Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Akathist: Threnody of the Theotokos

An akathist is really a metrical homily; the most famous are by that great sainted deacon, Romanos the Melodist. In the Byzantine Liturgy, only the first Kontakion and Oikos are now sung, apart from the Akathist, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, done as a Lenten devotion; but in private prayer they are often used. I have transcribed this extract, the Threnody of the Theotokos, as given in one of the two great Marian collections by Fr Gambero; it is instructive to compare it to its Western equivalent, the Stabat Mater, one of my favourite hymns. (Similarly, the icon pictured is of the Παναγία η Θρηνωδούσα, analogous to the Mater dolorosa.)

Truly it is a wonderful piece, this; the depth of Scriptural knowledge and theology built on the same revealed herein is great; I was particularly gladdened to see in the 5th-last oikos an allusion to the title of this blog: "sing with understanding".

Akathist in honour of the Mother of God at the Foot of the Cross
by St Romanos the Melodist


Come, let us all celebrate him who was crucified for us: for Mary looked on him upon the cross and said: “Though you endure crucifixion, yet you are my son, my God.”


Worn out with grief, Mary, the ewe, seeing her own lamb taken to the slaughter, followed with the other women and cried: “Where are you going, my child? For whose sake are you finishing this swift race? Is there yet another marriage in Cana, and are you hastening there now to change the water into wine for them? Shall I go with you, child, or shall I rather wait for you? Speak to me, O Word; do not pass me by in silence; for you kept me in my purity, my son, my God.


“I never thought I would see you, my child, in such necessity nor did I ever believe that the lawless would rage so, and unjustly stretch out their hands against you; for still their infants cry “Hosanna” to you; still the road is strewn with palm-branches proclaiming to all how the lawless had sung your praises. And now a worse deed is done, and for whose sake? Alas; how is my light snuffed out, how to a cross is nailed my son, my God.

“You are going to unjust slaughter, my child, and no one is suffering with you. Peter does not go with you, Peter who had said to you: ‘Never shall I deny you even though I die.’ Thomas deserted you, Thomas who cried, ‘Let us all die with him.’ The others too, the friends and companions who were to judge the tribes of Israel, where are they now? None of them is here; but one, alone, for the sake of them all, you are dying, my child; because instead of them you have saved all, because instead of them you have loved all, my son, my God.”

Mary cried thus, from her heavy grief; and as she wailed and wept in her very deep sorrow, her son turned to her and said: “Why, mother, do you weep? Why do you grieve with the other women? Lest I suffer? Lest I die? How then should I save Adam? Lest I dwell in the tomb? How then should I draw to life those in Hades? And yet, as you know, I am crucified most unjustly. Why do you weep, my mother? Rather cry out thus, that willingly I suffered, your son, your God.

“Put aside your grief, mother, put it aside; mourning is not right for you who have been called the All-favoured. Do not conceal the title with weeping; do not liken yourself, wise maid, to those with no understanding. You are in the centre of my bridal chamber; do not consume your soul as though you were standing outside. Address those within the bridal chamber as your servants; for all, when they rush in terror, will hear you, holy one, when you say: ‘Where is my son, my God?’

“Do not make the day of my suffering a bitter day; it is for this day that I, the compassionate, (now) descended from heaven as manna, not upon Mount Sinai but in your womb; for within it I was conceived, David once foretold. Recognize, holy one, the ‘mountain God delighted to dwell in’; I now exist, I, the Word, who in you became flesh. This day I suffer and this day I save; do not therefore weep, mother. Rather cry out in joy: ‘Willingly he suffered, my son, my God.’”

“See, my child,” she said, “I wipe the tears from my eyes, though my heart I wear down still more; but my thoughts cannot be silent. Why, offspring, do you say to me: ‘If I do not die, Adam will not be healed’? And yet, without suffering yourself, you have healed many. You made the leper clean and have felt no pain, for so you will it. You bound the paralytic together, yet you yourself were not undone. Again, when by your word you gave sight to the blind, you yourself, good one, remained unharmed, my son, my God.

