Occurring Scripture for the
Hour of Matins
If there is no pace for this Sunday,
this entire week is omitted.
Here begins the Book of Esther
In the days of Assuerus, who reigned
from India to Ethiopia over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces: When he sat on the throne of his
kingdom, the city Susan was the capital of his kingdom. Now in the
third year of his reign he made a great feast for all the princes, and for
his servants, for the most mighty of the Persians, and the nobles of the
Medes, and the governors of the provinces in his sight, That he might show the
riches of the glory of his kingdom, and the greatness, and boasting of his
power, for a long time, to wit, for a hundred and fourscore days.
when the days of the feast were expired, he invited all the people that were
found in Susan, from the greatest to the least: and commanded a feast to be
made seven days in the court of the garden, and of the wood, which was
planted by the care and the hand of the king. And there were hung up on every side sky colored, and green, and
violet hangings, fastened with cords of silk, and of purple, which were put
into rings of ivory, and were held up with marble pillars. The beds also
were of gold and silver, placed in order upon a floor paved with porphyry
and white marble: which was embellished with painting of wonderful variety.
And they that were invited, drank in golden cups, and the meats were
brought in divers vessels one after another. Wine also in abundance and of
the best was presented, as was worthy of a king's magnificence.
Neither was there any one to compel them to drink that were not willing, but
as the king had appointed, who set over every table one of his nobles, that
every man might take what he would. Also Vasthi the queen made a feast for the
women in the palace, where king Assuerus was used to dwell.
From the Book On Duties by Saint Ambrose, Bishop
Bk. iii. ch. 15.
What did Queen Esther do? Did she not, to save her
people from danger (a beautiful and noble object), put herself in jeopardy of
death, and face the anger of the cruel King of the Persians, cruel
and violent as he was, nevertheless, thought it seemly to show grace unto
him that told him of the plot that was made against him, to free the people
from bondage, and to deliver them from death, but not to spare him that had
persuaded such iniquity. In the end he sent up to the gallows, whom he had
held second only to himself, and first among all his friends, because he
found himself dishonored through his false counsels.
Ibid. Cap. 16.
That true friendship, which
cares for honor, cares less for riches, or dignities, or power than for itself, but for
honor before itself. Such was the friendship of Jonathan, which caused
him to risk the anger of his father, and danger to himself (1 Kings 19:1). Such was the
friendship of Achimelech, who chose to earn death for himself by giving
relief to David, rather than to betray the outlaw (1 Kings 22:16). But before honour nothing
is to be put, and friendship must not be allowed to outrun it, even as we
are warned by the Scriptures.
The Philosophers have started divers questions whether
friendship can, or cannot justify disloyalty to a man's own country—whether
friendship can, or cannot justify serving a friend at the cost of a breach of
faith. Scripture indeed says: "A man that bears false witness against his
neighbor, is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow" (cf. Proverbs 25:18). But
mark that what is here condemned is not witness by itself, but false
witness. How can a man be compelled to give such witness, for the sake of
God or for the sake of his country? Ought friendship outweigh religion? Is not
to say this, as much as to say that a sinful weakness is to outweigh a duty?
A reading from the Book of Esther
There was a man in the city of Susan, a Jew, named
Mardochai, the son of Jair, the son of Semei, the son of Cis, of the race of
Jemini, who had been carried away from Jerusalem at the time
that Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon carried away Jechonias king of Juda.
And he had brought up his brother's daughter Edissa, who by another name was
called Esther: now she had lost both her parents: and was exceeding fair and
beautiful. And her father and mother being dead, Mardochai adopted her for
And when the king's ordinance was noised abroad, and
according to his commandment many beautiful virgins were brought to Susan,
and were delivered to Egeus the eunuch: Esther also among the rest of the
maidens was delivered to him to be kept in the number of the women. And
she pleased him, and found favor in his sight. And he commanded the eunuch
to hasten the women's ornaments, and to deliver to her her part, and seven
of the most beautiful maidens of the king's house, and to adorn and deck out
both her and her waiting maids. And she would not tell him her people
nor her country. For Mardochai had charged her to say nothing at all of
that: And Mardochai himself walked every day before the court of the
house, in which the chosen virgins were kept, having a care for Esther's
welfare, and desiring to know what would befall her.
And as the time came about, the day was at hand, when Esther, the daughter of Abihail the
brother of Mardochai, whom he had adopted for his daughter, was to go in to
the king. But she sought not women's ornaments, but whatsoever Egeus the
eunuch the keeper of the virgins had a mind, he gave her to adorn her. For
she was exceeding fair, and her incredible beauty made her appear agreeable
and amiable in the eyes of all. So she was brought to the chamber of king Assuerus
the tenth month, which is called Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. And the king loved her more than all the women, and she had favor and
kindness before him above all the women, and he set the royal crown on her
head, and made her queen instead of Vasthi.
