Burst into song, shout for joy, be glad O Church of Christ

“Sing, O barren woman.”
Isaiah 55:1-3.

“SING, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.

This passage is quoted by St Paul, Gal 4:21-31, in his proof from Scripture that Gentiles are children of Abraham through baptism and the Spirit.

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“Children were born to thee by water and Spirit.”
At Matins on January 14. Source.

HE granteth power unto our rulers, and lifteth up the heads of his valiant ones, he is brought forth from a virgin, yet the Lord came to baptism; therefore let us cry out, ye faithful: There is none holy as our God, and there is none righteous besides thee, O Lord.*

* This refrain comes from the Song of Hannah (1 Kgs[1 Sam]2:1-10 LXX), which is the song of a barren woman who has been granted a child by God. It is one of the models for the Song of the Virgin Mary, the ‘Magnificat’.

BE glad O Church of Christ, who before wast barren, and today hath marvellously brought forth children by water and Spirit (Jn 3:3-5): for sons were born to thee, crying out in faith: There is none holy as our God, and there is none righteous except thou, O Lord.

IN a loud voice, the Forerunner crieth out in the wilderness: Make ready the ways of Christ, and finish* the straight paths of God, crying out in faith: There is none holy as our God, and there is none righteous except thou, O Lord.

*ἀπεργάσασθε is not the word used in the Septuagint or the Gospels, which is ποιεῖτε. It strengthens the idea of finishing a job, rounding it off, bringing it to completion. Compare Jesus’s words when he returns from fasting for forty days: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15).

*

“Make disciples of all nations.”
Matthew 28:18-20.

THEN Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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The Song of the Virgin Mary.

MY soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Greater in honour than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word. Truly the Theotokos, we magnify thee.

For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden. Refrain.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm, he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.

The king is here, the president of the games

THEREFORE, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2.

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WE who stand as mystical images of the Cherubim,
and sing unto the Life-Giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn,
let us now lay aside all earthly cares
that we may receive the King of all,
attended beyond our sight by angel hosts.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

**

At Vespers for January 13. Source.

HOLY Fathers, who study day and night in the law of the Lord (Ps 1:2), ye were made worthy to be planted together with the tree of life, and your fruit hath blossomed with the laurels of contest. Having boldness towards God (Acts 4:29-31; Eph 3:12), the President of these games, ask also favour for us, and the great mercy.

TODAY creation is lightened, today all things are gladdened, things in heaven with things in earth (Col 1:20; Eph 1:10; Phil 2:10; Ps 112[113]:5-8). Angels and men mingle together, for where there is the presence (παρουσία) of the King, there his hosts are near at hand. Let us run now to the Jordan, let us all see John, how he baptised the head that is not made by hand, and is without sin. So let us cry out with one voice, swelling the Apostolic song: ‘The grace of God, which is saving health for all men is made visible, shining out (cf. Ps 67:2) upon the faithful and granting unto them the great mercy’.

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Background Notes

Training for life’s athletics contest.

ONE of the chief metaphors for the Christian life used in the New Testament is an athletic metaphor, taken from 1st century Greco-Roman sports. These were a common sight. Although not part of Jewish culture, cities such as Sepphoris (Zippori) about five miles from Nazareth, and Tiberias, the capital of Galilee, were to a significant degree Hellenistic in culture and governed under Roman law, and they had sports arenas and open air theatres. Sports included various forms of running, jumping, throwing, and wrestling.

In Heb 12:1-2, the “cloud of witnesses” is a reference to a sports crowd. The image is of the saints of former ages cheering us on, while we (having shed the excess bodyweight of the passions, and clothed ourselves in something better than a ragged garment of skins) run for the line, our eyes fixed on Jesus and the joys of victory. The lesson drawn for us by St Paul is that Christianity, like athletics, requires years of hard training to maintain ideal weight and achieve competitive levels of skill and fitness, but that the rewards make it all worthwhile. The athletic metaphor occurs also in 1 Cor 9:24-27, Gal 2:2, Gal 5:7, and 2 Tim 4:7.

The President of the Games.

The reference to God as the President of the Games of life is a nice touch. In 12 BC the Olympic Games, held in Greece and dedicated to the god Zeus, and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, were rescued by ‘generous’ – out of the public purse, naturally – benefactions from none other than King Herod the Great, who became a lifetime President. We can see God as President of the Games not in the sense of being an umpire with beetling brows, but in the sense of being the generous sponsor who saved human life from spiritual bankruptcy and useless decay, supplying at incalculable personal cost (cf. 2 Cor 8:9) a games in which we can still strive for the  laurel crown that never fades (1 Cor 9:25).

The visit of the Emperor.

