The Virgin Mary, the vine, and the cluster of grapes

Theotokion.
Feast of the Removal of the Relics of St John Chrysostom (January 27). Source.

O THEOTOKOS, thou art the true vine which put forth the fruit of life. We beg thee: O Lady, with the Hierarch and with all the saints, entreat that our souls may find mercy.

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A cluster of grapes at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. © Rob Farrow, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original.

A cluster of grapes at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. © Rob Farrow, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original.

*

THIS is not a reference to John 15:1-8, where Jesus calls himself the true vine. It is a reference to Num 13:1-25, and the fruitful vines of the land of Canaan. When the Israelites were ready to enter the promised land of Canaan, God told them to send scouts ahead to see whether the land was wholesome or not. A cluster of grapes was cut from the vines growing there as proof of the unusual fertility of the land (Num 13:1-25).

The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” … When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes.

Numbers 13:1, 23

So it is that in the Akathist Hymn, Mary is the true, the genuine vine (as opposed to the vines of Canaan), and Jesus is the cluster of grapes cut from it.

WE sing your praises, crying, ‘Hail! chariot of the spiritual Sun; true Vine that has produced the ripe Cluster of grapes, from which there flows a wine making glad the souls of the faithful, as they give you glory.

Christ is the first fruits of our life to come in the Kingdom of heaven, which is our promised land. From Mary, we gather Christ as proof of God’s love, his great mercy on our souls, and of the blessedness which awaits us across Jordan. From these grapes was trodden out upon the Cross the wine of the Eucharist, “making glad the souls of the faithful”, which we taste in an anticipation of the unending wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9, Lk 22:15-18).

The scouts reported that the fortified cities of the Canaanite people looked strong and alarming. That might, I suppose, be taken to remind us that there is work to be done in battling against the passions and little idols which we want to be cleared from our souls. But we do not need to be in doubt, because this is God’s purpose for each of us and he will see it done.

WHEN you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.

Numbers 33:51-53.

We ask thee, as mother of our God, to give thy peace unto the world

THE lyre of the Apostles, harmonious in all things, and stirred by the Spirit, hath made the rites of the loathsome demons of no effect, and proclaimed the one Lord, it hath redeemed the Gentiles from the deceit of the idols, it hath taught them to worship a consubstantial Trinity.

UNTO thee who dwellest in heaven have I lifted up mine eyes. Behold, as the eyes of servants are directed to the hands of their masters, and as the eyes of a maidservant to the hands of her mistress; so our eyes are directed to the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us. Ps 122:1-2 (LXX)

YE famous martyrs, the earth covered you not, but heaven welcomed you; the gates of Paradise opened unto you, and having passed within, ye rejoice at the tree of life, where ye make intercession with Christ, that he should grant unto us his peace and his great mercy.

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

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An icon of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos

An icon of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (Birthgiver of God)

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Theotokion

O VIRGIN, praised everywhere by all, with the eyes of prophecy Moses saw in thee the mystery of the bush that was not consumed, though it burned: for the fire of the Godhead in thy womb, O pure Lady, did not consume thee: therefore we ask thee, as mother of our God, to give thy peace unto the world.

Vespers for Thursdays, First Tone. Source.

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REJOICE, restoration of humans,
Rejoice, downfall of the demons.

Rejoice, for you trampled on the error of deception,
Rejoice, for you exposed the trickery of idols.

Rejoice, sea that drowned the Pharao of the mind,
Rejoice, rock that gave drink  to those thirsting for life.

Rejoice, pillar of fire, guiding those in darkness,
Rejoice, protection of the world, wider than the cloud.

Rejoice, food that replaced the manna,
Rejoice, minister of holy delight.

Rejoice, Land of promise.
Rejoice, you from whom flow milk and honey.

Rejoice, O Bride Ever-Virgin.

Salutations to the Mother of God. Thanks to Anastasis and OrthodoxChristian.

Thy heart’s eye became a dwelling-place of the Holy Trinity, Romanos

MY heart is established in the Lord, my horn is exalted in my God;

my mouth is enlarged over my enemies, I have rejoiced in thy salvation.

For there is none holy as the Lord, and there is none righteous as our God;

there is none holy besides thee.

1 Reigns (1 Samuel) 2:1-2. The “Song of Hannah” was one of the models used for the Song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55.

