Monday, 4 January 2021

Saint Kassiani the Hymnographer: Hymns & Writings

On Tuesday the 17th of November 2020, Bata Bardak conducted a zoom seminar for Spiritual Reading Group on the 9th-century Byzantine abbess Kassia, or Kassiani the Hymnographer. Here are the hymns and writings used during the seminar. 

When Augustus Reigned

 

When Augustus reigned alone upon the earth

the many kingdoms of men came to an end;

and since You were made man of a pure Virgin

the many gods of idols have been destroyed.

The cities have come under one universal kingdom

and the nations came to believe

in one divine dominion.

The people were registered by the decree of Caesar;

we, the faithful, have been inscribed in the name of

Your divinity when You our God were made man.

Great is Your mercy, Lord; glory to you.

 

 

Eight hymns on the Birth of Christ

 

I.          When you appeared, Christ,

            in Bethlehem of Judea

            born from a Virgin

            and wrapped in swaddling clothes as a new-born

            and lying in a manger,

            a company of angels from on high praised

            your great concession towards mankind

            who through the deepest compassion

            put on a body

            and deified the mortal being;

            glory to you, Lord.

 

II.        When you appeared, Christ,

            made flesh from a woman

            she who bore you,

            astounded by your condescension,

            tearfully said, Saviour;

            how can I bear you as an infant who are eternal

            how can I nourish with milk you who nourish

            the whole of creation with your divine power?

            who through the deepest compassion

            put on a body

            and deified the mortal body

            glory to you, Lord.

 

III.       When you appeared, Saviour,

            who reigns through the ages,

            you were worshipped by the Magi

            having been led by a star to you, sun of glory;

            they were astounded by your poverty

            and offered to you lying in a manger,

            gold, frankincense and myrrh

            who through the deepest compassion

            put on a body

            and deified the mortal being;

            glory to you, Lord.

 

IV.       When you appeared, Christ,

            to live among the people on earth

            becoming poor, to the contrary

            the whole creation added adornments to you as Lord

            the people rejoicing offered a hymn of thanksgiving

            to the one who bore you;

            the earth offered the cave and the Magi the gifts;

            to you who through the deepest

            compassion put on a body

            and deified the mortal being;

            glory to you, Lord.

 

V.        Angels present at the cave

            sang hymns of praise to you, Lord,

            born from a virgin as a man;

            Magi and shepherds with them

            worshipped you, Christ,

            lying in a manger, newborn;

            some were impressed by

            your unusual poverty, O Logos;

            others carried gifts to you,

            gold and myrrh and frankincense,

            joining them we cry aloud to you,

            benefactor of all,

            glory to you, Lord.

 

VI.       The sun of glory

            came forth from your radiant womb,

            oh highly favoured all-blameless,

            ordained to spread with its rays

            the light of salvation;

            you remained a virgin after the birth

            as you were before it,

            something unexplainable;

            and you covered him with swaddling clothes

            as a cloud, he who enlightens

            those who cry out with faith,

            benefactor of all,

            glory to you, Lord.

 

VII.     Creation was enlightened

            by your birth on earth, Lord,

            and the heavens praised you with fear

            shepherds along with Magi

            reverently glorified you

            when they saw you, O Logos, being poor

            and wearing swaddling clothes

            through which, merciful one, you broke

            all bands of sin

            uniting life with immortality

            for those who entreat you,

            benefactor of all,

            glory to you, lord.

 

VIII.    Today God is made flesh

            by a holy Virgin

            and the Lord becomes poor

            so that poverty might be made rich

            which the serpent had debased;

            now let us approach him

            and be enlightened

            for the light has shone upon those in darkness

            and exalted the humble,

            those who like the angels sing

            glory to God in the highest

            and on earth peace

            with good will among men.

 

 

Three hymns for the forefeast of the Theophany (Baptism of Christ)

 

I.          When you appeared, Christ,

            the Lord among the servants

            approaching the waters of Jordan

            and touched by the hand of your servant, the Forerunner

            and baptized in the waters,

            the host of angels were amazed seeing

            your great condescension, benefactor,

            who was baptized for us,

            accepted a human body

            and wiped clean the sins

            of the mortals; glory to you, Lord.

 

II.        Jesus the Christ

            who enlightens those in darkness,

            who brings about our spiritual

            renewal, came to John asking

            to be baptized, calling out to him:

            wash me with these waters; with them

            I shall regenerate

            the whole of mankind

            that is ensconced in corruption

            and impiously enslaved by the serpent’s

            cunning, glory to you, Lord.

 

III.       Oh Creator, how shall I lay my hands upon you;

            who are the divine fire?

            How will the waters of the river receive you

            Who are regarded as a great sea of divinity

            and the inexhaustible source of life?

            How shall I baptize you who are not polluted

            and who moreover takes away the sin of mankind

            for which on our account you were born of a virgin,

            said he who was born of a barren woman

            I have need of your baptism,

            Glory to you, Lord.

 

 

Hymn for Holy Wednesday Vespers

The Penitent Woman (commonly referred to as “The Hymn of Kassiani”)

 

Lord, the woman fallen

            Into many sins,

Recognizing your Divinity,

            Rises to the status of myrrh-bearer,

And mourning brings to you myrrh

            Before your burial.