THE word παρουσία (parousía) is often translated as ‘presence’, but it also has a technical meaning, someone’s personal, bodily presence (cf. ‘put in an appearance’), typically in a court of law to resolve a dispute. In particular, it was used of the arrival and subsequent visit of a Roman Emperor in person at a city of his Empire, commemorated on coins and statues with the Latin word Adventus and the Greek Epiphaneia. The Baptism of Christ is portrayed here as the heavenly Emperor personally visiting his people, surrounded by his impressive army. The liturgy’s emphasis on God being visible and physically present is central to the metaphor of an Imperial visit.

Strength and grace are given invisibly by Christ’s baptism in the Jordan

STRENGTH against enemies, O Word, didst thou give by thy Baptism unto us who out of heartfelt love (πόθος) revere thy saving governance (οίκονομία), which willingly thou didst bring to completion, delivering mortals from the curse which had spread from Eden; for that we sing: Blessed is he who is made visible, our God glory be to thee.

They that once had garments of skins because of Adam, putting them on in the fall, today are putting them off in the running waters of the Jordan, in the Baptism of the Lord; speaking divine things with angels, unto him let us cry out: Blessed is he who is made visible, our God glory be to thee.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the holy Spirit
both now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.

LET us, O ye faithful, raise our hymn to the greatness of God’s beneficence towards us; for upon our transgression, he became man and carried out our thorough cleansing in the Jordan, who alone is clean and without stain, sanctifying me and the waters, and breaking the heads of the dragons in the water. Let us therefore draw water with gladness, brethren; for to those who draw it trustingly, the grace of the Spirit is given invisibly from Christ, who is God and the Saviour of our souls.

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Apolytikion.

WHEN thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest;
for the voice of the Begetter was bearing witness
before thee, naming thee beloved Son,
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
was confirming the certainty of the spoken word*.
O Christ God, who appeared and lighted the world,
glory be to thee.

In the video, after the singing of the hymn above, Archimandrite Timotheos Kilifis gives a short summary of the feast. He explains that the baptismal “Feast of Lights” is also called Theophany (showing God) and Epiphany (showing forth) because it is the manifestation of the light of the Blessed Trinity, the Father from heaven, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the Son in the form of a servant, who is baptized by John the Baptist.

At Vespers for January 12. Source.

‘While you are still speaking, I will say, Here I am’

LAST Sunday was the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), the Baptism of Christ.

“He is come unto Jordan.”
At Vespers for January 12. Source.

YE faithful, with spiritual mind all cleansed let us sing a hymn of the after-feast to the Baptism of Christ: for already he is come unto Jordan in the flesh, who existeth in the nature of the Godhead together with the Father and the Spirit, crying out to John: Come, Baptist, baptize me; for I wish to wash the nature of men clean from its soils, because I love mankind.

*

“The Invisible shines forth”
St Athanasius of Alexandria, Against the Arians I 63. Source.

WHEN then men in infirmity invoke Him, when in persecution they ask help, when under injuries they pray, then the Invisible, being a lover of man, shines forth upon them with His beneficence, which He exercises through and in His proper Word.

And forthwith the divine manifestation is made to every one according to his need, and is made to the weak health (Ps 6:2), and to the persecuted a ‘refuge’ (Ps 45[46]:1) and ‘house of defence;’ (Ps 30[31]:2) and to the injured He says, ‘While thou speakest I will say, Here I am.’ (Is 58:9-10)

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An icon of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.

An icon of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.

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“Here am I.”
Isaiah 58:4-11 (NIV).

YOUR fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

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“Blessed art thou who wast made visible”
At Vespers for January 12. Source.

NOW let us like prophets cry out unto the Lord: Thou hast shewn thyself unto us, our Saviour and Creator; while in the Jordan thou brakest the mouths of the dragons, as thou art compassionate, and didst lighten the blind with thy light. Blessed art thou who wast made visible, our God glory be to thee.

*

Summary

IN the Baptism of Christ, we see God living by his own principles. When we reject him, he does not leave us to corrupt away, playing by the rule book. He makes us his own flesh and blood in the Incarnation, and the Invisible having become the visible, he says on Jordan’s bank, Here am I.

Then in tender compassion, he clothes our spiritual minds in his sunlight, and nourishes us with his own body, setting us free from the oppressive passions, breaking the heads of the ‘dragons’.

And all this he does not after we have done the same for our fellow men (as Isaiah suggests), but before, “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:6-9). And afterwards, the holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness to fast forty days truly acceptable to his Father.

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A Little Music

Johannes Brahms’s Intermezzo Op. 117 No. 1 in E Flat Major was inspired by an obscure song of Scottish origin. Brahms called his Intermezzo “a lullaby to my sorrows”, and added these lines from the song:

Sleep softly my child, sleep softly and well!
It hurts my heart to see you weeping.

Here, the Intermezzo is played by Vassily Primakov (see bio).

Johannes Brahms, Intermezzo Op. 117 No. 1 in E Flat.

