Just Remember That Death Is Not The End

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In the last two days the subjects of death and euthanasia have come up frequently on Christian websites. For example, yesterday I read an article in Pravoslavie.ru from the National Review concerning a Dutch doctor who was sued for “Saying No to euthanasia”. Christian Headlines.com say that in Quebec doctors are being forced to comply with the assisted suicide (ie. euthanasia) programme even if they are morally opposed to it.  For anyone who may still have doubts as to where all this “end-the-suffering-by-ending-the-sufferer” cult may lead to, I would recommend Fr. Philip LeMasters’s recent post http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/easternchristianinsights /2015/09/27/an-orthodox-christian-argument-against-physician-assisted-suicide/.

I would like to add my own protest along with other Christian voices to the gross distortion of God’s commandments that I believe “mercy”killing to be. What a gross, appalling violation against the essential sanctity of all Life! How profoundly evil, ugly and merciless such a vision of ‘mercy’ death is!

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Today, rather than any debate, let the haunting beauty and profound spirituality of two Tavener classic works’ refute their arguments. Tavener’s Song for Athene and Funeral Ikos are deeply moving musical works which convey God’s grandeur and sovereignty over life and His overcoming of death. Tavener converted to Orthodox Christianity in 1977, and his compositions after that date are in his own words “icons in sound”, heavily influenced by Byzantine ecclesiastical music. He said he wanted to produce music which is “the sound of God”. In his recent book, The music of silence, Tavener said “If you listen to the music of the East, somehow the divine is already there. It is – which is a parallel with the eternal ‘I am’.” Ivan Moody, the noted Orthodox musicologist and priest, argues that Tavener’s music has “dynamic stasis” in its attempt to convey the theology and spirituality of the Orthodox Church.

Tavener’s Song for Athene is one of his best-known works, since it was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, consisting of the Hebrew Alleluia (“let us praise the LORD”) sung six times as a ‘refrain’ to excerpts from the Eastern Orthodox funeral service and from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the Byzantine tradition a continuous ison, or drone, underlies the work, adding a profound solemnity in the face of death. Mother Thekla, an Orthodox nun and Tavener’s ‘spiritual mother’ wrote the lyrics. “Let flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” from Hamlet overcomes the ugliness of death; “the Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life and door of paradise”. “Come enjoy crowns and rewards I have prepared for you” emphasizes the final triumph of life over death. The opening of the song in Tavener’s words should be very tender, “with great inner stillness and serenity”. This corresponds to the Orthodox hesychastic tradition of stillness in prayer, whereas the climactic crescendo, conveying “the resplendent joy in the Resurrection”, the heart of the Orthodox faith, seals appropriately the end of the piece.

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Tavener’s Funeral Ikos is a musical setting of words for the Orthodox Service for the Burial. The words offer great consolation, but they soberly admonish us to prepare for the gateway to Paradise as well.

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Why these bitter words of the dying,

O brethren, which they utter as they go hence?

I am parted from my brethren.

All my friends do I abandon, and go hence.

But whither I go, that understand I not, neither

what shall become of me yonder; only God,

who hath summoned me knoweth.

But make commemoration of me with the song: Alleluia.

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But whither now go the souls?

How dwell they now together there?

This mystery have I desired to learn,

but none can impart aright.

Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?

Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them

and make the song Alleluia.

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We go forth on the path eternal and as condemned,

with downcast faces,

present ourselves before the only God eternal.

Where then is comeliness?

Where then is wealth?

Where then is the glory of this world?

There shall

none of these things aid us,

but only to say oft the psalm: Alleluia.

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If thou hast shown mercy unto man,

O man, that same mercy shall be shown thee there;

and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,

the same sball there deliver thee from want.

If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,

the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:

Alleluia.

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Youth and the beauty of the body fade

at the hour of death,

and the tongue then burneth fiercely,

and the parched throat is inflamed.

The beauty of the eyes is quenched then,

the comeliness of the face all altered,

the shapeliness of the neck destroyed;

and the other parts have become numb,

nor often say: Alleluia.

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With ecstasy we are inflamed

if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder;

that there is Paradise,

wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.

Let us all, also, enter into Christ, that all we may cry

aloud thus unto God: Alleluia.

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For TAVENER’S SONG FOR ATHENE, please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ma_Ouv74_8

For TAVENER’S FUNERAL IKOS, please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZRrbixpVV0

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Sources for Tavener’s music:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2013/feb/19/contemporary-music-guide-john-tavener

http://www.gimell.com/recording-john-tavener—ikon-of-light—funeral-ikos—the-lamb—tallis-scholars.aspx

http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/contemplating-tavener/

http://www.naxos.com/mainsite/blurbs_reviews.asp?item_code=8.555256&catNum=555256&filetype=About this Recording&language=English.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/arts/music/john-tavener-dies-at-69-composer-with-eye-on-god.html?_r=2&

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O Isaiah, Dance for Joy

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O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.
Composer: John Tavener

Meant to convey a series of verbal and musical impressions of a village wedding in Greece, Tavener’s music is set to a mix of texts from Angelos Sikelianos’ poem” Village Wedding” interspersed with many repetitions of the line “O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child” taken from the Orthodox wedding service.

Text, by Angelos Sikelianos, translated from Greek by Philip Sherrard and Edmund Keeley

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To my beloved, who breaks my heart.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

Do you listen within your veil, silent, God-quickened heart?
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

O depth and stillness of virginity! Follow your man.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

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Let them throw white rice like a spring shower.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

Like a spring cloud, let her now tenderly spread her bridal veil.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

O the peace of the bridal dawn.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

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And he listens, and he listens.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.And, as in front of a fount of crystal water,
Let the girls pass in front of the bride,
Observing her look from the corner of their eyes,
As though balancing pitchers on their heads.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.O, like Leto giving birth to Apollo,
Do you listen within your veil?
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

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When standing, her hands slight and pale,
(Let them throw white rice…)
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.She clasped the ethereal palm tree on Delos,
Like a spring cloud.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.May you her mystical image…
O the peace of the bridal dawn.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

Held by your husband’s strong heart,
And he listens.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

Bring into the world with a single cry your child,
As the poet brings forth his creation.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

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*The Dance of Isaiah is one of the integral parts of the Wedding/Crowning Service (Sacrament of Holy Matrimony) in the Orthodox Church (Byzantine Rite) and involves a the triple procession around a center table. The priest, holding the Gospel or Blessing Cross and the clasped hands of the groom and bride, and followed by the best man (or woman) who holds the newlyweds’ crowns above their heads, and the bridesmaids holding the lit white candles, walk three counterclockwise turns around the table in a celebratory “dance”. Each of the three turns is accompanied by each of the three hymns, which return once more to the theme of martyrdom and union with Christ. These are the hymns that, since ancient times, the Church has used to emphasize God’s blessings, and the same ones sung at ordinations to ecclesiastical orders. They signify that this couple has been set apart from the mundane world to live a life in Christ:

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Rejoice, O Isaiah! The Virgin is with child,

And shall bear a son Emmanuel,

Who is both God and Man,

And Orient is His Name,

Whom magnifying we call, the Virgin blessed.

O Holy Martyrs,

who fought the good fight and have received your crowns,

Entreat ye the Lord,

That He will have mercy on our souls.

Glory to Thee, O Christ God.

The Apostles boast,

The Martyrs Joy,

whose preaching was the Consubstantial Trinity.

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To watch how the celebrant actually leads the marriage couple and the witnesses around the wedding table three times at the Orthodox Wedding/Crowning Service (Byzantine Rite), while chanting this religious hymn,  go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyTQnV5W24A

Wedding Photographs: Wedding with Carved Crowns
Source: Orthodox Arts Journal

Numb, Joyless, Desolate

 

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Mother of God,

Here I stand now praying

Before this ikon of your radiant brightness,

Not praying to be saved from a battlefield;

Not giving thanks nor seeking forgiveness for the sins of my soul,

Nor for all the souls.

Numb, joyless and desolate on earth;

But for her alone, whom I wholly give you.

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Hymn on the morning of our Lady’s Nativity

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqsMBX9Kxm4