blessed is Our God …”, the Paschal troparion is sung three times. “Christ is risen from the dead, having trampled down death by death, and bestowed life upon those in the tombs.” Another hymn is also sung three times. “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. We worship Thy Cross, O Christ, and we sing of and glorify Thy holy Resurrection; for Thou art our God, beside Thee we know none other, we call upon Thy name. Come, all ye faithful, let us worship Christ’s holy Resurrection, for behold, through the Cross joy hath come to all the world. In all things blessing the Lord, we sing of His Resurrection; for, having endured the Cross for our sake, by death He hath destroyed death.”

There follows another hymn called a hypakoë, which is sung once. “Coming with Mary before the dawn, and finding the stone rolled away from the tomb, the women heard from the Angel, “Why do you seek among the dead Him That liveth in everlasting light, as though He were (merely) a man? See the grave-clothes, run and proclaim to the world that the Lord is risen and hath slain death; for He is the Son of God Who saveth the race of men.”

A Russian icon of the Myrrh-bearing Women, painted in the first half of the 16th century, now in the Yaroslavl Art Museum. In the Byzantine Rite, the second Sunday after Easter is dedicated to these women; the Gospel is St Mark’s account of the burial of Christ, followed by their discovery of the empty tomb (15, 43  16, 8.)
Then the kontakion of Easter is sung. “Though Thou didst descend into the grave, o Immortal One, yet Thou didst destroy the power of Hades, and arise as victor, Christ God, calling out to the myrrh-bearing women, ‘Rejoice!’ and giving peace to Thy Apostles, Thou Who grantest resurrection to the fallen.”

This is followed by a series of three troparia, sung with the doxology; the concluding hymn of such a series is always about the Mother of God.

“In the grave bodily, but in Hades with Thy soul as God; in Paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou, o Christ, who fillest all things, uncircumscribed. – Glory to the Father…
How life-giving, how much more beautiful than Paradise, and truly more resplendent than any royal palace was Thy tomb shown to be, O Christ, the source of our resurrection. – Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
O sanctified and divine tabernacle of the Most High, rejoice! For through thee, o Mother of God, joy is given to them that cry out, ‘Blessed art thou among women, o Lady immaculate.’ ”

The Paschal Hour concludes with a slightly shorter form of the regular conclusion, which includes the text of the Paschal troparion. “Lord, have mercy (forty times). Glory to the Father… More honorable than the Cherubim, and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Mother of God; we magnify Thee. Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen. Christ is risen from the dead, having trampled down death by death, and bestowed life upon those in the tombs (three times). Glory to the Father… Lord, have mercy (three times). O Lord, give the blessing. Thou that didst rise from the dead, O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, of our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind. Amen.”

Here is a recording of the traditional Slavonic version, sung by the choir of the St Petersburg Theological Academy in 2014. (There doesn’t appear to be a Greek version available on Youtube.)

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