Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent
«Σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ βροτεία, καὶ στήτω μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου, καὶ μηδὲν γήϊνον ἐν ἑαυτῇ λογιζέσθω· ὁ γὰρ Βασιλεῦς τῶν βασιλευόντων, καὶ Κύριος τῶν κυριευόντων, προσέρχεται σφαγιασθῆναι, καὶ δοθῆναι εἰς βρῶσιν τοῖς πιστοῖς· προηγοῦνται δὲ τούτου, οἱ χοροὶ τῶν Ἀγγέλων, μετὰ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας, τὰ πολυόμματα Χερουβίμ, καὶ τὰ ἑξαπτέρυγα Σεραφίμ, τὰς ὄψεις καλύπτοντα, καὶ βοῶντα τὸν ὕμνον· Ἀλληλούϊα, Ἀλληλούϊα, Ἀλληλούϊα.»
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and stand with fear and trembling, and take no thought for any earthly thing; for the King of kings and Lord of lords comes to be slain and given as food for the faithful. Before him go the choirs of Angels, with every Principality and Power; the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim covering their faces and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
This is a liturgical hymn chanted in lieu of the cherubic hymn before the Great Entrance in the Liturgy of Saint James and also in the Liturgy of Saint Basil celebrated on Holy Saturday. The idea of holding silence for the arrival of someone or something of importance, however, predates this hymn. Indeed, every four years an ancient hymn which invoked these same sentiments was recited at the lighting of the Olympic flame at Ancient Olympia in honour of the Sun-God Apollo: “Hush! Be silent! May all the air, the earth, the sea and all winds, mountains and vales, be still!” (Mesomedes, Hymn to the Sun).
It would appear there exists a need in the human soul to look towards something higher, something or someone Divine. But, whereas the Ancient Greeks called upon a god whom they understood to be in the natural world surrounding them, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on mortal flesh to be “slain and given as food for the faithful.”
The enormity of this reality is brought to the fore in Orthodox worship in the Liturgy of Holy Saturday where this hymn is chanted instead of the usual cherubic hymn.
The 18th century monk and preacher, Father Athanasios Varouchas, poses the question in his sermon on the Passion of Christ, “[w]hat is this great silence which makes people fearful and the angels to stand aside? Since you ask, listen so that you may understand. The reason is that the Great King, Christ sleeps and no one is bold enough to speak lest He be woken. For today, my beloved brothers and sisters, the prophecy of Jacob the Patriarch is completed where he said, “He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?” (Genesis 49:9-12).
Our tradition tells us that this sleeping lion symbolises the three-day burial of Christ, who resurrected His own body with His divine power, and which is now food for the faithful, His Holy Body and Blood.
Source: Lychnos October-November 2020