shepherd sounds

Hymn of the month · April 2014: III

The day of resurrection [Hymn 210]


Icons of saints around the lantern above the crossing
[Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Ely, Cambridgeshire, England]

Icons of saints around the rotunda
[St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco, California]

Two weeks ago we learned about the author of this month’s hymn, St John of Damascus, who lived in Syria and Jerusalem in the 600s–700s. During that time, Christians in Eastern Europe and the Middle East – whom we now call Eastern Orthodox Christians – got into a big argument about icons. No, they weren’t fighting about tiny pictures on their computers or phones! Icon is the Greek word for ‘image’, and for much of the Church’s history, pictures have been very important (we’ve been looking at lots of them on this blog, haven’t we?). Pictures help tell the stories of the Bible, and icons of the saints also help us feel connected to these important examples and fellow Christians – just like pictures of our families and friends we have known help us feel close to them even when we’re not with them physically.

As we’ve said before, these pictures can be found on the walls, ceilings, and windows of churches, in Bibles and other books, and on panels of wood or canvas. Thousands and thousands of them have been made over the centuries. But because of the love and devotion many Christians show towards the saints – the family of God – sometimes some people worry that pictures like these can become idols (something we worship instead of worshiping God). Sometimes they even go around destroying them. This happened a lot in Europe during the 1500s and 1600s, during what we call the Reformation, and it happened in the Eastern Orthodox churches in the 700s, during the lifetime of St John of Damascus. But he wrote some books defending the use of icons, and ever since then icons have been an important part of people’s lives in the Eastern Churches, most of which are covered with icons on the inside. Many Western Churches too, especially Roman Catholic and Anglican/Episcopal Churches, have beautiful images of the saints: at the beginning of this post you can see icons in the Cathedral in Ely (‘EEL-ee’) in England, and in the Church of St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, California – both of which are Anglican churches.

Good Shepherd has a couple of pictures that might be called icons – have you ever noticed them? One is a painting of St Mary with the baby Jesus, a kind of picture often called a ‘Madonna and Child’; Madonna means ‘My Lady’ in Italian. The other one is a picture of St Mary with the body of Jesus after it had been taken down from the Cross; this is called a Pietà (‘pyeh-TAH’), another Italian word meaning ‘pity’. There is also a Pietà sculpture outside in the garth, and a statue of St Francis of Assisi in the lobby of the office building. Next time you’re at church, take a few minutes to look at these images, and thank God for Jesus, our Lord and Savior; for St Mary, who agreed to be His Mother; and for the other saints like Francis, who show us what it’s like to follow God’s will in our lives.

Hymn of the month · April 2014: II

The day of resurrection [Hymn 210]

Easter as the Christian Passover

The Red Sea crossing [Armenian miniature]

The first stanza (verse) of our hymn –

The day of resurrection!
Earth, tell it out abroad;
the Passover of gladness,
the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal,
from earth unto the sky,
our Christ hath brought us over
with hymns of victory.

– mentions the Passover twice, so it must be important! If you recognize this word, you might be surprised to find it in a Christian Easter hymn, since Passover is a Jewish holiday. But remember, Jesus and most of His first followers were Jewish, and of course most of the Bible (what we call the Old Testament) was, and is, the Scriptures of the Jewish people first.

The story of the Passover is found in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus (‘EX-uh-duss’, which means ‘going out’). According to the Bible, long, long ago – maybe three thousand years ago, long before Our Lord Jesus lived  – the people of Israel had gradually moved to Egypt because crops weren’t growing and there wasn’t enough food in their homeland. But in Egypt, over time, they had been made slaves. So God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and out of slavery. When it came time to leave, the Egyptian army chased the Israelites right toward the Red Sea, which separates Africa and Arabia. How did they escape? The Bible tells us that a strong wind pushed back the water of the sea so that there was dry ground for the Israelites to cross over safely – but when they got to the other side, the water came back so that the Egyptians couldn’t cross. You may have seen a movie or picture of this famous story; in the image above, you can see the Israelites at the right-hand side walking on dry ground, with the water coming together behind them as the Egyptians follow them.*

What does this have to do with Easter? Well, this story of rescue became one the most important stories that the Israelite/Jewish people told about their God and their history. And much, much later, when people were trying to understand the new life that they experienced in Jesus’s presence, or in living and worshiping in the way that He taught (which is another way that we experience His presence), they felt like God had rescued them from death just like He had delivered the Israelites from the Egpytian army. We can say that Jesus ‘passed over’ from death to life in His resurrection, and when we are baptized into the Church, His Body, we pass over into new life too. At the beginning of the Easter Vigil service (page 285 in the Book of Common Prayer), the priest tells the people:

On this most holy night…our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life…this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.

