Thursday, February 03, 2022

The Feast of Saints Simeon and Anne

In the Byzantine Rite, the term “synaxis” (σύναξις in Greek, собóръ (sobor) in Church Slavonic) refers to a commemoration held the day after a major feast, honoring a sacred person who figures prominently in the feast, but who is, so to speak, overshadowed by its principal subject. The best known example is the feast of the Holy Spirit, which is kept on the Monday after Pentecost, since Pentecost itself is the feast of the Holy Trinity. Likewise, a Synaxis of the Virgin Mary is kept the day after Christmas, of St John the Baptist on January 7th, the day after the Baptism of the Lord, and of St Gabriel the day after the Annunciation. These are not the principal feasts of the persons honored by these “synaxes”, and one also finds on the Byzantine liturgical calendar the other major feasts of the Virgin (Conception, Nativity, Assumption etc.) feasts of St John on Sept. 23 (his conception), June 24 and August 29, and that of St Gabriel on June 11.

In the case of Ss Simeon and Anna, the placement of their joint feast on February 3rd, the day after the Meeting of the Lord, as it is called in the East, was clearly inspired by this custom; it is not, however, a synaxis, but their proper feast day, and in Greek liturgical books is therefore called a “μνήμη (mneme) - memorial.” This feast appropriately shares a number of its liturgical texts with the After-feast of the Meeting, the equivalent of a western octave. In the Roman Rite, Simeon is noted in the Martyrology on October 8, and Anna on September 1st, but neither of them has ever been the object of any liturgical devotion.

A Greek icon of both the Meeting of the Lord and the Baptism, 1540-60, now in the Benai Museum in Athens, Greece. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
All feasts in the Byzantine Rite begin with Vespers of the preceding day. On the evening of February 2nd, the following hymns of the type known as stikhera are sung between the verses of a group of Psalms which are said every day at that Hour, 140, 141, 129 and 116 according to the Septuagint numbering. The first three of these are proper to the After-feast of the Meeting, the second three are of the two Saints.
First Stikheron: The Maker of all things and our Redeemer was brought to the temple by the Virgin Mother, whence the Elder received Him, and with joy cried out, “Now dost Thou dismiss Thy servant, o Good one, in peace, as it hath pleased Thee.”
Second: Simeon, taking from the Virgin in his arms Him that was before the ages, and was born as the Savior, cried out, “I have seen the illumination, the wonders of Thy glory; now dost Thou dismiss Thy servant, o Good one, in peace, because I have seen Thee.”
Third: Simeon, bearing in his arms Him that was born as the Savior in the last days for the salvation of mortals, cried out with joy, “I have seen the light of the nations and the glory of Israel; now dost Thou dismiss (me), as thou hast said, o God, from this world by Thy command.”
Fourth: As one just and perfect, and glorious in all things, o divinely inspired one, speaking in prophecy, thou didst take up in thy hands the one perfect God, who was made incarnate and came to justify the world; and thou was released from the body, crying out to Him, “Now dost Thou dismiss Thy servant in peace, who lovest mankind, for I have seen Thee today!”
Fifth: Being still young in spirit, though advanced in years in the body, thou didst learn in prophecy, o Simeon, that thou wouldst not see death until thou shouldst see as a newborn Him that was before the ages, God the Creator, like a poor man in the flesh of all man; and seeing Him, thou didst leap for joy, and asked for release from the flesh, rejoicing that thou didst pass over unto the tabernacles of heaven.
Sixth: Anna the divinely inspired and Simeon the all-blessed, shining forth in prophecy, blameless in the law, having pointed out the Giver of the Law, who was beheld as an infant in our likeness, have now seen and worshipped Him. Gladly let us keep their memory today, duly glorifying Jesus, who loveth mankind.
The last hymn of such a group is called a Theotokion, sung after the doxology, and always dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Theotokion The ancient of days, being an infant in the flesh, is brought by the Virgin Mother to the temple, fulfilling the commandment of His own Law; whom Simeon receiving, said, “Now dost Thou dismiss in peace Thy servant, according to Thy word, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation, o Holy One.”
On any given day, the most frequently used chants of the Byzantine Office are the tropar and kontak, which are said at all of the minor Hours, Orthros, and the Divine Liturgy; the tropar is always said at the end of Vespers, and is also known as the dismissal hymn (apolytikion). The feast of Ss Simeon and Anna does not have its texts for these chants, but simply repeats them from the previous day.
Tropar Rejoice, who are full of grace, Virgin Mother of God, for from Thee hath arisen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God, who enlighteneth those in darkness. Rejoice thou also, o righteous Elder, who didst receive in thine arms the liberator of our souls, and granteth us also the Resurrection. 
Kontak Thou who didst sanctify the virginal womb by Thy birth, and bless the hands of Simeon, as was becoming, hast even now saved us beforehand, o Christ our God. But give peace in the midst of wars to the community, and strengthen the kings whom Thou hast love, who alone lovest mankind.
The following recording is the very end of a Divine Liturgy, after which the clergy descend to venerate the festal icon, while the choir repeats the major chants of the feast. The tropar begins at 4:30, followed by the doxology and the kontak.
It is of course Simeon who pronounced the canticle which in the Western church is known from its first words as the Nunc dimittis, and is said every day at Compline in the Roman Rite outside monastic churches. In the Byzantine Rite, it is said every day at Vespers at the conclusion of a series of hymns called the aposticha. Here is a recording of two chants, the hymn to the Virgin “Truly it is fitting”, which is ordinarily sung during the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, and the Nunc dimittis (beginning at 1:50), both in Church Slavonic. This recording was made at the Russian College in Rome in November of 2015 at a conference in honor of Fr Ludwig Pichler, SJ, a few months after his 100th birthday. Fr Pichler directed the college’s choir from 1948 until his retirement in 2009; he passed away in May of 2017.
On the great feasts such as the Meeting, the hymn to the Virgin is replaced by another, the last of the long series of chants known as a Canon, which is sung at Orthros. In Slavic practice, it is repeated each day of the After-feast, but in the Greek practice, only on the last day, which is known as the Leave-Taking.
Mother of God, help of all Christians, look upon, watch over and protect them that hope in Thee. In the law, which is shadow and letter, let us, the faithful, see a type: every male that openeth the womb is holy to God; wherefore do we magnify the first-born Word, Son of the Father without beginning, and first born of the Mother without husband.

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