Thou sparest all: for they are thine, O lover of souls

BUT thou hast mercy upon all; for thou canst do all things, and winkest at the sins of men, because they should amend. For thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made: for never wouldest thou have made any thing, if thou hadst hated it. And how could any thing have endured, if it had not been thy will? or been preserved, if not called by thee? But thou sparest all: for they are thine, O Lord, thou lover of souls.

Wisdom 11:23-26.

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An icon of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.

An icon of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.

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O LORD, though as man thou didst stand beside John in the Jordan, thou didst not leave the throne where thou sittest together with the Father; and being baptized for our sake, thou hast delivered the world from the bondage of the enemy*, for thou art full of compassion, and lovest mankind.

* τοῦ ἀλλοτρίου, lit. ‘of what is alien or strange’. The term is often used to mean the devil, but in the context of these prayers about corruption it could have its more literal meaning, of that which is contrary to man’s nature as God intended it. Thus Rom 8:21, “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”.

O Lord, though as man thou didst clothe thyself in the streams of Jordan (cf. Gal 3:27), it was testified of thee from on high by the descent of the Spirit, and the voice of the Father testified, that thou art Son (Mk 1:9-11); nevertheless, be shewn, and grant incorruption to our souls.

O Lord, begotten unchanging from the Father before the ages, thou didst come in these latter times (Heb 1:1-2) and take the form of a servant (Phil 2:7), and as Creator renew thine image (1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:9-11); for when thou wast baptized thou didst grant incorruption to our souls.

A light so that none should remain in darkness

THOU didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.

Psalm 73[74]:13.

THE sea saw and fled: Jordan was turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, and the hills like lambs. What ailed thee, O sea, that thou fleddest? and thou Jordan, that thou wast turned back? Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams, and ye hills, like lambs? The earth trembled at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.

Psalm 113[114]:3-6.

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O MY Jesus, who art the illuminating light that is Light itself, and lightens men (Jn 1:9), widely didst thou shine light consubstantial with thy Father, when thou wast baptized in the running streams of the Jordan; in it all creation is filled with light, and unto thee, O Christ, doth she cry: Blessed art thou our God who appeareth, glory be to thee.

The River Severn in mist, near Worcester. © Philip Halling, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original.

The River Severn in mist, near Worcester. © Philip Halling, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original.

The sea saw and fled: Jordan was turned back.

SO that we may be filled with divine glory through the flesh, O come ye spiritually, let us cleanse the senses and, beholding Christ baptized in the flesh and break the head of the deceiver (Ps 73[74]:13; Is 27:1), let us as we sing praises cry out to him: Blessed art thou our God who appeareth, glory be to thee.

What ailed thee, O sea, that thou fleddest? and thou Jordan, that thou wast turned back?

In the Jordan river, O my Jesus, in thy tender pity thou gavest us, who burn with thirst for thee, living streams for drink, O thou that lovest mankind; therefore, O Christ, being given our drink from thy immortal, light-bearing* fount, we sing: Blessed art thou our God who appeareth, glory be to thee.

* The word used here, φώσφορος, was conventionally used of Venus, the morning star. See 2 Pt 1:19 and Rev 22:16.

At Vespers for January 8. Source.

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THEN Jesus cried out, When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

John 12:44-46.

Sanctify me and the waters, O Saviour

Anagrammatismos for the Theophany.
Sung by Capella Romana.

*

HAVING taken the form of a servant, thou didst come unto the voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’, asking for baptism, O Lord who knowest no sin. The waters saw thee, and were afraid. The Forerunner trembled, and crying out he said: How shall the lampstand kindle the light? How shall the slave lay his hand upon the Master? Sanctify me and the waters, O Saviour that takest away the sin of the world.

Greater Blessing of Waters, January 6. This translation is based on the prayer as given on Analogion. The text on the recording is slightly different.

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EPIPHANY is the revelation of God in the person of Christ. A revelation of God himself, which means first and foremost true religion. God is revealed to man, not as terrfying and abominable, as the pagans believed, or as a hard and unyielding judge, as some Jewish circles used to imagine. The God who is shown by Christ is not a cold, rationalistic explanation for the universe as the philosophers think, nor a guide for one people only on their journey, as Israel believes.

God is revealed by his Epiphany as an affectionate Father of all men, regardless of racial, political, cultural or even religious tradition. God is the Father of men not only as Creator, but chiefly as Father of Christ, the firstborn elder brother of us all. And God reveals this new relationship with the man God not through thunder and smokes, as at one time on Sinai, but by the lowly human form of Christ. […]

Those who rush to see darkness around them, and to face human existence in a world without meaning, have only to remember this love for mankind, as shown by the Epiphany of the Word. They will discover then how God the Father is to be found always near us, at our side, even when we have abandoned him — especially then! So the true religion becomes a source of hope for man, a light for his daily journey in the shadow of death and sin.

Basil P. Stogiannos, “The Church in History and the Present Day” (Βασ. Π. Στογιάννος, «Η Εκκλησία στην ιστορία και το παρόν»), 1982. Source. This is my own amateur translation.