*No, the water in the picture isn’t red: the name may come from the algae that grow in the water and make it look red during certain times of the year, or there may be some other reason for calling it ‘red’. The Hebrew name used in Exodus is ‘Sea of Reeds’, meaning it has lots of sea-grasses growing in it.

Hymn of the month · April 2014: I

The day of resurrection [Hymn 210]

St John of Damascus

St John of Damascus (his real name was Yuhanna ibn Mansur ibn Sarjun) was a Syrian Christian monk and priest. He was born either around 645 or in 676 and was raised in Damascus, which is still the capital of Syria. He may have had an important job in the government. He certainly wrote many books about law, about God and the Christian faith, about church music, and other things. He also wrote hymns that are sung in the Eastern Orthodox [‘OR-thuh-docks’] Churches, those Churches that are in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, or that come from those areas (there are several here in Austin). We sing some of his hymns too. Do you remember how to find out which hymns in our Hymnal were written by him? You can look him up in the Index of Authors, Translators, and Sources near the back of your Hymnal.

The one we’re going to study this month is an Easter hymn:

The day of resurrection!
     Earth, tell it out abroad;
the Passover of gladness,
     the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal,
     from earth unto the sky,
our Christ hath brought us over
     with hymns of victory.

Our hearts be pure from evil,
     that we may see aright
the Lord in rays eternal
     of resurrection light;
and, listening to his accents,
     may hear so calm and plain
his own ‘All hail!’ and, hearing,
     may raise the victor strain.

Now let the heavens be joyful,
     let earth her song begin,
the round world keep high triumph,
     and all that is therein;
let all things seen and unseen
     their notes together blend,
for Christ the Lord is risen,
     our joy that hath no end.

Here’s a video of it the way we sing it:

Here are several verses of this hymn sung in Slavonic (the language used in Orthodox Churches in places like Russia and Ukraine, Bulgaria and Serbia), and in Greek (the language St John of Damascus wrote in), with an English translation in the video, and with the kind of music St John of Damascus probably would have heard in church:

And here is the first verse of this hymn sung in many different languages, including the original Greek, as well as in Arabic, which St John of Damascus must have spoken much of the time:

Next week we’ll talk about the word ‘Passover’ that is used in this hymn.

Hymn of the month · March 2014: IV

Now let us all with one accord [Hymn 146/147]

Gregorian Chant

Last week we talked about St Gregory the Great, and especially about his sending missionaries to England. St Gregory did many other things. For one thing, he wrote quite a lot of books. For another, he was very interested in how the Church worships, and especially in the music we use. In fact, the kind of music that’s at the heart of the Church’s worship is named for him: ‘Gregorian’ chant. Chant was the only kind of music used in the Church for many centuries and is the basis for a lot of other church music. In fact in ancient times, and even today in Orthodox churches and sometimes in other kinds of churches, including Anglican ones, worship services are chanted all the way through.

What is Gregorian chant? Well, it’s a kind of music that has only a melody – no harmony – and it’s almost always sung without instruments. The melodies don’t usually have big leaps from one note to the next, and they’re usually sung without a strong, regular beat, unlike a lot of the music we sing and hear today. Though the chant melodies are very beautiful (some are simple, while others are quite complicated), the words are usually the most important part of what’s being sung, because they’re words from the Bible or hymns that praise God or teach us important things about our faith. The music helps us slow down, concentrate or meditate on the words, remember what we’re singing, and even be heard better than we could be if we were just talking. These things were even more important in earlier times when there were no microphones and not many people could read or could afford to buy books! And singing helps us connect our minds and hearts, bodies and spirits. In some languages, including Hebrew and Greek (the languages the Bible was written in), the same word is used for ‘spirit’, ‘breath’, and ‘wind’.

Now, if you ever come to church at Good Shepherd at 11:00 on Sunday morning, or to some services like Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday, you’ll hear some chant (that’s what a lot of the ‘S’ numbers at the front of our Hymnal are for). A lot of hymns in our Hymnal also have a chant tune as well as a more modern-sounding one, including this month’s hymn, ‘Now let us all with one accord’: the chant tune is at Hymn 146, while the tune we normally sing at Good Shepherd is at Hymn 147. The chant tune sounds like this, and the music looks like this (chant is written sort of like modern music – but usually with square notes, and with a staff of four lines instead of five):

Gregorian chant tune for ‘Now let us all with one accord’

The words you hear in this recording are a different translation of the Latin than what’s in our Hymnal, and the tune is a little different too, but this gives you an idea of what Gregorian chant sounds like. There are thousands of pieces of Gregorian chant in the world. Maybe you’ll get to sing one in choir someday!

