Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (Greek: Σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ βροτεία), also known as Let all mortal flesh keep silent, is an ancient chant of Eucharistic devotion based on words from Habakkuk 2:20, "Let all the earth keep silence before him" (Hebrew: הַ֥ס מִפָּנָ֖יו כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ has mippanaw kol ha-arets). The original was composed in Greek as a Cherubic Hymn for the Offertory of the Divine Liturgy of St James; it probably antedates the rest of the liturgy and goes back at least to AD 275, with local churches adopting arrangements in Syriac. In modern times, the Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangement of a translation from the Greek by Gerard Moultrie to the tune of "Picardy", a French medieval folk melody, popularized the hymn among other Christian congregations.
Usage in the Byzantine Liturgy and in other Eastern traditions
Borrowed from the old Divine Liturgy of St. James, the ancient hymn Let all mortal flesh keep silent replaces the Cherubikon in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great in the Eucharist celebrated in the morning of Holy Saturday. The Byzantine Rite only makes use of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil ten times a year, and during most of the liturgical year the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is used instead. However, even in the dates when the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is used, the normal Cherubikon is usually sung. It is however replaced by the anthem Let all mortal flesh keep silent specifically on Holy Saturday.
However, Churches that use the Divine Liturgy of St. James as their principal Liturgy or as a Liturgy in frequent use, such as the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church and the Maronite Church sing the hymn Let all mortal flesh keep silent regularly, whenever the Divine Liturgy of St. James is used, since the anthem Let all mortal flesh keep silent is the standard Cherubic Hymn of that Liturgy.
Usage in the Western Orthodox tradition
When the Russian Orthodox priest Eugraph Kovalevsky (later Saint John of Saint-Denis) set about reconstructing a form of the Gallican Rite mass for use by the Western Orthodox Christians of France in the middle of the 20th century, the manuscripts to which he had access did not provide any clue to the text of the Sonus and Laudes, which were the two chants anciently sung during the offertory procession of the bread and wine to the altar. The ancient hymn Let all mortal flesh keep silent was deemed to be a fitting substitute, both because of its ancient precedent in an identical position in the Divine Liturgy of St. James and also because its theme was in keeping with the repeated emphasis on silence in the Gallican liturgical tradition. Today, this hymn continues to be used as a standard part of the Divine Liturgy of St Germanus in various Orthodox churches, only being replaced by other hymns during certain feasts and seasons.
Greek text used in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy (Orthodox or Eastern Rite Catholic)
Ancient Greek: Σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ βροτεία, καὶ στήτω μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου, καὶ μηδὲν γήϊνον ἐν ἑαυτῇ λογιζέσθω· ὁ γὰρ Βασιλεῦς τῶν βασιλευόντων, καὶ Κύριος τῶν κυριευόντων, προσέρχεται σφαγιασθῆναι, καὶ δοθῆναι εἰς βρῶσιν τοῖς πιστοῖς· προηγοῦνται δὲ τούτου, οἱ χοροὶ τῶν Ἀγγέλων, μετὰ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας, τὰ πολυόμματα Χερουβίμ, καὶ τὰ ἑξαπτέρυγα Σεραφίμ, τὰς ὄψεις καλύπτοντα, καὶ βοῶντα τὸν ὕμνον· Ἀλληλούϊα, Ἀλληλούϊα, Ἀλληλούϊα.[n 1]
English translation of the Greek text used in the Byzantine Liturgy
Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and in itself consider nothing earthly; for the King of kings and Lord of lords cometh forth to be sacrificed, and given as food to the believers; and there go before Him the choirs of Angels, with every Dominion and Power, the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces, and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Slavonic translation of the Greek text, used in the Russian Orthodox Liturgy and in certain Eastern Catholic Rites
Да молчит всякая плоть человеча, и да стоит со страхом и трепетом, и ничтоже земное в себе да помышляет; Царь бо царствующих, и Господь господствующих, приходит заклатися и датися в снедь верным. Предходят же Сему лицы ангельстии со всяким Началом и Властию, многоочитии Херувими, и шестокрилатии Серафими, лица закрывающе, и вопиюще песнь: Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя, Аллилуйя.
Latin text used in Western Orthodox rites
Sileat omnis caro mortalis et stet cum timore et tremore neve quidquam terrestre in se meditetur. Rex enim regnantium, Christus Deus noster, prodit ut mactetur deturque in escam fidelibus, praecedunt autem hunc chori angelorum cum omni principatu et potestate, cherubim multis oculis et seraphim sex alis praedita, facies velantia et vociferantia hymnum, alleluia.
English poem by Gerard Moultrie used in the Anglican Communion, the Catholic Church, Western Rite Orthodoxy, and the Lutheran Church
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heav'nly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the pow'rs of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six-winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!"
- Development of Divine Liturgy of St James
- Author of English lyrics Gerard Moultrie
- Hymn melody Picardy (hymn)
- Prayers for Eucharistic adoration
Notes and references
- In the Greek typica, or in relevant historical texts and manuscripts, textual variations in the wording of this hymn are attested; e.g. λογιζέτω for λογιζέσθω, "additional" καί, etc.
- For the place of the text of the hymn inside said Liturgy, see the text of the Liturgy itself: In English, in part 2, under And the Readers begin the Cherubic Hymn; "Divine Liturgy of St. James". www.newadvent.org. In Greek, under the first Ὁ Λαός ("The people"), in Προσκομιδή; /texts/Oro/StJames.htm "Ἡ Θεία Λειτουργία τοῦ Ἁγίου Ἰακώβου τοῦ ἀδελφοθέου" [The Divine Liturgy of Saint James, brother of God]. analogion.gr. Archived from the original on 2014-02-21.
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