22 February 2008

The theology of death, in the Orthodox funeral

These hymns were composed by St. John of Damascus, and contain a marvelous expression of the Christian faith as it relates to our death:

Then the Anthem, by John, the Monk of Damascus, is begun:

Tone 1. What earthly sweetness remaineth unmixed with grief? What glory standeth immutable on earth? All things are but shadows most feeble, but most deluding dreams: yet one moment only, and Death shall supplant them all. But in the light of thy countenance, O Christ, and in the sweetness of thy beauty, give rest unto him (her) whom thou hast chosen: forasmuch as thou lovest mankind.

Tone 2 Woe is me! What manner of ordeal doth the soul endure when from the body it is parted! Woe is me! how many then are its tears; and there is none to show compassion! It turneth its eyes to the Angels; all unavailing is its prayer. It stretcheth out its hands to men; and findeth none to succour. Wherefore, my brethren beloved, meditating on the brevity of our life, let us beseech of Christ rest for him (her) who hath departed hence: and for our souls great mercy.

Tone 3. All mortal things are vanity and exist not after death. Riches endure not, neither doth glory accompany on the way: for when death cometh, all these things vanish utterly. For which cause let us cry unto Christ the immortal: Give rest, in the abode of those who are glad, to the dead translated from among us.

Tone 4 Where is earthly predilection? Where is the pomp of the ephemeral creatures of a day? Where are the gold and the silver? Where is the multitude of household servants and their clamour? All dust, all ashes, all shadows. But come, let us cry aloud unto the deathless King: O Lord, of thine eternal good things vouchsafe thou unto him (her) who hath been translated from among us, giving unto him (her) rest in thy blessedness which waxeth not old.

Tone 5 I called to mind the Prophet, how he cried: I am earth and ashes; and I looked again into the graves, and beheld the bones laid bare; and I said: Who then is the king or the warrior, the rich man or the needy, the upright or the sinner? Yet give rest with thy Saints unto thy servant, O Lord.

Tone 6 Thy creating command was my origin and my foundation: for thy pleasure it was out of nature visible and invisible to fashion me, a living creature. From the earth thou didst shape my body, and didst give me a soul by thy divine and quickening breath. Wherefore, O Christ, give rest to thy servant in the land of the living, in the habitations of the just.

Tone 7 When, in the beginning, thou hadst created man after thine own image and likeness, thou didst set him in Paradise to reign over thy creatures. But when, beguiled by the malice of the Devil, be tasted of the food, he became a transgressor of thy commandments. For which cause, O Lord, thou didst condemn him to return again unto the earth whence lie was taken, and to entreat repose.

Tone 8 I weep and I wail when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb disfigured, dishonoured, bereft of form. O marvel! What is this mystery which doth befall us? Why have we been given over unto corruption, and why have we been wedded unto death? Of a truth, as it is written, by the command of God, who giveth the departed rest.

And these words, which conclude the service at the gravesite:

With the souls of the righteous dead, give rest, O Saviour, to the soul of thy servant, preserving it unto the life of blessedness which is with thee, O thou who lovest mankind.

In the place of thy rest, O Lord, where all thy Saints repose, give rest, also, to the soul of thy servant: For thou only lovest mankind.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Thou art the God who descended into hell, and loosed the bonds of the captives: Do thou give rest, also, to the soul of thy servant.

Now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O Virgin alone Pure and Undefiled, who without seed didst bring forth God, pray thou unto him that his (her) soul may be saved.

No comments: