What shall we give to the Lord in return for all that he has given us? For our sake, God lived among us. On account of our corrupt nature the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He became the benefactor of the ungrateful, the liberator of those in captivity. He is the sun of righteousness for those sitting in darkness. He who is impassible is on the cross. He is the light in Hades. He is life in death. He is the resurrection of the fallen, and we cry to him: Glory to you, our God.
This hymn, especially when chanted in the original Greek, deeply resonates with me. It is a summary of the whole of true Orthodox Christian theology in a simple, yet powerful, chant. My Spiritual Father told me once in confession that I had a gift that not many people receive, that is, I have the opportunity to be one of the chanters at my local parish. He said that a chanter is called an ieropsaltis (iero=holy, psaltis=chanter), not because the chanter himself is holy (although he should be!), but the texts which he chants (which have been written by holy people, the Church Fathers) are holy. The texts we read and chant in the Divine services are an unlimited source of Theology and poetic beauty.
The use of ‘opposites’ in this hymn (of which Plato would have been proud) point us to the profound mystery of Christ. He is Light, He is Life, He is the Resurrection, He is the Word (Logos=purpose; reason; that which governs the cosmos), He is our Benefactor and Redeemer, the Sun of Righteousness and the Impassible One (the One without passions). We are corrupt, we are ungrateful, we are in captivity, we are sitting in darkness, we are dead (emotionally, spiritually, physically, or in one word, psychosomatically) and we are fallen.
All these descriptions of Christ warrant deep contemplation individually, but I will focus on only this one: Christ is Life. Indeed, Christ is our Life.
In today’s world where so many brilliant scientific discoveries are made all the time, we still do not have the answer to this fundamental question: What is life? Many a great scientist have studied life and its origins, Darwin, Lamarck, Dawkins, Watson, Crick, Mendel, and the list goes on. Yet the question remains: What is life? What is consciousness?
Metropolitan Tryphon, who wrote the Akathist ‘Glory to God for all things’, said: Christ is life. The familiar and operative term life is not at all a simple phenomenon. When Darwinism recently brought to the fore the question of life and tried to formulate its essence in precise terms, subjecting it to specific laws, it turns out that even in its biological sense life is one of the most impenetrable mysteries. All scholars halted before this problem of life as before a massive locked door. To describe the process as a chance movement of atoms and electrons, to say that the living cells of the body possess a consciousness, still falls very far short of explaining what life is. All scientific theories can have meaning only as more or less satisfying descriptions of a living process, the source of which apparently lies beyond the boundaries of this life itself. Old Testament Jewish religion affirmed that the source of cosmic life, the earth, the plants, and animals and humans, all lies in God, that is, an independent entity who has no prior origin. As the true Image of God, as God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, in this biological sense has the full justification to declare about Himself: I am the Life.
A certain doctor here in Sydney asked a Priest, “Father, it’s been such a long time since you have had a blood test. Don’t you think you should come to me soon?” And the Priest’s reply was, “Why do I need a blood test when I have Christ running in my veins?”
Indeed, when we partake in the Sacramental life of the Church, we can say the same thing. That is the reason why we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Not because we have the same lineage, from the same ancestor, but because Christ’s blood runs in our veins.
So, Christ through His extreme humility (akra tapeinosis) lived among us, for our sake. What else can we possibly chant to Him except these words from the Psalms:
What shall we give to the Lord in return for all that he has given us?
What can we possibly give the Lord Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the All-good, our Creator, for giving us Life, Light, Redemption, Resurrection? The Priest says in the Divine Liturgy, “Your own of Your own we offer to You”. We do not own anything, even our bodies. Everything has its existence in and through God, as it says in the Scriptures, ‘in whom I live and move and have my being’.
Our answer is simple, yet profound. We chant to Him, we cry out as it says in the hymn, with all our heart:
An elder from Mt Athos once said, “One ‘Glory to God’ is one thousand times more powerful in prayer than a ‘Lord have mercy’”.
All we can say to God is ‘Glory to you’. Glory to you my God for my pain, my suffering, my struggle, my difficulties, my sicknesses, my weaknesses, my woes, my family and friends, my intellect, my skills, my virtues, my whole life.