Composers from the ancient and modern worlds have been inspired by the original myrrh bearers. A sampling of these compositions appears below.
Modern Music & Lyrics
Sir John Tavener, Composer, The Myrrh-bearer
You can listen to a recording of Sir John’s The Myrrh-bearer on Youtube or Soundcloud .
Sir John Tavener (1944-2013) was an English composer. His first major work, a cantata titled The Whale (1966), premiered in 1968 at the inaugural concert of the London Sinfonietta. It told the biblical story of Jonah, and was released on The Beatle’s Apple Records label. Sir John’s body of work was dominated by religious themes, many of them inspired by his conversion to Orthodox Christianity, and by Shakespeare and other great works of English literature and poetry. The Protecting Veil, as recorded by cellist Steven Isserlis, became a bestselling album. London’s Daily Mail reported that he was the friend and favorite British composer of Charles, Prince of Wales; Tavener’s Song for Athene , with text written by an Orthodox nun and incorporating portions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana of Wales. The Lamb, a Tavener composition set to the poem of the same name by William Blake, was featured in the soundtrack to a film called The Great Beauty. John Tavener was knighted in 2000.
Sir John’s official website can be accessed here. The site includes links to performances of The Lamb and other works.
For more about Sir John’s composition of The Myrrh-bearer, and for a wealth of information about the composer and his other works, see the captivating site The Essential Guide to John Tavener.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, lyricist, God of the Women
For the text of a hymn set to the traditional Irish melody “Be Thou My Vision” which includes two stanzas referring to the myrrhbearers, see God of the Women by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Ms. Gillette’s website states that the lyrics have been used in the Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches.
Ancient Orthodox Hymns to the Myrrhbearers
Orthodox Christians have sung various hymns in remembrance of the original myrrhbearers for centuries.
St. Kassiane the Hymnographer (born between 805 and 810 in Constantinople)
On Holy Tuesday, a hymn written in the ninth century by St. Kassiane the Hymnographer (born between 805 and 810 in Constantinople) remembers the myrrh bearers:
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 heads, 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 Saviour of my soul? Despise me not, Thine handmaiden, for Thou hast mercy without measure.
Listen to the Hymn of St. Kassiane, sung by Grace Atherholt at the Bridegroom Orthros for Holy Wednesday 2015, St. John Chrysostom Church, York, PA.
Traditional Orthodox/Eastern Christian Hymns
On the Feast of the Myrrhbearers (second Sunday after Easter) the following hymns are sung:
When You did descend unto death, O Life Immortal, then did You slay Hades with the lightening of Your Divinity. And when You did also raise the dead out of the nethermost depths, all the power in the Heavens cried out: O Life-giver, Christ our God, glory be to You. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. The noble Joseph, taking Your immaculate body down from the Tree, and having wrapped it in pure linen and spices, laid it for burial in a new tomb. But on the third day You did arise, O Lord, granting great mercy to the world. Now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. Unto the myrrh-bearing women did the Angel cry out as he stood by the grave: Myrrh-oils are meet for the dead, but Christ has proved to be a stranger to corruption. But cry out: The Lord is risen, granting great mercy to the world.
Kontakion (Second Tone)
When You did cry, Rejoice, unto the Myrrh-bearers, You did make the lamentation of Eve the first mother to cease by Your Resurrection, O Christ God. And You did bid Your Apostles to preach: The Savior is risen from the grave.
The above translations are from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America – see https://www.goarch.org/myrrhbearers.
See also the webpage of the Orthodox Church in America for these hymns, and this OCA page for a sampling of some beautiful chants: https://oca.org/liturgics/music-downloads
The Noble Joseph, / when he had taken down Your most pure Body from the tree, / wrapped it in fine linen and anointed it with spices, / and placed it in a new tomb. / But You rose on the third day, O Lord, / granting the world great mercy.
The angel came to the myrrhbearing women at the tomb and said: / Myrrh is meet for the dead; / but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption! / So proclaim: The Lord is risen, / granting the world great mercy!
You commanded the myrrhbearers to rejoice, O Christ! / By Your Resurrection, You stopped the lamentation of Eve, the first mother! / You commanded them to preach to Your apostles*: The Savior is Risen from the tomb!