A reading from the Book of Esther
After these things, king Assuerus advanced Aman, the son of Amadathi, who
was of the race of Agag: and he set his throne above all the princes that
were with him. And all the king's servants, that were at the doors of
the palace, bent their knees, and worshipped Aman: for so the emperor had
commanded them, only Mardochai did not bend his knee, nor worship him.
And the king's servants that were chief at the doors of the palace, said to
him: "Why do you alone not observe the king's commandment?"
they were saying this often, and he would not hearken to them; they told Aman,
desirous to know whether he would continue in his resolution: for he had
told them that he was a Jew. Now when Aman had heard this, and had
proved by experience that Mardochai did not bend his knee to him, nor
worship him, he was exceeding angry. And he would not be satisfied laying his hands upon Mardochai alone:
he had heard that Mardochai was of the nation of the Jews, and he chose rather to
destroy all the nation of the Jews that were in the kingdom of Assuerus.
In the first month (which is called Nisan) in the twelfth year a of the
reign of Assuerus, the lot was cast into an urn, which in Hebrew is called
Phur, before Aman, on what day and what month the nation of the Jews should
be destroyed: and there came out the twelfth month, which is called Adar.
A reading from the Book of Esther
Now when Mardochai had heard these things, he rent his garments, and put
on sackcloth, strewing ashes on his head: and he cried with a loud voice in
the street in the midst of the city, showing the anguish of his mind.
And he came lamenting in this manner even to the gate of the palace: for no
one clothed with sackcloth might enter the king's court. And in all
provinces, towns, and places, to which the king's cruel edict was come,
there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, wailing, and weeping,
many using sackcloth and ashes for their bed. Then Esther's maids and
her eunuchs went in, and told her. And when she heard it she was in a
consternation: and she sent a garment, to clothe him, and to take away the
sackcloth: but he would not receive it. And she called for Athach the
eunuch, whom the king had appointed to attend her, and she commanded
him to go to Mardochai, and learn of him why he did this.
And Athach going out went to Mardochai,
who was standing in the street of the city, before the palace gate: And Mardochai told him all
that had happened, how Aman had promised to pay money into the king's
treasures, to have the Jews destroyed. He gave him also a copy of the
edict which was hanging up in Susan, that he should show it to the queen,
and admonish her to go in to the king, and to entreat him for her people. And Athach went back and told Esther all that Mardochai
She answered him, and bade him say to Mardochai: "All the king's
servants, and all the provinces that are under his dominion, know, that
whosoever, whether man or woman, comes into the king's inner court, who is
not called for, is immediately to be put to death without any delay: unless
the king holds out the golden scepter to him, in token of clemency, that he may live. How then can I go in to the king,
who for these thirty days now have not been called unto him?"
And when Mardochai had heard this, he sent word to Esther again, saying:
not that you may save your life alone, because you are in the king's house,
more than all the Jews: For if you now hold your peace, the Jews shall
be delivered by some other occasion: and you, and your father's
house shall perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom,
that you might be ready in such a time as this?" And
again Esther sent to Mardochai in these words: "Go, and gather together all the Jews
you can find in Susan, and pray for me. Neither eat nor drink for three days and three nights:
and I with my handmaids will fast in like manner, and then I will go in to
the king, against the law, not being called, and expose myself to death and
danger. So Mardochai went, and did all that Esther had commanded
A reading from the Book of Esther
And on the third day Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the
inner court of the king's house, over against the king's hall: now he sat
upon his throne in the hall of the palace, over against the door of the
house. And when he saw Esther the queen standing, she pleased his eyes,
and he held out toward her the golden scepter, which he held in his hand:
and she drew near, and kissed the top of his scepter. And the king said
to her: "What would you like, queen Esther? what is your request? if you should
even ask one half of the kingdom, I will give it to you." But she
answered: "If it please the king. I beseech you to come to me this day, and Aman
with you to the banquet which I have prepared." And the king immediately said:
"Call Aman quickly, that he may obey Esther's will. So the king
and Aman came to the banquet which the queen had prepared for them.
So Aman went out that day joyful and merry. And when he saw Mardochai sitting
before the gate of the palace, and that he not only did not rise up to
honor him, but did not so much as move from the place where he sat, he was
exceedingly angry: But dissembling his anger, and returning into his
house, he called together to him his friends, and Zares his wife: And he declared to them the greatness of his riches, and the
multitude of his children, and with how great glory the king had advanced
him above all his princes and servants. And after this he said: "Queen
Esther has not invited any other to the banquet with the king, but me: and
with her I am also to dine tomorrow with the king: And whereas I have
all these things, I think I have nothing, so long as I see Mardochai the Jew
sitting before the king's gate."
