CANON for the REPOSE of THE MOTHER OF GOD by Saint John Damascene

Taken from an Anthologia Graeca Carminum Christianorum, edited by W. Christ and M. Paranikas. (Teubner, Leipzig, MDCCCLXXI, pp. 229-232.) Done into English verse by G. R. Woodward, M.A., sometime Scholar of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Transcribed from Dublin Review (1913).

ODE I

I will ope this mouth of mine,
To be fraught with breath divine,
Anthem loud that I may raise
To the Royal Mother’s praise,
Whom, and that in glorious wise,
Openly I eulogize,
And the wonders of the same
Readily herewith proclaim.

Virgin damsels, more and less,
With the Songster-prophetess,
Miriam, exalt with us
Greater Mary’s Exodus:
For the Maiden, whom alone
Mother unto God we own,
Meriteth to journey o’er
Jordan to the heavenly shore.

Sooth, ’twas very meet that thou,
Seen as “Heaven on earth” till now,
Shouldest be, most holy Maid,
Into heavenly courts convey’d;
That thou shouldest, on this day,
Glorious and in bright array,
Take thy stand, a spotless Bride,
By thy God and Sovran’s side.

[This Canon has no Second Ode.]

ODE III

Goddes Mother, Fountain rife
With abundant streams of life,
Stablish us who hymn thy worth,
In concent of holy mirth;
Think on us; and, more than this,
Win us crowns of heavenly bliss.

Born of mortal womb, fair Maid,
Debt to Nature thou hast paid,
Hast accomplish’d thy decease,
And hast pass’d, by glad release
(Not till thou hadst given birth
To the Life of all the earth)
To that Life which is divine,
Real, true, and hath no fine.

From the North, South, East and West,
Sped the Twelve Apostles, prest :
Thither drew there, from on high,
Flocks of winged Angels, nigh;
Urged by God’s Almighty will,
Bound were all for Syon’s hill ;
Lady, straining every nerve,
At thy grave-side thee to serve.

ODE IV

This unfathomed godly plan
Of the Word in Flesh of Man,
Offspring of a Virgin-womb,
Was foreseen by Ambakoum,
When he cried in olden days,
“Mighty Lord, be thine the praise.”

‘Twas a wonder-sight to see
Soaring over lake and lea
Her that was the lively Shrine,
Palace of the King-Divine.
Marvellous are thy works and ways ;
Mighty Lord, be thine the praise.

Mother of thy God, to-day
Upward as thou went’st away,
Angel-hosts, in joy and dread,
Snow-white wings around thee spread,
O’er that body, which could fold
Him, whom heaven can no-way hold.

If the Infinite, her Child,
(Whereby “Heaven” she is styled),
If the Fruit of Mary’s womb
Fain endured a mortal tomb,
Why should be the Mother spared
Sepulture, whereof He shared?

ODE V

All Creation with amaze
Eyed thy glorious heavenly rays ;
When, unwedded Maiden clear,
Thou didst quit this earthly sphere
For abodes, that last for ever,
And the life that endeth never,
Granting life with ceaseless days
To the hymners of thy praise.

Let th’ Apostles wake the morn
With the winding of the horn;
Let the anthem now be sung
By the men of many a tongue;
With unbounded light ablaze
Let the welkin ring her praise,
While the Angels, all of them,
Chaunt our Lady’s Requiem.

In thy praises, Maiden blest,
One by far out-ran the rest :
‘Twas that “chosen vessel,” Paul,
Wrapt in ecstasy withal,
One that had himself been caught
Into bliss exceeding thought,
‘Fore his fellows, truth to own,
Consecrate to God alone.
He to-day, beyond all other,
Magnified thee, Goddes Mother.

ODE VI

Come, good Christens, West and East,
Keep to-day a solemn feast :
Clap the hand, with one accord,
For the Mother of our Lord,
Praising God, who did indeed
From her blissful womb proceed.

From thee sprung the Life-Divine,
Nor unbarr’d thy Virgin-shrine :
How, then, did that stainless Tent
Which to Life once shelter lent,
Share the death, that doth befall
Eva’s sons and daughters all?

Life’s own Temple heretofore,
Life thou gainest evermore :
Through the gate of death thou hast
Unto Life eternal past
Thou who erst didst clothe and wind
Life itself in human kind.

ODE VII

Sooner far than disobey
Their Creator’s law, and pay
Worship to the Image, see
How the Holy Children Three
Trod the fire, and play’d the man
Gladly, while their anthem ran;
“Thou, our fathers’ God and Lord,
Alway art to be adored.”

