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Archive for April, 2006

When I was a girl, a popular feature of Catholic Good Friday was the Stabat Mater. I copied this one from a website devoted to the Stabat Mater — the owner has over 200 recordings of music created for this piece — and she offers multiple translations, so I selected the ones that seemed to reflect the text most accurately:

At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing, all his bitter anguish bearing, Lo! the piercing sword had passed.
Oh how sad and sore distressed was that mother highly blessed, of the sole-begotten One!
O that silent, ceaseless mourning, O those dim eyes, never turning from that wondrous, suffering Son
Who on Christ’s dear Mother gazing, in her trouble so amazing, born of woman, would not weep?
Who on Christ’s dear Mother thinking, Such a cup of sorrow drinking, Would not share Her sorrow deep?
For the sins of His own nation saw Him hang in desolation, all with bloody scourges rent.
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender child, till His Spirit forth he sent.
O, thou Mother, fount of love, touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord.
Make my heart to glow within me for the God who came to win me, burn with love for Christ, my Lord
Those Five Wounds on Jesus smitten, Mother! in my heart be written, Deep as in your own they be.
Thou thy Savior’s Cross didst bear; thou thy Son’s rebuke didst share: Let me share them both with thee.
Let me mingle tears with thee, mourning Him Who mourned for me, all the days that I may live.
By the cross with thee to stay, there with thee to weep and pray, this of thee I ask to give.
Virgin, of all virgins blest, O refuse not my request: let me in thy weeping share
Make me after thine own fashion Christ’s companion in His Passion all His pain and dying bear
Wound me with thy Son’s affliction, kindle through his crucifixion zealous love within my soul
Thus aflame with fire of love, shield me, Virgin, from above, when I hear the Judgement call
Christ, when thou shalt call me hence, be Thy mother my defense, be Thy cross my victory.
While my body here decays, may my soul Thy goodness praise, safe in Paradise with Thee. Amen.

So what is this Catholic thing doing on an Orthodox Christian’s blog? I think of it every year, when I read this, from the Matins for Holy and Great Friday:

Seeing her own Lamb led to the slaughter, Mary His Mother followed Him with the other women, and in her grief she cried: “Whither goest Thou, O my Child? Why dost Thou run so swiftly? Is there another wedding in Cana, and art Thou hastening there, to turn the water into wine? Shall I go with Thee, O my Child, or shall I wait for Thee? O Word, do Thou speak some word to me; pass me not by in silence. Thou hast preserved me in virginity, and Thou art my Son and my God.”
–Ikos following Canticle Five, from the Canon by St. Kosmas

Well, no, it doesn’t have quite the same rhythmic elegance of the Stabat Mater. But I like it better, for two reasons: one, it doesn’t focus on me at all, and two, I think it’s much more realistic. I mean, think what is happening. Think what it is to see your own child suffering horribly for something he didn’t do. All parents witness this at one time or another, but none of us has to watch our kid being put to death for the crime of loving too much. This is what she’s witnessing; and, with an exquisitely human grief, she simply — blocks it out. Goes into denial, on a scale none of us can fully comprehend. This can’t be happening to my Son, so He must be doing something else, like going to another wedding.

For a few years now, I’ve been able to read a number of canons written specifically for Great Lent, and the Theotokia of all of them focus on the agony of the Mother of God. And I find, with each succeeding year, that I enter more and more deeply into her pain; more and more of a sense of what she felt wounds my soul. Last year, I even found myself addressing Christ, “How could You do that to Your Mother?” And this year came the answer: He went to Hades, so she wouldn’t have to. If He hadn’t come, if He hadn’t died, it wouldn’t have mattered at all how good she was, how devoted to God she was; she would have suffered the same fate as everyone else, up to Holy Saturday. Of course He went through that for all of us, but I bet His Mom was at the top of His list.

Somebody — I think it was Louis Evely — once wrote that it was just great that she said Yes at the Annunciation, but this one, at the foot of the Cross — this was the Yes that mattered. What a thing to have to say Yes to. What a thing to have to forgive. And so great is her love for her Son that — she does it.

Most holy Theotokos, save us!

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Well, yeah, I cribbed that from the Capital One ad, “What’s in your wallet?” Just like I’m cribbing this entry from St. Rebekah’s site, where she was writing about her personal synaxis of saints. I have my list of favorites, too.

When it finally became obvious that I needed to be Orthodox, regardless of how convenient it was (it wasn’t), I also knew I needed a patron saint. I would have liked to be named Sergia, or Serena, after St. Sergius of Radonezh, still my favorite; but the subject of a name never came up, and on my chrismation day, my priest just chrismated me “the servant of God, Margaret.” Yes, I was disappointed, the more so because I couldn’t really find a Margaret among the Synaxarion. (Russians tell me it’s St. Marina of Antioch, but that particular priest said they were two different saints. There is a St. Margaret among the 40 Holy Virgins who were martyred on September 1, but nothing else is known about her. I like to know the people who come into my house, KWIM??)

How I came by the name Margaret is its own story. I was baptized with Mary as my middle name, and a completely unChristian first name, which I have always hated. As my husband and I began to move different places, it developed that nobody could remember my first name — not that I care, but it was a terrific embarrassment for people who had to confess, “I just can’t remember your name,” until, by about the fifth move, I would just say, “That’s all right, I must not look like an x.” And they would say, “No, you really don’t.” To which I would reply, “What do look like?” Try that for a conversation stopper! Finally, one kindly soul answered, “Margaret,” and since it began with the same letter of the alphabet as my middle name, I went to court and had my name changed so that my middle name is Margaret. And no one has trouble calling me Meg, except, naturally enough, my mother, who, being dead, doesn’t call anyone anything anymore.

So! That said, our personal synaxarion, including, of course, our Lord and His Mother:

My favorite icon of Christ is Christ the Teacher. You’d think it would be the Good Shepherd, but I have never found a Good Shepherd icon I liked.

My favorite icon of His Mother is the Mother of God Vladimir. I just love the expression on her face. But I also have a strong devotion to the Kursk Root icon, since it once healed a broken wrist, and the one where Christ is wrestling His Mom to get out of her arms, and she’s hanging on for dear life. I like the look on her face there, too! (Sort of, “God, give me patience with this Child!”)

The patron of our household is St. Sergius of Radonezh. Why, is because he is the first Orthodox saint who cropped up in my life, and periodically thereafter I would run into various references to “Sergei Somebody.” Why he keeps popping up like this is a mystery to me, but I understand that when this happens, it means a saint has decided to make himself part of your life, and this one really helped my son when he was in middle school.

My husband’s patron saint is St. Demetrios. We were a little surprised to find that in the Greek culture, the name James is considered an anglicization of “Demetrios,” but it makes sense — more sense than James being related to Jacob!! That St. Demetrios was one of the warrior saints is especially important to a guy who works in the Dept. of Defense.

Our daughter’s patron saint is St. Michael the Archangel. She chose him because she was, at the time, interested in becoming a cop, and St. Michael is the patron saint of cops.

Our son’s patron saint is St. Christopher, which is what we named him at birth, and who has proven to be a particularly apropos saint, since (at least in the West) he is the patron saint of travellers. I understand that in this East, this honor is accorded to St. Nicholas, but St. Christopher seems to have done well by our Chris. What amazes me is that although I am 5′ zip and my husband 5’10”, our Chris is 6’4″ — just like his patron saint! And they seem to have had the same gentle nature, too, as well as the same interest in getting people from Here to There.

We also have hanging on our wall St. Xenia of St. Petersburg. For a time, we were members of St. Xenia’s parish in Methuen, MA, till the drive proved to be too much. But she is another of those saints, like St. Sergius, who keeps sticking her head in the door to say Hi, so she stays in the icon corner.

The last icon we have in our icon corner is the Holy Royal Martyrs. I like them because they were so devoted to each other as a family, and Nicholas and Alexandra were pretty darn good parents, as well as madly in love with each other. It’s nice to have some married saints around the place, too.

However, I also have an icon of St. John of San Francisco, which occupies our back office. I like all the stories about him, and he’s the third in our synaxarion who keeps popping up from time to time. Whenever I get completely frustrated with Russian, I glower at my icons of him, St. Xenia, and St. Sergius and say, “Come on, guys! Help me get a handle on this cockamamie language of yours!” And they always do.

I am still looking for icons of St. Vasilios and St. Benjamin that would fit into the icon corner (Vasilios for my son-in-law, and Benjamin for our grandson). You’d think that with all the Basils running around the Greek Church, they would have every size imaginable — apparently not. And finding any of the Old Testament saints is an exercise in perseverance.

