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The Hymn of Kassiani, also known as the Hymn of the Fallen Woman, is a Penitential Hymn that is based on the Gospel reading for Holy Wednesday morning (Matthew 26:6-16), which speaks of a sinful woman who anoints Jesus' feet with costly ointment (distinguished from a similar incident with a different woman, St. Mary of Bethany). This hymn is chanted only once a year and considered a musical high-point of the Holy Week, at the Matins and Presanctified Liturgy of Holy Wednesday, in the Plagal Fourth Tone.
THE HYMN OF KASSIANI THE NUN - 4th Plagal Tone
Saint Andrew Greek Orthodox Church
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the Ages of Ages. Amen.
The woman who had fallen into many sins recognizes Thy Godhead, O Lord. She takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer and makes ready the myrrh of mourning, before Thy entombment. Woe to me! saith she, for my night is an ecstasy of excess, gloomy and moonless, and full of sinful desire. Receive the sources of my tears, O Thou Who dost gather into clouds the water of the sea; in Thine ineffable condescension, deign to bend down Thyself to me and to the lamentations of my heart, O Thou Who didst spread out the Heavens. I will fervently embrace Thy sacred feet, and wipe them again with the tresses of the hair of my head, Thy feet at whose sound Eve hid herself for fear when she heard Thee walking in Paradise in the cool of the day. O my Savior and soul-Saver Who can trace out the multitude of my sins, and the abysses of Thy judgment? Do not disregard me Thy servant, O Thou Whose mercy is boundless.
Kassiani is one of the first composers whose scores are both extant and able to be interpreted by modern scholars and musicians. Approximately fifty of her hymns are extant and twenty-three are included in the Orthodox Church liturgical books. The exact number is difficult to assess, as many hymns are ascribed to different authors in different manuscripts and are often identified as anonymous. In addition, some 789 of her non-liturgical verses survive. Many are epigrams or aphorisms called "gnomic verse." An example: "I hate the rich man moaning as if he were poor."
She was born between 805 and 810 AD in Constantinople into an wealthy family and grew to be exceptionally beautiful and intelligent. Three Byzantine chroniclers, Symeon Metarphrastes, George the Monk (a.k.a. George the Sinner) and Leto the Grammarian, claim that she was a participant in the "bride show" organized for the young bachelor Theophilos the Iconoclast by his stepmother, the Empress Dowager Euphrosyne. Smitten by Kassia's beauty, the young emperor approached her and said: "Through a woman [came forth] the baser [things]," referring to the sin and suffering coming as a result of Eve's transgression. Kassiani (Kassia) promptly responded by saying: "And through a woman [came forth] the better [things]," referring to the hope of salvation resulting from the Incarnation of Christ through the Theotokos (Mother of God). According to tradition, the dialogue was:
"-Εκ γυναικός τα χείρω." " -Και εκ γυναικός τά κρείτω."His pride wounded by Kassiani's terse rebuttal, Theophilos rejected her and chose Theodora as his wife.
The next we hear of Kassiani is that in 843 AD she founded a Monastery in the west of Constantinople, near the Constantinian Walls, and became its first Egoumenissa (Abbess). Although many scholars attribute this to bitterness at having failed to marry Theophilos and becoming Empress, a letter from Theodore the Studite indicates that she had other motivations for wanting a monastic life. It has a close relationship with the nearby monastery of Stoudios, which was to play a central role in re-editing the Byzantine liturgical books in the 9th and 10th centuries, thus ensuring the survival of her work.
She wrote many hymns for liturgies; the most famous being the eponymous Hymn of Kassiani, sung every Holy and Great Wednesday (liturgically; actually chanted late in the evening of Holy and Great Tuesday). [Source: Kassiani the Hymnographer]
AN ANALYSIS OF THE HYMN OF KASSIANI
"Lord!...Do not disregard me…You, whose mercy is boundless."
The melodious harmony of this hymn reverberates through the Orthodox churches of the world, as the climatic conclusion of the service of Holy and Great Tuesday Evening. The faithful surrender to the waves of contrition, which descend from the chanters or choirs. The hymn spreads to the congregation the touch of another world, a world which the soul yearns for.
There are few hymns which move people so deeply as this one. In a quiet, mystical way, it enters into the deepest parts of our inner cosmos. Turned into ourselves, each one of us witnesses the journey of our soul down a path of slavery and darkness, for which it was not created, and its subsequent dramatic deliverance and emergence into the Eternal Light.
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But what is it that is heard on the night of Holy and Great Tuesday in our churches? Is it sweet-sounding hymn? A lyrical song? Or a lamentation?
It is all of these, but chiefly, it is a drama with universal connotations. An act without scenery nor actors present on the stage. The chorals are replaced by the sobs and lamentations of the one and only central heroine of the drama. The musical background is "the source of her tears," "the groaning of her heart," "the embracing and kissing" of the feet of the Lord.
The dramatic act takes place before God in the human soul. Its shame is the realization of sinfulness which brings a person to contrition, and the "exodus" from the "night" of "intemperance" to the "boundless mercy" of the Savior.
So is it drama? Yes, a drama without active scenery. A drama that is universal and real. Universal because it concerns all people in the world, and real because it is relevant to human life on earth throughout the ages.
It is heroic, because it presents to us, the person, who stands before his sinfulness and is shaken, and confesses it, and even more heroically, looks to the "inexplorable depths" of God's great mercy to find salvation.