St Gregory the Great is remembered in the Episcopal Church on March 12 – right around the time we usually sing this hymn.

Hymn of the month · March 2014: III

Now let us all with one accord [Hymn 146/147]

St Gregory the Great

St Gregory the Great

The words of this month’s hymn were written (in Latin) by St Gregory the Great, who was Pope from 590 to 604 – that’s about 1,400 years ago. St Gregory was one of the best Popes, and one of the most important people, in the whole history of the Church. He grew up in a rich family and went to good schools, and after working in the government for a while, he decided to devote his whole life to God. He became a monk and turned his family’s home into a monastery where he and other monks could spend all their time praying, worshipping, studying, and maybe writing or teaching or nursing the sick. Later, St Gregory was chosen to be the Pope, and although he sometimes complained that all the work he had to do as such a great leader took him away from the quiet and prayerful life of the monastery, he knew it was also important for the Church to try to teach people about God’s love just as Jesus did.

The mission to England

At the time that St Gregory lived, Christianity had already spread from Jerusalem (in Israel/Palestine, where Jesus and the first disciples lived) eastward across the Middle East and even into parts of South India and China; northeast into Armenia and Georgia; west across the North African coast; south into Egypt and Ethiopia and what is now Sudan; and northwest across what is now Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and into Ireland and parts of Britain. But the rest of Europe was not yet Christian, so St Gregory began to send out missionaries to Northern Europe.

World Christianity around 600

St Gregory thought especially of England because he remembered seeing some slaves who had been brought from there to Rome. So he sent a group of missionaries, led by his friend Augustine, to England to tell the people there about God’s love. This group arrived near the town of Canterbury, in the southeast of England, where the king of the Saxon people who lived there, King Æþelberht [ATH-el-ber-hhht] (we usually simplify the name to Ethelbert) gave them a friendly welcome. Ethelbert was so welcoming, in fact, that he gave St Augustine and his friends an old church building to use (there had been Christians in that area earlier, when it was part of the Roman Empire, but those Christians had been forced out by the Saxons and others who had invaded from Europe in the meantime). That church, with St Martin as its patron, is still there, and is the oldest church in England.

St Martin’s Church, Canterbury, England

Doesn’t it remind you of Good Shepherd? In the distance you can see the tower of Canterbury Cathedral, where the Good Shepherd Choir got to sing a couple of years ago. A Bible that St Augustine brought with him is still around, too: here’s a picture of St Luke from it, and the beginning of St Luke’s Gospel (it’s in Latin, and in old-fashioned writing, but it’s the same story we read).

Picture of St Luke
St Augustine Gospel Book, written in the late 500s

Beginning of the Gospel of St Luke
St Augustine Gospel Book, written in the late 500s

A monastery was also started at Canterbury, and after St Augustine died it was named for him. The monastery was later destroyed, but you can still see where St Augustine and some of his friends were buried. St Augustine of Canterbury is remembered in the Episcopal Church on May 26.

Grave of St Augustine of Canterbury (died in 605),
near Canterbury Cathedral 

Eventually King Ethelbert and his people became Christians (his wife, Queen Bertha, who had come from what is now France, already was a Christian), and the Christians in other parts of Britain and Ireland were reunited with the rest of the Church. From Ireland and Britain, then, missionaries went back to Europe and did important work in what is now Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland – so what St Gregory wanted for the people there finally came true. Ethelbert and Bertha are remembered in the Episcopal Church on May 27, the day after St Augustine.

The English Church and its missionary work are also important to us in the Episcopal Church in the United States, because a thousand years after the time we’ve just been talking about, when the English were coming to North America, the Church of England came with them. When the United States became independent from England, the Church of England in America (because it couldn’t be called the ‘Church of England’ anymore) became known as the Episcopal Church (Episcopal means ‘having to do with bishops’). And even though the Episcopal Church is independent from the Church of England just as the United States is independent from Britain, we still pray for the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury (the first one was St Augustine; the current one is called Justin) every Sunday, because the Church of England and all her daughter Churches – what we call the ‘Anglican Communion’ – all over the world are still one family.

For a longer version of the meeting of St Augustine and his friends with King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha , written by St Bede (pronounced ‘beed’) the Venerable, who lived from 672 to 735 and wrote a history of England up to that time (and lots of other things too), go here.

