Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, by John Athelstan Laurie Riley

I love this hymn:

Ye watchers and ye holy ones, bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones, raise the glad strain: “Alleluia!” Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs: “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

This verse calls on the nine levels of celestial beings to praise God. Watchers, holy ones, bright seraphs, cherubim, thrones, dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, and choirs of angels are the hierarchy of beings on the ladder of consciousness that govern and guide our universe as it moves towards its final enfoldment as createdness into God. (This is the neoplatonic vision given to the church by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, though it originates with the great Origen.)

O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises: “Alleluia!” Thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord: “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

This verse speaks of Mary, the mother of the Blessed One. The archangel addressed her, “Hail Mary, full of grace!” Mary is “most gracious,” the one most graced. When the teenage Mary offered herself to God, “May it happen to me according to your word,” she spoke on behalf of humanity and thus offered human nature itself, though hypostatically her own, to God, in which God could become incarnate. The humanity of the Son of God was entirely Mary’s. She offered up herself, i.e., hypostatically, entirely, in her humanity, to God; and the only humanity of which God partook to became incarnate was her own, that which she thus offered. At that moment, she spoke as the epitome of the age-long work of God’s grace in humanity and thus as redeemed humanity’s ultimate response of self-giving to God. The relationship between God and humanity is radically ruptured, but through redemption that rupture is radically healed. In terms of consciousness, redeemed humanity (humanity in communion with God) is able once again to speak on behalf of creation. Thus, as the ancient hymn said to Mary, “You have made answer for the creation to the redeeming will of God.” Consequently, the hymn goes on to say to her: “Light, fire and life, divine and immortal, joined to our nature you have brought forth, that to the glory of God the Father, heaven and earth might be restored.” She became the mother of God (yes), the God-bearer, “the bearer of the eternal Word,” because she brought forth into creation not simply the human nature of the Son of God but the Son of God Himself, i.e., hypostatically. She thus became the means of the world’s salvation.

She sings as this perfect recipient of grace, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” The church perceives her as eventually being the first individual to receive the full affect of the salvation which her Son had wrought and therefore the first human hypostasis to have her human nature divinized as a result of the process of the Son’s divinization of human nature by His faithfulness, death and resurrection in our nature. She is the first human to fully partake of the divine nature as the Son fully partakes of our human nature. “Into His joy, the Lord has received you, virgin God-bearer, mother of Christ,” and thus, “You have beheld the King in His beauty, Mary, daughter of Israel.” Mary, as the recipient of the fullness of salvation, which is divinization, has become “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim.” It only makes sense that she would “lead their praises.”

Her divinization is the future of the church. The salvation which she enjoys is the salvation which the church and the whole creation in its entirety will eventually enjoy. Therefore souls in endless rest (the redeemed who have died) respond to the praises of the woman who has preceded them.

Respond, ye souls in endless rest, ye patriarchs and prophets blest, “Alleluia! Alleluia!” Ye holy twelve, ye martyrs strong, all saints triumphant, raise the song, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

The first who are to respond are the blessed “fathers and mothers” and the prophets who preceded her and brought her forth in Israel and the holy twelve and the martyrs strong (the apostles and witnesses) who followed in her steps. Indeed, let all the saints who have overcome and been triumphant, and who have persevered and died, let them all sing praise to God.

Last, the hymnist calls upon the saints who are yet alive to echo with their own joy the praises of heaven and hades:

O friends, in gladness let us sing, supernal anthems echoing, “Alleluia! Alleluia!” To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, Three in One. “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Mary and all the celestial beings and triumphant and still struggling saints all resound with alleluias to the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Three in One. For the God of our salvation (by the Father divinizing the creation through the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit, i.e., in virtue of who God is) reveals Himself/Herself as Three Persons, Each with love facing the Other in whom They coinhere. This Three-in-One coinhere in us, created ones, involving us personally (in this divine—Trinitarian—sense of “person”) in their essential nature as the firstfruits of the whole creation. Praise is nothing other than the person-to-person (face-to-face) active reflecting back to the Other who actively faces you. Alleluia!

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