Hymn #66: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Lyrics: Gerard Moultrie from a 4th century text.

Music: PICARDY from a French folk tune, arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Theme: [Jesus said:] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. John 6:51

Here is a Greek Orthodox version of this ancient hymn (not your more accessible PICARDY) that derives from what is called the Liturgy of St. James.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

The words to this hymn are taken from a prayer written in the fourth century, used by the Orthodox church in Constantinople and still recited by Orthodox Christians to this day. The tune is based on a French carol melody and harmonized by Ralph Vaughn Williams. I’m especially pleased that this sort-of Christmas-y hymn made the list, because it has become one of my favorites since I was introduced to it just a few years ago.

And here’s the Picardy tune:

Such powerful images! And the music somehow intensifies the drama. I love singing this hymn with and before the “host of heaven” in a congregation “with fear and trembling” standing.

6 thoughts on “Hymn #66: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

  1. This is one of my favorite hymns! It’s been a long time since I’ve heard it though. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Protestant hymnals tend to categorize this great hymn under Advent or even Christmas, but in the context of origin (Greek “Liturgy of St. James”) I think it is primarily a Eucharistic hymn. I’m glad to see it here.

  3. This is the text most strongly associated with PICARDY as a hymn tune, though there are many others that are sometimes set to it—my index shows at least “Lo! He comes with clouds descending”, “Sing, my tongue the glorious battle”, “With the body that was broken” and “Heir of all the waiting ages”—but I’ve never found out what (if anything) was the original lyric set to the tune in its “French carol” guise before RVW got ahold of it.

  4. Actually it’s an Orthodox hym sung durning Lent before Paschca(Easter) in replacement of the Cherubic hym. It is a speical hym that is only sung at that time of year. The 40 days before Easter. The Cherubic hym is sung before Communion. It is so incredibly beautiful, it is not of this world when you listen to it.

  5. Would it be possible for me to get a copy of the audio to the Greek Orthodox version of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent? I would like to listen to it on my computer without having to log into the Internet. I have Finale if a *.mus file is available. An acrobat file of the song wouldn’t give the sound of the text and how an authentic group performs it.

    Thank you for your time.

    V/R,

    Steve.

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