Daily Meditations

Seventeenth Day of Christmas Advent: Search the Scriptures (The Katavasias, Part I)

Rod of the Root of Jesse

Rod of the root of Jesse, and flower that blossomed from his stem, You, O Christ, have sprung forth from the Virgin. From the mount of shaded leafy trees, You, the God who is not material have come to be incarnate from her who did not know wedlock. Glory to Your power, O Lord. (Fourth Ode of the Katavasias of the Nativity)

We begin to chant the Katavasias of Christmas from the Feast of the Entry. These hymns are full of references and allusions to Old Tetament theophanies, prophecies, and types of the Birth of Christ. By theophanies, we mean appearances of God. By types, we mean persons, objects, or actions in the Old Testament that are reminiscent of things in the New.

Katavasia means “descent:’ The katavasias are so called because the chanters would descend from their stalls to chant these together from the middle of the church, though this is rarely practiced today. The katavasia is the theme-hymn (hirmos) of the canon, which is a set of hymns comprised usually of nine odes, based on the nine biblical odes (eight from the Old Testament and one from the New):

1)      The Ode of Moses in Exodus (Ex. 15:1-19)

2)      The Ode of Moses in Deuteronomy (Deut. 32:1-43)

3)      The Prayer of Anna the mother of Samuel the Prophet (1 Kg. [1 Sam.] 2:1-10)

4)      The Prayer of Habakkuk the Prophet (Hab.3:2-19)

5)      The Prayer of Isaiah the Prophet (Is. 26:9-20)

6)      The Prayer of Jonah the Prophet (Jon. 2:3-10)

7)      The Prayer of the Three Holy Youths (Dan.3:26-56, LXX)

8)      The Song of the Three Holy Youths (Dan. 3:57-88) LXX)

9)      The Song of the Mother of God (Luke 1:46-55) and the Prayer of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:68-79)

The katavasias provide the model melody for the odes of the canon that follow. Every Great Feast has its own set of festal katavasias. The second ode of the katavasias (and of the canon) is never included for feasts due to its very penitential character.

~Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth