Nov 29, 2009

Before the Light Went Out

I have been revisiting one of my favorite choral pieces - Rachmaninoff's Vespers.  Several years ago, my son had this CD playing in his car for many months, and I remember riding with him on several occasions, during the month of December, and enjoying together the richness of this work.  Subsequently, I now associate Vespers with Christmastime even though it isn't directly related to the Nativity!

Rachmaninoff wrote the collection of 15 songs within a 2 week period (amazing!) in the year 1915 - a troublesome time between the Great War and the Russian Revolution in 1917.  I wonder if Rachmaninoff sensed the looming storm that would come and force the Russian Orthodox church underground along with a ban on performances of all religious music.  In hindsight, this composition appears to be a final blaze of glory before being snuffed out for decades.  It has been written that "no composition represents the end of an era so clearly as this liturgical work".*

Some of the words from the ninth piece - Blessed Art Thou, O Lord (Blagosloven Yesi, Gospodi):
By giving birth to the Giver of Life, O Virgin,

Thou hast delivered Adam from his sin,

Thou hast given Eve joy instead of sadness:

The God-man born of Thee has restored to life

Those who had fallen from it.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to Thee, O Lord.

To hear some excerpts from the pieces, click here and scroll down to the "Listen to Samples".

*Francis Maes, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans, Erica Pomerans, A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, University of California Press, 2002, p.206

Nov 28, 2009

Coming in the Likeness of Men

On the birth of Jesus Christ...

Wherefore the birth was twofold, both made like us, and also surpassing ours. For to be born of a woman indeed was our lot, but to be born not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of man, but of the Holy Ghost, John 1:13 was to proclaim beforehand the birth surpassing us, the birth to come, which He was about freely to give us of the Spirit. And everything else too was like this. Thus His baptism also was of the same kind, for it partook of the old, and it partook also of the new. To be baptized by the prophet marked the old, but the coming down of the Spirit shadowed out the new. And like as though any one were to place himself in the space between any two persons that were standing apart, and stretching forth both his hands were to lay hold on either side, and tie them together; even so has He done, joining the old covenant with the new, God's nature with man's, the things that are His with ours.

Do you see the flashing brightness of the city, with how great a splendor it has dazzled you from the very beginning? How it has straightway shown the King in your own form; as though in a camp? For neither there does the king always appear bearing his proper dignity, but laying aside the purple and the diadem, he often disguises himself in the garb of a common soldier. But there it is, lest by being known he should draw the enemy upon himself; but here on the contrary, lest, if He were known, He should cause the enemy to fly from the conflict with Him, and lest He should confound all His own people: for His purpose was to save, not to dismay.

~ John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 1:1

Nov 12, 2009

But This Roof is not Mine...

John Chrysostom on covetousness, from his homily on the Gospel of John:
Is it a fine thing to build one's self splendid houses, to have many servants, to lie and gaze at a gilded roof? Why then, assuredly, it is superfluous and unprofitable. For other buildings there are, far brighter and more majestic than these; on such we must gladden our eyes, for there is none to hinder us. Will you see the fairest of roofs? At eventide look upon the starred heaven.  But, says some one, this roof is not mine. Yet in truth this is more yours than that other.  For you it was made, and is common to you and to your brethren; the other is not yours, but theirs who after your death inherit it.  The one may do you the greatest service, guiding you by its beauty to its Creator; the other the greatest harm, becoming your greatest accuser at the Day of Judgment, inasmuch as it is covered with gold, while Christ has not even needful raiment. milky_way_mosaic

Let us not, I entreat you, be subject to such folly, let us not pursue things which flee away, and flee those which endure; let us not betray our own salvation, but hold fast to our hope of what shall be hereafter; the aged, as certainly knowing that but a little space of life is left us; the young, as well persuaded that what is left is not much. For that day comes so as a thief in the night. Knowing this, let wives exhort their husbands, and husbands admonish their wives; let us teach youths and maidens, and all instruct one another, to care not for present things, but to desire those which are to come, that we may be able also to obtain them; through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever and world without end. Amen.

Nov 7, 2009

Walking on Water

In commenting on the miracle of Jesus walking upon the water, John Chrysostom makes reference to a verse in Job 9 - "[He]...treads on the waves of the sea."  I had never made the connection.
1 Then Job replied:

2 "Indeed, I know that this is true.
But how can a mortal be righteous before God?

3 Though one wished to dispute with him,
he could not answer him one time out of a thousand.

4 His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

5 He moves mountains without their knowing it
and overturns them in his anger.

6 He shakes the earth from its place
and makes its pillars tremble.

7 He speaks to the sun and it does not shine;
he seals off the light of the stars.

8 He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.