Fairer he in beauty
than are all mortal kind,
now a corpse we see, unsightly, bereft of form,
he who beautified the nature of all things.

~ Lamentations of the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday

I tried to find a good text of all the Lamentations, but it proved harder to find than I have time for at the moment. The link above appears to be a longer version than what I am used to, and it contains the whole service rather than just the Lamentations. What I did find (also with great difficulty) was a recording of another Orthodox parish that sings the Lamentations with the same melodies that we do in mine.

This is the only time of the year (to my knowledge) that these melodies are used, and I find them to perfectly capture the aesthetic of “bright sadness” that characterizes all of Great Lent, and indeed, all our lives. These are sung as part of what is a funeral service for Christ, who having been crucified on Holy Friday, was laid in a tomb and rested there on Holy Saturday, fulfilling the Sabbath.

I like our funeral service a lot—it was written by St. John of Damascus, my patron saint, in fact—but if I could pick, I wish these could be sung at my funeral as well. The words and melodies, combined with the candlelight and incense and perfumes, the crosses and icons—these things don’t amount to any rational explanation of death, tragedy, and loss, but they do provide a context like no other for transfiguring the suffering of this life into joy.

I’ve tried to cue up the video to 2:42 when the Lamentations start, but if it starts at the beginning you can just skip ahead. My deep gratitude to the little parish that recorded this and posted it on YouTube some years ago. Kali anastasi!

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