Sown in dishonour, raised in glory

The splendour of the heavenly bodies.
1 Corinthians 15:40-45.

THE splendour of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendour of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendour.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.

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A small field near St Mary's on the Isles of Scilly. © Bob Embleton, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original photo.

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” A small field near St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly. © Bob Embleton, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original photo.

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“O Lady more splendid than the brilliance of sunbeams.”
At Vespers for January 15. Source.

REJOICE, lamp filled with light, Lady more splendid than the brilliance of sunbeams. Rejoice O Lady undefiled, who hast loosed the ancient curse (Gen 3:13-19; Dt 11:26-28), hope of the hopeless, the recalling of our race. Rejoice most splendid palace of the King of All, most trusty* mountain, from which the Redeemer came forth. Rejoice, God the Word’s divine and delightful lamp (Ex 38:16 LXX). Rejoice, lampstand all light. Rejoice, fiery throne (Dan 7:9).

* My text has τὸ Ὄρος τὸ πιστότατον, ‘most trusty mountain’. But I wonder whether this should be πιότατον, ‘most fertile’, a key phrase for the Virgin. See the notes below.

Cross-Theotokion.

WHEN the unblemished Ewe-Lamb saw her own Lamb willingly dragged as mortal man to sacrifice, she would lament saying: Thou wouldst quickly make me childless, who bore thee as my child, O Christ. What is this which thou hast done, Redeemer of all? Yet I raise my hymn, and I give glory, to thy supreme goodness beyond spiritual sight (ὑπὲρ νοῦν) and beyond reason (ὑπὲρ λόγον), O lover of mankind.

REJOICE, star shining like the sun (cf. Rev 12:1-2). Rejoice, unblemished Lady, cause of everything good. Rejoice, thou who didst contain the uncontainable God, who budded forth with the grain* of incorruption (Jn 12:23-24, 1 Cor 15:35-45). Rejoice divine chariot, gate filled with light. Rejoice, Maiden who hast destroyed the curse of our forebears, who yet liveth to be the provider of blessings.

* στάχυς, an ear of wheat. As it happens, it was also the Greek name of the largest star in the constellation Virgo, Spica virginis (Latin for “the virgin’s ear of grain”).

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Frédéric Chopin, Nocturne in F Major.
Played by Valentina Lisitsa.

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Notes

“God the Word’s divine and delightful lamp”.

IN these prayers, we are presented with the supreme glory and splendour of the Theotokos in heaven. After her natural death, she was taken to heaven and anticipated our deification and our resurrection, as the one from whom God began his refashioning of the whole creation. Now she outshines the sun and the stars as a lamp brighter than all of them. Even so, while Mary is the lamp and lampstand, her living flame, the light with which she shines, is always her son Jesus, who is God the Word, Light from Light.

The metaphor of the light and the lampstand, like many other titles for the Virgin, comes from the vessels of the Temple in Jerusalem, where God was present with his people. The golden lampstand (Menorah), decorated with blossoming almond buds and flowers (Ex 25:31-40), was one of the central features of the sanctuary. Because light was regarded as essentially gentle, the lampstand is referred to by Zechariah in a prophecy of the peaceful restoration of God’s people (Zech 4:1-6): “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty”.

*

“Fertile mountain.”

The reference to Mary as a “most trusty mountain” (τὸ Ὄρος τὸ πιστότατον) is a bit unusual, so I wonder if it should be τὸ Ὄρος τὸ πιότατον, most fertile mountain, instead, commonly related to the Mother of God in the liturgy. You can see why I might think so from this, my own translation of the Greek text of Ps 67:16-20 LXX (Ps 68:15-19 Heb), which speaks of Sion, the hill in Jerusalem chosen for the Temple:

O MOUNTAIN of God, fertile mountain, O curdled mountain, fertile mountain! Why do you suppose, O curdled mountains, that this is the mount which God was pleased to dwell in? Indeed the Lord will make his tabernacle there for ever. The chariot of God is ten thousand fold, thousands are flourishing. The Lord among them was in Sinai, in his holy place. You went up on high, you took captivity captive; you accepted their gifts in order to pitch your tabernacle among men even though they were faithless. Blessed is the Lord our God, blessed is the Lord day after day. The God of our salvation will prosper us.

*

“The grain of incorruption.”

JESUS replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

John 12:23-24.

AS a mother, Mary watched Jesus fall to earth like a grain of wheat, and die in dishonour, mocked and scourged. One can only imagine how this tore at her. Yet God remained for her a lover of mankind, she gave him glory, remaining by the cross when others had fled (Mk 14:50-52), willingly to be identified with him when the others were not (Mk 14:66-72), and present with them in Jerusalem when the holy Spirit descended at Pentecost (Acts 1:14) — the Jewish feast of the spring harvest, the moment when all the early grain would begin to be gathered (cf. Lk 10:2).