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From the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete:

Spare, O Savior, Thine own creation, and seek as Shepherd Thy lost sheep; snatch the stray from the wolf, and make me a pet lamb in Thy sheep pasture. (Psalm 118:176; John 10:11-16)

Anybody who knows me well, knows that I just love sheep. As a knitter, how could I not fall in love with those fluffy little creatures who provide me with one of my favorite pastimes? Plus, they are so funny in their odd little habits (unless you happen to be a shepherd, in which case, those odd little habits are downright annoying. My daughter once had a teacher who kept sheep, till summer vacation, when the little dears came up to her window at 5:30 a.m. baa-ing because they missed her company. The sheep disappeared in short order).

Who, loving sheep, could not love an image like this? The Great Canon is, as I’m sure you all know, pretty heavy-duty stuff, and, at least in my case, all of it depressingly accurate. But this — this says it all.

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The Bible Meme

This time I got tagged by Athanasia: How many Bibles are in your home? She has an impressive 20! So, without further ado:

1. How many Bibles are in your home?
We have 5: The original Jerusalem Bible (not the new one that’s floating around out there — my husband bought this one in 1967); the annotated Oxford Study Bible; the Third Millennium Bible; the Luther Bible, which is in German; and, believe it or not, a Scottish New Testament which is a riot to read, since it’s written in Scottish dialect. Then there’s an on-line King James Version that I have for when I have to put together something called Choir Cues; the Orthodox Study Bible, New Testament (and I most certainly do plan to get the Old Testament when it comes out next year!); and a “Boston Psalter,” the Psalter according to the Septuagint, put out by Holy Transfiguration in Brookline, MA.

2. What rooms are they in?
The Jerusalem Bible, the Third Millennium Bible, the German Bible, and the Scottish New Testament are all in the living room. The Oxford Study Bible, the Orthodox Study Bible, and the Boston Psalter are in the office — sometimes I have to look up concordance notes for Protestants who ask, “Well, what about THIS?!” when I’m on line.

3. What translations do you have?
NKJV (that’s the Orthodox Study Bible), whatever the Jerusalem Bible is considered, KJV, Oxford Annotated, German, and Scottish. I’m considering asking my daughter for her Russian Bible, since she isn’t reading Russian anymore.

4. Do you have a preference?
For daily devotions, either the Third Millennium Bible — it has the style of English that I like best — or the Orthodox Study Bible, which has better notes. My favorite used to be the German Bible, till I found out it used the Masoretic text, and I really prefer the Septuagint.

5. Nominate an interesting verse:
Now, this does say “interesting,” so here goes: It’s in the Scottish New Testament, when Mary Magdalene sees the risen Christ and thinks He’s the gardener, then realizes Who He is and reaches out for Him, and what does He say? Well, in Scots: “Quit grabbin’ at me, woman!”

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Over on Trudy’s blog http://philippaalan.blogspot.com, she posted a meme that is irresistible for me: Your top ten musical rushes, those pieces of music that make you want to crank it whenever you hear them. Although I haven’t been tagged, my brain immediately exploded with ideas. Genre mixing is encouraged, but that’s a problem for me, since nearly all my “rushes” are classical. Oh well.

1. Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, especially that glorious final movement.
1. (Yes, there are two #1s.) Bach’s Violin Partita, of which there must be dozens, but I’ve only ever heard this one introduced in this way. It was discovered wrapped around a piece of butter in a dairy in St. Petersburg. The criminal waste of this man’s music after his death is enough to make my blood boil.
2. The Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah. Isn’t that on everyone’s list?!
3. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: Winter. Final movement. Muted passion in every note.
4. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus.
5. George Butterworth’s music. Virtually anything by Butterworth, since his musical career was cut so tragically short by WWI — there just isn’t that much of it.
6. Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) by Pablo de Sarasate. There’s a relatively new recording out by violinist Gil Shaham that just smokes.
7. Romanian Rhapsody #1 by Georges Enescu. There is also a Romanian Rhapsody #2 with some nifty airs in it, but it sounds as if he cut it short before he could complete it. But in the first one, you can practically see the Turks coming over the hill, straight into an ambush by Romanian peasants. Of course the peasants won! 😉
8. The Greek version of Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Sung in Greek Tone 1, it really sounds like a fight song.
9. And my #1 fight song: The Russian version of the Paschal Hymn, Christ is risen from the dead. Talk about spitting in the devil’s eye!

No #10 — I had two #1’s, remember?

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