“Ave Dei Patris Filia”: Magnificent polyphonic hymn to the Virgin Mary

From Hierodeacon Herman, a friend of mine who is the Chapel Music Director at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary (on the Revised Julian/”New” Calendar). Earlier this week the Orthodox Arts Journal interviews Fr. Hierodeacon Herman about his ongoing Choral Advent Calendar Facebook ministry here:

Here is another hymn for the Mother of God, as keep the afterfeast of her Entrance into the Temple. John Taverner (c. 1490–1545; not to be confused with the modern composer John Tavener) composed some of the sublime polyphonic music of the English renaissance. Though later in life he became a firm adherent of the Protestant reformation and regretted composing “Popish ditties,” in which category he certainly would have included today‘s selection, we can be grateful such music from his Catholic period has survived.

The text of this motet is long but rich, and befitting the exalted purity and beauty of the Holy Virgin and Theotokos. Taverner’s composition, especially as performed here by the choir of Christ Church, Oxford, is dazzling in its delicacy, majesty, and profundity – increasingly so, as the piece progresses.

Latin: (English translation below)

Ave Dei patris filia nobilissima,
Dei filii mater dignissima,
Dei Spiritus sponsa venustissima,
Dei unius et trini ancilla subiectissima.

Ave summae aeternitatis filia clementissima,
summae veritatis mater piissima,
summae bonitatis sponsa benignissima,
summae trinitatis ancillia mitissima.

Ave aeternae caritatis desideratissima filia,
aeternae sapientiae mater gratissima,
aeternae spirationis sponsa sacratissima,
aeternae maiestatis ancilla sincerissima.

Ave Jesu tui filii dulcis filia,
Christi Dei tui mater alma,
sponsa sine ulla macula,
deitatis ancilla sessioni proxima.

Ave Domini filia singulariter generosa,
Domini mater singulariter gloriosa,
Domini sponsa singulariter speciosa,
Domini ancilla singulariter obsequiosa.

Ave plena gratia solis regina,
misericordiae mater, meritis praeclara,
mundi domina, a patriarchis praesignata,
imperatrix inferni, a profetis praeconizata.

Ave virgo facta
ut sol praeelecta,
mater intacta,
sicut luna perpulcra,
salve parens inclita,
enixa puerpera,
stella maris praefulgida,
felix caeli porta:
esto nobis via recta
ad aeterna gaudia,
ubi pax est et gloria.

O gloriosissima semper virgo Maria!

ENGLISH translation:

Hail, most noble daughter of God the Father,
most worthy mater of the Son of God,
most graceful bride of God’s Spirit,
closest servant of God one and three.

Hail, most clement daughter of the highest Eternity,
most blessed mother of the highest Truth,
most benign bride of the highest Kindness,
meekest servant of the highest Trinity.

Hail, most beloved daughter of everlasting Charity,
most thankful mother of everlasting Wisdom,
most sacred bride of everlasting Inspiration,
sincerest servant of everlasting Majesty.

Hail, sweet daughter of thy Son, Jesus,
bountiful mother of Christ thy God,
bride without the slightest blemish,
handmaid of the coming of the Lord.

Hail, most singularly generous daughter of the Lord,
most singularly glorious mother of the Lord,
most singularly beautiful bride of the Lord,
most singularly obedient handmaid of the Lord.

Hail, queen of the sun, full of grace,
mother of mercy, famous by thy merits,
mistress of the world, preordained by the patriarchs,
empress of hades, foretold by the prophets.

Hail, virgin made
as unique as the sun,
mother unblemished,
as beautiful as the moon,
hail, famous begetter,
diligent mother,
splendid star of the sea,
auspicious gate of Heaven:
be for us a straight path
to eternal joy,
where peace and glory are.

O most glorious and ever-virgin Mary!

