Meditation on “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” W. Zeitler
“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”
A few of the hymns in our hymnal have texts of truly ancient origin, and “Let All Mortal Flesh” is one of them. It is an ancient chant of Eucharistic [Communion] devotion based on words from Habakkuk 2:20, “Let all the earth keep silence before him”. The original was composed in Greek as a Cherubic Hymn for the Offertory of the Divine Liturgy of St James; the “Let All Mortal Flesh” text is probably older than the rest of the liturgy and goes back at least to 275 AD, with local churches adopting arrangements in Syriac. The identity of the original author is long lost in the misty shadows of Time.
Hymnologist Dr. Bailey explains the context of the original hymn: “This liturgy leads up to the celebration of the Eucharist, our Communion. Since the Eucharist was an awe-inspiring rite in which, according to universal ancient belief, Christ was actually present under the guise of bread and wine, it should be approached only after due spiritual preparation.”
“The celebrant would say the following Preface during the Eucharistic liturgy, setting the context for the hymn: ‘We remember the sky, the earth and the sea, the sun and the moon, the stars and all creation both rational and irrational, the angels and archangels, powers, mights, dominations, principalities, thrones, the many-eyed Cherubim who say those words of David: ‘Praise the Lord with me.’ We remember the Seraphim, whom Isaiah saw in spirit standing around the throne of God, who with two wings cover their faces, with two their feet and with two fly; who say: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth.’ We also say these divine words of the Seraphim, so as to take part in the hymns of the heavenly host.'” The hymn is thus imbued with the mystery of Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 and invites us to participate in the Mystery of the Incarnation, with a sense of entering the Holy of Holies.
When we sing hymns like this of such ancient origin, I can almost feel the presence of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ — generation upon generation of Christians for almost two millennia now singing this hymn, in worlds very different from ours, and yet what we celebrate remains unchanged.
Click here for the mp3 (5:07).
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