March is, proverbially, never absent from Lent. Easter Sunday is a movable feast, and Lent’s start and finish vary accordingly, but March is always in there, somewhere, on that you can depend. The smell of bitter-orange blossoms outside Nicosia’s medieval churches, as evening falls, is one of childhood’s oldest memories, and one I associate with Fridays, when the Akathist hymn is sung. Also known as the Salutations to Mary, they are the most feminine of ancient rites, melodious and exuberant, crammed with ancient poetry, a relic of Orphism and the classics.
The Salutations are sung on Friday, the Goddess’s day. In an older and hypothetically less macho time, Friday seems to have held a special place, which is why it is named after Frija, Freya or Frigga, the Norse Venus, in northern climes. In Romance languages the day is named after Venus: Dies Veneris, Venerdi, Vendredi. The noun veneration and the verb to venerate also come from this concept, which reinforces the idea that Friday was the original Holy Day!
Compare and contrast:
Hail, O Star revealing the Sun.
Hail, O branch of the unwithering Vine. Hail, O Land yielding the untainted Fruit.
Hail, O Field bearing abundant compassion. Hail, O Table laden with an abundance of mercies.
Hail, for you make the meadow produce contentment.
Hail, acceptable Incense of intercession. Hail, Oblation for all the world.
– attr. Romanos the Melodist: Salutations
to the Theotokos, 6th c.
Γαῖα θεά, μῆτερ μακάρων θνητῶν τ᾽ ἀνθρώπων, παντρόφε, πανδώτειρα, τελεσφόρε, παντολέτειρα, αὐξιθαλής, φερέκαρπε, καλαῖς ὥραισι βρύουσα, ἕδρανον ἀθανάτου κόσμου, πολυποίκιλε κούρη, ἣ λοχίαις ὠδῖσι κύεις καρπὸν πολυειδῆ, ἀιδία, πολύσεπτε, βαθύστερν᾽, ὀλβιόμοιρε, ἡδυπνόοις χαίρουσα χλόαις πολυανθέσι δαῖμον, ὀμβροχαρής, περὶ ἣν κόσμος πολυδαίδαλος ἄστρων εἱλεῖται φύσει ἀενάωι καὶ ῥεύμασι δεινοῖς.
All-Fertile, All-Destroying Gaia,
Mother of All, Who brings forth the bounteous fruits and flowers,
All variety, Maiden who anchors the eternal world in our own,
Immortal, Blessed, crowned with every grace,
Deep bosomed Earth, sweet plains and fields fragrant grasses in the nurturing rains,
Around you fly the beauteous stars, eternal and divine
– Orphic Hymn to Gaia, 6th c. BCE
(Translated by Virginia Stewart)
I am she
that is the natural mother of all things,
mistress and governess of all the elements,
the initial progeny of worlds,
chief of powers divine,
Queen of heaven,
the principal of the Gods celestial,
the light of the goddesses:
at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas,
and the silences of hell be disposed;
my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners,
in variable customs and in many names
– Lucius Apuleius: Metamophoses
or The Golden Ass, 2nd c.