Behold, a virgin shall conceive

AND the Lord again spoke to Achaz, saying, Ask for thyself a sign of the Lord thy God, in the depth or in the height.

And Achaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.

And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; is it a little thing for you to contend with men? and how do ye contend against the Lord? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:10-14 (LXX).

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HAIL Mary, Virgin Theotokos, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou gavest birth to the Saviour of our souls.

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Theotokion.

IN purity of the heart’s eye [nous], O Virgin, did Isaiah foretell from afar that thou wouldst give birth to the Maker of creation, reverend, all pure Lady. For thou alone wast revealed from the ages as wholly without blemish. Therefore I beg of thee, cleanse my soul, defiled as it is, and make me a partaker of thy son’s divine splendour, O maiden, and appoint me to a place upon his right hand, when (as it is written) he sitteth to judge the whole world.

At Vespers for the 26th of November. Source.

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Aposticha of Compunction.

WITHOUT ceasing the angels hymn thee, the King and Master; but like unto the Publican I fall before thee, crying: God be merciful to me, and save me!

My soul, thou art immortal, hide not thyself beneath the waves of this life; rouse thyself, and cry unto thy Benefactor: God be merciful to me, and save me!

Martyrs of the Lord, ye hallow every place, and heal every disease: intercede even now with our God, we beg, that our souls be delivered from the snare of the enemy.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Both now and forever, and to the ages of ages.

Theotokion.

HAIL, living palace, spiritual dove, hail city of thy Maker. Hail refuge and tower of defence unto the faithful, protection, and salvation, and redemption of them that have put their trust in thee. Hail bridge that carrieth all across to heaven. Hail all-blessed, holy Lady.

At Vespers for Mondays, Plagal of the Fourth tone (said on Sunday evening). Source.

He does everything to show his burning love

LET this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation,* and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11.

* Literally, ‘emptied himself’.

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An icon depicting Christ and the woman with an issue of blood

An icon depicting Christ and the woman with an issue of blood

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AS an aphrodisiac drives human lovers out of their minds, when it overpowers and gains control over those who take it, in the same way burning love* for mankind emptied out God.

He does not summon the servant he loved to his side while remaining in his own place, but comes down and looks for him; and the rich man shares the poor man’s hovel.

When he comes to him, he reveals through himself the secret of his longing, and seeks the same in return.

He does not abandon one who disowns him.

He is not annoyed at gross ill-treatment.

When he is chased away he waits outside the door.

He does everything to show his burning love.

He even bears it when he is caused pain.

He even dies.

Nicholas Cabasilas (14th century), “Our Life In Christ” VI.12.

* ἔρως, intense longing or burning love (definition in ‘Monastic Wisdom: the Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast’).

This is my translation. The ancient Greek text is here, and a modern Greek translation appeared in the October edition of Πειραϊκή Εκκλησία this year, under the intriguing title Ὁ μανικὸς ἔρως τοῦ Θεοῦ πρὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπο (‘the crazy love of God for mankind’).

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‘Love’ by George Herbert, read by Robert Newton.

You need the sound up for this, but it is well worth it.

Chrysostom: Political government is useless without self-government

ST John Chrysostom, whose feast falls tomorrow, is appealing to Christians in the capital city (Constantinople) to attend the liturgy.

He reminds us that outward government cannot achieve anything good without personal responsibility, and the grace that comes through Christian prayer and assembly.

WHAT then is the government, more dignified than that of the empire, which they who enter here receive?

They are trained to master untoward passions, to rule wicked lusts, to command anger, to regulate ill-will, to subdue vainglory.

The emperor, seated on the imperial throne, and wearing his diadem, is not so dignified as the man who has elevated his own inward right reason to the throne of government over base passions, and by his dominion over them has bound as it were a glorious diadem upon his brow.

An icon of the Blessed Virgin and her child in the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), Constantinople/Istanbul.

An icon of the Blessed Virgin and her child in the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), Constantinople/Istanbul.

For what profit is there, pray, in purple, and raiment wrought with gold, and a jewelled crown, when the soul is in captivity to the passions?

What gain is there in outward freedom when the ruling element within us is reduced to a state of disgraceful and pitiable servitude?

For just as when a fever penetrates deep, and inflames all the inward parts, there is no benefit to be got from the outward surface of the body, although it is not affected in the same way: even so when our soul is violently carried away by the passion within, no outward government, not even the imperial throne, is of any profit, since reason is deposed from the throne of empire by the violent usurpation of the passions, and bows and trembles beneath their insurrectionary movements.

