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”.

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“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.

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“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).

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.

A Prayer on the Feast of the Theophany of Christ

O CHRIST, the true light that lighteth and halloweth every man that cometh into the world (Jn 1:9), let the light of thy countenance be signed upon us (Ps 4:6 LXX), that in it we might see the light unapproachable (1 Tim 6:16), and direct our steps to the doing of thy commandments (cf. Ps 118[119]:5), at the intercessions of thy wholly undefiled Mother, and of all thy saints. Amen.

Final blessing at the First Hour, for the Feast of the Theophany of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Source.

An icon of the baptism of Christ in the Jordan river.

An icon of the baptism of Christ in the Jordan river.

All within and all around becomes light

GENTLENESS and radiance flow from him. … He is weak, like a spider’s web, and yet all-powerful.

He receives such a deluge of grace that his house of clay is overwhelmed. His feeble body can no longer endure; he overflows, is set on fire, and all within him and round him becomes light.

Vasileios, Abbot of the Iveron, speaking of a monk he knows.

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Elder Joseph Vatopaidinos

“Gentleness and radiance flow from him.” Elder Joseph, Abbot of the Vatopaidi (+2009).

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Theotokion

THOU cloud around the sun of the heart’s eyes, thou lampstand of shining gold for the divine brightness, spotless Lady, unstained, blameless in all things: I beseech thee, shine upon my darkened soul, blinded by the passions, with a shaft of dispassion, wash my defiled heart clean with streams of compunction and tears of repentance, and cleanse me of soiling, making petition for me with Christ our God, that he grant unto me, who with true devotion worship thine all holy son, forgiveness for my failings.

Matins, October 12. Source.