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A Rebuttal by Alidz Agbabian Jan. 24, 2010

On Thursday December 10, 2009, the AEUNA organized a public forum regarding the non-distribution of the new AEUNA Hymnal. Among the many young people who voiced their opposition to the hymnal during the public comment portion of the evening was one particularly agitated young man. He spoke about a hymn in which God is supposedly equated to a flower in the Hymnal. This young man, holding the Hymnal in his hand, with dramatic gesticulations yelled, "What were these people thinking calling God a flower?" (My paraphrase). I could not understand which hymn he was referring to? What flower? I was in a state of shock by the arrogance displayed before my eyes. After several days of asking around I finally discovered that the outrage of this young man was about hymn #200, O Sons and Daughters, Let us sing. Since that hymn is not posted on the New Hymnal Defense Committee website it was clear to me that he had been coached by someone who had the Hymnal. But that is not what I would like to talk about here. This flower controversy had stirred my curiosity and after some research I found out that there were two other hymns in the new Hymnal with the imagery of a blooming flower; hymn # 132, Lo! How a Rose is Blooming and hymn # 214, Nor Dzaghig (New Flower) by Nerses Shnorhali. What these three hymns have in common is that all three are about Christ's Resurrection, all three are joyous hymns and all three have the same image of a blooming flower. So, I would like to speak about all three hymns because if this young man does not like the flower analogy in one of them I am sure he does not like the same reference in the other two hymns as well. What follows is my rebuttal to his comment, "What were these people thinking calling God a flower?" A: The hymn #200, O Sons and Daughters Let us Sing, presumed to be based on a jovial medieval French folk melody, has been traced back to a little book published sometime between 1518-1535 probably in Paris. It was translated into English from Latin in 1818 by the English hymnographer, John Mason Neale. All in all, to this day many changes, additions to lyrics as well as the music have been incorporated to the hymn in various publications in England and the United States. Yet as it stands now in the new Hymnal it is still a very much loved hymn. The objections displayed during the AEUNA forum were about the first verse where an old version reads: Ye sons and daughters of the King, Whom heavenly hosts in glory sing, Today the grave hath lost its sting.


In the new Hymnal the lyrics are: O sons and daughters, let us sing The flower of heaven alive as spring O'er death today rose triumphing! In the rest of the hymn Christ and Jesus are mentioned along with the repeated alleluia stanzas. B: Hymns #132 Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming, also a well loved hymn, is a 16th c. German carol, translated to English in the 19th c. and again in early 20th c. To this day the lyrics of this hymn have also been altered many times by different publishers. C: Hymn # 214 Nor Dzaghig (the New flower), is a 12th c. Armenian sharagan. Nor Dzaghig, is one of the most inspiring hymns in Armenian hymnody dedicated to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The author, Nerses Shnorhali was a most prominent figure of the 12th century A.D.- a Catholicos of the Armenian people revered by all to this day. He was a poet, composer, educator, peacemaker and a true Christian. For his complete devotion to God, the church and his people, he was called Shnorhali--the Graceful. The sharagans, hymns, and prayers he composed are, to this day, alive in the souls of men, women and children of our nation. Beyond our national cultural boundaries, they are considered masterpieces in Christian hymnody and literature. What stirred my curiosity further is that these three hymns coming from very different cultural traditions (French/English/American, German, Armenian) have the same image of a blooming flower to enhance the beauty and joy of the Resurrection of Christ. What is this basis of the similarity of imagery one might ask? To find out let's address some books of the Bible, which are expressly poetical in style. Dear young man, if you do not read poetry, I would suggest that your leaders help you to at least understand the poetic and allegorical language of a unique book in the Bible called the Song of Songs. The author of that book, King Solomon was also a poet. In the book of Songs the allegory of the relationship of Christ and his church are expressed through imagery of poetic language and again by analogy to plants and flowers. " Like a lily among thorns is my darling among maidens", "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young". And thank God for poetic thinking and language, because it gives wings and the power of imagery to the mundane use of vocabulary and its basic literal meaning. Poetry enhances the meaning of the word through metaphor. That is a talent given by God to humans to help them express their unending yearning to understand the mysteries of existence and their eternal relationship with God. But let's go to two more verses in the Bible in the books of Isaiah and Song of Songs to show why this particular image of a blooming flower, representing the Resurrection is so persistent in different Christian traditions, including one of the oldest, the Armenian. Isaiah:11:1 reads, There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his root. Song of Solomon: 2:1 reads I am the Rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.


Dear young man. The hymn #200, has as its source the New Century Hymnal and was approved for inclusion in the new Hymnal by previous AEUNA boards. In it, the characterization of a blooming flower to symbolize the Resurrection of Christ is consistent with metaphors and analogies in the above-mentioned Bible verses. Whoever revised the lyrics of hymn #200 for the New Century Hymnal understood this very well and stayed true to Biblical context and concepts. And then there is the real flower. The flower is a creation of God. Each and every flower is sacred and its blooming is a miracle. Even the tiny flower, which has managed to bloom from the narrowest crack in a rock, is imbued with the same miraculous power of rebirth and resurrection that God has put in the universe. Dear young man. Here is some food for thought for you. By your show of indignation for the flower in hymn # 200 (and by analogy in the other two hymns) you first and foremost were disrespectful of one of God's precious creations -- the flower. You then proceeded to humiliate the ministers and laymen/women (many of them sitting right in front of you in the front rows) who had chosen to include these magnificent hymns in the new Hymnal; you belittled an honorable Christian patriarch and Catholicos of the Armenian church, who also has used the term flower for Christ's Resurrection. You unfairly tainted the minds of many people present that night against the new Hymnal by presenting misleading information regarding hymn #200, separating one word in it, the flower, from its Biblical, literary and musical context. Lastly, you belittled yourself. You, your friends and your leaders seemed to be happy with the drama you brandished. What a shame! Dear young man, I have pain in my heart for you. You are a child of God. I pray that your leaders, rather than teaching you to adhere only to a literalist dogma, may guide you towards a true and compassionate Christian spirit.



Microsoft Word - The flower

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Microsoft Word - The flower