What is the Russian Kontakian of the Departed and what are the words?

THE Russian Kontakion of the Departed is sung to mark death in Eastern Catholic traditions.

The hymn has been around for centuries, but what are the words, where did it originate and what does it mean- here’s everything you need to know.

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Excerpts from the original Kontakion


Excerpts from the original KontakionCredit: Alamy

What is the Russian Kontakian of the Departed and what are the words?

The kontakion or Kondakion is a form of hymn performed in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions.

Originating in the Byzantine Empire around the sixth century CE, the Kontakion dates back several thousand years.

The word Kontakion comes from the Greek word, kontax, meaning pole, specifically the pole which holds a scroll togeether.

The word was originally used to describe an early form of poetry, where each part is divided into strophes (or verses/stanzas) and begins with a prologue that gives background to the poem.

The kontakion usually has a biblical theme, and often features dialogue between biblical characters.

By far the most important writer of kontakia is Romanos the Melodist.

The Kontakion of the departed can be heard during funeral processions in Catholic churches; you can read it below:

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Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints:
where sorrow and pain are no more;
neither sighing but life everlasting.
Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of man:
and we are mortal formed from the dust of the earth,
and unto earth shall we return:
for so thou didst ordain,
when thou created me saying:
Dust thou art und unto dust shalt thou return.
All we go down to the dust;
and weeping o’er the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

What does the Russian Kontakian mean?

St Peter’s church describes the Kontakion as a “moving chant that expresses the sorrow of grief but reminds us of the Christian hope of everlasting life; in the face of sadness, we sing Alleluias (hallelujahs)”.

The Kontakion for the departed is sung during funerals as a declaration of our own mortality and the inevitability that life will end.

The poem serves as a gentle reminder to Christians of their devotion to God, both in life and death.


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