”The Hymn of Kassiani”
April 6th, 2012
Ink and Watercolor
12 x 6 inches
I’ve been trying to finish this all Holy Week, but that just didn’t end up happening.
Hah, like so many others things I’ve been trying to do lately.
I’ll be very happy when classes are over for the semester.
Anyway, this is a lovely little hymn that I came across several months ago called The Hymn of Kassiani
which is a poem written by the nun Kassiani (810-865 A.D.) and is now a part of the Divine Liturgy during Holy Week in the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. It’s chanted only once a year, on Tuesday evening (as Matins for Holy Wednesday…I believe). The poem itself is a reference to the anointing of Jesus’ feet in the Gospels, particularly in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 7, and John 12. So, I guess I didn’t get it done in time for Latin Holy Week, but the Eastern churches are on the Julian calendar, so I guess it got done in time for them.
I’m not really happy with how it turned out, I must confess—it looks a bit too messy for me—though the celtic knotwork and the insane amount of gold ink used in it was quite fun.
O Lord God
The woman who had fallen into many sins
Perceiving Thy Divinity
Received the rank of ointment-bearer
Offering Thee spices before Thy burial
Wailing and crying:
“Woe is me for the love of adultery and sin
Hath given me a dark and moonless night.
Accept the fountain of my tears,
Othou Who drawest the waters of the sea by the clouds
Incline Thou to the sigh of my heart
O Thou Who didst bend the heavens
By Thine inapprehensible condescension;
I will kiss Thy pure feet
And I will wipe them with my tresses.
I will kiss Thy feet Whose tread
When it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise
Dismayed her so that she did hide herself because of fear;
Who then shall examine the multitude of my sins
And the depth of Thy judgments?
Wherefore, O my Savior, and the Deliverer of my soul
Turn not away from Thy handmaiden,
O Thou of boundless mercy.” Amen.
This is what originally inspired me to make a piece out of this: By the Boston Byzantine Choir: [link]
Another very beautiful version in English: [link]
There’s a charming story I found behind this particular hymn that she wrote: St. Kassiani the Hymnographer was born in Constantinople into a wealthy family and grew to be exceptionally beautiful and intelligent. Three Byzantine chroniclers claim that she was a participant in the "bride show" (the means by which Byzantine princes/emperors sometimes chose a bride, giving a golden apple to his choice) organized for the young bachelor-emperor Theophilos. Smitten by Kassianai's beauty, the young emperor approached her and said: "Through a woman came forth the baser things," referring to the sin and suffering coming as a result of Eve's transgression. Kassianai promptly responded by saying: "And through a woman came forth the better things," referring to the hope of salvation resulting from the Incarnation through the Most Holy Theotokos. His pride wounded by Kassianai's rebuttal, Theophilos haughtily passed her by and chose Theodora to be his wife. We next hear of Kassianai in 843 when it is recorded that she founded a convent in Constantinople, becoming its first abbess and devoting her life to asceticism and the composing of liturgical poetry. Tradition says that in his later years the Emperor Theophilus, still in love with her, wished to see her one more time before he died, so he rode to the monastery where she resided. Kassiani was alone in her cell (or garden), writing her Hymn when she realized that the commotion she heard was because the imperial retinue had arrived. She was still in love with him but was now devoted to God and hid away because she did not want to let her old passion overcome her monastic vow. She left the unfinished hymn on the table. Theophilus found her cell and entered it alone. He looked for her but she was not there; she was hiding in a closet, watching him. Theophilus felt very sad, cried, and regretted that for a moment of pride he rejected such a beautiful and intellectual woman; then he noticed the papers on the table and read them. When he was done reading, he sat and added one line to the hymn; then he left. The line attributed to the Emperor is the line "those feet whose tread when it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise dismayed her so that she hid herself because of fear.”
Legend says that as he was leaving he noticed Kassiani in the closet but did not speak to her, out of respect for her wished privacy. Kassiani emerged when the emperor was gone, read what he had written and finished the hymn. ([link]