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Roman Empire (Byzantine Era) (330 - 1453)
The Voice of an Angel (1) : A tenth-century Greek monk is joined by a total stranger for Mattins.
The Voice of an Angel
Part one

Based on the account at The Cell ‘Axion Estin’, the official site of the monastery where it all happened. The tale comes to us from Fr Seraphim Thipolos of Mount Athos in 1548, passed on by St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (1749-1809).

In the days of St Dunstan (r. 959-988), Archbishop of Canterbury to King Ethelred the Unready, over in Greece an otherwise comfortably obscure fellow monk – we still do not know his name – was entertaining a guest of even greater royalty.

‘MY soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my saviour.’

With these words, St Luke tells us, the Virgin Mary began a hymn of thanksgiving for the coming birth of her son, Jesus.*

There are nine more verses, and after each one it is customary to add,

‘Greater in honour than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: Truly the Theotókos,* we magnify thee.’

At daybreak one Sunday morning in 982,* a monk on Mount Athos could be heard chanting these very words, before an icon of Mary. At his side, taking it in turns to sing, was another monk – not his own elder, who had left him alone for a night and gone to nearby Karyes, but a visitor, a total stranger who had knocked on his door in the small hours and introduced himself as Monk Gabriel.

* See Luke 1:39-56. Mary’s song, spoken spontaneously to her cousin Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist), is a clever adaptation of the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah was another woman granted a miraculous child, the prophet Samuel. The Song is widely known by its first word in Latin translation, ‘Magnificat’.

* Roughly, ‘God’s birth-giver’, a popular title for Mary, recognised by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Some senior clergy tried to ban it, as they found the idea of the Son of God undergoing embryonic transformation and the gritty realities of birthing inappropriate. However, as the fourth-century hymn ‘Te Deum laudamus’ says, ‘When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb’. See our post How St Euphemia Saved Christmas.

Based on the account at The Cell ‘Axion Estin’, the official site of the monastery where it all happened. The tale comes to us from Fr Seraphim Thipolos of Mount Athos in 1548, passed on by St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (1749-1809).

More like this

Lives of the Saints (95) History (405) The Blessed Virgin Mary (11) History of Icons (6) Angels (2) Bible and Saints (110) Greek History (25)

Picture: © José Luíz, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0. View original
The Church of the Saviour in Chora, Istanbul, has a magnificent fresco painted into the dome showing the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ surrounded by the Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel and Michael. For the whole fresco, visit Wikimedia Commons.
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