Holy Week & Eastern Traditions: Wednesday Night, Unction
Tonight’s service continued the Matins in the evening theme. The service ended with the Sacrament of Unction, a anointing with oil for the remission of sins and healing of body (following the epistle of James). Tonight I thought I’d offer some remarks on the canon, which accompanies matins (or the Vigil service which varies with different tradition) in ordinary times.
The Nine “Canticles” of the early church were taken from Scripture directly. These Canticles were originally read as part of services but through the years additional prayers (the canons) were written as meditations on the Canticles. More and more canons were written and some assigned to “ordinary” times in the year and others to accompany feasts and fasts that follow in the church liturgical cycle. Eventually the canons often replaced the canticles for brevity (although I’m guessing monastic practice does both). What are the nine canticles:
- Canticle One: The Song of Moses. Exodus 15:1-18. This would be read verse by verse with a refrain. In this case for example, refrain is taken from the first verse “for He has triumphed gloriously” (the whole verse reads “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea”.
- Canticle Two: The Song of Moses. Deuteronomy 32:1-42. This is quite long and I’ve come to understand canticle (and therefore canon two) are read only on Tuesdays in Great Lent as it is a lamentation.
- Canticle Three: The Song of Hannah 1 Samuel (or 1 Reigns in the Septuagint): 1-10.
- Canticle Four: The Song of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:2-19)
- Canticle Five: The Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 26:8-21)
- Canticle Six: The Song of Jonah (Jonah 2:1-9) The Canons written about the next three invariably connect these events as types of the Resurrection.
- Canticle Seven: The Prayer of the Three Holy Children(Daniel 3:26-56)
- Canticle Eight: The Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:57-88)
- Canticle Nine: The Song of the Theotokos (In the West this is the Magnificat) and the Song of Zacharias (the Benedictus) Luke 1:46-55 and 68-79 respectively.
The canons themselves I find a treasure. They contain caches and pieces of wonderful liturgical theological and biblical poetry. And good example of that was the canons read last night weaving the harlot and her repentance, my sinful state, and Judas’ scheming blended all together artfully.
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