Come, young men, with maiden-kind,
Bear this Maiden well in mind,
Goddes Mother, mild and meek.
Come, old men, and rulers eke,
With the judges of the earth:
Come, ye kings, make solemn mirth:
“Thou, our fathers’ God and Lord,
Alway art to be adored.”

With the Spirit’s trump around
Let the heavenly heights resound;
Let the mountains merry be,
And th’ Apostles leap for glee.
Mary’s feast it is to-day:
Raise we then the mystick lay.

Lord, thy Mother’s pure decease,
Her departure in thy peace,
Gath’red beatifick legions
From aloft to earthly regions,
To rejoice with men who cry, ”
God, thou art extoll’d on high.”

ODE VIII

Holy Childer Three were freed
In mid-fire by Mary’s Seed:
There the shadow, dimly shown,
By the substance here is known;
And it setteth all and some
Carolling through Christendome:
“All thy works, above, below,
Bless thee, Lord, for evermo.”

Maiden clean, thy fame is sung
By Angelick trumpet-tongue:
Theme of Archangelick zones,
Virtues, Princedoms, Powers, and Thrones,
Dominations, Cherubim,
Yea, of awe-full Seraphim:
And with these we men below
Magnify thee evermo.

Maiden, in unheard-of way,
God in thy clear cloister lay,
Borrowing pure flesh and breath,
Born as mortal, prone to death;
Wherefore, Mother, we below
Magnify thee evermo.

Oh, the wonder passing thought
Of that humble Maid that brought,
From her ever-Virgin shrine,
Unto birth the Son Divine:
See, her grave is, in our eyes,
Turned into Paradise;
Whereby standing, we, to-day,
Full of joyaunce, sing and say,
“All thy works, above, below,
Bless thee, Lord, for evermo.”

ODE IX

Let us, every child of clay,
In the Spirit leap to-day,
Holding each his lighted lamp :
Next, let yon supernal camp
Of unbodied beings bright
Celebrate this heavenly flight,
By a path, as yet untrod
By the Bearer of our God;
Hailing Mary, blest o’er other,
Holy, ever-Virgin Mother.

Come, on Syon’s Olive-hill,
Of the living God the Rill,
Make we joy; as in a glass,
Viewing what is come to pass.
Christ, to far more worthy station,
And more sacred habitation
Doth convoy his Mother lowly
To the Holiest of the Holy.

Come, ye faithful, haste away
To the tomb where Mary lay :
It salute we, e’er we part,
With true homage of the heart,
Of the forehead, lip and eye,
Drawing thence full free supply
Of the healing balms, that mount
From this everlasting Fount.

Take of us, thou blest Abode
Of the Living God, this Ode
On thine Exodus from hence;
And, of thy beneficence,
By the bright and heavenly grace
Streaming from thy blissful face,
Neath the shadow of thy wing,
Give the victory to the King;
To good Christen people, peace;
To thy Quiristers, release
From their sins, that they may thrive,
Yea, and save their souls alive.

NOTE :

Dr. John Mason Neale, one of the earliest and most accomplished of the translators of the sacred verse of the Orthodox Communion, in his “Hymns of the Eastern Church ” (1863, 2nd edition), gives some account of the poetical Canons which are used in the Office for Lauds, and explains the omission of a Second Ode in the present version of the Canon on our Lady’s Assumption. In a passage which is here somewhat shortened, Dr Neale says that a Canon consists (in theory) of nine Odes, each one of which contains any number of Troparia, or Stanzas, from three to beyond twenty. The reason for the number nine is this: that there are nine Scriptural Canticles employed at Lauds, on the model of which the Odes in every Canon are formed. The first is that of Moses, after the passage of the Red Sea; the second is that in which Moses blessed the Children of Israel before his death; and third and following ones are those of Hannah, of Habakkuk, of Isaiah, of Jonah, of the Three Children, of the Benedicite, and lastly, of the Magnificat and Benedictus. From this arrangement, Dr. Neale adds, it follows that, as the Second Canticle is never recited except in Lent, the Canons (in actual fact) never have any Second Ode. Dr Neale’s valuable estimate of the composition and contents of the Odes, as well as of their style and manner, is too long to be quoted. But one sentence, in regard to the Author’s history, whom he considers to be the greatest of the poets of the Eastern Church, may perhaps be permitted. It is surprising, he tells us, how little is known of the life of St. John Damascene: that he was born of a good family in Damascus; that he made great progress in philosophy; that he administered some charge under the Caliph; that he retired to the monastery of St Sabas in Palestine; that he was the most learned and eloquent with whom the Iconoclasts had to contend; that at a comparatively late period of life he was ordained a Priest of the Church of Jerusalem; and that he died after A.D. 754, and before A.D. 787 these facts seem to comprise all that has reached us of his biography. [Introduction, p. xxxij : and Text, p. 33.]

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