Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Funeral Hymns of St. John of Damascus

Icon of Christ being prepared for burial (taken from: http://www.eikastikon.gr/xristianika/kris/index_2.html)

Some of the most beautiful hymns of the funeral service were written by St. John of Damascus, who celebrates tomorrow (December 4th). The story behind them, and the texts themselves are very moving:

St. John was once a powerful and wise member of the royal court. He however abandoned all this and became a monk. "Only once did John disobey the instructions that were his rule of life in the monastery. A fellow monk had lost his brother and could not be consoled. Knowing of John's ability to compose music and poetry, he begged him to write a funeral hymn for his dead brother. Because his elder had left the monastery for a few days, John refused, for he had agreed to do nothing without the elder's direction and consent. Finally, however, he felt so sorry for the bereaved monk that he consented, and wrote one of his most beautiful hymns--which has become part of the Orthodox funeral service.

The monk was very moved by the lovely hymn and thanked John for helping him in his grief. But when the elder returned and heard of John's deed, he wanted nothing more to do with him for he had disobeyed his rule. John begged the elder to forgive him, but to no avail. The other monks also petitioned the older monk to take him back, even if it meant giving John a penance. The elder finally relented. He gave him the worst job in the monastery, and also forbid him to write any more hymns. John accepted gratefully and willingly carried out all his duties.

Icon of the Theotokos "Of the Three Hands" through which St. John of Damascus was healed (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
  
One night the elder had a vision. The mother of God appeared to him in a dream and said: "Why have you sealed the spring of fresh water for which the whole world is thirsty? Let it pour freely and comfort those in need. Let John praise God through his songs." The elder then realized that he had dealt wrongly with John and hurried to him, asking forgiveness for his sternness and bluntness. He knelt and bowed low before John to beg his pardon. The talent which had been given to John could now be used to the glory of God." (http://www.stjohnofdamascus.org/home22)
  
Icon of St. John of Damascus by Photi Kontouglou (Icons courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
  
The hymns by St. John of Damascus, taken from http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/funeral2:

Tone I
Where is the pleasure in life which is unmixed with sorrow? Where the glory which on earth has stood firm and unchanged? All things are weaker than shadow, all more illusive than dreams; comes one fell stroke, and Death in turn, prevails over all these vanities. Wherefore in the Light, O Christ, of Your countenance, the sweetness of Your beauty, to him (her) whom You have chosen grant repose, for You are the Friend of Mankind.

Tone 2
Like a blossom that wastes away, and like a dream that passes and is gone, so is every mortal into dust resolved; but again, when the trumpet sounds its call, as though at a quaking of the earth, all the dead shall arise and go forth to meet You, O Christ our God: on that day, O Lord, for him (her) whom You have withdrawn from among us appoint a place in the tentings of Your Saints;yea, for the spirit of Your servant, O Christ.

Another in Tone 2
Alas! What an agony the soul endures when from the body it is parting; how many are her tears for weeping, but there is none that will show compassion: unto the angels she turns with downcast eyes; useless are her supplications; and unto men she extends her imploring hands, but finds none to bring her rescue. Thus, my beloved brethren, let us all ponder well how brief is the span of our life; and peaceful rest for him (her) that now is gone, let us ask of Christ, and also His abundant mercy for our souls.

Tone 3
Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come; our wealth is with us no longer. How can our glory go with us? For when death has come all these things are vanished clean away. Wherefore to Christ the Immortal King let us cry, "To him (her) that has departed grant repose where a home is prepared for all those whose hearts You have filled with gladness."

Tone 4
Terror truly past compare is by the mystery of death inspired; now the soul and the body part, disjoined by resistless might, and their concord is broken; and the bond of nature which made them live and grow as one, now by the edict of God is rest in twain. Wherefore now we implore Your aid grant that Your servant now gone to rest where the just that are Yours abide, Life-bestower and Friend of Mankind.

Tone 4
Where is now our affection for earthly things? Where is now the alluring pomp of transient questing? Where is now our gold, and our silver? Where is now the surging crowd of domestics, and their busy cries? All is dust, all is ashes, all is shadow. Wherefore draw near that we may cry to our immortal King, "Lord, Your everlasting blessings vouchsafe unto him (her) that now has gone away. bringing him (her) to repose in that blessedness which never grows old."
  
Icon of St. Sisoes the Great Ascetic before the tomb of Alexander the Great (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
  
Tone 5
I Called to mind the Prophet who shouted, "I am but earth and ash." And once again I looked with attention on the tombs, and I saw the bones therein which of flesh were naked; and I said, "Which indeed is he that is king? Or which is soldier? Which is the wealthy, which the needy? Which the righteous, or which the sinner?" But to Your servant, O Lord, grant that with the righteous he (she) may repose.

Tone 6
My beginning and foundation was the form;bestowing Word of Your commandment; for it pleased You to make me by compounding visible and invisible nature into a living thing. out of earth was my body formed and made, but a soul You gave me by the Divine and Life-creating In; breathing. Wherefore, O Christ, to Your servant in the land of the living, in the courts of the righteous, do You grant repose.

Tone 7
Bring to his (her) rest, O our Savior, You giver of life, our brother (sister) whom You have withdrawn from this transient world, for he (she) lifts up his (her) voice to cry: "Glory to You."

Another in Tone 7
When in Your own image and likeness You in the beginning did create and fashion man, You gave him a home in Paradise, and made him the chief of your creation. But by the devil's envy, alas, beguiled to eat the fruit forbidden, transgressor then of Your commandments he became; wherefore back to earth, from which he first was taken, You did sentence him to return again, O Lord, and to pray You to give him rest.

Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Weep, and with tears lament when with understanding I think on death, and see how in the graves there sleeps the beauty which once for us was fashioned in the image of God, but now is shapeless, ignoble, and bare of all the graces. O how strange a thing; what is this mystery which concerns us humans? Why were we given up to decay? And why to death united in wedlock? Truly, as it is written, these things come to pass by ordinance of God, Who to him (her) now gone gives rest

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
The death which You have endured, O Lord, is become the harbinger of deathlessness; if You had not been laid in Your tomb, then would not the gates of Paradise have been opened;wherefore to him (her) now gone from us give rest, for You are the Friend of Mankind.

Both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Virgin chaste and holy, Gateway of the Word, Mother of our God, make supplication that his (her) soul find mercy.
  

Icon of the Holy Resurrection of Christ, Christ descending to Hades to raise the dead (Icon courtesy of http://www.eikonografos.com/ used with permission)

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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