Hierodeacon Herman was appointed the Chapel Music Director at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in late April of 2010. His childhood and youth were spent immersed in the Anglo-Catholic liturgical and musical traditions, which led him to the study of organ and choral music at Westminster Choir College, in Princeton, New Jersey, where, in 1999, he was received into the Orthodox Church.

After completing his undergraduate studies, Fr. Herman enrolled at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, South Canaan, Pennsylvania, where he graduated with an M.Div. in 2005. The following two years he spent as the choir director and instructor in Liturgical Music and Liturgical Theology at St. Herman’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska. In 2007 Fr. Herman became a novice at the Monastery of St. John of San Francisco, in Manton, California. A year later he was tonsured a Rassophore-monk and ordained to the Holy Diaconate.

In the summer of 2009 Fr. Herman was asked by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, former primate of the Orthodox Church in America, to fulfill various obediences on the East Coast. He was transferred to St. Vladimir’s Seminary and began part time studies there in the M.Th. program. In addition, he is an editor of liturgical publications for St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press, has assisted in the music program at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, and, at St. Vladimir’s, has served as the faculty liaison for St. Ambrose Society, the seminary’s student-led Pro-Life interest group.

Father Herman took monastic vows and was tonsured to the Lesser Schema on September 24th, 2011, at Three Hierarchs’ Chapel at the Seminary. He is a member of the Brotherhood of St. Tikhon’s Monastery.

Third century Greek prayer to Theotokos uncovered on papyri scroll

This remarkably preserved papyrus scroll dating to approximately AD 250 (52 years before the start of the savage Diocletian persecutions, and 63 years before Christianity was finally made a legal religion in the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine the Great) shows clear, unambiguous continuity from the apostolic age and early Church down to the present Orthodox and Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary. The third century hymn is almost identical to existing, centuries-old Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic hymns praising the Theotokos (lit. “bearer of God”).

In the Byzantine Rite used by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the hymn occurs as the last dismissal hymn of daily Vespers during the fast of Great Lent. In Greek practice it is usually sung in Neo-Byzantine chant.

The Slavonic version of the hymn is also often used outside of Great Lent, with the triple invocation of  Great Lent. In Greek practice it is usually sung in Neo-Byzantine chant.

The Slavonic version of the hymn is also often used outside of Great Lent, with the triple invocation «Пресвѧтаѧ Богородице спаси насъ» (“Most Holy Theotokos, save us”) appended. Other than the traditional and modern chant settings, which are the most commonly used, the most well-known musical setting is perhaps that of D. Bortnyansky.

The short third century prayer reads as follows:

Here is a link to Greek monks singing the ancient hymn “Beneath thy Compassion”. It translates as follows:

Greek: Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν καταφεύγομεν Θεοτὸκε, τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνου λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς, μόνη ἁγνὴ, μόνη εὐλογημένη.

English: Beneath thy compassion we take refuge, Theotokos! Our prayers, do not despise in necessities, but from danger deliver us, only pure, only blessed one.

Romanian: Sub milostivirea ta scăpăm, Născătoare de Dumnezeu, rugăciunile noastre nu le trece cu vederea în nevoie, ci din primejdie ne izbăvește pe noi, una curată, una binecuvântată!

Here is more information about the history of this hymn via Father Silouan Thompson’s blog.

Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God

Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God

On the Virgin Mary’s sinlessness throughout her earthly life

Stuart L. Koehl, a Greek Catholic friend of mine, speaking great sense on the question of the Virgin Mary and Theotokos’ conception and sinless life:

[While foreknowing that the Virgin Mary would say ‘yes’ to bearing Christ, God] must also preserve her absolute freedom to reject the mission, otherwise she cannot fulfill her role as the Second Eve. And the meaning of “immaculate conception” depends largely on your understanding of the term “original sin”: does man bear a stain of the sin of Adam that somehow renders his nature corrupt from birth? Or does man bear the consequence of Adam’s sin, which is mortality? [The latter is the Orthodox view].

