[St. Pachomius Library]

Simeon of Gesir: POTTER SONGS

Translated from Syriac to German by Sebastian Euringer, 1917, and from German to English by Peter Meditz, 1995.

German version originally published in Oriens Christianus, 1917.

The nine ``Potter Songs'' by Simeon of Gesir

Edited and translated according to Cod. Syr. Add. 14520 by Sebastian Euringer, Ph.D., royal college professor in Dillingen on the Danube.


At the end of my treatise on the presumable author of the Coptic Theotokia in this journal, Oriens Christianus, (New Series), I, p. 215 to 226, I expressed the wish that the nine songs by Semon of Gesir, which a manuscript of the British Museum has preserved for us, be published so that they can be compared with the Theotokia.

Now a former student of mine, the royal prefect B. Eisenlohr in Neuburg on the Danube, has surprised me with the present of his photo-facsimile of these songs on the occasion of my name-day and thus enabled me to attend to the publishing myself. For this kindness, I would like to thank the mentioned gentleman here as well.

The manuscript formerly carried the name Add. 14520; now it is numbered CCCCLI. According to W. Wright's Catalogue of Syriac Mss in the British Museum, p. 363f. it is written ``in a clear, though rather inelegant, Estrangela of the VIII. or IX. century'' and contains ``a collection of hymns, prayers and services for various occasions.''

The 1st part presents Christmas carols, namely 15 songs by Ephraem, i.e. 7-syllable verses; 9 verses by the deacon and potter of Gesir in different meters; and one work by Jacob of Serug, i.e. in 12-syllable verses. Only the nine hymns by Simeon, which occupy the pages fol. 13b - 16a of the manuscript, concern us.

The title is quite formal: ``Christmas antiphons, written by the deacon Simeon Kukaja (potter), of Gesir; therefore they are called `Potter Songs' (Kukajatha).''

With the exception of the last, four-stanza song, they consist of 3 stanzas each. The 7-syllable meter dominates because even the 11- or 12-syllable verses are always divided in two halves, one of which counts 7 syllables. The songs 2, 4 and 9 are generally composed in the 7-syllable meter, 1 and 5 as well, although with the exception of the 1st verse, which consists of 11 and 8 syllables, respectively. 6 and 8 are built very regularly, namely: 7 + 9 + 11 + 7 + 9 resp. 7 + 4 + 7 + 7 + 4 +7; 3 is more complicated: 11 + 12 + 11 + 8 + 8 + 12 or (7 + 4) + (7 + 5) + (7 + 4) + 8 + 8 + (7 + 5), and no. 7, namely 7 + 9 + 7 + 7 + 7 + 12 + 7.

Preceding each song, the tune to which it is to be delivered is indicated. At the end of the the last two songs' stanzas there is a double hallelujah.

The content of the songs is plain and simple, like their style. The main source is, of course, the Holy Scripture, in particular, the childhood narrative of the Gospel. Whether the few uncanonical additions go back to apocrypha or arose from Simeon's imagination remains in question:

3,2 the many angels filling the grotto of birth prevent the Blessed Virgin from seeing and approaching her child. 7,1 the lustre of the child Jesus keeps the Magi from entering the cave; only after the Savior had softened the lustre on his mother's request were the Magi able to approach the manger.

Comparatively few significant images and themes can be noted:

Presumably Simeon loves these images because of their relation to the star of the Magi, therefore he uses preferably the Syriac verb ``to rise'' instead of the more prosaic Syriac ``to be born,'' or the Syriac ``to emerge.''

The question of the correctness of the Abyssinian tradition of Simeon the potter being the author of the Theotokia is not settled by these 9 Potter Songs, at least not in the affirmative.

Surely both (Theotokia and Potter Songs) have particular trains of thought in common, but without corresponding in their literal expression, (e.g. Christ as sun of justice, as suckling who gives milk to all, as nourisher of the universe who lets himself be nourished by Mary; Mary as gate of the sunrise, as throne of him who rides along on the cherubs, as the one who bears him who bears everything.) But these few ideas are not far-fetched. On the other hand, specific images of the Potter Songs are missing in the Theotokia. Moreover, the simplicity of style differs considerably from the flood of words in the Coptic and Ethiopic Theotokia.

It must not be ignored, however, that we have at our command on one side only 9 short songs, which are moreover not genuine Lady-songs, and on the other hand only younger recensions of the Theotokia. It will only be permissible, therefore, to say cautiously that the impression of both compared objects is not favorable to Simeon's authorship of the Theotokia.

Antiphons for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, written by the deacon Simeon the potter (Kukaja) of Gesir, and therefore they are called ``Potter Songs'' (Kukajatha).