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Reading the Akathist

Reading the Akathist. “Thy tongue, Romanos, which we hold in honour, burst forth with streaming springs, sounding divine things as the sound of many waters, and openly testifying to the ineffable birth among us of Christ from the Virgin.”

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Today is the Feast day of St Romanos the Melodist (6th century).

It is appropriate that on the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, we should remember the author of the Salutations of the Akathist to the Mother of God.

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LET US look upon the Holy Virgin,
Who is a lamp that beareth light
Shining upon them that are in darkness.
For kindling the immaterial light,
She leadeth all unto divine knowledge,
By its beam bringing light upon the heart’s eye [ὁ νοῦς]
She who is honoured by this cry:

Hail, ray of the Sun which the heart’s eye may see [νοητός];
Hail, shaft of the never-setting moon.

Hail, lightning-flash that flood souls with light,
Hail, like a clap of thunder thou bringest terror upon the enemy.

Hail, thou makest dawn the Illumination of countless lights,
Hail, thou makest spring up the River of countless streams.

Hail, thou portrayest in shadow the baptismal font.
Hail, thou takest away the filth of sin.

Hail, bath washing clean the conscience.
Hail, wine-bowl stirring in gladness.

Hail, scent of Christ’s fragrance.
Hail, life of mystical feasting.

Hail, Bride unwedded.

Wishing to grant pardon from ancient debts,
the Creditor of all mankind
came of himself to dwell
among them that dwelt far from his pardon.
And having torn up their bond,
This he heareth from all:

Alleluia.

Salutations, from the Akathist to the Mother of God. My non-expert translation, from Analogion. There’s a modern English translation at Anastasis.

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St Romanos the Melodist

St Romanos the Melodist (6th century).

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Canon of the Saints of the Day, Ode 3

O WISE one, thy heart’s eye [nous] became a dwelling-place of the Holy Trinity, Romanos, by true religion welcoming in true knowledge, and pouring forth teachings inspired by God.

Thy tongue, which we hold in honour, burst forth with streaming springs, sounding divine things as the sound of many waters, and openly testifying to the ineffable birth among us of Christ from the Virgin.

Behold, thou hast nurtured our minds abundantly, with wise instructions and delightful melodies, and thou hast filled them with sweetness, O Romanos most godly, with voice most divine.

Theotokion

THOU O Virgin art far above any army:* for thou didst conceive their Creator, the Son of God, in thy womb, and didst bear him, but wast a virgin yet.

Irmos

THERE is none holy as thou art holy, O Lord my God, who liftest up the horn of thy faithful, O Good One, and stablishest us upon the rock of thy confession.

At Matins. My non-expert translation, from Analogion.

* The Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, commemorating a vision of the Mother of God safeguarding Constantinople and all Christians from visible and invisible enemies, falls on the same day.

Archimandrite Ephrem Lash has translated a number of St Romanos’s “chanted sermons” (Kontakia), some of which are online at Anastasis, others collected in a book available from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

The inhabited world crieth out in gladness: Rejoice O Virgin, boast of Christians

An icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God

An icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Note that Christ is holding the soul of his mother much as she held the infant Jesus in her arms.

Today marks the Forefeast of the Dormition of the Mother of God.

The Dormition hymn “In thy glorious remembrance” is linked by a common melody to a hymn from the Feast of the Theophany, the Baptism of Christ, back in January.

The shared themes go beyond music, though. In the Theophany hymn, the “inhabited world” (symbolised by including the Gentiles) welcomes gladly the unapproachable Light, the Sun of Righteousness, which dawned from Mary.

In the Dormition hymn, the “inhabited world” (symbolised by the gathering of the Apostles from Gentile lands) regathers to sing a farewell song to Mary; but it also recognises she will go on “interceding and protecting” for the world, as part of the boundless salvation which God has wrought throughout creation.

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Tone 4 [to the melody] Thou wast revealed today
(at Matins on the Forefeast of the Dormition of the Mother of God)

IN thy glorious remembrance, the inhabited world, mystically descanted by the Spirit as by a flute, crieth out in gladness: Rejoice O Virgin, boast of Christians.

NOW let the heavens be glad, let all creation skip: for behold, the Virgin taketh her departure from the earth, and passeth over to Paradise: she hath been revealed as salvation from God, interceding and protecting.

