Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Paschal Stichera of the Byzantine Rite in English

This past Sunday was Easter on the Julian calendar, and to all those who celebrate the Feast of Feasts this week, we wish you every blessing in the Risen Lord - He is truly Risen!

Yesterday, I happened across this video of one of the most magnificent features of the Byzantine Rite, known as the Paschal stichera. These are sung at Orthros and Vespers each day of Bright Week, as the Easter octave is called, and thenceforth on the Sundays of the Easter season, and on the Leave-taking of Easter, the day before the Ascension. As with all things Byzantine, there are variants in local usage; and they are also often sung during the Divine Liturgy in Eastertide while Communion is distributed. This particular church, St Simeon Orthodox Church in Birmingham, Alabama, uses an English translation which keeps the traditional music of the Slavonic tradition, a wonderful example of how it is perfectly possible to employ the vernacular in sacred worship without destroying the musical patrimony of a rite. They also follow the custom of swinging the chandeliers on feast days; I have asked friends of mine who are quite knowledgeable about the Byzantine Rite what the significance of this is, and the answer is always pretty much, “It’s festive!” (I have tried to conform the translation below to what is actually being sung, but for obvious reasons, it is not always easy to make out exactly what they are saying.)

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered! (Ps. 67, 2)
Today, a sacred Pascha is revealed to us, a new and holy Pascha, a mystical Pascha, a Pascha worthy of veneration, a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer; a blameless (i.e. immaculate) Pascha, a great Pascha; a Pascha of the faithful; a Pascha that hath opened to us the gates of Paradise; a Pascha that sanctifies the faithful!
As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish! (Ps. 67, 3)
Come from the vision, O ye women, bearers of good tidings, and say ye to Sion: receive from us the good tidings of the Resurrection of Christ; adorn thyself, exult, and rejoice, O Jerusalem, for thou hast seen Christ the King come forth from the tomb like a bridegroom in procession.
So let sinners perish at the presence of God and let the righteous be glad! (Ps. 67, 3-4)
The myrrh-bearing women in the deep dawn stood before the tomb of the Giver of life; they found an angel sitting upon the stone, and he, speaking to them, said thus: Why seek ye the living among the dead? Why mourn ye the incorruptible amid corruption? Go, proclaim unto His disciples.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad therein! (Ps. 117, 24)
Pascha the beautiful, Pascha, the Lord's Pascha, the Pascha all-venerable hath dawned upon us. Pascha, with joy let us embrace one another. O Pascha! Ransom from sorrow, for from the tomb today, as from a bridal chamber hath Christ shone forth, and hath filled the women with joy, saying: proclaim unto the apostles.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant for the feast, and let us embrace one another. Let us say: Brethren, even to them that hate us, let us forgive all things on the Resurrection, and thus let us cry out: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, And on those in the tombs bestowing life! (3x) 

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