“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. . .”

The Great Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos Into the Temple


Today, December 4 N.S. (November 21 on the Julian calendar) marks the celebration of the Great Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple at Jerusalem.

According to Church Tradition (found in the writings of many of the early Fathers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa and Patriarch St. Germanus of Constantinople, as well as in the Protoevangelion of James), this feast day commemorates the occasion when the pious, elderly parents of the Virgin Mary, Sts. Joachim and Anna, fulfilled their vow to the Lord and entrusted their miracle daughter to the care of the Temple high priest Zaccharias, who later became the father of St. John the Baptist.

On this day, one year ago, His Beatitude Metropolitan +Jonah, then serving as the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, received me into the Orthodox Church by chrismation and the laying on of hands at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

My Chrismation 5 (2)

My family was really kind and supportive, driving down from Long Island to witness the ceremony. This meant so much to me!

My family was so kind and supportive, driving down from Long Island to witness the ceremony. Their presence meant so much to me!

My chrismation took place on Sunday, December 4, 2011 at St Nicholas Cathedral in Washington.

My chrismation took place on Sunday, December 4, 2011 (November 21 Julian calendar)

This Great Feast is one of the most ancient and joyous of the Church, as this detailed article and this one both explain.

Entrance of the Theotokos icon

Here is the beautiful choral Troparion (tone IV) for the feast sung by Archangel Voices:

Today is the preview of the good will of God,
Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the Temple of God,
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice,
O Divine Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation!

Shen Khar Venakhi – “Thou Art a Vineyard”


In this video the renowned Rustavi choir in Georgia sings this beautiful, internationally beloved Theotokion, an Orthodox hymn honouring the Virgin Mary. Sandro Vakhtangov directed this video, Anzor Erkomaishvili the camera work and artistic arrangements, and Vato Kakhidze produced it.

The hymn’s Georgian words translate:
Thou art a vineyard newly blossomed.
Young, beautiful, growing in Eden,
A fragrant poplar sapling in Paradise.
May God adorn thee. No one is more worthy of praise.
Thou thyself are the sun, shining brilliantly.

Prevailing ecclesiastical and historical tradition holds that St. King Demetre (Demetrius) I (r. 1125-1156) composed the hymn during his period of exile at a monastery when his son David briefly usurped the throne. Demetre’s other son ultimately succeeded him as King Giorgi III in 1156, reigning until his death in 1184, when his daughter St. Queen Tamar the Great succeeded him as monarch.

At St. Nicholas Cathedral we have many Georgian parishioners, so the choir has often used the music as a Cherubikon and sometimes even for the “It is truly meet”/Axion Estin to the Theotokos.

Images of the beautiful country of Georgia:

A beloved Paschal hymn


This beautiful Theotokion (hymn to the Theotokos, the “God-bearer”) honours the ancient Orthodox tradition that an angel visited the Virgin Mary to inform her of her Son’s Resurrection before he appeared to the other women disciples at Christ’s tomb.

Here is a link to the choir of St Barnabas Orthodox Church singing the hymn at a 2010 wedding liturgy in Costa Mesa, California.

The angel cried to the Lady full of grace:
Rejoice, rejoice, O pure Virgin!
Again, I say: rejoice! Your Son is risen
from His three days in the tomb.
With Himself He has raised all the dead.
Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people!
Shine, shine! Shine, O new Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shown on you.
Exult now, exult, and be glad, O Zion!
Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection,
the Resurrection of your Son!