Sunday, February 24, 2008

By the Waters of Babylon

Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in the Orthodox Church, the second Sunday of preparation for Great Lent (Gospel reading: Luke 15:11-32). Last week, the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, we sang the hymn "Open unto me, O Giver of Life, the gates of repentance..." (hear it sung, in Slavonic, here). This week we add (in the Slav use), another hallmark of the Lenten services, the chanting of the haunting Psalm 136 during the Polyeleos:
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Alleluia.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. Alleluia.

For there they that had taken us captive required of us a song; and they that had carried us away required of us a hymn, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. Alleluia.

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? Alleluia.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Alleluia.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem as my chief joy. Alleluia.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Down with it, down with it, even to the foundation thereof. Alleluia.

O wretched daughter of Babylon, happy shall he be that shall reward thee as thou hast served us. Alleluia.

Happy shall he be, that shall take and dash thy little ones against the rock. Alleluia.
Metropolitan Kallistos, commenting on this verse, writes: "This Psalm of exile, sung by the children of Israel in their Babylonian captivity, has a special appropriateness on the Sunday of the Prodigal, when we call to mind our present exile in sin and make the resolve to return home. You can hear it chanted (in Slavonic) here
A hymn specific to this week in the Sessional Hymn (sedalen) chanted in Tone One after the Third Ode of the Canon:
Make haste to open unto me Thy fatherly embrace, for as the Prodigal I have wasted my life. In the unfailing wealth of Thy mercy, O Saviour, reject not my heart in its poverty. For with compunction I cry to Thee, O Lord: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee.
It's significant that this same hymn is chanted at the beginning of the service of monastic tonsure. Hear it chanted (in Slavonic) here.

For more on the hymnography of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, I recommend this short reflection by Deacon Matthew Steenberg.

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