Mary died, ergo, she still endured the consequences of Adam’s sin. But Mary was also preserved from sin throughout her existence. Is this due to Mary’s conception being ontologically different from that of other human beings? Or is it due to God placing his protective grace over and through her from the moment of conception? [The latter is the Orthodox view].

It is difficult to remember, and all too easy to forget, that the Western thread of anthropology saw Adam’s sin as being transmitted through procreation (the [Catholic] Church would rather forget that, these days, but the fact is, it taught it for centuries, and it deeply colored the Western Church’s view of sex). So, in Western eyes, if Mary was conceived as other women, then she herself would be tarred with the sin of Adam; therefore, her conception must have been . . . different.

On the other hand, if you take the Eastern Christian position that man suffers from the effects of Adam’s sin, but not the stain, and that this leads man to develop disordered passions that lead to actual sin, then Mary can be conceived as other women, and then protected from all sin from that moment forth, by God’s preeminent grace.

This view tends to be borne out in Eastern liturgical texts. While on the one hand, Mary is called “all-holy”, “all-pure” and “without stain”, at the same time other texts, like the Paschal Hymn say:

Having beheld the resurrection of Christ,
Let us adore the holy Lord Jesus,
Who alone is without sin [also translated “The Only-Sinless One”]. . .

While the funeral service (Panahida) says:

For there is not a man who lives and does not sin,
In thought, or word or deed,
And You [Christ] alone are without sin,
And to You we give glory. . .

So, Christ alone is ontologically without sin, while Mary’s sinlessness is derivative of Christ’s grace and Mary’s perfect cooperation with it.

This explains how Eastern saints such as Maximos the Confessor could believe Mary was preserved from all sin from the moment of her conception, without believing that Mary’s conception itself was different in any way from that of other humans–he simply had a different view of original sin.

Orthodox Christians Commemorate the Nativity of the Virgin Mary

Reblogged from the IRD’s blog, Juicy Ecumenism, here.

On September 8, most of the world’s local Orthodox Churches commemorate the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary. Like the Great Feast of the Dormition celebrated in August, this holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus’ mother is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year. What is the significance of this important feast day for Orthodox Christians?

The birth of the Virgin Mary to her barren, elderly parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna, was, like the birth of Isaac to the elderly Abraham and barren Sarah, a miraculous work of God which confirmed the parents’ special covenant with Him. As the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s article on the Feast of the Virgin’s Nativity notes,

The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament, however this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.

According to the story found in this book, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, were childless for many years. They remained faithful to God, but their prayers for a child were unanswered. One day, when Joachim came to the temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest who chastised him for his lack of children. To hide his shame, Joachim retreated to the hill country to live among the shepherds and their flocks.

As Joachim was praying, his wife Anna was praying at the same time at their house in Jerusalem. An angel appeared to both of them and announced that Anna would have a child whose name would be known throughout the world. Anna promised to offer her child as a gift to the Lord. Joachim returned home, and in due time Anna bore a daughter, Mary.

According to the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)’s article on the feast, Orthodox Christians celebrate it “as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God.”

You might be asking “Why do Orthodox Christians make such a big deal about the birthday of Jesus’ mother?” For one reason, since Mary is the mother of our Lord and Savior, in a way, she has become the mother of us all — for Mary herself notes in the words of the Magnificat (St. Luke 1:46-55) that “from henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” From the very beginning of our salvation and redemption at the Annunciation, Mary has been hailed and blessed by angels and men as the mother of our Savior and redeemer.  When we honor and praise her, we please her Son, since He loves His mother very much and always listens to her. Since Jesus is so important to Orthodox Christians, we consider it only natural that we remember His mother’s birthday, which marked the beginning of our redemptive arc.

