Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hymns of the Royal Hours of the Nativity

During the Royal Hours for the Nativity this morning, I was struck by so many of the hymns of the Church. This year they seemed to me to have extra significance, extra weight. 

Any of us who sing, read or listen to these hymns with faith are confessing the profound Mystery of Christ, the Incarnation of the Pre-Eternal Word of God. And in the Muslim world and other hotbeds of persecution, confessing one's faith in Jesus Christ, in the Incarnation, makes one a Confessor, and may very well lead to martyrdom. It is for this reason that many of the worst massacres of Christians by Muslims over the last several years have been precisely at Christmas.

Here in the United States, where hatred for Jesus Christ and true Christians is boiling up all around us, yet where we Christians are lulled to sleep by comfort and prosperity, persecution of the Church is done "more by sneer than by spear." Let us rouse ourselves to zeal and watchfulness, for how quickly it may turn!

Let us intercede for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the Islamic world, and let us allow the words and hymns from the Divine Services to "sink down into our ears" this year as we celebrate the Birth of Christ. And let us prepare to be good and faithful confessors all the days of our lives.

Kontakion of the Prefeast
(Audio below)

Today the Virgin  comes to the cave,
To give birth ineffably  to the pre-eternal Word.
Hearing this,  be of good cheer, O inhabited earth,
And with the angels and the shepherds glorify Him
Whose will it was to be made manifest  
A young child,  the pre-eternal God.

Joseph's Hymn ("Glory" at Stikhera of the Third Hour, in the Third Tone)
Here, Joseph tells us he has "searched the prophets" and has been taught by an angel. Joseph comes to faith in the Birth of God, and leads us to faith as well!

Tell us, O Joseph,
why do you bring a maiden great with child to Bethlehem?
“I have searched the Prophets,” he said.
“I have been instructed by an Angel.
I am convinced that Mary will give birth to God
in a manner beyond understanding.
Wise men from the East will come to worship Him,
offering precious gifts in adoration.”
O Lord, incarnate for us, glory to You!

Stikhera at the Sixth Hour (Tone 6)
Let us cleanse our minds...

Come, O God-inspired faithful,
arise and behold the descent of God from on high!
He manifests Himself to us in Bethlehem.
Let us cleanse our minds and offer Him a life of virtue instead of myrrh.
Let us prepare with faith to celebrate His nativity,
storing up spiritual treasure and crying out:
Glory in the highest to God in Trinity!
His good pleasure is now revealed to men.
In His love for mankind He sets Adam free from the ancestral curse.”

Stikhera at the Ninth Hour (Tone 2)
The Virgin encourages Joseph with divine theology.

When Joseph went up to Bethlehem,
his heart was filled with sadness.
But you cried out to Him, O Virgin:
“Why are you so troubled?
Why are you in misery seeing me with child?
Do you not understand at all?
I bear a fearful mystery.
Cast your fears away, and learn a strange wonder:
God, in His mercy, descends from heaven to earth.
Within my womb He has taken flesh.
When He is pleased to be born, you will see Him.
You will rejoice, and worship Him, your Creator.
The Angels ceaselessly praise Him in song,
glorifying Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”

"Glory" for the Stikhera of the Ninth Hour (Tone 6)
(Audio with icons below)

Today He Who holds the whole creation in His hand is born of a Virgin.
He Whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling-clothes as a 
mortal man.
God, Who in the beginning fashioned the heavens, lies in a manger.
He who rained manna on His people in the wilderness is fed on milk from 
His mother’s breast.
The Bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men;
the Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.
We worship Your birth, O Christ.
We worship Your birth, O Christ.
We worship Your birth, O Christ.
Show us also Your Holy Theophany!