(St Bede is remembered in the Episcopal Church on May 25, the day before St Augustine of Canterbury.)

Finally, drop a few letters out of ‘Augustine’, and you get ‘Austin’! Even though our city isn’t named for St Augustine, that’s where the name originally comes from.

Hymn of the month · March 2014: II

Now let us all with one accord [Hymn 146/147]

The temptation of Christ
Now let us all with one accord,
     in company with ages past,
keep vigil with our heavenly Lord
     in his temptation and his fast.

We start the season of Lent by reading that right after His baptism, Our Lord Jesus went out into the wilderness, where he spent forty days. There He struggled with the temptation to use His gifts to show off, to rely on His own power instead of on God, and to put money or power or other things ahead of God in His life – rather than to help people as God wanted Him to do. In the pictures below, you can see what different artists though the devil might look like: sometimes he looks like a monster, but other times he looks almost human. Bad things sometimes look as bad as they really are, but maybe more often they look good on the outside – that’s why they’re tempting!

The temptation of Christ (by Duccio [Italian, around 1255—around 1318])


The temptation of Christ (from the Hermitage of San Baudelio, Berlanga, Spain)

The temptation of Christ (by Juan de Flandes [Dutch, working in Spain around 1500])

The Gospels tell us that Jesus resisted these temptations – by knowing the Bible by heart, by lots of prayer, and by relying on God’s strength. And we know that because Jesus could resist the temptation to do things wrong, we can too, if we follow His example.

Fasting and other Lenten habits

One of the things that Jesus did in the wilderness, as the Bible and our hymn tells us, was to fast. If you don’t know what this means, here’s a hint: it’s part of the word for the first meal you eat in the morning. To fast is not to eat, or not to eat certain foods, or at least to eat a lot less during the day (‘breakfast’ is called that because you haven’t eaten all night – you’ve fasted – and in the morning you break your fast). People throughout the Church fast at certain times – in Lent, and all Fridays in the year except in Christmas and Easter seasons – together with prayers and reading Scriptures and doing things to help people (what are sometimes called ‘works of mercy’). Doing these things helps them to control their actions, to remember to trust in God always, and to remember those who don’t have enough to eat or wear or a place to live. Now, you’re probably too young to really fast – usually children and the elderly don’t do it – but there are lots of other ways you can take on a special discipline (a habit) during Lent. On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent (March 5 this year), one of the priests will tell the congregation:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
(Book of Common Prayer, page 265)

So talk to your parents about ways that members of your family might ‘observe a holy Lent’ (‘observe’ in this case doesn’t mean to ‘look at’, but to ‘obey’ or ‘keep’ a rule) – by giving up some kind of treat (food or drink, or some fun activity), and giving the money or time you would have spent to help someone in need; or by saying prayers or reading the Bible together if you don’t already; or by being especially kind and loving to others; or by trying to give up a bad habit like complaining or gossip or being a little lazy with chores or homework. There are lots of ways to keep Lent, at any age – and you might even find that these new habits make you feel better about yourself and other people, and that you might want to keep them up even after Lent is over!

Hymn of the month · March 2014: I

Now let us all with one accord [Hymn 146/147]


From Christmas to Epiphany and the season after, the Church has been following the life of Jesus, Our Lord, from His birth up to the time He was grown. We learned that God, two different times, spoke and said that Jesus was His Son, His beloved. (Do you remember when those times were? It was at the Baptism of Jesus, and His Transfiguration, which are celebrated on the First and Last Sundays after the Epiphany.) When people heard these words from God, and when Jesus taught and healed the sick, people began to understand just a little about how special and important He was. In the next season of the year, called Lent (this comes from the same word as ‘length’ – it’s springtime, when the days are getting longer), we follow Jesus some more as He tells of God’s love.

Now, a long time ago, baptisms used to be held only at Easter, and Lent was a time when people who were getting ready to be baptized learned about the Christian faith. This year, on the Sundays in Lent, we get to hear the very same set of stories from the Bible that those people would have heard back then, stories that tell us what it’s like when we live life close to God through the sacraments of Baptism and Communion, and through prayer and helping others: it’s like being born all over again; it’s like being able to see for the first time after being blind; it’s like water that quenches your thirst for ever; it’s like coming alive again after dying. Even if we’ve already been baptized, Lent is a season when we examine (look closely at) the way we live our lives, confess (say we’re sorry) when we haven’t done what we should’ve, and repent (try harder, with God’s help, to change our habits and do what God wants us to do).

Next week, looking at our hymn, we’ll talk a bit about how we can do these things during the season of Lent.