First (antiphon) to the tune: "The Apostle Paul."


Gabriel flew // 
From the height on the wings of the wind ::
And brought an epistle from his Lord :: 
To bring Mary the salutation. :: 
He opened it and read it and said to her: :: 
"My Lord is with you and rises from you; ::
I left him behind up above :: 
And here with you I find him." :: 
Praise be to him, before whom in the height and in the depth ::
The angels sing praise. */*


"Peace, peace // 
To the far and the near!" :: 
The prophet in the Holy Spirit called out :: 
To the whole race of the house of Adam. :: 
The peace is God, :: 
Who came to us and became flesh. :: 
Praise to him, who humiliated so much ::
His majesty on our behalf. :: 
And he rose from us after our likeness :: 
And (yet) he did not leave his Father's side. */*


Grant, o our Lord, // 
Peace to your church in all four corners of the globe :: 
And take from her the quarrels ::
And the divisions and the evil schisms :: 
And gather her children in her fold :: 
In the true faith :: 
And appoint shepherds over her :: 
Who put her to pasture after your will. :: 
And may she rejoice with you in the kingdom ::
To the right of Him who sent you.  */*


By the same. To the tune: "At the time of morning open." 


The Father's "Peace!" was from the height :: 
Sent through Gabriel :: 
To the blessed Mary. :: 
His spiritual mouth was filled :: 
With the greeting, and he gave it to her and said to her: :: 
"From you will rise the Savior." */*


Mary saw the angel, :: 
Like powerful lightning ::
Who spoke softly: :: 
"Hail, Mary! My lord is with you. ::  
The Holy Spirit, he will come :: 
And the power of the Most High overshadow you." */* 


We worship that very power :: 
Which left the cherubs and seraphs :: 
And the angels who served it. ::
And he descended and rose in the world :: 
And redeemed me and ascended to his father :: 
And behold, he sits to the right. */*


For Christmas. To the tune: "To you, o Lord, we cry."


Two ships in Judaea // 
Carried goods: :: 
Elizabeth the blessed // 
And Mary the faithful; :: 
Elizabeth carried the burden // 
Through human seed ::   
And Mary carried God // 
Through the Holy Spirit. :: 
John prepared the way :: 
And Christ taught the crowd. :: 
And lo, they always cry to him: // 
"Have mercy and pity upon us!" */*


"You have strengthened me, o Lord, and I have borne you," //
Said Mary. :: 
"But after I have given birth to you in the grotto, //
I cannot see you. :: 
Rows of fire surround // 
The little manger. :: 
The seraphs with their six wings //
Stand over it. :: 
Order them to raise their wings! ::
I want to enter and worship your magnificence :: 
And give the virginal milk to you, // 
Which flows according to your will." */*


"Come in peace, blessed one!" // 
Elizabeth cried :: 
When Mary came to her // 
And carried in her womb :: 
The God Logos, who put on // 
Flesh from her :: 
And was born without human seed // 
From her pure womb. ::                     
Come in peace, mother of God, :: 
Come in peace, chariot [of cherubs, Ezekiel 1] of flesh, :: 
Which carries him who carries all, // 
And have mercy and pity upon us! */*


For Christmas. To the tune "On Sunday the church sees you."


The tidings Gabriel brought :: 
Sowed peace into creation, ::
Peace in the height and in the depth; :: 
Through them rose life to the people ::  
And the people turned away from error through them :: 
And God was reconciled through them. */*


Praised be your birth, o our Savior, :: 
Lord of all creatures, ::
Whose lustre the cherubs carry, :: 
Whose glory the seraphs sanctify :: 
And to whom the upper ones together with the lower ones :: 
Call holy, holy! */*


In the month of Nisan Gabriel announced, :: 
In the month of Kanun we saw your birth, :: 
Blessed son, from Mary, :: 
Desirable fruit from the height, :: 
From which the mortals eat ::
And live at once and forever. */*


For Christmas. To the tune: "I am the true light."

The archangel Gabriel :: 
Soared away and descended from the height :: 
To the blessed Mary, :: 
The pure virgin without flaw. ::
He opened his mouth and gave her the salute: :: 
"Peace be with you, blessed one among women! :: 
My lord is with you and rises  from you. :: 
He is that power which is unspeakable :: 
To the upper ones and the lower ones." */*


Our Lord's message was proclaimed :: 
From Bethlehem to Persia ::
And called over the Magi :: 
And opened the way before them. :: 
They carried presents in their hands :: 
And praise on their tongues ::
And they entered and worshipped him in the grotto, :: 
Him, who had shaped Adam with his hands, :: 
Who had become a suckling after his own will. */*


Praise to the son who was born :: 
Of the blessed Mary ::
And suckled milk after his own will, :: 
He who gives milk to the sucklings. :: 
Praise to him! Thus has he humiliated himself ::
On behalf of the image of his greatness, :: 
To lift it up from the dust :: 
And take it up with him to heaven, :: 
To the bright nuptial chamber of his kingdom. */*


For Christmas. To the tune "On your door, o our Lord, I knock." 

