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The female Byzantine composer who is sung on Holy Wednesday

Cassia’s Hymn

 L’Inno di Cassia   DCM-007
01 July 2023

Cassia (also referred to as Kassia, Eikasia or Kassiani), was a Byzantine aristocrat, an abbess, a poet and a composer. Her “Kassiani Hymn”, which is sung during Holy Wednesday, is the only one that is present within the text of today’s Orthodox Liturgy.

We are in the ninth century, in Constantinople. This beautiful and brilliant girl, who could read and write, and had received an excellent education, participates in the parade of brides, in which the Byzantine emperor Theophilus must choose a wife, doing so by handing the chosen one a golden apple. Attracted by Kassia’s beauty, the young Basileus of the Romei approaches her and says, “Through a woman the vilest passions are distilled” (referring to Eve’s original sin). Kassia replies, “But through a woman come the best things” (referring to the birth of Jesus). In order to protect his pride, Theophilus chooses Theodora instead.

Following this, Kassiani founded a monastery near the Christian monastery of Studion, the most important in the empire, and which played a central role in the revival of Byzantine liturgy between the IX and X centuries. Today, it preserves her works, which consist of about fifty hymns, twenty-three of which are part of the liturgy of the Orthodox Church, and 261 verses of a secular character, including many epigrams and aphorisms.

Kassiani’s Hymn describes the feelings of the sinful woman as she kneels before Jesus and kisses his feet, and then compares this to the fall of Adam and Eve.

Lord, when the woman who had fallen into many sins perceived Your divinity, she assumed the role of a myrrh-bearing woman, and lamenting brought fragrant oils to anoint You before Your burial.
“Woe is me”, she says.
“Night for me is a frenzy without restraint, very dark and moonless, a sinful love-affair.
Accept the fountains of my tears, You who draw out from the clouds the water of the sea.
Take pity on me, and incline to the sighing of my heart, You who bowed the heavens by Your ineffable self-emptying.
I shall cover Your unstained feet with kisses, and wipe them dry again with the locks of my hair; those feet, whose sound at twilight in Paradise echoed in Eve's ears, and she hid in fear.
Who can reckon the multitude of my sins, or fathom the depths of Your judgments, O my life-saving Savior?
Do not despise me, Your servant, since without measure is Your mercy”.