A World of Speculation

The poor found in your face the love of Christ, O Mother Maria,

And your compassion washed the streets of Paris like rain.

You stood with God’s little ones chosen for death

And set aside the Now for the Eternal.//

Therefore, O saint who shone in Ravensbruck, pray to Christ our God to save our souls.

Around the time of this post, our choir director challenged me to write a troparion for Mother Maria Skobtsova. I was quite taken with her story–still am, in fact–and wrote the song above.

For those who don’t know Orthodox terminology, a troparion is a short poetic hymn related to the feast of the day. If the day is a saint’s feast day, the troparion is in praise of the saint.

There are good troparia and not-so-good ones. St. Nicholas, for example, one of the most colorful characters in Church history (and that’s saying a lot), has a one-size-fits-all troparion (tone 4):

You were revealed to your flock as a measure of faith;

You were an image of humility and a teacher of self-control.

Because of your humble life, heaven was opened to you

Because of your poverty, spiritual riches were granted to you.

O holy Bishop Nicholas, we cry out to you: pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

The main problem is that it seems like every fourth bishop-saint in Church history has the same troparion, just changing the name in the last line. They all deserve better, I think.

On the other hand, the troparion to St. Herman of Alaska is a beauty:

O blessed Father Herman of Alaska,

North star of Christ’s holy Church,

the light of your holy life and great deeds

guides those who follow the Orthodox way.

Together we lift high the Holy Cross

you planted firmly in America.

Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,

singing his holy Resurrection.

The melody fits it well, too, and I love the way the line falls in “you planted firmly in America.”

The next one isn’t a troparion, but a “Lord, I Call” sticheron (a verse sung at vespers) to All Saints of North America, but it shows some of the characteristics I love in hymnography:

Rejoice, O mountains of Pennsylvania,

Leap for joy, O waters of the Great Lakes,

Rise up, O fertile plains of Canada,

for the elect of Christ who dwelt in you are glorified,

men and women who left their homes for a new land.

With faith, hope and patience as their armor,

they courageously fought the good fight.

Comforted by the beauty of the Orthodox Faith,

they labored in mines and mills, they tilled the land,

they braved the challenges of the great cities,

enduring many hardships and sufferings.

Never failing to worship God in spirit and truth,

and unyielding in devotion to His most pure Mother,

they erected many temples to His glory.

Come, O assembly of the Orthodox,

and with love let us praise the holy women, men and children,

those known to us and those known only to God,

and let us cry out to them:

Rejoice, All Saints of North America,

and pray to God for us.

What I love about it is that it’s personal–it’s got setting and hints of the story and glimmers of things beyond.

I’ve wandered far away from my own little poem in the style of a troparion, but now you know what I was trying to approximate with my hymn to Mother Maria Skobtsova.