“You raised the dead but did not yourself die, nor, my son and my life, were you laid within the grave. How then can you say, ‘Unless I suffer Adam will not be healed’? Command, my saviour, and he will rise at once and take up his bed. And even if Adam is covered by a tomb, call him forth, as you called Lazarus from the grave; for all things serve you; you are the creator of all. Why then do you hasten, my child? Do not rush to the slaughter, do not embrace death, my son, my God.”

“You do not know, mother, you do not know what I say. Therefore open your mind and take in the words you hear, and consider on your own what I say. This miserable Adam, of whom I spoke before, who is sick not only in body but yet more so in his soul, is sick of his own will; for he did not obey me, and is in danger. You know what I say – therefore do not weep, mother; rather cry out: ‘Take pity on Adam, and show compassion to Eve, my son, my God.’

“Adam, sick through debauchery, through gluttony, was led down to deepest Hell, and there he weeps for the suffering of his soul; and Eve, who once taught him disobedience, grieves with him and languishes with him, that together they may learn to heed the Healer’s word. Now, do you see? Do you understand what I have said? Cry out again, mother: ‘If you forgive Adam, forgive also Eve, my son, my God.’”

And when the blameless ewe heard this, she answered to her lamb: “My Lord, if I speak yet once more, do not be angry with me. I shall tell you what is on my mind, so that I may learn from you all I wish to know. If you suffer, if you die, will you come back to me? If you heal Adam, and Eve with him, shall I see you again? For my fear is that from the tomb you may hasten to Heaven, my child; and I, searching to see you, shall weep and cry our: ‘Where is my son, my God?’”

When he who knows of all things before their birth heard this, he answered Mary: “Take courage, mother, for you shall be the first to see me (risen) from the tomb; and I shall come to show you from what suffering I liberated Adam and how much I sweated for his sake. I shall reveal it to my friends and show them the tokens in my hands; and then, mother, you shall see Eve living as before, and you shall cry out for joy: ‘He saved my parents, my son, my God.’

“Endure a little, mother, and you shall see how I, like a healer, divest myself and come to where they lie, and how I heal their wounds, cutting their callouses and scabs with the lance; and I shall take the vinegar and with it bathe their wounds; I shall open the wound with the chisel (made) of the nails and dress it with the cloak, and my cross I shall use, mother, as a splint, that you may sing with understanding: ‘By suffering he freed us from suffering, my son, my God.’

“Put aside your grief, mother, put it aside, and go in joy; for now I hasten to fulfil that for which I came, the will of him who sent me. For from the first this was resolved by me and by my Father, and it was never displeasing to my spirit; that I become man and suffer for him who had fallen. Hasten then, mother, and announce to all that ‘By suffering he lays low the hater of Adam, and comes as a conqueror, my son, my God.’”

“I am overcome, my child, overcome by love, and truly I cannot bear it, that I am to be in my room while you are on the cross, I within my house, you within the tomb. Therefore let me go with you, for it heals me to look upon you, I shall look upon the outrageous daring of those who honour Moses: for these blind men, pretending to be his avengers, have come here to kill you. But what Moses said to Israel was this: ‘You will see life hanging on the cross.’ And what is life? My son and my God.”

“If you come with me, mother, do not weep, and do not tremble if you see the elements shaken. For this outrage will make all creation tremble: the sky will be blinded and not open its eyes until I speak; then the earth and the sea together will hasten to disappear, and the temple will rend its veil against the perpetrators of this outrage. The mountains will be shaken, the graves emptied. If, like a woman, you are seized by fear when you see this, cry out to me: ‘Spare me, my son, my God.’”

Son of the Virgin, God of the Virgin, and creator of the world: yours is the suffering, yours the depths of wisdom. You know what you were and what you became; because you were willing to suffer, you deigned to come and save mankind. Like a lamb you have lifted our sins from us, and you have abolished them by your sacrifice, my Saviour, and saved every man. You exist both in suffering and in not suffering; by dying you save, and you have given to the holy lady freedom to cry to you: “My son and my God.”

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