The Agape Vespers Gospel and the “Language” of Creation

By Dr. Alfred Kentigern Siewers

On Pascha Sunday, Orthodox Christians around the world hear the gospel of the empty tomb (John 20:19-25) read in many languages. This points us in the Pascha season toward Pentecost, and the speaking in many mutually understood tongues through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the founding of the Church. Orthodox Christianity historically welcomed use of languages around the world. But the languages spoken at this Resurrection time also remind us of how the divine energies (which St. Maximus the Confessor described as logoi of the Logos) move meaningfully through Creation: In different translations of logos, the words of the Word, the discourses of the Discourse, the stories of the Story, the harmonies of the Harmony.

In that last sense of harmonies, this “language” of Creation can also be understood through the image of music. St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “The order of the universe is a kind of musical harmony of varied shapes and colors with a certain order and rhythm…. the song woven together with divine words.”[1] The Wisdom of Solomon, states: “For the elements were changed in themselves by a kind of harmony, like as in a harp notes change the nature of the tune, and yet are always sounds” (19:18).[2] St. Basil of Caesarea described the aerial waters and the deeps as both singing hymns of praise to God’s glory.[3]

Music or chanting also can be an image for the metonymic breath of the Spirit (pneuma), the same Spirit that Basil refers to as “cherishing” the waters in the Syriac version of Genesis 1, thus vitalizing seeds of life in the sea as if breathing on them. Man himself, as a “little cosmos,” is described by him in corporeal terms as a musical instrument for the nousor energy of the soul/spirit, shaped in the image and likeness of God, or the Logos in whom man is made. In secular efforts to understand the environment today, the fields of biosemiotics and ecosemiotics (developed in a Baltic milieu influenced by Orthodox tradition) draw in part on the writings of the early 20th-century Estonian biologist Jakob von Uexküll. His classic The Theory of Meaning ends with this commentary: “We now know that our sun in our sky and our garden, full of flowers, animals, and people, are but symbols of an all-encompassing symphony….In our lifetime and in our Umwelt [meaningful environment] we are given the task of constructing a key in nature’s keyboard, over which an invisible hand glides.” The Agape Gospel proclaims the Person of the “invisible hand,” while pointing to the Spirit whose energies of grace both constitute and redeem Creation in meaning. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Dr. Alfred Kentigern Siewers is OFT Web Editor, and a professor of medieval and environmental literature.

Note: Blog posts do not necessarily reflect official views of OFT.