From the Service of the Royal Hours of Christmas – Hymn of the 1st Hour
Ἦχος πλ. δ’, Ποίημα Σωφρονίου Πατριάρχου Ἱεροσολύμων Βηθλεὲμ ἑτοιμάζου· εὐτρεπιζέσθω ἡ φάτνη· τὸ Σπήλαιον δεχέσθω, ἡ ἀλήθεια ἦλθεν· ἡ σκιὰ παρέδραμε· καὶ Θεὸς ἀνθρώποις, ἐκ Παρθένου πεφανέρωται, μορφωθείς τὸ καθ’ ἡμᾶς, καὶ θεώσας τὸ πρόσλημμα. Διὸ Ἀδὰμ ἀνανεοῦται σὺν τῇ Εὔᾳ, κράζοντες· Ἐπὶ γῆς εὐδοκία ἐπεφάνη, σῶσαι τὸ γένος ἡμῶν.
Tone 8. By Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem Bethlehem make ready; let the Manger be prepared; let the Cave receive. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away, and God has appeared among men from a Virgin, formed as we are and making divine what he has put on. And so Adam is renewed with Eve as they cry, ‘God’s good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our race’.
Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David and his father Jesse. It is located southwest of Jerusalem and in Biblical times belonged to the tribe of Judah. Due to its small number of inhabitants, it was not listed alongside the more prominent cities of the kingdom of Judah. However it is by no means an insignificant place because it is here the salvific act of the birth of Christ took place. This small town is heralded by the Prophet Micah who prophesied as far back as the 8th century before Christ: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:1).
The hymnology of our Church highlights the importance of Bethlehem as the birthplace of our Lord frequently, not only to praise it directly but to highlight the truth that Christ came to be born in a humble manner in a lowly, almost insignificant place. Another hymn from the Royal Hours asks: “Joseph, tell us, how is it that you are bringing to Bethlehem great with child the Maiden you received from the Holy Place?” (Glory Hymn, 3rd Hour).
St Romanos the Melodist, the most mellifluous of our Church’s Hymnographers interprets in a deeply theological manner the importance of Bethlehem, not only as a physical place but as a spiritual gateway for all mankind:
“Bethlehem has opened Eden, come, let us see; We have found delight in secret, come let us receive The joys of Paradise within the cave; There the unwatered root has appeared whose blossom is forgiveness, There has been found the undug well From which David once wished to drink; There a Virgin has borne a babe And has at once quenched Adam’s and David’s thirst. For this let us hasten to this place where there has been born A little Child: God before the ages” (Oikos from the Kontakion of Christmas Day).
Source: Lychnos December 2017 / January 2018