Wherefore the choral-dance of the Apostles hasted thither, mustered from the ends of the earth; for on a sudden clouds appeared, snatching them up; they stood beside Mother and Son, and cried out: Rejoice, treasury of the Manna of the Covenant, Rejoice O Virgin, boast of Christians.

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An icon of the Baptism of Christ (Theophany)

An icon of the Baptism of Christ (Theophany). “Thou wast revealed today unto the inhabited world, and thy light, O Christ, is signed upon us.”

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“Thou wast revealed today”
(at Matins on the Apodosis of the Theophany, January 14)

THOU wast revealed today unto the inhabited world, and thy light, O Christ, is signed upon us, and in that knowledge we hymn thee: Thou hast come, thou hast been made manifest, the unapproachable Light.

UPON Galilee of the Gentiles, upon the country of Zabulon, and upon the land of Naphthali, as the Prophet spake, Christ the great Light hath shone upon those in darkness: a radiant glow hath appeared, flashing like lightning from Bethlehem: nay rather, from out of Mary, the Lord, the Sun of Righteousness, hath made his beams of light shine upon all the inhabited world.

Wherefore we of Adam that were naked, let us wrap ourselves in him, that we be warm; for as a covering for the naked, and as bright light for them in darkness, thou didst come, thou wast made manifest, the unapproachable Light.

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NB The hymns above are my own decidedly non-expert translations, from the Greek at Analogion (August 14, January 14).

Many of the lines from the Salutations of the Akathist pick up on the themes here. These are just a few of them, gathered from across the twelve sections of the Salutations:

I

HAIL, recalling of fallen Adam,
Hail, redemption of the tears of Eve.

Hail, star that makes visible the Sun,
Hail, womb of divine incarnation.

Hail, you through whom creation is renewed.
Hail, you through whom the Creator becomes a babe.

II

Hail, for ineffably you gave birth to the Light,
Hail, for to none you revealed the mystery.

III

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

V

Hail, mother of the star that never sets,
Hail, radiance of the mystical day.

VI

Hail, food that replaced the manna,
Hail, minister of holy delight.

VII

Hail, for through you transgression has been abolished,
Hail, for through you Paradise has been opened.

XI

Hail, beam of the immaterial sun,
Hail, ray of the moon that never sets.

Hail, lightning flash that shines on souls.
Hail, thunder that terrifies the foe.

Hail, for you make the enlightenment with many lights to dawn.
Hail, for you make the river with many streams to flow.

Hail, Bride without bridegroom!

Translation from Anastasis, by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash.

An everlasting covenant set forth before the Lord

Another personal exploration of Biblical allusions to be found in the Canon of the Akathist to the Mother of God.

This time, I’ve been studying the background to

HAIL, living Table that held the Bread of Life.

As always, I find that praises of the Panagia point to Christ.

 

Icon of the Theotokos "Odigitria"

Icon of the Theotokos "Odigitria". As she directs us to Christ, he also shows us his mother with a hand of blessing.

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A Table Crowned with Gold

Throughout Hebrews 7-10, we are shown that the Temple in Jerusalem was a copy of a heavenly sanctuary ( Heb 8:5; Exodus 25:8-9, 40; 26:30).

The copy was not exact. Foodstuffs and animals were sacrificed in the earthly sanctuary by the sons of Aaron, but Christ is the High Priest and sacrifice of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb 9:11-14).

In that earthly copy, stood a wooden table richly laid and crowned with gold, on which twelve loaves of bread (weekly renewed) were permanently set before God, as a sacrificial memorial or oblation before him.

These bread cakes were called ἄρτοι ἐνώπιοι, literally “face-to-face bread”, “bread of personal presence”.

MAKE a table of acacia wood — two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold and make a gold molding around it.  […] And make its plates and dishes of pure gold, as well as its pitchers and bowls for the pouring out of offerings. Put the bread of the Presence [ἄρτους ἐνωπίους] on this table to be before me at all times.

Exodus 25:23-30 (NIV); Heb 9:2 (KJV).

It is to this magnificent table in the Temple, made of precious wood, crowned with gold, and bearing bread of oblation, that the Akathist compares the Panagia.

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A Memorial Set Before the Lord

This “bread of the Presence” was regarded as among the most significant of all sacrifices, and was also called both a “everlasting covenant” (διαθήκην αἰώνιον) and a sacrificial “memorial” or “remembrance” (ἄρτοι εἰς ἀνάμνησιν).