The significance of the feast is embodied in the hymns we sing at the forefeast of Mary’s Nativity on the night before the actual feast. Here are the two main hymns for the forefeast (courtesy of OCA.org’s Music Downloads for September 7):

Troparion (Tone 4)

Today from the stem of Jesse and from the loins of David,

The handmaid of God Mary is being born for us.

Therefore all creation is renewed and rejoices!

Heaven and earth rejoice together.

Praise her, you families of nations,

For Joachim rejoices and Anna celebrates crying out:

“The barren one gives birth to the Theotokos, the Nourisher of our life!”

Kontakion (Tone 3)

Today the Virgin Theotokos Mary

The bridal chamber of the Heavenly Bridegroom

By the will of God is born of a barren woman

Being prepared as the chariot of God the Word

She was foreordained for this, since she is the

divine gate and the true Mother of Life.

Because God the Father chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of His Son, we honor her as blessed and exalted above all women. As the mother of our Savior, she is the mother of our very Life, Christ our God. Because of this, we think it is only fitting to remember her birthday, since from her youth, her parents dedicated her to God’s service in the holy Temple at Jerusalem. From her earliest days, Mary was being prepared for the earth-shattering, cosmos-changing role God had foreordained for her. It all began with her miraculous birth to an elderly priest and his barren wife. From such improbable beginnings ultimately came our salvation and the promise of eternal life.

“O uncorrupted Virgin, thou Bride of God. . .”


This magnificent icon of the Virgin Theotokos and Christ Child appears above the apse of the Great Church of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia (today preserved as the Ayasofya museum in Istanbul).

The featured prayer is the opening of the long, beautiful Compline supplication to the Theotokos.

Take a minute after reading this prayer to ponder the theological depth of these words in particular: “O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, thou Bride of God. . . who. . . hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly. . .”

Profound theological truths expressed in Glykophilousa icon


Profound theological truths expressed in Glykophilousa icon

The icon of the Glykophilousa, the Sweetly Kissing, shows the bond of love between the Theotokos and her son and the physical expression of that love in a tender kiss. Often the Mother of God has a sombre, reflective expression, and her infant Son touches her face to comfort her.

This theological icon proclaims the mystery of the Incarnation. It points to the living, human relationship between mother and son. The infant’s hand is the hand of the Logos, cherishing the finest fruit of his creative love. Her embrace enfolds the Uncircumscribable whom heaven and earth cannot contain. The Glykophilousa shows Christ as a human child, relating to his mother as any other human child does, but also as a divine person whose every human expression, action, gesture reveals something of the Godhead.

This icon is virtually the obverse of the Hodegetria in which the Virgin points to her son as the way, the truth, and the life. Here she gazes at Jesus, not out of the icon at us. She does not point to him, she embraces and kisses him. And the infant is caught in movement as he turns in her arms, returning her embrace, his hand rising up to touch her cheek, drawing our awareness back to her. He does not point to her, he touches her tenderly, with loving trust.

As we contemplate the cyclic interplay of divine and human love, of mother and son, our own humanity is interpreted by the relation between.

Blackwell’s Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (Edited by Ken Parry, David J. Melling, Dimitri Brady, Sidney H. Griffith and John F. Healey).

My icon corner


My icon corner

I took this picture last night using the light provided by my desk lamp several feet away.

I took this picture last night using the light provided by my desk lamp several feet away.

I took this photo after my morning prayers on Saturday, February 16. The burning frankincense and the beauty of the icons through the fragrant smoke reminded me very much of being in church.

I took this photo after my morning prayers on Saturday, February 16. The burning frankincense and the beauty of the icons through the fragrant smoke reminded me very much of being in church.

Icon corner 7

I took the first two images on the evening of Monday, February 25, 2013. The latter two are from the morning of Saturday, February 16.

2011 Archpastoral Letter from Metropolitan Jonah on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of The Orthodox Church in America

Nativity Icon

Dearly beloved in the Lord,

Christ is Born!

