Thursday, March 23, 2017

Byzantine Hymns for Mid-Lent

The Fast that bringeth good things hath now reached its middle point, having pleased God well in the days gone past, and bringing help in the days to come; for the increase of good things maketh greater the good work. Wherefore let us cry to Christ, the Giver of all good things, pleasing Him well, “O Thou who for our sake did fast and endure the Cross, deem us worthy to partake also of Thy divine Pasch uncondemned, living our lives in peace, and rightly glorifying Thee with the Father and the Spirit.

Since the Byzantine liturgical week runs from Monday to Sunday, Lent starts two days before the Roman Ash Wednesday; therefore, yesterday was Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent in the Byzantine Rite, but “Wednesday of the Third Week” in the Roman. This day is sometimes referred to informally as Mid-Lent, although this is an approximation, where the analogous half-way point of the Paschal season, the feast of Mid-Pentecost, is exactly half-way (25 days) between Easter and Pentecost. The sticheron given above is one of several placed between the verses of a group of four Psalms which are sung at Vespers every day, (140, 141, 129 and 116), while the deacon incenses the altar and sanctuary, the iconostasis, the church, the clergy and the faithful. The first of these Psalms is chosen for the words “Let my prayer raise before Thee like incense, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice,” which are prominent in most historical Christian rites. (A sticheron is technically referred to as kind of “hymn”, but in construction is really more analogous to the antiphons of the Roman Rite; the number of them varies from day to day.)

The last of a group of stichera is always a Theotokion, a hymn to the Virgin Mary, and that of Mid-Lent is particularly beautiful. The references to the Crucifixion look back to the preceding Sunday, that of the Veneration of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross, and forward to Good Friday and the end of Lent.

“Today, He that is by nature unapproachable becometh approachable to me, and undergoeth His sufferings to deliver me from sufferings; He that giveth light to the blind is spit upon by impious lips, and giveth His cheek unto blows, for the sake of those held captive. The holy Virgin and Mother, seeing Him upon the Cross, cried out, ‘Alas, my Child! What is this Thou hast done? Beautiful beyond the sons of men, dost Thou appear without life or spirit, having no beauty or comeliness? Alas, my Light! I cannot look upon Thee sleeping, I am wounded to the core, and a terrible sword passeth through my heart. I sing of Thy sufferings, I adore Thy compassion; long-suffering Lord, glory to Thee!’ ” (In the video below, the Church Slavonic version.)

A 16th-century Russian icon of the Holy Mandylion, the cloth with Christ’s face impressed upon it, and below, the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. 

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