The Troparion, Kontakion, and Canon of the Nativity
In the Byzantine Liturgy, specific forms of hymns are sung on feast days and occasions honoring saints. Below are some of these hymns for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day).
A troparion depicts the occasion of a feast or the life of a saint.
"Thy nativity, O Christ our God, has shown to the world the light of wisdom; for by it, those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee."
Similar to a troparion, the kontakion summarizes the event being celebrated or the character traits of the saint being glorified. The main difference between the two is when they appear in the liturgy: the troparion is sung at the end of Vespers and beginning and end of Matins, while the kontakion occurs in the middle of Matins.
"Today the virgin, gives birth to the incomprehensible One; and the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable One; Angels and shepherds glorify Him; the Wisemen journey with a star; since for our sakes is born the ETERNAL GOD, as a little Child."
The canon is a series of sacred hymns in honor of a feast or saint. It consists of nine sections, or "odes," and is the central part of every Matins.
Ode 1 Christ is born, glorify him. Christ is from heaven, go to meet him. Christ is an earth, be ye lifted up. Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing out with gladness, all ye people. For he is glorified.
Ode 3 'To the Son begotten of the Father without change before the ages, and in these last times without seed made flesh from a Virgin, to Christ God let us cry aloud: Thou hast exalted our horn. Holy are Thou, O Lord!'
Ode 4 Rod of the root of Jesse, and flower that blossomed from his stem, O Christ, Thou hast sprung from the Virgin. From the Mountain overshadowed by the forest Thou hast come, made flesh from her that knew not wedlock, O God who art not formed from matter. Glory to Thy power, O Lord.
Ode 5 'As Thou art God of peace and Father of mercies, Thou hast sent us Thy Angel of great counsel, Who grants us peace; so we are guided by the knowledge of God, watching before dawn we glorify Thee, only Lover of mankind'.
Ode 6 'The monster from the deep spat Jonas from its bowels like a new born babe, just as it had received him; while the Word having dwelt in the Virgin and taken flesh, came forth, yet kept her incorrupt, for being himself not subject to decay, he preserved his mother free from harm'.
Ode 7 'The Youths brought up together in godliness, scorning the impious decree, feared not the threat of fire, but standing in the midst of the flame they sang: God of our Fathers, blessed are Thou!'
Ode 8 'The furnace moist with dew was the image and the figure of a wonder past nature; for it did not burn those it had received; even as the fire of the Godhead did not consume the Virgin's womb into which it has descended. Therefore in praise let us sing: Let all creation bless the Lord, and highly exalt Him to all the ages'.
Ode 9 Magnify, O my soul, the most glorious Theotokos, more honourable and more glorious than the hosts on high. 'I behold a strange and wonderful mystery, heaven is the Cave, the Cherubim thrown -- Virgin, the Manger the Place in which Christ lay, the God whom nothing can contain. Whom we praise and magnify.'
Contributed by Steven Clark
Updated 03-16-2023 by Elizabeth Craig