I greet you with the love, joy and hope that is so graciously granted to us with the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today, we celebrate the “Winter Pascha,” proclaiming that God is indeed with us! Today, the only-begotten Son of God takes on our human nature, enabling us to become partakers of His divine nature. Today, the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled as, in the “fullness of time,” the long-awaited Messiah ushers in that peace which is beyond all understanding!

And today, we celebrate that for which we have prepared during the Nativity Fast. Our fasting, intensified prayer, and almsgiving find their meaning and fulfillment in the Mystery of the Incarnation: All that we have is a gift from God, given to us as faithful stewards, that we might proclaim God’s very presence in our midst. Our calling is to “incarnate” the Incarnate Word into our lives, our actions, our very being, at all times, and in everything we do. This, to be sure, is not easy. The world will challenge those who embrace “The Way” at every turn. Yet, it is the world that, in its self-proclaimed emptiness, precisely reveals its thirst for “something more,” a “sign” or “reality” that gives meaning to life beyond the superficial trappings of the “holiday season.”

In rendering thanks to God for His manifest love for His People, and in strengthening ourselves to proclaim the Incarnation in our lives, it is crucial for every member of the Church to discern his or her gifts and to employ them for the building up of the Body of Christ. How? One of the Nativity hymns gives us a clue.

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sake has appeared on earth as man?
Every creature which Thou hast made offers thanks.
The angels offer Thee a song. The heavens, their star. The wise men, their gifts. The shepherds, their wonder.
The earth, its cave. The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer Thee a Virgin Mother!

It is the Mother of God, the Theotokos, who is the very model of stewardship, of discernment, of embracing all that the heavenly Father called her to do. Where the first Eve said “no” to God, she responded positively. And in so doing, she embraced all that her Son accomplished by His birth in time and space, becoming an example for us.

As we continue our celebration, let not our faith be “shelved” with our ornaments and seasonal decorations. Let not the flame of our commitment wax cold. Let not our devotion to serving the Incarnate Word, even as His Mother served Him. May the grace and peace from above, so abundantly given by our all-merciful Savior, remain with us throughout this most glorious feast, and be strengthened within us in the days, weeks and months beyond!

Let us glorify Him!
Faithfully yours in Christ,

Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada



Kontakion to the Theotokos as Champion Leader and Defender of Constantinople



This beautiful Byzantine kontakion “To thee, my Champion”, featuring both male and female chanters, commemorates the miraculous deliverance of the Imperial Capital of Constantinople from almost certain conquest by Arab besiegers in 718. Contemporaries, including then Patriarch and future saint Germanus (r. 715-30) attributed the city’s salvation to the intercessions of the Theotokos.

The award-winning Cappella Romana, a Byzantine vocal ensemble formed in 1991 in Portland, Oregon, chants this magnificent piece, taken from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Music of Byzantium” CD. A similar Greek version of this kontakion, featuring exclusively male voices and images from a Russian Orthodox liturgy, can be found here.

Members of Cappella Romana, directed by Alexander Lingas, a musicologist of Byzantine music at City University in London.

St Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople composed this hymn of thanksgiving on the eve of the Annunciation in the year 718. Here is the link through which I located the following information on the background of the composition of St Germanus’ hymn.

“In 717-718, led by the Saracen [Umayyad] general Maslamah [full name: Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, called Μασαλμᾶς in contemporary Byzantine accounts], the Arab fleet laid siege once more to the city. The numerical superiority of the enemy was so overwhelming that the fall of the Imperial City seemed imminent.

But then the Mother of God, together with a multitude of the angelic hosts, appeared suddenly over the city walls. The enemy forces, struck with terror and thrown into a panic at this apparition, fled in disarray. Soon after this, the Arab fleet was utterly destroyed by a terrible storm in the Aegean Sea on the eve of the Annunciation, March 24, 718.

Thenceforth, a special “feast of victory and of thanksgiving” was dedicated to celebrate and commemorate these benefactions. In this magnificent service, the Akathist Hymn is prominent and holds the place of honour.