Woe to me, she says,

            For night holds for me

            The ecstasy of intemperance

Gloomy and moonless

            A desire for sin.

Accept the springs of my tears,

You who with clouds spread out

            The water of the sea:

Bend down to me

            To the lamentations of my heart,

You who made the heavens incline

            By your ineffable humiliation.

I will tenderly kiss your sacred feet,

I will wipe them again

            With the hair of my head;

The feet whose sound

            Eve heard in Paradise

In the afternoon,

            And hid in fear,

Who can delineate

            The multitude of my sins

And the depths of your judgement’

            My Redeemer, saviour of souls?

Do not disregard me, your servant

            You, whose mercy is infinite.

 

 

Three hymns for the feast of the Meeting (the Presentation of Christ in the Temple)

 

I.          When you appeared Christ,

            in the arms of her who bore you

            as in a pair of tongs                                                                 (ref. Isaiah 6:6-7)

            you were given to Simeon the Elder a perfect child,

            a coal perceived not burning;                                                  (ref. Isaiah 6:1-12)

            when he held you in his arms

            he rejoiced full of youthful spirit

            and asked for release, “Saviour,” he cried out to you,

            “now release me, your servant,                                               (cf. Luke 2:29-30)

            from this world to eternal life,

            according to your word,

            for I have seen you in human form.”

 

II.        The undefiled Virgin

            carrying in her arms

            him whom she embodied

            delivers him to the holy elder, saying

            “Receive him whom the teachings

            of the prophets proclaimed,

            the child who because of compassion is now summoned

            and as the holy lawgiver fulfils the law”;

            and he cried out to him;

            “You have come who will release me

            from this world to eternal life;

            glory to you, Lord.”

 

III.       “How can I hold you as a child,

            you who holds everything together?

            How do I bring you to the temple, who is beyond goodness?

            How do I deliver you to the arms of the elder

            who sits in the bosom of the Father?

            How do you endure purification,

            you who purifies the whole corrupt nature?”

            So said the Virgin

            the temple who contained God

            marvelling at your great condescension,

            Christ.

 

 

Hymn commemorating the Birth of St John the Baptist, at Vespers

 

Now the voice of Isaiah the prophet

this day has been fulfilled

by the conception of one greater than the prophet, John.

For behold, he said, I will send my messenger before your countenance,

who shall prepare your way.

He then, as soldier and forerunner of the Heavenly King,

truly made straight the paths of our God,

being a man by nature, but an angel in his life.

For he embraced complete chastity and self-restraint,

he held to that which was according to nature,

but avoided that which was contrary to nature.

Let us all, the faithful, imitate him in virtue,

implore him to plead on our behalf

for the saving of our souls.

 

 

Hymn in honour of Mary the Egyptian

 

You severed the temptations of the soul

and the passions of the body

with the sword of temperance;

the crimes of the mind

you choked with the silence of spiritual discipline,

and with streams of your tears

you watered the entire desert,

and made to grow in us the seeds of repentance:

therefore we celebrate your memory, holy one.

 

 

Selections from the Canon for the Dead

 

From Ode Six

            Christ, when you conclude

            our lives and deeds here on earth

            and begin the scrutiny

            of all our deeds,

            do not cross examine, Lord,

            the transgressions of those

            you have already received.

 

From Ode Seven

            Long-suffering one,

            since you have a boundless

            measure of love for mankind,

            during the trial of those who have already departed to you,

            do not place all their transgressions before them,

            but forgive them

            and save them, Oh Christ.

 

            Most impartial judge,

            when you weigh

            our deeds,

            do not judge with reason,

            but let your goodness prevail

            and add weight

            to the scale, Lord,

            when the evil deeds

            tip it the other way.

 

 

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Selections from the Secular Epigrams and Gnomic Verses

 

I hate one that conforms to all ways.

 

I hate silence when it is time to speak.

 

I hate the verbose in an unsuitable time.

 

I hate the rich man moaning as if he were poor.

 

I hate the poor man boasting as if in wealth.

 

I hate the one who does not encourage everyone with words.

 

I hate one who speaks before examining.

 

I hate the one who teaches knowing nothing.

 

Knowledge in a stupid person is a bell on a pig’s snout.

 

There is absolutely no cure for stupidity.

 

I hate a murderer condemning the hot-tempered.

 

I hate the adulterer when he judges the fornicator.

 

I hate the leper who drives out the leprous.

 

I hate a debtor who sleeps unconcernedly.

 

It is better to possess grace from the Lord, than beauty and wealth that does not gain grace

 

A little is the most, if the friend is grateful, but to the ungrateful the most is the least.

 

Selection from ‘Stupidity’

 

Woe, oh Lord, if a stupid person attempts to be clever;

Where does one flee, where does one turn, how does one endure?

 

A stupid person is always inclined to overdo:

Putting on a pair of shoes he runs everywhere.

 

It is better if a stupid person is never born

but if born, may not walk on the earth

but soon afterwards be sent to Hades.

 

An association between a sensible person and a stupid one cannot endure;

for it will weaken by their antithesis.

How can it overcome their impudence?

It is better to be poor with sensible people

than to be rich with stupid and ignorant ones

 

 

 

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