Sunday, October 21, 2018

Hymns for Saint Perpetua the Martyr and Her Companions

With the assistance of my friend Monica, I recently translated four hymns for St. Perpetua and her companions from the Great Synaxarion, an interesting compilation of saints that seems to exist only on-line in Greek. The page on St. Perpetua begins with a standard synaxarion reading, which recounts the life and significance of St. Perpetua and her five fellow martyrs, Revocatus, Felicity, Saturninus, Secundulus, and Saturus. As with many (but not nearly all) pages in this source, it concludes with several hymns. For the most part, the hymns in the Great Synaxarion do not match those found in the Menaia, which are employed liturgically. Therefore, there has been no occasion for translating most of them.

Over the past few years I have edited, formatted, and printed a series of akathist booklets for my parish, which we use in rotation for our weekly akathist on Thursday evenings. A few years ago a friend whose heavenly patron is St. Felicity received an early draft of an Akathist to Ss. Perpetua, Felicity, and Their Companions, which was based closely on the early third century passion narrative of the saints. She asked me to draw on my akathist-editing experience to convert it to modern English and format it. With all of my akathist booklets I include a hymn or two to accompany the akathist. (Such hymns can be sung after “God Is the Lord” if the akathist is read in a Paraklesis-like context; otherwise they can be sung at the end of the service during veneration.) In the process of looking for suitable hymns, I found the Great Synaxarion page with its four hymns in Greek. Monica did an initial rough translation, and then I painstakingly polished them into liturgical language. Here are the translations, followed by my commentary.

Apolytikion. Third Tone. Your confession
Though you had known wealth, O Perpetua, • you were inspired by the one divine faith • to forsake the error of idolatry. • Having contended along with the five martyrs, • you were deemed worthy of a martyr’s splendor. • Together with them, entreat the Lord who glorified you, • that his great mercy may be granted unto us.

Another Apolytikion. Fifth Tone. Let us worship the Word
Let us all praise with one voice the six-crowned choral dance of the martyrs ‌Perpetua, Revocatus, and divine Saturus, the renowned Saturninus, highly honored Secundulus, and the revered Felicity: as shining stars of the holy faith, and as our intercessors before the Trinity.

Kontakion. Fourth Tone. You who were lifted up
Abandoning the errant ways of your father, • you beheld the light of the knowledge of God, • and you completed the course of the mystery, • O honored Perpetua, • along with the five martyrs. • With them, ever intercede • to the Holy Trinity • on behalf of us who, with hymns and odes, • celebrate your all-venerable memory.

Rejoice, O Perpetua, Martyr of Christ, • who by your holy struggles vanquished the enemy. • Rejoice, you who intercede unceasingly with the Lord • on behalf of all those under your protection.

I did not originally set out to produce versions metered for chanting, but I found that three of the four were falling naturally into phrases of the right length, and it required little tweaking to make them fit the designated melodies. A few phrases are off by one syllable. With the second apolytikion, however, when I took sufficient liberties with the translation to force-fit it to the melody, the result was less singable than the un-metered translation.

I found the second apolytikion to be the most complex of the four, and I’m not sure I did its beauty justice. The word translated as “choral dance” is choreia, an ancient Greek circle dance accompanied by singing. The Balkan circle dance known as the hora, horo, or oro descends from the choreia, as does the Israeli horah. According to the Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon, choreia can also refer to “any circling motion, as of the stars.” Thus, it might be understood to evoke the revolving of the heavens and the music of the spheres, and this is reinforced by the later reference to the martyrs as “shining stars of the holy faith.”


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