AND ye shall take fine flour, and make of it twelve loaves; each loaf shall be of two tenth parts. And ye shall put them in two rows, each row containing six loaves, on the pure table before the Lord.

And ye shall put on each row pure frankincense and salt; and these things shall be for loaves for a memorial, set forth before the Lord. On the sabbath-day they shall be set forth before the Lord continually before the children of Israel, for an everlasting covenant.

Leviticus 24:5-9 (LXX).

This same idea of bread “for a sacrificial memorial” (ἄρτοι εἰς ἀνάμνησιν) was employed by Jesus at the Last Supper, when he said:

TAKE, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance [εἰς ἀνάμνησιν] of me.

1 Cor 11:24 (KJV).

If Mary is the Table, then of course Christ is the bread of the Presence that lay upon the lap of the Panagia, as upon that Table of precious wood and gold.

He is the perpetual unfading memorial offering, set forth before God and in the presence the Church — set forth for a New and everlasting Covenant.

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An Oblation Offered Up from Birth

One key feature of Orthodox churches is the Table of the Prothesis, where the bread to be consecrated later on in the Eucharist stands from the beginning of the service. St Nicholas Cabasilas (14th century) wrote,

THE ceremonies which precede the act of sacrifice symbolize the events which occurred before the death of Christ: his coming on earth, his first appearance, and his perfect manifestation… [T]he psalmody, as well as the opening chants, and before them all that is done at the preparation [prothesis] of the offerings, symbolize the first period of the scheme of redemption. […]

AS long as it remains in the prothesis the bread thus separated from the rest is still only bread. But it has acquired a new characteristic — it is dedicated to God; it has become an offering, since it represents our Lord during the first phase of his life on earth, when he became an oblation. Now this happened at the moment of his birth, as has been said, for, as the first-born, he was offered up from birth, in accordance with the Law.

Commentary on the Divine Liturgy §1.

So the table of Prothesis recalls to us the Blessed Virgin, and the beginning of Christ’s life as an infant in her arms.

Indeed, Cabasilas makes clear that it signifies not just Christ’s development in her womb, but also his birth, his nursing, and his Presentation in the Temple: Mary’s own deeply personal offering, most poignantly so when she gave him as an oblation, in the Temple itself, into the arms of Symeon (Luke 2:22-39)..

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Bread of the Presence

The Temple’s rites, sacrifices and furnishings, for all their divine ordinance and glory, were only dumb shadows of things yet to come. But in the sacred rites of the Divine Liturgy, we entertain invisibly among us the living realities themselves.

LET all mortal flesh fall silent, and stand with fear and trembling; be mindful in himself of nothing of this earth, for the King of kings, the Lord of lords, cometh forth to be an offering, and to give to all the faithful His own self for heavenly food.

And before him tread choirs of angels, with every principality and power; the Cherubim with countless eyes, the six-winged Seraphim, veil their faces to the presence, and their voices rise in the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Liturgy of St Basil.

In the Table of Prothesis, and the Table in the sanctuary in Jerusalem on which the oblation of the bread of the Presence was set, we see the invisible mystery of the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

She is indeed “the living Table that held the Bread of Life”.

She who yielded up to Symeon her firstborn son, so that he might give himself for the life of the world, stands now for ever in a heavenly sanctuary.

We stand beside her, and among the heavenly powers, and receive the bread of the Presence which she freely offered up from birth, the priceless offering which Christ our High Priest sacrificed in his blood once for all upon the altar of the Cross.

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YOUR Offspring, O Virgin, has truly made you dwell in the Holy of Holies as shining Lampstand of the immaterial fire, golden Censer of the divine coal, Jar and Rod and Tablet written by God, holy Ark and Table of the bread of life.

IN giving birth you retained your virginity; in falling asleep, O Mother of God, you did not abandon the world. You passed over into life, you, the Mother of life; and by your prayers you deliver our souls from death.

Canon for the Dormition; Apolytikion at Vespers, Feast of the Dormition.

Living water (3): a Covenant founded upon better promises

I’ve been exploring the fascinating Biblical allusions to be found in the Canon of the Akathist. The line I’m looking at now is

HAIL, Sovereign Lady, never failing spring of the living Water.

