The Hymn of Kassiani

This is the most accurate explanation of the Hymn and the story of the Nun Abbess Kassiani.

Source written by Fr. George of St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church April 14, 2017 :


Orthros (Matins) on Great and Holy Tuesday

At Bridegroom Orthros (Matins) on Great and Holy Tuesday evening, the Church chants the following beautiful and inspiring hymn written by Saint Kassiani:

“O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, perceiving Thy Divinity, fulfilled the part of a myrrh-bearer; and with lamentations she brought sweet-smelling oil of myrrh to Thee before Thy burial. ‘Woe is me,’ she said, ‘for night surrounds me, dark and moonless, and stings my lustful passion with the love of sin. Accept the fountain of my tears, O Thou Who drawest down from the clouds the waters of the sea. Incline to the groanings of my heart, O Thou Who in Thine ineffable self-emptying hast bowed down the heavens. I shall kiss Thy Most Pure feet and wipe them with the hairs of my head, those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise and hid herself for fear. Who can search out the multitude of my sins and the abyss of Thy judgments, O Savior of my soul? Despise me not, Thine handmaiden, for Thou hast mercy without measure.”

Saint Kassiani the Hymnographer and poet was born between 805 A.D. and 810 A.D. in the city of Constantinople into a wealthy family and grew to be exceptionally beautiful and very intelligent. Three Byzantine chroniclers claim that she was a participant in the “bride show” (the means by which Byzantine princes/emperors sometimes chose a bride, giving a golden apple to his choice) organized for the young bachelor-emperor Theophilos the Iconoclast by his stepmother, the Empress Dowager Euphrosyne. Smitten by Kassiani’s (Kassia) beauty, the young emperor approached her and said: “Through a woman came forth the baser things,” referring to the sin and suffering coming as a result of Eve’s transgression. Kassiani promptly responded by saying: “And through a woman came forth the better things,” referring to the hope of salvation resulting from the Incarnation through the Most Holy Theotokos. His pride wounded by Kassiani’s rebuttal, Theophilos haughtily passed her by and chose Theodora to be his wife. 

We next hear of Kassiani in 843 A.D. when it is recorded that she founded a women’s monastery in Constantinople, becoming its first Egoumenissa (Abbess) and devoting her life to asceticism and the composing of liturgical poetry. The best known of her compositions is the Doxastikon Hymn on the Aposticha of the Bridegroom Orthros (Matins) for Great and Holy Wednesday (which is, in parish churches, chanted by anticipation on the previous evening).

Holy Tradition says that in his later years the Emperor Theophilos, still in love with Kassiani, wished to see her one last time before he died, so he rode to the monastery where she resided. Kassiani was alone in her cell, writing her now famous hymn, when she realized that the commotion she heard was because the imperial retinue had arrived. Being now devoted to God in her monastic life, Kassiani fled from her cell and hid, leaving the unfinished hymn on her writing desk. Theohilos was directed to her cell and entered it alone. Not finding Kassiani, he turned to leave when he noticed papers on the desk and read what was written upon them. When he was done reading, he sat and added one line to the hymn; then he left – never to see Kassiani again. The line attributed to the Emperor is “those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise and hid herself for fear.” When the emperor and his party departed from the monastery, Saint Kassiani returned to her cell, discovered what Theophilos had written, and finished the hymn now popularly known as “They Hymn of the Sinful Woman.”

Saint Kassiani was a Byzantine Egoumenissa (Abbess), poet, composer, and hymnographer. She is commemorated by the Church September 7th. Approximately fifty of her hymns are extant and twenty-three are included in the Orthodox Church liturgical books.