The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hymns of the Eastern Church

Translated, With Notes and an Introduction

Rev. John Mason Neale, D.D.
Warden of Sackville College

London: J. T. Hayes, 1862

Limited to Christmas-tide Hymns

S. Anatolius of Constantinople (d. 458)1

Stichera at Vespers, S. Stephen's Day (The Lord And King Of All Things)

Rev. Neale gives the following by way of comparison:
Yesterday, With Exultation by St. Adam of Victor

Idiomelon for Christmas (In Bethlehem Is He Born)

S. Germanus of Constantinople  (634-734)2

Stichera for Christmas-tide (A Great And Mighty Wonder)

Erroneously attributed to S. Anatolius of Constantinople.

St. Cosmas of Jerusalem, surnamed The Melodist (A.D. 780),3 "Canon for Christmas Day":

Ode I. - Christ Is Born! Tell Forth His Fame!

There was no entry for Ode II, which is omitted due to the "severe and threatening character" of the source, "The Song of Moses," Deut. xxxii. See below.

Ode III. - Him, Of The Father's Very Essence

Ode IV. - Rod Of The Root Of Jesse

Ode V. - Father of Peace, and God of Consolation

Ode VI. - As Jonah, Issuing From His Three Days' Tomb

Ode VII. - The Holy Children Boldly Stand

Ode VIII. - The Dewy Freshness That The Furnace Flings

Ode IX. - O Wondrous Mystery, Full of Passing Grace

Editor's Note Concerning Omission of Ode II:

Rev. Dr. John Julian offered this explanation for the omission of Ode II from the Canon for Easter, the Canon for Christmas Day, and the Canons of the other Festivals:

Although a complete Greek Canon consists of nine Odes,4 only eight are given in this Canon for Easter, and in other Canons of the great Festivals. By a rigid rule the Odes must follow the order and keynote of nine Scripture Canticles, one, for example, being the Benedicite, and another Jonah's prayer. No. ii Canticle is of a severe and threatening character, and is therefore omitted from Festival Canons ...  [including] the Canon for Christmas Day...

Source: Rev. Dr. John Julian, D.D., Vicar of Wincobank, Sheffield, A Dictionary of Hymnology (London: John Murray, 1892), pp.62; see also pp. 231-232.

Ode ii is "The Song of Moses," Deut. xxxii. An excerpt, verses 23-25a., gives an idea of the tone of the Song:

I will heap misfortunes on them;
I will use My arrows on them.
‘They will be wasted by famine, and consumed by plague
And bitter destruction;
And the teeth of beasts I will send upon them,
With the venom of crawling things of the dust.
'Outside the sword will bereave,
And inside terror—

Source: New American Standard Bible (NASB).  

Notes from Rev. Neale:

1. Rev. Neale's note concerning S. Anatolius:

The first poet who emancipated himself from the tyranny of the old laws—hence to be compared to Venantius Fortunatus in the West—and who boldly struck out the new path of harmonious prose, was S. Anatolius of Constantinople. His commencements were not promising. He had been apocrisiarius, or legate, from the arch-heretic Dioscorus to the Emperor’s Court: and at the death of S. Flavian, in consequence of the violence received in the “Robbers’ Meeting” at Ephesus, A.D. 449, was, by the influence of his Pontiff, raised to the vacant throne of Constantinople. He soon, however, vindicated his orthodoxy; and in the Council of Chalcedon, he procured the enactment of the famous 28th Canon, by which, (in spite of all the efforts of Rome,) Constantinople was raised to the second place among Patriarchal Sees. Having governed his Church eight years in peace, he departed to his rest in A.D. 458. His compositions are not numerous, and are almost all short, but they are usually very spirited.


2. Rev. Neale's Note concerning S. Germanus (A.D. 634--A.D. 734):

S. Germanus of Constantinople was born in that city about 634. His father, Justinian, a patrician, had the ill-fortune to excite the jealousy of the Emperor Constantine Pogonatus, who put him to death, and obliged Germanus to enrol himself among the Clergy of the Great Church. Here he became distinguished for piety and learning, and in process of time was made Bishop of Cyzicus. In this capacity he assisted, with S. Andrew of Crete, in the Synod of Constantinople of which I have just spoken: and no doubt, he might be the more favourably disposed to Monothelitism because he had been so deeply injured by its great opponent, Pogonatus. However, he also, at a late period, expressly condemned that heresy. Translated to the throne of Constantinople in 715, he governed his Patriarchate for some time in tranquillity. At the beginning of the attack of Leo the Isaurian on Icons, his letters, in opposition to the Imperial mandate, were the first warnings which the Church received of the impending storm. Refusing to sign the decrees of the Synod which was convoked by that Emperor in A.D. 730, and stripping off his Patriarchal robes, with the words—"It is impossible for me, Sire, to innovate, without the sanction of the Aecumenical Council," he was driven from his See, not, it is said, without blows, and returned to his own house at Platanias, where he thenceforth led a quiet and private life. He died shortly afterwards, aged about one hundred years, and is regarded by the Greeks as one of their most glorious Confessors.

