Archive for the ‘St. Cassia’ Tag

Feast of St. Kassiani the Hymnographer (September 7)   2 comments

Above: Icon of St. Kassiani the Hymnographer

Image in the Public Domain



Byzantine Abbess, Poet, Composer, Hymn Writer, and Defender of Icons

Also known as Saint Kassia and Saint Cassia

St. Kassiani the Hymnographer comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and The Episcopal Church.  As of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, St. Kassiani’s feast graces the calendar of The Episcopal Church.

An inescapable fact influences this, my Ecumenical Calendar:  most saints on it come from patriarchal societies.  This means that I have more sources for male saints than for female ones.  And I cannot write based on sources that do not exist.  I am sufficiently liberal to affirm the legal and social equality of men and women.  I also affirm that, as a cliché tells me,

Variety is the spice of life.

Ergo, I welcome the opportunity to diversify this Ecumenical Calendar–in this case, regarding chromosomes.

The Byzantine Empire was patriarchal.  In that context, St. Kassiani was only one of two female authors known by her name.  The other one was Anna Comnenus (1083-1153/1154), a daughter of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (reigned 1081-1118), a sister of Emperor John II Comnenus (reigned 1118-1143), a sister-in-law of Blessed Irene of Hungary (1088-1134), and an aunt of Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (reigned 1143-1180).  Anna, a capable scholar, composed the Alexiad, about her father’s reign.  According to Paul Magdalino, the Alexiad was:

unique not only as a piece of Byzantine women’s literature, but also as an expression of frustrated ambition by a woman who felt that she had been born to imperial power.

–Quoted in Cyril Mango, editor, The Oxford History of Byzantium (2002), 206

St. Kassiani, born in Constantinople, between 805 and 810, came from a wealthy family.  She, according to ancient sources were well-educated, highly intelligent, and beautiful.  Her appearance attracted male attention, but her mind sometimes repelled such attention.  The dowager Empress Euphrosyne orchestrated a bride show–a beauty pageant–for her son, the bachelor Emperor Theophilus (reigned 829-842).  The Emperor selected St. Kassiani to become the Empress.  Then he told her:

Through a woman [came forth] the baser [things],

referring to Eve and the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  St. Kassiani replied:

And through woman [came forth] the better [things],

a reference to St. Mary of Nazareth giving birth to Jesus.  With that, Theophilus chose another woman–Theodora–to be the Empress instead.

St. Kassiani was better off not being the Empress to Emperor Theophilus.  He was an Iconclast.  He was also

an arrogant, theologizing fanatic who promulgated a new edict againt idolaters (832) and pushed persecution to the limit.

–Peter N. Stearns, General Editor, The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth Edition (2001), 187

St. Kassiani had always been an astute person and a bright bulb.  When she was a young girl, her erudition had impressed St. Theodore Studites (759-826), the abbot of Studion Monastery, Constantinople.  He had liked her literary style, too.

St. Kassiani, rejected by the Emperor, turned to what she would have done anyway–enter monastic life.  By 843, our saint had founded and become the abbess of a convent on Xerólophos, the seventh hill of Constantinople.  This convent had a close relationship with the Studion Monastery.  Like the monks of Studion, our saint defended icons against the Iconoclasts.  Emperor Theophilus had her scourged with a lash for this.  Nevertheless, St. Kassiani wrote a short line of poetry, translated into English as:

I hate silence, when it is time to speak.

Empress Theodora, as the regent for her son, Emperor Michael III (reigned 842-867), ended official Byzantine Iconoclasm permanently, in 843.

St. Kassiani eventually moved to the island of Kasos, where she died in 865.

She left a rich legacy.  Hundreds of poems, fifty hymns, and many musical contributions survived.  She became the only woman whose works the Eastern Orthodox liturgy includes.  Twenty-three of her hymns have long graced the Eastern Orthodox liturgy.





O God of boundless mercy, whose handmaiden Kassiani brought forth poetry and song:

Inspire in your church a new song,

that following her most excellent example,

we may boldly proclaim the truth of your Word,

even Jesus Christ, our Savior and Deliverer.  Amen.

Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 44:1-15

Psalm 150

Luke 24:44-53

Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018