Blessed Art Thou, O Church
Hymn 18 of
Nineteen Hymns of the Nativity by Saint Ephraem the Syrian
Words: Saint Ephream of Syria
Born at Nisibis, then under Roman rule, early in the fourth century; died June, 373.
Translated into Prose by Rev. A. Edward Johnston
Music: Not Stated
Source: John Gwynn, ed., Hymns and Homilies of Ephraim The Syrian, Trans. A. Edward Johnston, from Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second Series, Volume 13, Part 2. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905), pp. 259-261.
The Rhythms of Saint Ephrem the Syrian on the Nativity
Rhythm The Eighteen
Resp.—Praise be to Him Who sent Him! (bis)
1. Blessed art thou, O Church, for lo! in thee is the sound,—of the great feast the festival of the King!—Sion is deserted, her gates are sore athirst,—and forsaken of festivals.—Blessed thy gates that are open yet not filled,—and thy halls that are enlarged yet suffice not!—In the midst of thee lo! is the sound, of the nations that cry out, and have put to silence the People.
2. Blessed art thou, O Church, that in thy festivals,—the Watchers rejoice amid thy festivity!—for one night the Watchers gave praise,—on the earth which withheld and refused praise.—Blessed thy voices that have been sown and reaped,—and in Heaven stored up in garners!—Thy mouth is a censer, and thy voices as perfumes, breathing vapour in thy festivals.
3. Blessed art thou, O Church, that all oblations,—are brought unto thee in this feast.—The Magi once among traitors, offered them to the Truth.—Blessed thy abode that He bowed Himself and dwelt therein, Son of the King Who is worshipped with gifts!—Gold from the West, and spices from the East,—are offered in Thy Festivals.
4. Blessed art thou, O Church, that there is not with thee,—a tyrant King slayer of babes! for he killed in Bethlehem the little ones at random,—that he might put to death the Child that gives life to all.—Blessed thy children that are envied and worshipped,—by Kings, for those are promised for Thy worship,—the crowns of the East:—he who trod down thy dear ones, shall be trodden down by thy beloved.
5. Blessed art thou, O Church, for lo! over thee,—Isaiah too exults in his prophecy,—”Lo a Virgin shall conceive and bear,—a Son” Whose name is great mystery!—O interpretation revealed in the Church!—two names that were joined and became one;—”Emmanuel,”—God be with thee ever, Who joined thee with His members!
6. Blessed art thou, O Church, in Micah who cried out,—“A Shepherd shall come forth from Ephrata”:—for He came to Bethlehem to take—from thence the rod of Jesse and to rule the nations.—Blessed thy lambs that are sealed with His seal,—and thy sheep that are kept by His sword!—Thou art, O Church,—the abiding Bethlehem,—for in thee is the Bread of Life!
7. Blessed art thou, O Church, for lo! in thee rejoices,—Daniel also the man beloved,—who foretold that the glorious Messiah shall be killed,—and the city of holiness be laid desolate at His killing!—Woe to the People that was rejected and is not converted—Blessed the nations that were called and turned not away!—The bidden guests refused,—and others in their stead enjoyed their banquet.
8. Blessed art thou, O Church, for on thy, lute, lo! King David sings psalms in thee! In the Spirit he sings of Him “Thou art My Son and I—this day have begotten Thee” in the glories of holiness.—Blessed thy ears that have been purged to hear!—On His day watch thou as His Body and call on Him;—be taught by Sion,—which saddened His Feast; make Him glad Who has gladdened thee.
9. Blessed art thou, O Church, that all festivals—have taken flight from Sion and sheltered with thee!—In the midst of thee the wearied Prophets have found rest,—from the labour and the reproachthey bore in Judah.—Blessed the books unrolled in thy temples,—and the festivals celebrated in thy shrines!—Sion is forsaken,—and lo! today the nations shout in thy festivals.
10. Blessed art thou, O Church, in ten blessings,—which our Lord has given as a mystery complete:—for on ten all the numbers hang, therefore art thou perfect by ten blessings.—Blessed thy crowns that are twined—with all blessings mixed in every crown!—O blessed one,—with every blessing crowned, on me too send thy blessing!
11. Blessed art thou, Ephrata, mother of Kings, that from thee sprang the Lord of diadems!—Micah gave thee tidings that He is from everlasting, and the span of His times is not comprehended.—Blessed thine eyes which first of all discerned Him!—thee He deemed worthy to see Him when He appeared,—Chief of benediction,—and Beginning of gladness, thou didst receive first of all.
12. Blessed art thou, Bethlehem, that the towns envy thee,—and the fortified cities!—As they envy thee, so the women envy Mary,—and the virgins daughters of princes.—Blessed the maiden in whom He deigned to abide,—and the city wherein He deigned to sojourn;—a poor maiden,—and a small city, He chose Him to humble Himself.
13. Blessed art thou, Bethlehem, that in thee was the beginning,—for Him the Son Who from everlasting is in the Father!—It is hard to comprehend, that before Time He is,—Who in thee made Himself subject to Time.—Blessed thine ears, for in thee first was heard the cry—of the Lamb of God who exulted in thee!—Narrow though thy manger,—He spread Himself on all sides, and was worshipped of every creature.
14. Blessed art thou too, Mary, that thy name—is great and exalted because of thy child!—Thou canst tell then how and how long—and where He dwelt in thee, the great One in small room.—Blessed thy mouth that praised and enquired not,—and thy tongue that glorified and questioned not!—For His Mother was uncertain concerning Him,—even while she carried Him in the womb; who then shall suffice to comprehend Him?
15. O Woman, thou whom no man knew,—how can we behold the Son thou hast borne?—For no eyes suffice to stand—before the transfigurations of the glory, that is on Him.—For tongues of fire abide in Him—Who sent tongues by His Ascension.—Be every tongue warned,—that our questioning is as stubble, and as fire our scrutiny.
16. Blessed is he the priest who in the sanctuary,—offers to the Father the Son of the Father,—the fruit that is plucked from our tree, though it be wholly of the Divine Majesty!—Blessed the hands that are hallowed and offer Him!—and the lips that are spent in kissing Him!—The Spirit in the Temple—longed for His embrace; and at His Crucifixion rent the veil and went forth.
17. The Archangel gave thee greeting,—as the earnest of holiness—Earth became to him new Heavens,—when the Watcher came down and sang glory on it.—The sons of the Highest encompassed thy habitation—because of the Son of the King that dwelt in thee.—Thy abode below,—to the Heaven above was made like by the host of Watchers.
St. Ephraem of Syria was also the author of Fifteen Hymns of the Epiphany, as well as other hymns of the Christmas-tide, hymns against heresies, hymns for the faith, etc.
See generally Christmas-tide Hymns from the Eastern Churches.