The poetical compositions of S. Germanus are few.

He has stanzas on S. Simeon Stylites, on the Prophet Elias, and on the Decollation of S. John Baptist. His most poetical work is perhaps his Canon on the Wonder-working Image in Edessa. But probably the following simpler stanzas, for Sunday in the Week of the First Tone, will better commend themselves to the English reader.


3. Rev. Neale's Note concerning S. Cosmas, Surnamed the Melodist.

S. Cosmas of Jerusalem holds the second place amidst Greek Ecclesiastical poets. Left an orphan at an early age, he was adopted by the father of S. John Damascene; and the two foster-brothers were bound together by a friendship which lasted through life. They excited each other to Hymnology, and assisted, corrected, and polished each other’s compositions. Cosmas, like his friend, became a monk of S. Sabas: and against his will was consecrated Bishop of Maiuma, near Gaza, by John, Patriarch of Jerusalem; the same who ordained S. John Damascene Priest. After administering his diocese with great holiness, he departed this life in a good old age, about 760, and is commemorated by the Eastern Church on the 14th of October.

Where perfect sweetness dwells, is Cosmas gone;
But his sweet lays to cheer the Church live on,”

says the stichos prefixed to his life.

His compositions are tolerably numerous, and he seems to have taken a pleasure in competing with S. John Damascene, as in the Nativity, the Epiphany, the Transfiguration, where the Canons of both are given. To Cosmas, a considerable part of the Octoechus is owing. The best of his compositions, besides those already mentioned, seem to be his Canons on S. Gregory Nazianzen, and the Purification. He is the most learned of the Greek Church poets: and his fondness for types, boldness in their application, and love of aggregating them, make him the Oriental Adam of S. Victor. It is owing partly to a compressed fulness of meaning, very uncommon in the Greek poets of the Church, partly to the unusual harshness and contraction of his phrases, that he is the hardest of ecclesiastical bards to comprehend.


4. Editor's Note.

Rev. Neale quotes Rev. Littledale for this listing of the Nine Odes and their Biblical source:

The nine Odes are theologically based on the nine Canticles of Lauds.

i. The Song of Moses, Exodus x v.

ii. The Song of Moses, Deut. xxxii.

iii. The Song of Hannah, 1 Sam. ii.

iv. The Song of Habakkuk, Hab. iii.

v. The Song of Isaiah, Is. xxv. 19-20.

vi. The Song of Jonah, Jo. ii.

vii. The Song of the Three Children, Pt. i, 3-34.

viii. The Song of the Three Children, Pt. ii., Benedicite.

ix. Magnificat and Benedictus said together.

Source: Rev. Dr. John Julian, D.D., Vicar of Wincobank, Sheffield, A Dictionary of Hymnology (London: John Murray, 1892), pp.62; see also p. 231, quoting Rev. Richard Frederick Littledale, Offices From The Service-books Of The Holy Eastern Church (London: Williams and Norgate, 1863), Note 56, pp. 281-2. The “Office for Christmas Day” is found on pp. 173-208, a total of 35 pages of scripture, prayers and songs, in Greek and English. The Greek can also be seen in Daniel's "Thesaurus Hymnologicus." Return

Other Notes:

There were numerous editions of Hymns of the Eastern Church, most of which are available on the World Wide Web, including Google Books and the Internet Archive. Although most editions included text only, the Fourth Edition of 1882, edited by Very Rev. Stephen Georgeson Hatherly, Mus. B., Archpriest of the Patriarchal Æcumenical Throne, did contain musical notation.

Other collections of Eastern church hymns include those by John Brownlie (see Christmas Hymns from John Brownlie) and Bernhard Pick, Hymns and Poetry of the Eastern Church (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1908). Also see Christmas-tide Hymns from the Eastern Churches.

Other collections containing Christmas carols or hymns written or translated by John Mason Neale:

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