The Meeting of Our Lord
Written By: Aidan Wilson
Column: A Flashback in Orthodox History
Issue: Set to Appear in the February Issue of the Newsletter
On February 2nd in the Orthodox Church, we celebrate the feast of the Meeting of our Lord, in which Jesus’s parents presented their forty-day-old Son to the elder Symeon in the Temple. The feasts of the Nativity and the Meeting are closely connected. For example, the original chronology of events is preserved in the Church calendar, with February 2nd being the fortieth day after December 25th.
The link between the two feasts can also be seen in their hymnography, since multiple hymns for February 2nd share the same melody as hymns centered around the themes of the Nativity. The melody which one accompanied the words, “O House of Ephratha, august and holy city, thou glory of the prophets, prepare the house wherein the Divine One shall be born for us” is now used for a set of hymns, interspersed between verses of St. Symeon’s Prayer, proclaiming that “Christ, the burning coal foreseen by godly Isaiah, in the hands of the Mother of God, as in a pair of tongs, is now given to the Elder.”
Likewise, hymns now tell us such things as these: “And the elder cried with joy, saying: Lettest thou me depart, for I have beheld Thee, O Life of all”, and share the same melody as the Nativity hymn which formerly said, “For Christ is born now, twofold in nature, to fill Heaven with mankind.”
But perhaps the most interesting part of the liturgical structure of this commemoration is its special set of Megalynaria at Orthros, completely unique from anything found in the texts for the Nativity or any other feast. Sung after the ninth ode of the Kanon, these sixteen brief hymns display, in their original Greek form, a level of poetic beauty that no English translation has been able to fully preserve. The first fourteen, which probably predate the last pair, are written such that their initial letters are arranged in alphabetical order: the letters alpha through omicron, using alpha twice, and omitting iota and chi.
In addition to this, there are multiple wordplays throughout the Megalynaria, such as in verse 5, where the name “Symeon” is placed such that the hymn contains a pair of adjacent, similar-sounding words “Symeon, semeron”. In English, the assonant effect is completely lost: “Come, behold ye Christ the Lord and the Master of all things; Him doth Symeon now hold in the Temple on this day.”
Finally, each Megalynarion has the same pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables as all the others. This effect has been preserved in English translations–in one translation by Fr. Seraphim Dedes and another by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Thus, all of the verses, both in Greek and in English, can be chanted to the same special Tone 3 melody, a melody found only in this feast’s 16 Megalynaria (and in one lone Prokeimenon in the funeral service).
Here in the bleak midwinter, the Church calls us to remember Christ’s arrival among men, by hearkening back to the Nativity and reminding us of the importance of the Meeting of our Lord. As it accomplishes this with artistic and musical texts, we must remember to listen, so that we may gain the feeling of awe expressed in the words of the hymnographers.
That which came to pass in thee * we in no wise comprehend, * not the Angels, nor we men, * O thou Virgin Mother pure.
Righteous Elder Simeon * now embraceth in his arms * both the Author of the Law * and the Master of all things.
Since the Fashioner had willed * to save Adam, whom He formed, * He came down, dwelt in thy womb, * O thou Virgin chaste and pure.
All the race of mortal men * blesseth thee, O Maid most pure, * glorifying thee with faith * as the Mother of our God.