April 18, 2020

One of the Most Beloved and Most Beautiful Hymns of Holy Week That is Rarely Chanted

George Akropolites (1217-1282) was a Roman statesman born in Constantinople. Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes of Nicaea entrusted George with important state missions, as did his successors (Theodore II Laskaris and Michael VIII Palaiologos). The office of Grand Logothete, or chancellor, was bestowed upon him in 1244.

As commander in the field in 1257 against Michael II, despot of Epirus, he showed little military ability. George was captured and kept for two years in prison, from which he was released by Michael Palaiologos. Meanwhile, Michael Palaiologos was proclaimed emperor of Nicaea, afterwards expelling the Latins from Constantinople, and became emperor of the restored Roman Empire. From this moment Akropolites becomes known in the history of the eastern empire as one of its greatest diplomats. After having discharged the function of ambassador at the court of the Bulgarian Tsar Constantine, he became the first head of the University of Constantinople, where he lectured on mathematics and philosophy. His students included George of Cyprus and George Pachymeres.

Akropolites' historical work, the Annals, embraces the period from the capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade by the Latins in 1204 to its recovery by Michael Palaiologos in 1261, thus forming a continuation of the work of Nicetas Choniates. It is valuable as written by a contemporary, whose official position as Grand Logothete, military commander, and confidential ambassador afforded him frequent opportunities of observing the course of events.

Akropolites is considered a trustworthy authority as far as the statement of facts is concerned, and he is easy to understand, although he exhibits special carelessness in the construction of his sentences. His style is archaising but lucid. He was also the author of several shorter works, amongst them being a funeral oration on John Vatatzes, an epitaph on his wife Irene Laskarina and a panegyric of Theodore II Laskaris of Nicaea. While a prisoner at Epirus he wrote two treatises on the procession of the Holy Spirit.

One of the poems he composed continues to be chanted today in many Greek churches on Great Friday evening during the procession of the Epitaphios and when the Epitaphios is venerated by the faithful; this solemn hymn is called "Τὸν ἥλιον κρύψαντα" ("Seeing the sun hide its rays"). Unfortunately this hymn more and more often is not chanted any more and is replaced during the procession with either the more popular (and easier) Lamentations or the Thrice-Holy Hymn.

This hymn, chanted in plagal of the first mode slowly to the music of Metropolitan Germanos of New Patras (+ 1683), is a lament chanted from the perspective of Joseph of Arimathea, pleading with Pontius Pilate for the Body of Jesus. It is one of the most beautiful hymns of Holy Week and it is of particular notice that Jesus is referred to as the "Stranger", thus pointing out both the divinity of Jesus and the fundamental principle of unconditional love towards the unknown brother, the stranger.

In the olden days the procession of the Epitaphios took place through the cemeteries, and with this hymn it is meant, by recalling the entire history of salvation, to comfort the souls of the dead. However, even when the procession takes place through the streets of a town or around a church, this same message of salvation is a welcome consolation.

The hymn is in Greek and English below:


Τὸν ἥλιον κρύψαντα τὰς ἰδίας ἀκτῖνας

καὶ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ διαῤῥαγὲν τῷ τοῦ Σωτῆρος θανάτῳ

ὁ Ἰωσὴφ θεασάμενος, προσῆλθε τῷ Πιλάτῳ καὶ καθικετεύει λέγων·

Δός μοι τοῦτον τὸν ξένον,

τὸν ἐκ βρέφους ὡς ξένον ξενωθέντα ἐν κόσμῳ.

Δός μοι τοῦτον τόν ξένον,

ὃν ὁμόφυλοι μισοῦντες θανατοῦσιν ὡς ξένον.

Δός μοι τοῦτον τὸν ξένον,

ὃν ξενίζομαι βλέπειν τοῦ θανάτου τὸν ξένον.

Δός μοι τοῦτον τὸν ξένον,

ὅστις οἶδε ξενίζειν τοὺς πτωχοὺς καὶ τοὺς ξένους.

Δός μοι τοῦτον τὸν ξένον,

ὃν Ἑβραῖοι τῷ φθόνῳ ἀπεξένωσαν κόσμῳ.

Δός μοι τοῦτον τὸν ξένον,

ἵνα κρύψω ἐν τάφῳ, ὃς ὡς ξένος οὐκ ἔχει τὴν κεφαλὴν ποῦ κλίνῃ.

Δός μοι τοῦτον τὸν ξένον,

ὃν ἡ μήτηρ ὁρῶσα νεκρωθέντα, ἐβόα·

Ὦ Υἱὲ καὶ Θεέ μου, εἰ καὶ τὰ σπλάγχνα τιτρώσκομαι καὶ καρδίαν σπαράττομαι

νεκρόν σε καθορῶσα,

ἀλλὰ τῇ σῇ ἀναστάσει θαῤῥοῦσα μεγαλύνω.

Καὶ τούτοις τοίνυν τοῖς λόγοις δυσωπῶν τὸν Πιλᾶτον

ὁ εὐσχήμων λαμβάνει τοῦ Σωτῆρος τὸ σῶμα,

ὃ καὶ φόβῳ ἐν σινδόνι ἐνειλήσας καὶ σμύρνῃ

κατέθετο ἐν τάφῳ τὸν παρέχοντα πᾶσι

ζωὴν αἰώνιον καὶ τὸ μέγα ἔλεος.


Seeing the sun hide its rays

and the veil of the Temple rent asunder at the Saviour's death,

Joseph came before Pilate, beseeching him, saying;

Give me this stranger,

who from infancy guested in the world as a stranger,

Give me this stranger,

whom his own people have hated and slain as a stranger,

Give me this stranger,

at the sight of whose strange death I am bewildered

Give me this stranger,

who knew how to give hospitality to the poor and the stranger,

Give me this stranger,

whom the Hebrews have estranged from the world out of envy,

Give me this stranger,

so that I may hide in a tomb him,

who as a stranger has nowhere to lay his head,

Give me this stranger

whom his Mother saw dead and cried out

"O my Son and God, even if I am wounded to the core and my heart stricken,

as I see you a corpse,

yet with confidence I magnify your Resurrection".

Facing down Pilate with these words

the noble one took the Saviour's body

and in fear wrapped it in linen and sweet spices

and laid in a new tomb him who bestows on all

eternal life and great mercy.

Below is the slow version by Germanos of New Patras, as chanted by Photios Ketsetzis (music can be found here from pp. 47-50):

Below is an abbreviated form of the same hymn, done by Markos Vasileiou (1856-1919), as chanted by the Vatopaidi Monastery choir (music link can be found here):

As an added note, on the island of Santorini, when only one priest is serving during the Apokathelosis Vespers Service of Great Friday, and there is no one to help him take down the Crucified One from the Cross during the Gospel reading, this hymn is chanted by the chanter, in the abbreviated version, after the entire Gospel reading, and during the part that says "the noble one took the Saviours body", the priest removes the body of Christ from the Cross and brings it into the sanctuary. This can be seen in the video below: