Sunday, March 22, 2020

“All of Creation Rejoiceth in Thee” - A Byzantine Hymn to the Virgin Mary for Lent

In the Byzantine Rite, there are two forms of the anaphora in the Divine Liturgy, which are named for the Saints to whom their authorship is traditionally ascribed, Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. The first of these, which is very much the longer of the two, was formerly said every Sunday, but is now restricted to ten days: the vigils of Christmas and Theophany, the feast of St Basil (which is celebrated on January 1st together with the Circumcision), the five Sundays of Lent, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. In both anaphoras, after the consecration and epiclesis, there is a prayer which commemorates the Saints, which is said in silence; in the Liturgy of St Basil, this prayer reads as follows: “And unite us all to one another, who partake of the one Bread and Cup, unto the communion of the one Holy Spirit, and grant that none of us may partake of the holy Body and Blood of Thy Christ unto judgment or condemnation; but rather, that we may find mercy and grace with all the Saints who have ever been pleasing to Thee: Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.” The celebrant then sings out loud, “Especially our all-holy, immaculate, blessed-above-all and glorious Lady, the Mother of God, and ever-Virgin Mary.” To this, the choir responds with a hymn, which on the Sundays of Lent is as follows.

All of creation rejoiceth in Thee, o full of grace, the choirs of Angels, and the race of men, o sanctified temple and rational paradise, the glory of virgins, from Whom God was incarnate and became a child, He that is our God before the ages. For He made Thy body into a throne, and Thy womb broader than the heavens. All of creation rejoiceth in Thee, o full of grace: glory to Thee!

This text is traditionally attributed to St John Damascene (675 ca. - 749), and was originally written (and is still used) for Sunday Matins. The Church Slavonic version is one of those pieces which is so beautiful, one can hardly help but wishing it were used more often.

Ѡ тебѣ радуетсѧ, Благодатнаѧ, всѧкаѧ тварь, Аггельскїй соборъ и Человѣческїй родъ, ԝсвѧщенный храме, и раю словесный, Дѣвственнаѧ похвало, из неѧже Богъ воплотисѧ, и Младенецъ бысть, прежде вѣкъ сый Богъ нашъ, ложесна бо твоѧ Престолъ сотвори, и чрево твое пространнѣе Небесъ содела; ԝ тебѣ радуется, Благодатная, всякая тварь, слава тебѣ!

Here is the same setting in English, a perfect example of how to use the vernacular without destroying the musical patrimony of a rite.

And the same text sung in the original Greek.
Ἐπὶ σοὶ χαίρει, Κεχαριτωμένη, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις, Ἀγγέλων τὸ σύστημα, καὶ ἀνθρώπων τὸ γένος, ἡγιασμένε ναέ, καὶ Παράδεισε λογικέ, παρθενικὸν καύχημα, ἐξ ἧς Θεός ἐσαρκώθη, καὶ παιδίον γέγονεν, ὁ πρὸ αἰώνων ὑπάρχων Θεὸς ἡμῶν∙ τὴν γὰρ σὴν μήτραν, θρόνον ἐποίησε, καὶ τὴν σὴν γαστέρα, πλατυτέραν οὐρανῶν ἀπειργάσατο. Ἐπὶ σοὶ χαίρει Κεχαριτωμένη, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις, δόξα σοι.

There is also a type of icon whose composition was inspired by this hymn. The Virgin sits on a throne in the middle with the Child Jesus in her lap; the sphere around them represents heaven, beyond which, we see the choirs of angels, the sanctified temple, and the rational Paradise (i.e. garden). St John is shown standing before Her, holding a scroll with the hymn written on it; the crowds below represent the various groups of Saints mentioned in the prayer of the anaphora. This example was painted in Russia ca. 1530.

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