Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Rare word #21: cerement

Cerement - Waxed wrappings for the dead; loosely, grave-clothes generally. Also: cerecloth; winding-sheet, shroud. The verb form means the act of wrapping in same.

Etymologically we get it from "cirer" to wax and "cere" to wrap (a corpse) in a waxed cloth or shroud.

In pronunciation it is "seer-muh nt" and not like "ser-uh-" as you would find in ceremony.

The Protection of the Mother of God is one of the most beloved feast days on the Orthodox calendar among the Slavic peoples, commemorated on October 1. The feast is celebrated additionally on October 28 in the Greek tradition. It is also known as the feast of the Virgin Mary's Cerement. The Deposition (or Placement) of the Venerable Robe of the Most Holy Mother of God at Blachernae is celebrated on July 2nd.

In most Slavic languages the word "cerement" has a dual meaning of "veil" and "protection." The Russian word Pokrov (Покров), like the Greek Skepi (Σκέπη), has a complex meaning. First of all, it refers to a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession. For this reason, the name of the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God is variously translated as the Veil of Our Lady, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, the Protection of the Theotokos, or the Intercession of the Theotokos.

(GOARCH) - During the reign of Leo the Great (457-474) two patricians and brethren on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land lodged with an old widow, a Christian of Jewish descent. Seeing the many miracles wrought at a small shrine in her house, they pressed her until she revealed to them that she had raiment of the most holy Theotokos kept in a small coffer.

Our Lady had had two virgins in her lifetime who attended upon her; before her holy dormition, she gave each of them one of her divine garments as a blessing. This old widow was of the family of one of those two virgins, and it had come through the generations into her hands.

With the permission of God, that this holy relic might be had for the profit of many, the two men took the garment by stealth and brought it to Blachernae near Constantinople, and building a church in honor of the Apostles Peter and Mark, they secretly enshrined the garment therein. But here again, because of the multitude of miracles that were worked, it became known to the Emperor Leo, and a magnificent church was built, as some say, by that same Leo, but according to others, by his predecessors Marcian and Pulcheria, and enlarged by Leo when the holy raiment was found.

The Emperor Justin the Younger completed the church, which the Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes raised up immediately again after it had burned in 1070. It burned again in 1434, and from that time it remained a small house of prayer together with the renowned holy spring.

After the seventh century, the name Blachernae was given to other churches and monasteries by their pious founders out of reverence for this famous church in Constantinople. In this church John Catacuzene was crowned in 1345; also, the Council against Acindynus, the follower of Barlaam, was convoked here (see the Second Sunday of the Great Fast).

Kontakion of Robe of the Theotokos
Fourth Tone

O godly shelter that dost cover all mankind, the sacred robe that covered thy sacred body hast thou bestowed on all the faithful graciously, O pure Virgin, as a robe of divine incorruption. As we celebrate with love its august deposition, we cry to thee with fear, O graced of God: Rejoice, O modest one, boast of the Christian race.


  1. Hamlet Act 1, Scene 4. (Lines 50-55)

    Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!
    Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned,
    Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from 45
    Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
    Thou com’st in such a questionable shape
    That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee “Hamlet,”
    “King,” “Father,” “Royal Dane.” O, answer me! 50
    Let me not burst in ignorance, but tell
    Why thy canonized bones, hearsèd in death,
    Have burst their cerements; why the sepulcher,
    Wherein we saw thee quietly interred,
    Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws 55
    To cast thee up again.

  2. Thank you for this! I didn't know the background. These rich layers of meaning are such a gift.