A Light in the Darkness
Holy Tradition determines doctrine and practice in the Orthodox Church. It is the authority of Orthodox belief and consists of, among other things, scripture, ritual theology, hymnology, iconography, the writings of the Church Fathers, the liturgical texts, and other forms of liturgical communication. Through these varied, interconnected sources, the realities of the Orthodox faith are expressed, celebrated, and clearly made manifest.
Holy Tradition stems from Divine revelation. Throughout ancient history, God communicated with people, chosen as vessels, to relay their experiences with him to the people. These encounters were not seen as merely personal ones, but were understood as a distinct, unique reality, in which God made himself known to mankind. Eventually, this knowledge of God was written down, into what we know as scriptures, which are the breath of God (2 Tim. 3:16), by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The messianic prophecies mentioned in these scriptures were then fulfilled by the person of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18-21). The apostles were witnesses of this Divine revelation and they conveyed it to the Church. “This living experience of the person, life, teaching and promises of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world was preached, taught, and lived in the Church for decades before ever being written down.” Holy Tradition, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, continues to edify the Body of Christ, as it has been since the inception of the Church. – from Orthodox Christian Beliefs by Stanley Samuel Harakas (with some additions/rephrasing of my own).
Hymnology, in the Coptic Orthodox Church, is almost constantly linked to other disciplines, and sources, of Holy Tradition. Our hymns express truths from the scriptures which are elaborated upon by the Fathers. If I may say so, we can place both holy scripture and the writings of the Fathers, juxtaposed to the text of our hymns, and it would appear that they are attached by the seam of a book. Furthermore, Coptic chant oftentimes expresses theological principles that are specifically relevant to the rite being carried out, as we will discuss shortly.
The use of music to convey teaching is imperative in the Church because, in my opinion, music is a language which surpasses all others. Our hymns are capable of evoking emotions which are difficult to communicate with words. Hymnography also elicits participation of the entire congregation, and God’s presence is made known when there is harmony in praise. So, hymns do not only deepen our relation with the doctrine of the Church, but they also connect us with the liturgical life on many levels.
I promise you, there is a reason for this longwinded introduction! My goal for this post is to shed some light upon a relatively rare hymn which involves hidden, yet magnificent, connections to Holy Tradition.
The hymn }galilea is, in its original form, the seventh and final section of the Wednesday Tadakia (:eotokia).
“These tawdokias are praises for the Lady, the Virgin, and they contain sayings and symbols of the old [testament] along with the prophecies of the prophets regarding the matters of the Lord in the new [testament]; using them as proof for her pregnancy while being a virgin and the birth of the Lord of glory who took flesh from her…” – The Trusted Elder, the Sun of the Leaders, the Father of Blessings, the Priest, Ibn Kabar
In order to comprehend the depth of this hymn, we must separate the seven verses into groups and understand their origins…