The Hymn of Kassiane takes center stage on Holy Tuesday in the Orthodox church, as Greeks move closer to the end of Lent and the great feast of Easter Sunday.
The Gospels and Parables chosen to be read on the Tuesday leading up to Greek Easter are all meant to prepare the faithful for the resurrection of Jesus on what is the most important day for Orthodox Christians.
Firstly, the Gospel of Matthew regarding Christ’s condemnation of the Pharisees, in which he argues against religious hypocrisy, is read during Tuesday’s Matins, or Orthros, service.
Next comes the Parable of the Ten Virgins — one of the most well-known of all Jesus’ parables. This story has a clear eschatological meaning, that we must be prepared for the Day of Judgment.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the five virgins who are prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival are rewarded, while the five who are not prepared are disowned.
The bridal chamber is used as a symbol not only for the Tomb of Christ, but also of the blessed state of the saved that they will experience on the Day of Judgement.
The Hymn of Kassiane, the great choral work of Greek Orthodox Lent
This hymn, composed by Kassiane, sung every Tuesday of Holy Week in Orthodox churches around the world, is one of the many hymns composed by one of the few women known to have been writing music during Byzantine times.
Born in 805/810 and passing away before 865, Kassiane (the female form of the male name Cassius) was a Byzantine abbess, poet, composer, and hymnographer.
Her most well-known hymn, called the Doxastikon on the Aposticha of the Bridegroom for Orthros, or “Hymn of Kassiane,” is sung every Tuesday evening during Holy Week as the most anticipated part of the service on that day.
St. Kassiane wrote fifty hymns still sung today
She is remarkable for being one of the first medieval composers whose scores are both extant and able to be interpreted by modern scholars and musicians. Approximately fifty of her hymns still survive today and twenty-three of them are included in Orthodox Church liturgical books.
Born into a prominent family in the Byzantine court, Kassiane founded a convent in Constantinople in 843, becoming its first abbess and devoting her life ever after to asceticism and the composing of liturgical works.
The scholar George Poulos, in his work “Orthodox Saints,” says that Kassiane was not taken seriously at first because of male domination in this field. However, she soon established herself as a hymnographer of the highest caliber.
Holy Tuesday Liturgy full of rich symbolism before Greek Easter
Lastly, the Parable of the Talents is read during the Tuesday liturgy, which has been seen as an exhortation to Christians to use their God-given gifts in the service of the Almighty — just as Kassiane did.
The Parable of the Talents, according to the Gospel of Matthew, tells the story of a master who entrusts his property to his three servants, and in accordance to the abilities of each man, each servant received talent coins, which were weights that were used as currency at the time.
One of the three servants received five talents, the second servant received two talents, and the third servant received just one talent.
The servants were sent out to make use of whatever talents they had received. When they returned home, the master asked his three servants for an accounting of the talents he had entrusted to them.
The first and second servants explained that they each put their talents to work and doubled the value of the property with which they had been entrusted; each servant was duly rewarded by the master.
However, the third servant had not utilized his gift and merely hid his talent, so he was punished by his master. This is seen as a cautionary tale for all the faithful, as we are called on to make use of whatever gifts we have been given, to the greatest extent that we can.