Now to prevent this taking place prophets and apostles concur on all sides in helping us, repressing our passions, and expelling all the ferocity of the irrational element within us, and committing a mode of government to us far more dignified than the empire.

Source.

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Theotokion.

WHAT have I to offer thee, wretched as I am, O Lady? Except springs of tears, and thankful praise for the things done for me. But turn O Lady thy gracious eye upon my weak and lowly soul; scatter the clouds of my passions, and deliver thy servant from the mists that swirl over me.

Or this Cross-Theotokion.

WHEN she that had known no man beheld thee, O Jesus, hanged upon the wood of the Cross, she wept and said: Sweetest child, why dost thou leave me alone, who bare thee, the unapproachable Light of the Father who is from everlasting? Make haste and be glorified, that they who glorify thy divine Passion may themselves attain to divine glory.

At Vespers for today. Source.

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BEFORE Thy cross we bow down in worship,
O our Master,
and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Seek for me, O Master

WE venerate thy immaculate icon, O Good One, as we ask forgiveness for our failings, O Christ God; for with full consent it pleased thee to go up upon the Cross in thy flesh, to deliver what thou hast made from servitude to the enemy; therefore, we cry out gratefully to thee: When thou wast among us to save the world, our Saviour, then didst thou fill all things with joy.

Fridays, Tone 2. Source.

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An icon of Christ the Good Shepherd

An icon of Christ the Good Shepherd

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THOU that didst illumine earthly things by the Cross, and call sinners to repentance, do not separate me from thy flock, O good Shepherd, but seek for me O Master, the one astray, and number me together with thy holy flock, thou who alone art good and lovest mankind.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Both now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion.

O VIRGIN Theotokos, highly glorified, of thee we sing. For through the Cross of thy son, Hades was overthrown, and death hath died utterly, and we though we had died we were raised, and made worthy of life. Paradise we gained, the ancient delight. Therefore in gratitude we glorify Christ our God, mighty and alone rich in mercy.

Fridays, Tone 2. Source.

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THOU Shepherd of Israel, and mine,
The joy and desire of my heart,
For closer communion I pine,
I long to reside where thou art:
The pasture I languish to find
Where all, who their Shepherd obey,
Are fed, on thy bosom reclined,
And screened from the heat of the day.

Ah! show me that happiest place,
The place of thy people’s abode,
Where saints in an ecstasy gaze,
And hang on a crucified God;
Thy love for a sinner declare,
Thy passion and death on the tree:
My spirit to Calvary bear,
To suffer and triumph with thee.

‘Tis there, with the lambs of thy flock,
There only, I covet to rest,
To lie at the foot of the rock,
Or rise to be hid in thy breast;
‘Tis there I would always abide,
And never a moment depart,
Concealed in the cleft of thy side,
Eternally held in thy heart.

Charles Wesley

He has prepared light and glory for those who love him

AND Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Luke 2:34-35

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An icon of Christ carried on a bier to his tomb, from the Stavronikita monastery, Mount Athos.

“Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” An icon of Christ carried on a bier to his tomb, from the Stavronikita monastery, Mount Athos.

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O PANAGIA, our Lady, a sword passed through thy heart, as Simeon said, when thou sawest the one who shone forth from thee hanging, at the hands of the lawless, upon a Cross like a condemned man, drinking wine and gall, thrust in through the side, nailed through the hands and feet; and with a mother’s grief thou didst cry and cry with a loud voice, “What is this new mystery, O my sweetest child?”

At Vespers for October 19. Source.

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BUT we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

1 Corinthians 2:7-9

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    LORD, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles,
and the glory of thy people Israel.

Redeemed with love

SO when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57

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The crucifixion of Jesus, from an icon in the Stavronikita monastery, Mount Athos

The crucifixion of Jesus, from an icon in the Stavronikita monastery, Mount Athos

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CHRISTIAN men truly should bow to the hallowed rood in the name of Jesus. … We ever honour it for the honour of Christ, who redeemed us with love through it, for which we thank him ever in life.

Aelfric of Eynsham (c.955-c.1010).

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BY thy precious Cross, O Christ, thou hast put the devil to shame, and by thy Resurrection, thou hast left the sting of sin without bite, and saved us from the gates of death. Unto thee give we glory, O Only-begotten.

Thursday in Renewal Week (the week after Easter Day). Source.

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SHOUT unto God, all the earth.
O sing praises to his name; give glory to his praise.
Say unto God, How awful are thy works!
Come and behold the works of God;
he is terrible in his counsels beyond the children of men.
(Psalm 65/66)