Saturday, April 7, 2007

Thanksgiving from a prison camp

Gregory Petrov died in 1942 in a Soviet prison camp. About his life I know very little except that he composed, shortly before his death, a remarkable hymn. On Good Friday my wife and I attended All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal where Petrov's Akathist was performed by a robust, robed male chorus.

Over the years, my low-church Good Fridays have tended to be introspective and somber. More about Jesus' pain and grief than about God's grace. More about darkness than light. Perhaps that's why Petrov's litany of praises was so breathtaking to me. The cross, draped in black, and the crown of thorns gave silent testimony to the horrors of Roman crucifixion. But we were not summoned to writhe in pain, to reenact an execution. We were called, rather, to gratitude.

Here's a sampling:
Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life's journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age
And another:
O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun's golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!
For all 23 sparkling, scented stanzas, go here.

Do we get to say stuff like this on Good Friday? Aren't our hearts supposed to grow dim like the sky over Golgotha? Aren't we supposed to identify with Christ in his abandonment? Or can we remind each other, even on Friday, of the glorious goodness and tender mercies of God? I hope so. God knows there's enough pain and loneliness out there. Soviet prisons are not the only places this hymn needs to be heard.

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