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.


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.


“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.


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”).


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



“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).

Christ is baptized, robed with water and light

BLESS the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou hast clothed thyself with praise and honour: who dost robe thyself with light as with a garment; spreading out the heaven as a curtain. Who covers his chambers with waters; who makes the clouds his chariot; who walks on the wings of the wind. Who makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire. Who establishes the earth on her sure foundation: it shall not be moved for ever. The deep, as it were a garment, is his covering: the waters shall stand on the hills.

Psalm 103[104]:1-6.


A cloud inversion over Cadair Idris near the west coast of Wales. © Nigel Brown, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original.

‘Who robes himself with light as with a garment, who covers his chambers with waters; who makes the clouds his chariot; who walks on the wings of the wind.’ A cloud inversion over Cadair Idris near the west coast of Wales. © Nigel Brown, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original.


LET not mortal man boast in his wisdom and wealth, but in the faith of the Lord, crying out with orthodox belief to Christ God, and ever singing: Establish me upon the rock of thy commandments, O Master.

He that before the ages was enthroned together with the Father and the Spirit, and now in these last times is incarnate of the Virgin, hath come to baptism, holding out incorruption to all by the divine washing.

Wishing to bury our sins in the waters, in his tender-hearted mercy Christ is walking ahead in the running streams of the Jordan, and through baptism is refashioning us, who were corrupting away.

Wishing to strip a most shameful nakedness from Adam our forefather, thou dost clothe thyself in the streams of Jordan, O Christ, who cover thy chambers with waters, who alone art all mercy.


These prayers are directed to be sung to the melody of this hymn:

LET us cry out to Christ God, who was begotten ineffably before the ages of the Father, and in these last times was incarnate from the Virgin without seed: Holy art thou O Lord, that lifteth up our horn.


Franz Liszt, Consolation No. 3, in D Flat.
Valentina Lisitsa.

There grows the flower of peace

ON December 29, we remember the children of Bethlehem and its environs, murdered on the orders of King Herod in the belief that the ‘king of the Jews’ sought by the three Persian astrologers would be among them.

It was as a part of this purge that the priest Zacharias was killed in the Temple precincts (Mt 23:35), because he would not reveal where he had hidden his infant son John (later called ‘the Baptist’), who was also Jesus’s cousin.

Many associate this sad event with the taking of unborn life today (see my Pro-Life Page), and not forgetting the ‘born alive’ children whom some still believe should be left to die.


Dried flowers, © Manfred Brückels, Wikimedia Commons.

“There grows the flower of peace, / The rose that cannot wither, / Thy fortress, and thy ease.” © Manfred Brückels, Wikimedia Commons.


TODAY were the infants brought together before Christ, and mystically offered as unblemished sacrifices by the sword, like whole burnt offerings in fire; and they have won divine palms of victory.



BROTHERS, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Therefore encourage each other with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.



MY soul, there is a country
Far beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars.

There above noise, and danger,
Sweet peace sits, crown’d with smiles;
And one born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.

He is thy gracious friend,
And (O my soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake.

If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flower of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.

Leave then thy foolish ranges;
For none can thee secure,
But one who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

Henry Rice Vaughan (1621-1695).


Cradle song

Berceuse (cradle song) in D Flat, by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849).
Played by Valentina Lisitsa.


A STRANGE mystery I see, and a wondrous thing! I see heaven, and it is a cave, the throne of cherubim, and it is the Virgin, I see the cradle, and it is the place where Christ God, who cannot be contained in any place, lays his head. This is he whom we magnify, singing hymns of praise.


THY birth O Christ our God, made the light of knowledge dawn upon the world. For those who gave worship to the star were taught by means of a star to worship thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know in thee the Daystar from on high. O Lord, glory be to thee.

On December 26, the Synaxis of the Mother of God.