Monday, December 24, 2012

Unforgivable unposting

I've drafted a few posts, and I haven't finished them to my satisfaction, so they are not up.  We have made it through the Nativity fast (the fast of St. Philip) and are at the eve of the second most important day in the liturgical year.

Tonight, I will be joining my church family in McComb at the All-Night Vigil of Christmas.  This service combines Great Compline (the final service of the liturgical day) with Matins and the First Hour.  All of the liturgical observances of Christmas Eve parallel those of Great and Holy Friday, and it is the day of the Nativity Fast that most relates to its Lenten analogue.

Tonight, the music will contain some of the greatest hymns of the Church.  Aside from the Nativity Troparion,  introduced in this service, we will sing "God is with us," an antiphonal hymn celebrating the imminent arrival of Christ in the Incarnation. The words of the hymn come from the eighth and ninth chapters of the prophecy of Isaiah, and recount the promise of the Messiah to come to Israel.

Matins begins directly at the end of Great Compline, which concludes with the Troparion of Nativity.  Matins begins with the choir singing "Glory to God in the Highest," which has deep significance liturgically, as this is among the preparatory prayers uttered by the priest before the Divine Liturgy begins, and also recalls the greeting of the angels to the shepherds at the Nativity.  Perhaps my favorite portion of the entire Matins is the Song of Ascent, followed by the Prokeimenon of the Nativity.

The Canon of the Nativity follows.  In the Canon, which is composed of eight odes (it is a historical curiosity that the second Ode is omitted), we hear the story of the Incarnation from the Old Testament story of creation (Ode 1), through the expulsion from Eden (Ode 3), to the founding of the Tribes of Israel from Jacob (Ode 4), to the Roman dominion over Judea (Ode 5), to the parallel stories of the Prophet Jonah and Christ (Ode 6), to the shepherds being greeted by the angels (Ode 7), to the story of the three youths and the pain of the Babylonian exile (Ode 8), and finally the wise men reaching the cave wherein Christ was born (Ode 9).

Following the Canon, Matins concludes with the singing of the Praises of the Lord, and the Great Doxology. The Doxology is the great catechetical hymn of the church regarding salvation and redemption; it is the counterpart to the Creed, which contains in it the fundamentals of the Orthodox faith.  The Doxology instructs us to pray constantly and seek forgiveness from God, and itself concludes with the Trisagion Hymn.

May God bless you all, and may we greet each other tomorrow on the day of the Nativity with the words of festal praise: "Christ is born; Glorify Him!"

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