Even though this drama begins from an episode in the life of the Lord, described by Saint Luke the Evangelist (Luke 7:36-50 [& Matthew 26:6-16]), it surpasses both time and unfolds beyond time in a place which cannot place where the central character, the human soul, moves between two extremes: the human tragedy--"a dark and moonless love of sin"- and the Eternity of salvation to mankind by the God-Man, Who, in His "ineffable condescension, bowed down the Heavens", Who takes the soul out of the "ecstasy of darkness", which drives it to.
Of course, it is not Kassiani the nun who is "the woman who had fallen into many sins", as some thought. She is though, the poet who is anguished as she witnesses the fall of mankind. This anguish however, does not lead her to a pointless cursing of the 'fate' of humanity. She climbs onto the wings of Faith, and harbors in God's love, in order to present, with a unique sensitivity, the human pain that will eventually be healed and lead to the unending doxology of the "soul-saving Lord."
The sinful soul laments, but not in the emptiness of an inexorable loneliness. From the beginning of the hymn, we hear the cry "Lord!" The sinful woman is not by herself in her pain. Traveling with her on this painful journey is the Lord, to Whom her confession is being made
'The woman who had fallen into many sins', the heroine of the drama which Kassiani presents to us, concludes her prayerful monologue. She proclaims in a way which matches the overall tone-humble, supplicatory, modest-her basic request, which is also the message of the hymn--she expresses it with prayer in a tone of unshakeable faith and certainty: "Do not disregard me…You, whose mercy is boundless." (Translated from the original Greek.)
Please, see also
An Atonement of Shame – Orthodoxy and the Cross
The Orthodox Holy Week & Holy Easter (Pascha)
The Kingdom of Heaven, where racial discrimination has no place
About saint Kassiani (Cassiane) from the orthodox site Full of Grace & Truth
The Iconoclast controversy, which vexed the Church for over a hundred years, coincided with one of the most productive periods in church hymnography. Among those who made significant contributions in this field, the names of St. Andrew of Crete (+740), Saint John Damascene (+754), and Saint Theodore the Studite (+826) are well known. Less familiar are the women hymnographers of this period-the nuns Thecla, Cassiane and Theodosia-who demonstrated considerable talent in this same field. Of these, Cassiane won lasting distinction as the only woman whose works have entered into the liturgical tradition of the Church.
Cassiane was born in Constantinople some time before 805. Her father's aristocratic status gave Cassiane the privilege of a good education. She was tutored in both secular and sacred studies, and showed such exceptional aptitude for learning as to draw the attention of the great abbot of the Studion Monastery, Saint Theodore. He remarked likewise on her pious character, and indeed, from an early age she desired to become a nun. She was at the same time a spirited young woman of strong convictions and did not hesitate to express her opinions.
Cassiane was also gifted with physical beauty. When the heir-apparent, Theophilus, was in search of a bride, he narrowed the choice to six lovely maidens. Cassiane was one of them. When they gathered for the final decision to be made, Theophilus, who had heard of Cassiane's intelligence, approached her with the statement, "From woman came corruption" (referring to the fall of Eve), to which the quick-witted Cassiane responded, respectfully but surely, "But also from woman sprang forth what is superior" (i.e., God's incarnation from the Holy Virgin). Unnerved, Theophilus passed over Cassiane and offered the golden apple, the sign of his choice, to the more demure, and silent, Theodora.
It would have been a difficult match. Theophilus was an iconoclast and harshly enforced the imperial edict-renewed after the death of Empress Irene -forbidding the veneration of sacred images. Theodora, an iconodule, did not approve of her husband's policy, but she concealed her veneration of icons and kept quiet. Cassiane, by contrast, openly professed herself in favor of the holy icons. She not only spoke her mind, but she acted on her convictions, visiting iconodule monks in prison and sending them gifts. For her defiance of the imperial edict, she suffered persecution and was beaten with a lash.
Far from being disappointed at Theophilos' rejection, Cassiane was now free to unite herself to the bridegroom of her own choosing-the King of kings, Jesus Christ. She was tonsured a nun about the year 820, and founded a convent on one of Constantinople's seven hills, where she led "an ascetic and philosophical life" pleasing to God. An energetic abbess, she not only regulated the life of the convent, but she also found time to pursue her scholarly literary interests. She combined the talents of poet, theologian and musician, writing hymns and composing musical settings for them. Originally sung by her nuns, many of her compositions proved to have enduring value; twenty-three of her works were later incorporated into the liturgical books of the Church.
One of Cassiane's most brilliant creations is her hymn, sung in the Matins service for Holy Wednesday, on the subject of the sinning woman. Based on the story from St. Luke's Gospel (7:36-50), this hymn blends dramatic and narrative elements to create a masterpiece of hymnography which manages, in a few short lines, to present the essential Christian drama of sin and salvation.
The most familiar of Cassiane's works are undoubtedly the irmoi in the Matins canon for Holy Saturday, which is repeated at the Midnight Office for Holy Pascha: "Weep not for me, O Mother, beholding in the tomb the Son Whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb, for I shall arise..." With these stanzas, Cassiane achieves a taut sense of anticipation, providing a marvelous momentum into the climatic celebration of Our Lord's Resurrection.
Cassiane had a forceful personality: "I hate the fool who acts the philosopher," she wrote. "I hate silence when it is time to speak." And this, combined with her many talents and keen intellect makes her an appealing model for today's woman. But it is the fact that she lived only for God, to the end of her life, that made her a saint.
Commemorated September 7.
Videos from ZOLTRAN1 (Holy Cathedral of Athens 1976) & Pat Tsagalakis.