July 4 – St. Andrew of Crete

July 4, 2024

St. Andrew of Crete

(Sometimes called Andreas in English biography), theologian, homilist, hymnographer, b. at Damascus about the middle of the seventh century; d. 4 July, 740 (or 720), on which day his feast is celebrated in the Greek Church. At the age of fifteen he repaired to Jerusalem, entered a monastery, was enrolled amongst the clerics of Theodore, Bishop of Jerusalem (whence he is also commonly styled Andrew of Jerusalem), rose to some distinction, and was finally sent by Theodore in 685 to felicitate the Emperor, Constantine Pogonatus, on the holding of the Sixth General Council. His embassy fulfilled, he remained at Constantinople, received deaconship, again distinguished himself, and was finally appointed to the metropolitan see of Gortyna, in Crete. At first an opponent of the Monothelite heresy, he nevertheless attended the conciliabulum of 712, in which the decrees of the Council were abolished, but in the following year amended his course, and thenceforth occupied himself in worthy functions, preaching, composing hymns, etc. As a preacher, his twenty-two published and twenty-one unpublished discourses, replete with doctrine, history, unction, Scriptural quotation, poetic imagination, dignified and harmonious phraseology, and rhetorically divided in clear and precise fashion, justify his assignment to the front rank of ecclesiastical orators of the Byzantine epoch. A list of forty of his discourses, together with twenty-one edited sermons, is given in P.G., XCVII, 801-1304. His sermon on St. James, “brother of the Lord”, was published in 1891, thus making his published discourses twenty-two.He is principally interesting to us, however, as a hymnographer – not so much for the great mass, the thematic variety, or the disputable excellence of his work, as for the reason that he is credited with the invention (or at least the introduction into Greek liturgical services) of the canon, a new form of hymnody of which we have no intimation before his time. While it may indeed be “the highest effort of Greek hymnody” (as the Rev. H.L. Bennett styles it), its effects, doubtless unforeseen by its inventor, were not entirely satisfactory, as it gradually supplanted the forms of hymnody previously in use in the Tropologion (Greek Prayer Book). While the new form was thus brought into use by Andrew and was zealously cultivated by the great Greek hymnographers, he himself did not attain to any very high degree of excellence in the many canons he composed, his style being rugged, diffuse, and monotonous, from the viewpoint of modern hymnologists. On the other hand, those who took his invention as their model in composition were not wanting in affectionate tributes. They styled him the “radiant star”, the “splendorous sun”; for them his style is elevated in thought, pure in form, sweet and harmonious in diction. Thus, too, while his “Greek Canon”, whose immense length of 250 strophes has passed into a proverb with the Greeks, has been criticized for its length, its subtilties, its forced comparisons, it still receives the tribute of recitation entire on the Thursday of the fifth week (with us, the fourth) of Lent, and the four parts into which it is divided are also severally assigned to the first four days of the first week.

His hymnographic labours were indeed immense, if we may credit absolutely all the attributions made to him. Nine canons are assigned to him in the “Theotocarion” of the monk Nicodemus. Of these, however, six are in regular acrostic form, a literary (or perhaps mnemonic) device wholly foreign to his authenticated compositions. The remaining three have too great regularity of rhythm to be fairly ascribed to him, as his work is not conformed wholly to the elaborate rhythmical inductions propounded by Cardinal Pitra as rules for the canon. Here it may be said, by way of parenthesis, that a canon as printed in the liturgical books is, for economical reasons, so condensed in form that its poetical units, the troparia or strophes, appear like ordinary prose paragraphs. These troparia, however, yield to analysis, and are seen to consist of clauses or phrases separated by caesuras. Some hymnologists look on them as illustrations merely of modulated prose; but Cardinal Pitra considers the clauses as truly metrical, and discovers sixteen rules of prosodical government. The prosodical quantity of syllables seems to be disregarded (a feature of the evolution of Latin hymns as well), although the number of the syllables is generally equal, while accent plays a great part in the rhythm. These troparia are built up into an ode, the first troparion being a hirmus, a strophe which becomes a type for those following in respect to melody, tone (or mode) and rhythmic structure. The odes, in turn, are built up into canons, and are usually eight in number (theoretically nine, the second being usually omitted, although the numeration remains unaltered). A hymn of two odes is called a diodion; of three, a triodion (the common form for Lenten Offices, whence the name of “Triodion” for the Lenten Office Book). The hirmus, a troparion indicating the Greek tone or mode, which then prevails throughout the canon, may be borrowed by a different canon if this be in the same tone. It should be added that the Greek tones do not correspond with the Latin in their octaves. Some of St. Andrew’s odes have more than one hirmus; thus, in the Greek Canon the second and third odes have each two; the Long Canon (180 strophes) in honour of Sts. Simeon and Anne the Prophetess, has three in the first, second, third, sixth, and eighth; two in the fifth, seventh, and ninth; and four in the fourth. Altogether, the sufficiently authentic work of St. Andrew furnishes no fewer than one hundred and eleven hirmi: a fertililty beyond that of any other hymnographer.

To return to the canon. In addition to the nine already referred to as wrongly ascribed to him, fifteen others, as yet unpublished, are perhaps too hastily assigned to him. Leaving all these aside, however, we have the following in the first tone: (a) on the resurrection of Lazarus, still sung on the Friday before Palm Sunday, at the apodeipnon (the after-supper service, corresponding to our Compline); (b) Conception of St. Anne (9 Dec.); (c) the Machabean martyrs (1 Aug.); (d) St. Ignatius of Antioch (2 Dec.). The titles affixed will serve to indicate the variety of themes. In addition to these, ten other canons and four triodia furnish illustrations of his work in the second, third, and fourth Authentic, and the second and fourth plagal tones. He is also credited with the authorship of many idiomela (short, detached troparia, somewhat similar to our antiphons), found in the offices of thirteen feasts of the Greek calendar, usually as doxasticha and aposticha at Lauds and Vespers, and in processional and vesperal stichera. (The word idiomela is variously interpreted as suggesting that each idiomelon has its own proper melody, or, understanding melos poetically, rhythm. Sometimes idiomela are combined in a series, and are then called stichera idiomela; but in this case they seem to preserve no structural similarity or affinity, and have been compared to irregular verses in English.)

P.G., XCVII, 789-1444; PETIT in Dict. d’arch. chret. et de lit., s.v.; MARIN in Dict. de theol, cath., s.v.; NEALE, Hymns of the Eastern Church, for translations of portions of the Great Canon and Idiomela.

H.T. HENRY (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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