Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The Synaxis of the Holy Forerunner John the Baptist

In the Byzantine Rite, a “synaxis” (“σύναξις” in Greek, “собóръ – sobor” in Church Slavonic) is a commemoration held the day after a major feast, to honor a sacred person who figures prominently in the feast, but who is, so to speak, overshadowed by its principal subject. The most prominent example is the feast of the Holy Spirit, celebrated the day after Pentecost, since Pentecost itself is the feast of the Holy Trinity. Likewise, the Synaxis of the Virgin Mary is kept the day after Christmas, that of St Gabriel on the day after the Annunciation, etc. For those of the Byzantine Rite who follow the Gregorian date of Epiphany, today is therefore “The Synaxis of the Holy and Glorious Prophet and Forerunner, John the Baptist.” A synaxis is a commemoration, and not the principal feast of the person honored thereby; the Byzantine Rite celebrates the same two principal feasts of St John as the Roman Rite, the Nativity on June 24, and the Beheading on August 29. There is also a feast of his Conception on September 23rd, and of the various occasions on which the relics of his head were lost and recovered, the “First and Second Finding” on February 24, and the “Third Finding” on May 25th. (The Conception of St John is occasionally found on ancient liturgical calendars in the West, but never really caught on.)

John the Baptist as the Angel of the Desert, with stories of his life, from the Church of St. Nicholas in Yaroslavl, 1551. 
Troparion: The memory of the righteous (is celebrated) with hymns of praise, but the testimony of the Lord will be sufficient for thee, O Forerunner. For, being received in truth as the most honorable of the prophets, thou wert deemed worthy to baptize in the streams the One foretold (by them). And therefore, having suffered for the truth, with joy thou proclaimed even to those in hell God who was made manifest in the flesh, who taketh away the sin of the world, and granteth us great mercy.

Тропарь Память праведнаго с похвалами, тебе же довлеет свидетельство Господне, Предтече: показал бо ся еси воистинну и пророков честнейший, яко и в струях крестити сподобился еси Проповеданнаго. Темже за истину пострадав, радуяся благовестил еси и сущим во аде Бога, явльшагося плотию, вземлющаго грех мира и подающаго нам велию милость.

Τροπάριον Μνήμη δικαίου μετ’ ἐγκωμίων, σοὶ δὲ ἀρκέσει ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ Κυρίου, Πρόδρομε. Ἀνεδείχθης γὰρ ὄντως τῶν Προφητῶν σεβασμιώτερος, ὅτι καὶ ἐν ῥείθροις βαπτίσαι κατηξιώθης τὸν κηρυττόμενον, ὅθεν τῆς ἀληθείας ὑπεραθλήσας, χαίρων εὐαγγελίσω καὶ τοῖς ἐν Ἅδη, Θεὸν φανερωθέντα ἐν σαρκί, τὸν αἴροντα τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου, καὶ παρέχοντα ἡμῖν τὸ μέγα ἔλεος.

All feasts begin with Vespers of the preceding day, and there is no such thing as Second Vespers as there is in the Roman Rite; therefore, the Vespers of a Synaxis are celebrated on the evening of the main feast’s calendar day, and there is always a very clear thematic link between the liturgical texts of the two celebrations. At some of these Vespers, the responsorial chant called the Prokimen is sung in a longer and more solemn form than usual, and in the Slavic choral tradition, gives baritone deacons a chance to really show off! The Psalm from which this chant is taken, 113, is traditionally sung at Vespers of Epiphany and throughout its octave in the Roman Rite. (This video, made at the Russian Orthodox seminary in Yekaterinburg, starts at the place marked with an asterisk in the translation given below.)

The refrain, sung first by the deacon, then repeated by the choir, Psalm 113, 11: Our God is in heaven: He hath done all things whatsoever He would.
The verses sung by the deacon:
- When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a barbarous people, Judea made his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. * Choir: “Our God is in heaven etc.”
- The sea saw and fled: Jordan was turned back.
- What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou didst flee: and thou, O Jordan, that thou wast turned back?
Deacon: Our God is in heaven: Choir: He hath done all things whatsoever He would.

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