Wake the Day With Gladness

This Morning’s Sonshine Broke Through Storm Clouds

Today we commemorate the heavenly birthday of sainted Good King Wenceslas! Many westerners have been introduced to him through an ancient Christmas Carol, retelling one of his miracles.

In this carol, St. Wenceslas helps distribute alms to the needy on the Eve of the Feast of St. Stephen the Apostle, Deacon, and Protomartyr (celebrated on the third day of Christmas); when the churches were opened and yearly collections from the Poor Alms Boxes were dispersed among the needy of the community. This was the original purpose and meaning of Boxing Day!

St. Wenceslas was martyred on today’s date (September 28/October 11) in the year 935. He is buried in Prague. 

A beautiful hymn was penned in the 9th century by St. Joseph the Hymnographer – a Greek monk, and one of the many liturgical poets and hymnographers of the Orthodox Church. The hymn was later translated into English, and woven into the ancient 13th century carol melody used for Good King Wenceslas.

This ancient hymn was also later sung on St. Stephen’s feast day and many other special days of the martyrs. Some churches add on St. Joseph the Hymnographer’s hymn to carol of Good King Wenceslas, as an extra and final verse:

Christian friends, your voices raise.
Wake the day with gladness.
God Himself to joy and praise 
turns our human sadness: 
Joy that martyrs won their crown, 
opened heav’ns bright portal, 
when they laid the mortal down 
for the life immortal.

Whatever we do, let us always try to do our very best to please God our Creator… that we may wake each day with gladness, and rejoice to see heaven’s bright portal break through the clouds… to illumine the way ahead!

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might

St. Caedmon’s Day Greetings

Thank you Fr. Serafim Mull Monastery for kind permission to use St. Caedmon’s Icon.

O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. ~ Psalm 96:1

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; ~ Ephesians 5:19

…a psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense. ~ St. Basil the Great

Today is St. Caedmon’s Day! This 7th British Saint heard angels sing and wrote the earliest English poem in existence.

It’s heart-piercingly beautiful, and after wading through these Latin, Northumbrian, West Saxon translations and sources of his work… I knew this poem was just aching to be adapted into a simpler, modern English read.

Sadly, no original music remains of St. Caedmon’s hymn, and alas and alack, I never found any olden West Saxon melodies to work with… They’re scarcer than hen’s teeth!

You can imagine how thrilling it was to encounter the ancient 13th century Byzantine Greek Chant, Defte Lai and know how the majestic melody would also suit the adaptation of St. Caedmon’s poem. It’s pure joy to reclaim Defte Lai’s ageless air for another venerable Orthodox Hymn.

One of St. Caedmon’s contemporaries was the Greek monastic – St. Theodore of Tarsus, who became the 8th Archbishop of Canterbury England, so my Byzantine nod isn’t too far removed.

Here’s the pdf sheet music for my 2022 adaptation and recording below of St. Caedmon’s Hymn.

3 chords used in this recording – while leaning on my ukulele crutch are: Fm; Cm; and B♭m

St. Caedmon’s Creation Hymn:

Come magnify Him,
Creator of the firmament,
Author of each and all,
And glorify His purpose;
Love, Invincible.

Come and honour Him,
Protector of Fair Paradise,
Holy, Mighty, Immortal,
Architect, Omnipotent;
Father of Glory.
Blessed, Timeless, Lord,
Thou hast established Thy wonders,
Before middle earth* was formed,
Or adorned with Thought of Mind;
Lord, God Almighty!

For the sons of men;
Thou formed the Roof of Heaven!

* Middle earth (not just a Tolkien invention)- it means the world, the middle enclosure – which exists between heaven and hell. From Middle English middel-erde, and Old English middangeard.

Through the Holy Prayers of St. Caedmon, may we – through the Wonderful Mystery of Creation, magnify our Blessed and Timeless Lord!

St. Brigid of Ireland

St. Brigid’s Cross woven with Rushes and photo by Irena

On February 14th/1st we celebrate St. Brigid of Ireland and St. Valentine.

Born in 451, St. Brigid (pronounced Bree-jyah in Gaelic) was the daughter of Dubtach, a pagan king. Brocca, her mother, was a Christian Pictish slave, baptized by St. Patrick himself.

Even as a child, Brigid noticed poverty and destitution. She responded by giving away her own and her family’s considerable possessions to people in need. This generosity did not meet with her father’s approval, who complained to a friend that his daughter was bankrupting the household. His friend answered, “Let her be… She has more virtue before God, than either you or I.”

Brigid followed her desire to be a nun and was tonsured by St. Mael, Bishop of Armagh, who was a nephew of St. Patrick.

She established a monastic community with several other young women, located under a large oak tree. It became known as the Church of the Oak (in Gaelic Cill-Dara)… sometimes she is called Brigid of Kildare.

The community grew in numbers, reputation and achievement. Brigid was the abbess, and continued her care for the poor, selling whatever she had to give them what they needed. People who lived in the area flocked to the monastery to receive medical help, food, and to pray with the nuns. They would often see the abbess out in the fields, tending to the community’s cattle. Brigid and the sisters cared for the local children and established schools for them. Others heard of these efforts, and before long, the abbess travelled Ireland to start schools, to oversee the building of hospitals, and encourage people in their faith… by her own steadfast, cheerful example. 

Under Brigid’s direction, the monastery itself became an art school, where metal work and manuscript illumination (decoration of manuscript pages with coloured figures and designs) were taught. The products of this school included a Gospel book, famously beautiful for its harmony of colors and intricate designs. To some it almost seemed that this Book of Kildare must have been the work of angels… with humans merely copying the figures shown to them by the angels. Unfortunately, this book and many other Christian relics throughout the land were lost during King Henry VIII’s destruction and pillaging of holy sites.

When St. Brigid died in 525 AD, the nuns kept a fire burning in an enclosure at her Kildare convent. This fire burned for centuries, tended by the Sisters and did not burn out until 1220 AD. It was re-lit and burned for another 400 years.

St. Brigid’s association with fire and the closeness of her feast day to the Feast of the Meeting of our Lord in the Temple (also known as Candlemas), a day celebrating Christ as the Light Unto the Nations, links the two Feasts. 

St. Brigid is also affectionately known as Bride, Bridey, or the Mary of the Gael. She is patroness of dairy maids, infants, midwives, blacksmiths, poets, nuns, and students.

Along with Saints Patrick and Columba (Columcille), she is also the patroness of Ireland. St. Brigid is usually depicted in icons as a nun with a Cross woven from rushes and with fire (a candle, lamp, or bowl of fire).

Here is a link to my simple folk song praising St. Brigid of Ireland.

It is said the origin of the St. Brigid’s cross came when she was called to the bedside of a dying pagan chieftain. While sitting with the dying man, St. Brigid picked up some rushes from the floor and began to weave them into a cross. The sick man asked her what she was doing, and St. Brigid told him of Jesus Christ. Before he died, the chieftain become a Christian.

How to make a St. Brigid Cross, woven from rushes.

As Christians, we are called to help provide for the poor and needy (not just during spells of cold weather).

May we acquire the gift to see Christ in every person, as St. Brigid did.

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