Blessed be the prophet Isaiah, :: 
Who preached and talked of your birth: :: 
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear //
A blessed son, :: 
Who shall lead back creation :: 
From wrong to the fear of God." */*


The shepherds suddenly saw :: 
A bright star rising next to them, :: 
And angels said to them: :: 
"Fear not! ::
For God was born :: 
To redeem Adam and all his children." */*


The shepherds rejoicing :: 
Left their flock and came and worshipped him, :: 
The new shepherd who descended // 
From his Father :: 
And found the lost sheep :: 
And carried it on his shoulders rejoicing.


For Christmas. To the tune: "To those in the height and those
in the depth."


From the east of paradise :: 
The Magi brought presents and came :: 
And entered to offer them to the son; :: 
But they could not for his radiance. :: 
His mother approached and said to him: ::
"My son, hold back the power // 
Of your radiance, :: 
So that the Magi (may) enter :: 
And offer you their presents." */*


"Praise, peace and hope!" :: 
The guardians of the height sing in honor of your birth; :: 
For you have humiliated yourself on our behalf :: 
To redeem our mortal race, :: 
And from the virgin's womb ::
You, my God, were born as man; // 
Perfect is he in his divinity ::
And complete in his corporality. */*


The whole world shall bless and worship you :: 
And every tongue shall praise your name, o Lord! :: 
For humbly in a grotto ::
Your greatness would be born. :: 
The shepherds worshipped you, o Lord, :: 
And cheered and called Hosanna to you. //
For lo, the lamb of God :: 
Appeared to redeem the creatures. */*


For Christmas. To the tune: "The martyrs are rational grapes."


In the morning the Magi asked :: 
In Herod's house: :: 
"Where is the king that was born? :: 
We will go there, see him and worship him ::
And offer him :: 
The mysteries of the faithful church." */*
Hallelujah, hallelujah.


The king and prophet David :: 
Sang and said: :: 
"Thus said the Lord unto my lord: You are my son! :: 
And I have begotten you this day ::
As a light for the Gentiles, so that they confess your trinity." */*
Hallelujah, hallelujah.


The star of light which rose unto us :: 
The magi came :: 
To honor with their presents. :: 
They opened and offered their treasures ::
To the bridegroom of the height, :: 
Who let shine his rising in Bethlehem. */* 
Hallelujah, hallelujah.


For Christmas. To the tune: "Praise the Lord in his holiness."


The virgin earth gave birth to :: 
Adam, the head of Eden, :: 
And the virgin gave birth today :: 
To Adam, the head of heaven. */*
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

Blessed be he, who made his creatures glad :: 
On this day of your birth, :: 
And praise to you, son of the Father, :: 
Whose birth was from Mary. */*
Hallelujah, hallelujah.


Blessed be he, who descended from the height :: 
And dwelt in the womb of the daughter of man :: 
And was born like a (son of) man, :: 
Without carnal knowledge, as it is written. */*
Hallelujah, hallelujah.


Blessed be the son, through whom were reconciled :: 
The upper ones with the lower ones. :: 
Blessed be the king Messiah, who came ::
To birth on the behalf of our race. */* 
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

Notes on the German Translation of the Potter Songs taken from the text of the hymns

Notes on the English version: (Peter Meditz)

When the German author cites text passages from the songs in the introduction, the citations often differ from the text as rendered in the songs themselves. Sometimes (e.g. in the title of the 8th carol) the text seems corrupt.

The name of the original Syriac author is mostly transliterated as ``Simeon''; the introduction, however, has ``Semon'' (or ``Shemon'') once. Ps 18 (cited in the introduction and in VIII,3) is Ps 19 in modern (Western) Bible editions.

Translations of Latin texts in the notes were inserted (not included in the original text).

Editor's Notes for St. Pachomius Edition: (Karen Ræ Keck)

I changed II.2 lines 4 and 6 to reflect the usual language of the church (i.e. the standard English translation of the Hail Mary.)

In III.1, line 5, and III.3, line 7, I changed ``carnal knowledge'' (Beiwohung) to ``human seed'' to reflect the hymnographic usage of the church.


The St. Pachomius Orthodox Library, 16 May, 1996

Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants, the translators, Sebastian
and Peter. 


               THE END, AND TO GOD BE THE GLORY!