Then Zares his wife, and the rest of
his friends answered him: "Order a great beam to be prepared, fifty cubits
high, and in the morning speak to the king, that Mardochai may be hanged
upon it, and so you shall go full of joy with the king to the banquet." The
counsel pleased him, and he commanded a high gibbet to be prepared.
A reading from the Book of Esther
That night the king passed without sleep, and he commanded the histories
and chronicles of former times to be brought him. And when they were reading
them before him, They came to that place where it was written, how Mardochai had discovered the treason of Bagathan and Thares the eunuchs, who
sought to kill king Assuerus. And when the king heard this, he said:
What honor and reward has Mardochai received for this fidelity?" His
servants and ministers said to him: "He has received no reward at all."
And the king said immediately: "Who is in the court?" for Aman was coming in
to the inner court of the king's house, to speak to the king, that he might
order Mardochai to be hanged upon the gibbet which was prepared for him.
The servants answered: "Aman stands in the court," and the king said: "Let
him come in."
And when he had come in, Assuerus said to him: What ought to
be done to the man whom the king desires to honor? But Aman thinking in
his heart, and supposing that the king would honor no other but himself,
answered: "The man whom the king desires to honour ought to be
clothed with the king's apparel, and to be set upon the horse that the king rides
upon, and to have the royal crown upon his head. And let the
first of the king's princes and nobles hold his horse, and going through the
street of the city, proclaim before him and say: "Thus shall he be honored,
whom the king has a mind to honor."
And the king said to him: "Make haste and take the robe and the
horse, and do as you have spoken to Mardochai the Jew, who sits before
the gates of the palace. Beware not to pass over any of those things which
you said." So Aman took the robe and the horse, and arraying
Mardochai in the street of the city, and setting him on the horse, went
before him, and proclaimed: "This honor is he worthy of, whom the king has a
mind to honour. But Mardochai returned to the palace gate: and Aman
made haste to go to his house, mourning and having his head covered:
And he told Zares his wife, and his friends, all that had befallen him. And
the wise men whom he had in counsel, and his wife answered him: If Mardochai
is of the seed of the Jews, before whom you have begun to fall, you cannot
not resist him, but you shall fall in his sight.
A reading from the Book of Esther
So the king and Aman went
in, to drink with the queen.
And the king said to her again the second day, after he was warm with wine:
"What is your petition, Esther, that it may be granted you? and what will
you have done—although you ask half of
my kingdom, you shall have
it." Then she answered: "If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and
if it please you, give me my life for which I ask, and my people for which I
request. For we have been given up, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be
slain, and to perish. And would God we were sold for bondmen and bondwomen:
the evil might be borne with, and I would have mourned in silence: but now
we have an enemy, whose cruelty redounds upon the king."
And king Assuerus answered and said:
"Who is this, and of what power, that he should do these things?" And Esther said:
"It is this Aman that is
our adversary and most wicked enemy." Aman hearing this was
astonished, not being able to look at the king and of the
queen. But the king being angry rose up, and went from the place of the
banquet into the garden set with trees. Aman also rose up to entreat Esther
the queen for his life, for he understood that evil was prepared for him by
the king. And when the king came back out of the garden set with trees,
and entered into the place of the banquet, he found Aman was fallen upon the
bed on which Esther lay, and he said: "He will force the queen also in my
presence, in my own house." The word had not yet gone out of the king's
mouth, and immediately they covered his face. And Harbona, one of the
eunuchs that stood waiting on the king, said: "Behold the gibbet which he
prepared for Mardochai, who spoke for the king, stands in Aman's
house, being fifty cubits high." And the king said to him: "Hang him upon it." So Aman was hanged on the gibbet, which he had prepared for Mardochai:
and the king's wrath ceased.
On that day king Assuerus gave the house of Aman, the Jews'
enemy, to queen Esther, and Mardochai came in before the king. For Esther
had confessed to him that Mardochai was her uncle. And the king took the ring
which he had commanded to be taken again from Aman, and gave it to Mardochai.
And Esther set Mardochai over her house. And not content with these
things, she fell down at the king's feet and wept, and speaking to him
besought him, that he would give orders that the malice of Aman the Agagite,
and his most wicked devices which he had invented against the Jews, should
be of no effect. But he, as the manner was, held out the golden
scepter with his hand, which was the sign of clemency: and she arose up and
stood before him, And said: "If it please the king, and if I have found favor
in his sight, and my request be not disagreeable to him, I beseech thee,
that the former letters of Aman the traitor and enemy of the Jews, by which
he commanded that they should be destroyed in all the king's provinces, may
be reversed by new letters."
If the third lesson is to be taken
from the Saturday Office of the Blessed Virgin or from a simplex feast of a
Saint, Lesson iii above is omitted.