I believe every chanter has a number of ‘special’ chants that are so dear to him/her and waits from year to year to chant them. The Hymn of Kassiani is one of those chants for myself and I’m sure for many others.
This chant is not only one of the most beautiful pieces in words and music, but also comes with a nice story. I only put the excerpt related to the Hymn, but encourage you to follow the link and read the whole story.
Hymn of Kassia (Source Wikipedia)
“The most famous of her compositions is the eponymous Hymn of Kassiani (also known as the Troparion of Kassiani), sung every Holy Wednesday (commonly chanted late in the evening of Holy Tuesday).
Tradition says that in his later years the Emperor Theophilus, still in love with her, wished to see her one more time before he died, so he rode to the monastery where she resided. Kassiani was alone in her cell, writing her Hymn when she realized that the commotion she heard was because the imperial retinue had arrived. She was still in love with him but was now devoted to God and hid away because she did not want to let her old passion overcome her monastic vow. She left the unfinished hymn on the table. Theophilus found her cell and entered it alone. He looked for her but she was not there; she was hiding in a closet, watching him. Theophilus felt very sad, cried, and regretted that for a moment of pride he rejected such a beautiful and intellectual woman; then he noticed the papers on the table and read them. When he had finished reading, he sat and added one line to the hymn; then he left. The line attributed to the Emperor is the line “those very feet whose sound Eve heard at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in fear”. Legend says that as he was leaving he noticed Kassiani in the closet but did not speak to her, out of respect for her wished privacy. Kassiani emerged when the emperor was gone, read what he had written and finished the hymn.
The Hymn of Kassiani is chanted only once a year during Holy Week, at the end of the aposticha at Matins on Great and Holy Wednesday, which is traditionally served in Tuesday evening. The music for the hymn is slow, sorrowful and plaintive. It lasts about ten to twenty minutes, depending on tempo and style of execution. It requires a very wide vocal range, and is considered one of the most demanding, if not the most demanding, pieces of solo Byzantine chant, and cantors take great pride in delivering it well. It is also sung by choirs in unison, often underpinned by Byzantine vocal bass drone. The faithful make a point of going to church specifically “to listen to Kassiani” that evening.”
I wanted to share with you the version I chanted today of this hymn performed by Archmandrit Agapios Abu Saada:
Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord, a woman of many sins
takes it upon herself to become a myrrh-bearer,
And in deep mourning brings before Thee fragrant oil
in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
“Woe to me! For night is unto me, oestrus of lechery,
a dark and moonless eros of sin.
Receive the wellsprings of my tears,
O Thou who gatherest the waters of the oceans into clouds.
Bend to me, to the sorrows of my heart,
O Thou who bendedst down the heavens in Thy ineffable self-emptying.
I will kiss Thine immaculate feet
and dry them with the locks of my hair;
Those very feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise
and hid herself in fear.
Who shall reckon the multitude of my sins,
or the abysses of Thy judgment, O Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore me, Thy handmaiden,
O Thou whose mercy is endless.”
— Jack Rabah