The divine hymnology of the Orthodox Church possesses qualities that are both poetic and deeply theological. It has been said at many times that the best way to learn the faith is to attend the holy services and listen attentively the hymns.
This evening in Great Vespers for Sunday of the Holy Myrrh-bearers, we heard a familiar hymn, which was chanted as the Doxastikon ( the Glory) of the Aposticha:
O THOU Who puttest on light like a garment, when Joseph with Nicodemus took Thee down from the Tree and beheld Thee dead, naked, and unburied, he struck up a compassionate dirge, and with mourning he said: Woe is me, 0 sweetest Jesus!
“When but a short while ago the sun beheld Thee hanging upon the Cross, it shrouded itself in darkness, and the earth quaked with fear, and the veil of the Temple was rent asunder. But, behold, now I see Thee willingly submitting to death for my sake. How
shall I bury Thee, 0 my God? Or how shall I wrap Thee with winding sheets?
With what hands shall I touch Thine undefiled Body? Or what dirges shall I sing at Thy departure, 0 Compassionate One? I magnify Thy Passion; I praise Thy Burial and Resurrection, and I cry out: 0 Lord, glory be to Thee.
We have heard this hymn just three short weeks ago during Holy Week. Two separate event and the emotion of these two events differs greatly. We imagine the venerable Nikodemos and Joseph of Arimathea as they received the body of the Saviour. At the same time, the Apostles were missing. Those two secret disciples accomplished what the Eleven Disciples would not, for all of the Apostle were filled with fear. Heaven and the angels were horror-struck at beholding this awesome and dread mystery!
Those same angels present at the creation of the world, who witnessed the Lord fashion all of creation out of nothing beheld the Saviour as He was adorned in the light and the splendor of creation, were also witness to the King of All being crucified by His creation. O the dread and the wonder!
The incredible imagery evoked in this hymn reminds us of the Proemial Psalm, the Psalm of Creation that is read at Great Vespers. The Psalms begins thus:
Bless the Lord, O my soul; O Lord my God, Thou hast been magnified exceedingly.
Confession and majesty hast Thou put on. Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment.
Who stretchest out the heaven as it were a curtain; Who supporteth His chambers in the waters.
Who appointeth the clouds for His ascent, Who walketh upon the wings of the winds.
Who maketh His angel spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.
Who establisheth the earth in the sureness thereof; it shall not be turned back for ever and ever.
The abyss like a garment is His mantle; upon the mountains shall the waters stand. Psalm 103
Truly He Who created all things, Christ-God, the Pantocrator, is adorned with clouds and fire, hoarfrost and snows. We hear this hymn also during Holy Week, as the Saviour’s body is taken-down from the Cross.
Now, the Church guides us to laud those holy Myrrh-bearers, who were more valiant that the Apostles, the inner-circle of our Saviour’s followers. It is with awesome joy that we now hear this hymn! No longer is it a paradox but a manifestation of the Saviour’s victory over death! The Prophet David foresaw this when he was inspired to pen Psalm 103. Now we understand the Lord is wrapped about with the unquenchable light of His divinity, the uncreated light.
Again we see the fulfillment of the prophecy! O man, who are faint of heart, remember well the teachings of the Lord concerning His awesome Passion and Resurrection!