It was only on the occasion of the great miracle wrought for the Christian populace of the Imperial City on the eve of the Annunciation in 718 that the hymn “To thee, the Champion Leader” was composed, most likely by Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople.”

2011 Pastoral Letter from Metropolitan Jonah on the Great Feast of the Dormition

The Great Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God

August 15, 2011

“He made thy body into a throne, and thy womb he made more spacious than the heavens.”

—Hymn to the Theotokos at St. Basil’s Liturgy

Dearly beloved in the Lord:

All of Creation rejoices in the Mother of God. This woman, full of the grace of God, shows us through her silence and humility what great glory is laid up for those who do not shut the door of their hearts to this grace. In the preceding feast, we stood with the disciples, falling to the ground with them as we beheld the flesh of Christ radiant with this glory on Mount Tabor. Today, in her accustomed modesty, the Mother of God veils the glory she shares with Christ, concealing it by the death which she also shares with Him. Yet through faith in the Church’s witness, we know that as she partook of Christ’s death, so also she partook of His resurrection, for death could have no power over her who bore our Life; and that body, from which God himself borrowed human flesh, could not see corruption in the grave.

All of us baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians are stewards of God’s grace (cf. 1 Peter 4:10), and in the Mother of God we possess a flawless icon of this stewardship. Though the height of her unmitigated dedication to God is unique, still we must make a daily, unrelenting effort to offer more of ourselves than we did the day before. We must give of ourselves, our lives, our goods, our money, and – as we see so beautifully in this feast – our bodies. The Holy Virgin shows us how deserving of care and respect is the human body. She perfectly fulfills the Apostle’s words: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

Our culture places very high demands on our bodies. On the one hand, the pursuit of physical health can become an end in itself, independent of the goal of glorifying God in our body; and the drive to retain the allure of youth long into adulthood fills many with an ascetic zeal that would be far more worthwhile if poured out in desire for God. On the other hand, so often our culture cheapens the body by treating it as a mere vehicle for pleasure to be altered or disposed of at will when it no longer gratifies the passions. And, ironically, such exploitation goes hand-in-hand with the fashionable courting of non-Christian forms of mysticism which dismiss the body as irrelevant or illusory.

This attitude is a grave symptom of the deep self-loathing that grips much of Western society. But a healthy respect for our bodies, born of the knowledge that “we are not our own,” can help us become more aware of our true human dignity and worth, a dignity wholly dependent upon God, for it is God’s free and irrevocable gift in the bestowal of His divine image upon our nature. Christ alone is the key to this dignity; therefore it is our task, as the members of his Body, to cultivate awareness of this in our own lives and share it with those around us in our ailing society.

We do this by manifesting our bodies – both in life and in death – as precious vessels of the priceless grace of God. In life: by our honest and godly labor; by chastity, either in holy celibacy or godly marriage; by modest appearance free from distracting dress or bodily disfigurement; by avoiding activities or substances harmful to our health; by fasting and vigil; by decorous speech; and by custody of the senses. And also in death: by giving proper love and attention to the bodies of the newly-departed, preparing them for honorable burial in a way that clearly reveals the intimacy of the Church community that bridges the gap between life and death. Such was the care the Apostles showed for the Mother of their Savior.

Ultimately, the dignity of the human body is fully realized in the Resurrection of Christ – in the very flesh He shares with us. He has already translated His Mother to the glory of this Resurrection, but our bodies too will be imbued with this glory after His second and glorious Coming. Today, as we celebrate this joyful summer Pascha of the Mother of God, let us anticipate our own coming resurrection – with fear, with faith, and with love, knowing that we are stewards of a great mystery.

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your rational worship (Romans 12:1).

The Mother of God is praying for us that we may come to entrust our whole lives to the loving care of her Son.

With love in Christ,


 Archbishop of WashingtonMetropolitan of All America and Canada