St. Kassiane the Hymnographer icon

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Orthodox icon of Saint Kassiane the Hymnographer.

Commemorated September 7.

Saint Kassiani was a Byzantine abbess, poet, composer, and hymnographer especially known as the composer of the Hymn of Kassiani. She was born between 805 and 810 in Constantinople into an wealthy family and grew to be exceptionally beautiful and intelligent. At a yound age she was placed in a contest for bride to Emperor Theophilus. Tradition tells us that when Theophilus, astonished by her beauty, selected her, he said through a woman sin came to the world St Kassiani responded and by a woman, salvation came to the world.

This insulted the emperor and she was rejected and he chose Theodora as his wife. She wrote many hymns for liturgies; the most famous being the eponymous Hymn of Kassiani, sung every Holy Wednesday (liturgically; actually chanted late in the evening of Holy Tuesday). Tradition says that in his later years the Emperor Theophilus, still in love with Kassiani, wished to see her one more time before he died, so he rode to the monastery where she resided.

Kassiani was alone in her cell, writing her Hymn when she realized that the commotion she heard was because the imperial retinue had arrived. She was still in love with him but was now devoted to God and hid away because she did not want to let her old passion overcome her monastic vow. She left the unfinished hymn on the table. Theophilus found her cell and entered it alone. He looked for her but she was not there; she was hiding in a closet, watching him. Theophilus felt very sad, cried, and regretted that for a moment of pride he rejected such a beautiful and intellectual woman; then he noticed the papers on the table and read them. When he was done reading, he sat and added one line to the hymn; then he left.

The line attributed to the Emperor is the line those very feet whose sound Eve heard at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in fear Kassiani emerged when the emperor was gone, read what he had written and finished the hymn. Kassiani is one of the first composers whose scores are both extant and able to be interpreted by modern scholars and musicians.

Approximately fifty of her hymns are extant and twenty-three are included in the Orthodox Church liturgical books. The exact number is difficult to assess, as many hymns are ascribed to different authors in different manuscripts and are often identified as anonymous. In addition, some 789 of her non-liturgical verses survive.