Saint John of Damascus expresses the Light of Christ in the poetry of the hymns that he wrote for the Church. Many of his hymns can be found in the Orthodox funeral service, and we will take a deeper look at how amidst the great grief and sorrow of a death, there is hope in eternal life with our Lord. First, read the story behind Saint John’s writing of the funeral hymns here. Next, take the time to focus specifically on these two hymns by Saint John. Soak in the beauty of his paradoxical poetry.
“What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on the earth? All things are but feeble shadows, all things are most deluding dreams, yet one moment only, and death shall supplant them all. But in the light of Thy countenance, O Christ, and in the sweetness of Thy beauty, give rest to him whom Thou hast chosen, for as much as Thou lovest mankind.
“I weep and lament when I think upon death, and behold our beauty created in the likeness of God lying in the tomb disfigured, bereft of glory and form. O the marvel of it! What is this mystery concerning us? Why have we been delivered to corruption? Why have we been wedded unto death? Truly, as it is written, by the command of God who giveth the departed rest.”
Questions For Discussion
- In the story, we see how Saint John disobeyed his elder in writing this hymn, knowing that his brother monk was so grieved by the loss of his brother. A quote by Saint Justin Popovich comes to mind: “I will sacrifice myself in order to save the canons of the Church, but in the case of saving one person I will sacrifice all the canons.” What times (if there are any) are we called to abandon rules for our fellow brothers and sisters? What discernment is needed in those moments? Discuss.
- The Greek word charmolypi (χαρμολύπη) translates to “joyful sorrow”, and in Orthodoxy, this pertains to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. What is the joyful sorrow in our own lives? Think of examples of where you may have felt this intense emotion (maybe you didn’t even know how to describe it!), and discuss.
- In “An Exposition by the Orthodox Faith”, Saint John states that “since the enemy snares man by the hope of the Godhead, he himself is snared in turn by the screen of flesh.” What do the words of Saint John reveal to us about the unnaturalness of death? What is this “mystery” concerning us?
- There is a realism and bluntness to the words of Saint John in relation to death, a harsh reality of the inevitable fate for all of us. Knowing this striking reality, how can we gain a more full appreciation for the victorious resurrection of Christ? How does our understanding of death grant us a spirit of gratefulness?