In the process of preparing text to be sung in our services, I often run across questions about the meaning. I try my best to reword unclear passages so they will make sense to the hearer, who, in almost all cases, will only get one chance to hear that particular text, and that, sung by the choir, no less. It is a bit of a musical, poetic, biblical, historical puzzle.
Sometimes the unclear passage is a reference to something in the saint’s life: “thou didst offer an incense of sweet savor with thy martyr’s hand” (Barlaam, 19Nov). We understand the words, but it raises questions in our minds. Sometimes, it is an unclear combination of the saint’s life and and a particular scripture passage; the irmos portions of Matins do this fairly often.
This coming Sunday, we will be celebrating the prophet Zephaniah. Something about the kontakion hymn for him, and the quote from the prophecy included in it, caught my eye and I looked it up. I just copied the words into the search engine, and was a bit surprised to find the results listed as Zechariah…a different Z-prophet. This is a problem I have not seen before.
The original kontakion is this: Thou wast shown to be brilliant by the divine Spirit, O prophet Zephaniah, proclaiming the coming of God: Rejoice exceedingly, O daughter of Zion! Proclaim Him, O Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh to save mankind!
The “Rejoice…” section very clearly comes from Zechariah 9:9. Sure, Zechariah is great, too, but why is Zechariah quoted in Zephaniah’s service? My fear—and I have no way to confirm or deny this—is that somewhere along the line, the two were confused…the whole Z-something-ariah thing. I checked around, and this is the kontakion quite consistently used by all.
There is a passage in Zephaniah which is somewhat close, but still, the hymn clearly uses Zechariah:
Rejoice exceedingly, O daughter of Zion!
Proclaim Him, O Jerusalem!
Behold, thy King cometh to save mankind!
(initial hymn that started this)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation…
(Zechariah 9:9 KJV)
Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel;
be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy:
the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee:
(Zephaniah 3:14-15 KJV)
Slightly more tricky are the many references in the rest of Zephaniah’s service that refer to his prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. I read through it, and most of the book is fairly directly concerned with the context in which Zephaniah was living. These verses quoted above are the best thing we have about Christ’s coming.
I suggest the following adaptation to the kontakion, actually using the prophecy of Zephaniah:
The Holy Spirit has revealed thy radiance, / O holy prophet Zephaniah; / with these words thou didst proclaim the coming of God: / “Sing aloud and shout, O daughter of Zion; / be glad and rejoice with all thy heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. // The Lord and king of Israel is in the midst of thee.”