A funeral ikos

A friend’s husband has died much too young, and I was reminded of this text. I think it contains just about anything I might wish to say about death and hope. Below, find John Tavener’s hauntingly beautiful setting of the text, which comes from an Orthodox funeral liturgy.

May the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Why these bitter words of the dying, O brethren,
which they utter as they go hence?
I am parted from my brethren.
All my friends do I abandon, and go hence.
But whither I go, that understand I not,
neither what shall become of me yonder;
only God, who hath summoned me knoweth.
But make commemoration of me with the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

But whither now go the souls?
How dwell they now together there?
This mystery have I desired to learn,
but none can impart aright.
Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?
Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them
and make the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

We go forth on the path eternal,
and as condemned, with downcast faces,
present ourselves before the only God, eternal.
Where then is comeliness? Where then is wealth?
Where then is the glory of this world?
There shall none of these things aid us,
but only to say oft the psalm:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man,
that same mercy shall be shown thee there;
and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,
the same shall there deliver thee from want.
If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,
the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Youth and the beauty of the body fade at the hour of death,
and the tongue then burneth fiercely,
and the parched throat is inflamed.
The beauty of the eyes is quenched then,
the comeliness of the face all altered,
the shapeliness of the neck destroyed:
and the other parts have become numb, nor often say:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

With ecstasy are we inflamed
if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder;
that there is Paradise ,
wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.
Let us all, also, enter into Christ,
that all we may cry aloud thus unto God:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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2 Responses

  1. Marion Kanour says:

    Thank you for posting this, Scott. I find it strangely comforting as I take in Gerry’s passing.

  2. Barbara Baxter says:

    Thank you, Scott. John Tavener is one of my favourite living composers; his work is sublime. (This anthem has been in my funeral plan for years.)