Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The "Hymn of Cassiani"

The highlight of tonight's Bridegroom Matins will be this hymn, written by a prolific Byzantine hymnographer, the nun Cassiani. The speaker is the sinful woman who comes to Jesus and weeps all over His feet and wipes them dry with her hair and anoints them with spikenard.

The melody the Greeks use is extremely beautiful. Well, one near and dear person tells me it isn't; it's very worldly. But to this convert, who doesn't know anything anyway, it's as lovely, and as heart-wrenching, as the words:

Sensing your divinity Lord,
a woman of many sins,
takes it upon herself
to become a myrrh bearer
and in deep mourning
brings before you fragrant oil
in anticipation of your burial; crying:
"Woe to me! What night falls on me,
what dark and moonless madness
of wild desire, this lust for sin.
Take my spring of tears
You who gathers the waters of the oceans into clouds
bend to me, to the sighing of my heart,
You who bend the heavens
in your ineffable self-emptying.
I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses
and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair;
those very feet whose sound Eve heard
at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror.
Who shall count the multitude of my sins
or the depth of your judgment,
Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore your handmaiden,
You whose mercy is endless."



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