7 September – St Kassiani 810-865, Abbess, Constantinople

St Kassiani 810 – 865, Abbess, Constantinople
Kassiani is also known as Cassia, Kasia and Ikasia.  She was a child confessor, a defender of icons during the final way of iconoclasm and a prolific composer of hymns and non-liturgical poetry.
Kassiani was born into a wealthy Constantinople family.   She was educated
She attended a so called “bride show”.  Bride shows were organised by the dowager empresses to find wives for her sons.  In May 830 Kassiani was a participant in a bride-show to find a wife for the Emperor Theophilos.  Edward Gibbons translates the description of the event from the Byzantine chronicles:
“With a golden apple in his hand he, (Theophilos) slowly walked between the two lines of contending beauties; His eye was detained by the charms of Kassiani, and, in the awkwardness of a first declaration the prince could only observe that in his world, women had been the occasion of much evil [in reference to Eve, the first created woman and the cause of man’s sin].  “And surely, Sir,” she [Kassiani] pertly replied, “they have likewise been the occasion of much good”  [in reference to the Virgin Mary, the symbol of woman’s redemption].   This affectation of unreasonable wit displeased the imperial lover; he turned aside in disgust; Kassiani concealed her mortification in a convent, and the modest silence of Theodora was rewarded with the golden apple.”[1]
In this incident Kassiani displayed her wit, genius and advocacy for the female gender. 
Prior to this incident she had had correspondence with Theodore (759 -826), the abbot of the Studios Monastery in Constantinople[2].   Abbot Theodore commended Kassiani for her devout faith and theological astuteness[3].  Sometime after this Kassiani entered a convent and by 843 became the abbess of a convent on Xerolophes[4], a hill near the Stoudios community.   It is probably because of Kassiani’s association with Abbot Theodore and the community of the Studios Monastery that some of her hymns survive till today and are ascribed to her name.  Her hymns were accepted by the Studios Scriptorium and incorporated into what became the Triodion and the Menaion[5].   
Kassiani wrote a hymn based on the story in Luke 7:36-50 of the woman who approached Jesus shortly before his death and after washing his feet with her tears she then kissed them and anointed him with fragrant oil.  Jesus forgives the woman and commends her for her love of him. 

Legend has it that Emperor Theophilos later regretted his decision not to choose Kassia as his bride and he attempted to meet with Kassia at her monastery.  When he arrived Kassia fled to avoid meeting him, he entered her quarters and added some lines to this hymn which Kassia apparently kept in her composition.  
Susan Arida states:
“In the hymn of the sinful woman Kassiani places the sinful woman among the myrrhbearers, connecting the recurring themes of kenotic love and penitential tears. Beginning the text with “The woman who had fallen into many sins, O Lord,” she tenderly transforms the image of a fallen woman into a woman who falls down in repentance, weeping at the Savior’s feet. No longer hiding from God like Eve, this tearful woman perceives that God is before her and, in knowing that, cannot remain standing. Kassiani uses tears to show the woman’s self-emptying of sin. The hymn begs the Lord to “accept a fountain of tears,” giving us an image of renewal like the earth after rain—but a renewal that originates in God, who “gathered the waters of the sea into the clouds.” Reflecting on the kenotic love of God, Kassiani describes his creation of heaven and earth and his ineffable entrance into his creation. In Genesis, God walked in paradise; Kassiani contrasts Eve, who hid in fear from God, to a woman who weeps at the feet of the God-Man. In the plea, “do not despise your servant in your immeasurable mercy,” Kassiani connects Eve to this tearful woman, suggesting that the woman’s tender embrace and her anointing of Jesus is the culmination of a repentance that will free Eve, through the death and resurrection of the one who is anointed. Speaking in the first person, Kassiani does not separate herself from the sinful woman or from Eve, but gives voice to their words, so that they also speak for her, for all women, and in fact for all humanity, revealing this act to have a cosmic and eschatological character. In this moment, a woman, in asking her Savior to hear her wordless lament, captures for all of humanity the reality of an intimate relationship with the God who does not abandon those who yearn for him. She cries “Woe is me!” expressing the sorrow that fills the hearts of those who discover that in their nearness to God, they remain far away. Having emptied herself of the fear that trapped Eve, the tearful woman in Kassiani’s hymn sheds tears of love, which bring her to the transformative presence of the Savior.  In spite of her many sins, she receives his “immeasurable mercy.”[6]
This is an English translation of this hymn which is still sung in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy on the Wednesday of Holy Week:
The woman who had fallen into many sins recognizes Thy Godhead, O Lord. She takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer and makes ready the myrrh of mourning, before Thy entombment. Woe to me! saith she, for my night is an ecstasy of excess, gloomy and moonless, and full of sinful desire. Receive the sources of my tears, O Thou Who dost gather into clouds the water of the sea; in Thine ineffable condescension, deign to bend down Thyself to me and to the lamentations of my heart, O Thou Who didst spread out the Heavens. I will fervently embrace Thy sacred feet, and wipe them again with the tresses of the hair of my head, Thy feet at whose sound Eve hid herself for fear when she heard Thee walking in Paradise in the cool of the day. O my Saviour and soul-Saver who can trace out the multitude of my sins, and the abysses of Thy judgement? Do not disregard me Thy servant, O Thou Whose mercy is boundless[8].
Kassiani was a woman of deep faith with a keen intellect that she used to compose contributions to the development of the Orthodox Liturgy.  She grew up in the iconoclastic period of Byzantine history and was nurtured by the spiritual wisdom of Theodore the Studite.  Kassiani was immersed in theology for her whole life.  Her hymns are focused primarily on incarnational theology.   Christos Yannaras[9]
“…cites the hymn in his discussion of the “unsearchable immensity” in the sin of the human person and the immeasurable mercy of a personal God for the truly repentant human person…the hymn…is a profound theological statement that conveys the kenotic love of Christ for his creation in spite of its “multitude of sins”.”
Kassiani found a place where she could blossom and flourish and her compositions still speak to the hearts and minds of people today.    

[1] Quoted in Kassia: Byzantine Hymns of the First Female Composer of the Occident by Diane Touliatos.  The insert with a CD of Kassiani’s hymns. 
[2] See: Susan Arida, ‘The Theological Voice of Kassiani’, The Wheel 9/10 (Spring/Summer 2017), 72-76
[3] Ibid p. 73
[4] Diane Touliatos, op cit p.12.  It was near the Constantinian Wall of Constantinople but destroyed in the mid-twentieth century.   
[5] Susan Arida, op cit p.72-74
[6] Ibid p. 74-75
[7]http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2015/4/7/holy-and-great-tuesday-hymn-of-kassiani-the-nun  This site gives an exposition of the hymn. 
[8]Father George L. Papadeas, Protopresbyter,  Greek Orthodox Holy Week & Easter Services. (Daytona Beach, FL, 1979), pp. 104-105  referred to onhttps://www.goarch.org/-/hymn-of-saint-kassiani 
It is sung on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHIqvNngR2c
[9] Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality (Crestwood: St Vladmir’s Seminary Press, 1984), p.45 cited in Susan Arida op cit p.72

Copyright © 2018 Rev Ros Wilkinson