Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Mercy Without Measure
I just tried to upload an .mp3 file from my recent recital to this blog, but evidently this platform doesn't accept them. The piece is the haunting "Troparion of Kassiani," an unaccompanied soprano-soprano-alto trio by the young British composer Ivan Moody, a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. He takes for his text the words of a hymn (or troparion) by Kassiani (pictured above), a ninth-century Byzantine nun, composer, and hymnographer who is acclaimed as a saint in the Eastern Church. This troparion, about the woman who washed Christ's feet with her tears, is chanted on the Wednesday of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. The text, in translation, is:
The woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving Thy divinity, oh Lord, fulfilled the part of a myrrh-bearer, and with lamentation she brought sweet-smelling oil of myrrh to Thee before Thy burial.
“Woe is me,” she said, “for night surrounds me, dark and moonless, and stings my lustful passion with the love of sin. Accept the fountains of my tears, oh Thou who drawest down from the clouds the waters of the sea. Incline to the groanings of my heart, oh Thou who in Thine ineffable self-emptying bowed down the heavens. I shall kiss Thy most pure feet and wipe them again with the hairs of my head, those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise, and hid herself for fear. Who can search out the multitude of my sins and the abyss of Thy judgements, o Saviour of my soul? Despise me not, Thine handmaiden, for thou hast mercy without measure.”
I thought of this today as I went to one of the dozens of Quest Labs around town, where I have a standing order to have blood drawn every two weeks for the duration of my pregnancy. Since September 11 I have been uneasy on the subway, but the presence in my car of two young nuns in long traditional habits was calming. The nuns got out at my stop, and I saw them again a few minutes later, walking ahead of me. To my surprise, they entered the same genteel building that I was headed for. As I followed a few paces behind, I was amazed to see them go into Quest Labs. When I got to the door, the nuns and I were the only patients there. I asked them to pray for me and the baby, and they said they'd pray to St. Gerard Majella for me (I already consider him a friend). As they were leaving, one of the nuns embraced me. I asked her her name, and she said, "Mercy."