This has proved such a rich source of reflection for me, that I have made it into three posts. This is the third and last of them.

An icon of Jesus as the living bread

An icon of Jesus as the living bread

In the first post, we saw that the “living water” is a reference to the rock cloven in two by Moses during the Exodus. In the second post, we found however that this living water belongs to a New Covenant, better than the Covenant of Moses, because the living water of Christ never fails.

Just as the living water does not fail, so too the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that the sacrifice of Christ, unlike the sacrifices of the Temple, does not have to be renewed, because it is “founded upon better promises” (Heb 9:23-26).

St John Chrysostom commented on this passage,

HE is our High Priest, who offered the sacrifice that cleanses us. That we offer now also, which was then offered, which cannot be exhausted.

Homily XVII On Hebrews (Heb 9:24-26). Translation from CCEL.

And St Nicholas Cabasilas wrote,

THE Lamb of God was sacrificed once only, for all time

[I]t is not necessary that there should be numerous oblations of the Lord’s body. Since the sacrifice consists, not in the real and bloody immolation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb, it is obvious the the transformation takes place without the bloody immolation.

Thus, though that which is changed is many, and the transformation takes place many times, yet nothing prevents the reality into which it is transformed from being one and the same thing always — a single Body, and the unique sacrifice of that Body.

Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, §32. Translation by J.M. Hussey and P. McNulty.

The theme of something unfailing, something inexhaustible, that does not have to be repeated because it is “the same yesterday, today and forever”, lies at the heart of the New Covenant.

So we can see that in calling out to the Panagia as “never-failing spring of the living Water”, we are touching on truly profound mysteries of the Christian faith and the Divine Liturgy.

This becomes even clearer when we look upon the Revelation of St John as a vision of the Divine Liturgy (do listen to this truly absorbing lecture, via ‘Sowing Seeds of Orthodoxy’, which explains the background).

Considering these lines from the Revelation with this in mind, we complete our journey from the Akathist and the icon of the Mother of God, by finding ourselves before the Royal Doors.

THEY shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

Rev 7:16-17, cf. 22:1-3.

Living water (2): he that believeth shall never thirst

I’ve been exploring the fascinating Biblical allusions to be found in the Canon of the Akathist. The line I’m looking at now is

HAIL, Sovereign Lady, never failing spring of the living Water.

This has proved such a rich source of reflection for me, that I have made it into three posts. This is the second of them.

Christ talking to St Photini (the woman of Samaria)

Christ talking to St Photini (the woman of Samaria)

In the previous post, we saw that the “living water” is a reference to the rock cloven in two by Moses during the Exodus, yielding water for the Israelites alongside the manna, their bread from heaven.

In the life of Christ, the Exodus is being retrodden, we said, and the Covenant is being rewritten. And as we look further into the “living water”, we find that this fresh Covenant is better than the Covenant of Moses (see Jer 31:31-34), because it does not fade or need renewal.

In Sirach 24, we find Divine Wisdom saying:

COME unto me, all ye that be desirous of me, and fill yourselves with my fruits. For my memorial is sweeter than honey, and mine inheritance than the honeycomb. They that eat me shall yet be hungry, and they that drink me shall yet be thirsty.

Sirach 24:19-21.

Such is divine Wisdom — as mediated to us through the Covenant with Moses, that is.

ALL these things are the book of the covenant of the most high God, even the law which Moses commanded for an heritage unto the congregations of Jacob.

Sirach 24:22-23.

But Christ the incarnate Wisdom indicates that the Covenant delivered to Jacob has been bettered.

The woman at the well (known to the Orthodox tradition as Photini) to whom Jesus offers “living water” says,

ART thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

John 4:14.

The Old Covenant, symbolised by Jacob, is marked by the need for constant renewal.

But the living water does not have to be renewed, just as the bread of heaven does not have to be renewed.

AND Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

John 6:35.

The living water and the heavenly bread of Christ are not constantly renewed, because the Covenant of Christ is superior — his mercy, his forgiveness and all his gifts are utterly inexhaustible.

In the final post, we’ll look at how this mystery of the Panagia leads into the Divine Liturgy.

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YOU hold the bowl of inexhaustible gifts, grant that I may draw water for the forgiveness of sins; for I am afflicted with thirst, O only compassionate and pitying.

Exapostilarion on the Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost. Translation from Anastasis.