Lucky the man who longs for God as a lover longs for his beloved

Following Saturday’s post, I’m moving on now to some more praises of the Panagia, to be found in the Canon of the Akathist.

HAIL, from whom alone there sprung the unfading Rose!
Hail, you who gave birth to the sweet‑smelling Apple!

Hail, nosegay of the King of all, unwedded preservation of the world.
Hail, Sovereign Lady, lily whose sweet scent perfumes the faithful; fragrant incense and myrrh of great price.

Flowers near the Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos

Flowers near the Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos. Athos is known as the Garden of the Panagia.

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HAIL, Sovereign Lady, lily!
Hail, you who gave birth to the sweet‑smelling Apple!

*

The reference to a lily and an apple seems to be to Song 2:1. Here it is in a translation from the Greek Septuagint.

[She sings:] I AM a flower of the plain, a lily of the valleys.

[He sings:] As a lily among thorns, so is my companion among the daughters.

[She sings:] As the apple among the trees of the wood, so is my kinsman among the sons. I desired his shadow, and sat down, and his fruit was sweet in my throat.

Bring me into the wine house; set love before me.

Strengthen me with perfumes, stay me with apples: for I am wounded with love.

The idea of setting love before us in a banquet of wine has irresistible Eucharistic overtones.

At any rate, as we saw with yesterday’s post on St Mary of Egypt, human love is by no means an improper guide to divine love.

St John Climacus said when discussing spiritual discernment in Step 26, that “physical love can be a paradigm for the longing for God”, and expanded on this later by saying:

THERE is nothing wrong about offering human analogies for longing, fear, concern, zeal, service, and love of God. Lucky the man who loves and longs for God as a smitten lover does for his beloved. …

Someone truly in love keeps before his mind’s eye that face of the beloved and embraces it there tenderly. Even during sleep the longing continues unappeased, and he murmurs to his beloved. That is how it is for the body. And that is how it is for the spirit.

“Ladder of Divine Ascent”, Step 30 (On Faith, Hope and Love)

The author of the Akathist has cast Mary as the part of the lady in the Song, and God as the part of the man, with Christ the sweet apple.

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HAIL, from whom alone there sprung the unfading Rose!
Hail, fragrant incense and myrrh of great price!

*

The reference to Christ “the unfading Rose” takes us to the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach. Divine Wisdom, through whom all things were made, has taken her place in the Temple at Jerusalem.

IN the holy tabernacle I served before him; and so was I established in Sion. Likewise in the beloved city he gave me rest, and in Jerusalem was my power. And I took root in an honourable people, even in the portion of the Lord’s inheritance.

I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree upon the mountains of Hermon. I was exalted like a palm tree in En-gaddi, and as a rose plant in Jericho, as a fair olive tree in a pleasant field, and grew up as a plane tree by the water.

I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aspalathus, and I yielded a pleasant odour like the best myrrh, as galbanum, and onyx, and sweet storax, and as the fume of frankincense in the tabernacle. As the turpentine tree I stretched out my branches, and my branches are the branches of honour and grace.

Sirach 24:10-16.

As we shall see in a later post, Mary is the tabernacle of God, the new Ark of the Covenant, because Divine Wisdom took rest in the tabernacle of her womb. Jesus is the Rose, because he is the very incarnation of Divine Wisdom.

So Mary is the earth watered by the Spirit, and Christ the rose-bush bursting with flower; she is the orchard planted by God, and Christ is the untainted fruit; she is the rosy incense, and Christ the fragrance which rises to heaven. This is the language of the Salutations.

HAIL, vine with a branch that does not wither,
Hail, orchard of fruit that bears no taint.

Hail, for you husband the Husbandman who loves humankind,
Hail, for you cultivate the Cultivator of our life.

Hail, ploughland yielding a rich harvest of compassion,
Hail, table laden with abundance of mercy.

Hail, for you make the meadow of delight flower again,
Hail, for you make ready a haven for the soul.

Hail, acceptable incense of intercession,
Hail, propitiation for the whole world.

Hail, good pleasure of God towards mortals,
Hail, freedom of speech of mortals towards God.

Hail, Bride without bridegroom.

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