Church Singing in Other Local Orthodox Churches (Vol III, Ch 13)

From Michael Ruse:

Reader Matt Groh will present some exotic material on local church singing from the Balkans and the Caucasus regions, neighboring places of Russia. He is also an educator by profession and he teaches science. Since he is the head chanter at St. John’s, you will not want to miss his presentation on local Orthodox church singing. Join us this Saturday at 4:00 pm. 

The country of Georgia is located in the Caucasus Mountains on the border of Asia and Europe, and both Bulgaria and Serbia are situated in the Balkans. The last two countries have grown out of Slavonic and Hellenic church singing traditions and they are still influential today. They have a unique melodic development while they also share a Byzantine tradition based on the eight-tones like Russian chants. 

The amount of voices used is an accurate and convenient way to categorize church singing in different countries. We can place the ancient traditions of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch under the one-voiced type sung with an ison-drone (bass drone). That type of singing is also used in modern Hellenic, Bulgarian, and Russian lands. Four-voiced homophono-harmonic or part-singing is widespread in Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Finland, Japan, America, the Czech and Slovak lands, and Poland. Finally, there is the Georgian three-voiced that is a "unison" type of singing because of its characteristic cadence that grows into one voice. This chapter reveals the Orthodox mind because church singing is varied and unified at the same time. 

Russian Church Singing (Vol III, Ch 12)

From Michael Ruse:

Join us this Saturday at 4:00pm to support our St. Thomas Catechetical School and fellow parishioner at St. John’s, and learn what spiritual resources Russian chants might give to us. This chapter is also worth our attention since Metropolitan Hilarion is himself an accomplished composer and fluent in musical traditions of Russia and the West. 

Znamenny chant is the most "ancient form of liturgical singing" in Russia. The word znamya means sign, which indicates that it’s written with Russian signs on a sheet of paper. Lined-strokes called hooks (kriuki) are written over these signs to indicate how long a certain sound lasts in different sorts of melodies. Znamenny chant has been partly lost. But it can be heard in modern variations in monasteries.

There was a major departure liturgically and in style with znamenny chant during the Post-Petrine period of history with a kind of singing called partesny that seems to follow the other cultural and religious revolutions of that time. Then came a slew of composers who were influenced by Italian schools, which later were criticized by a particular man named, Saint Ignatius Brianchanikov, who fought to preserve znamenny chant for Orthodox worship. Metropolitan Hilarion doesn’t forget to include the high and low points of history, and he never fails to investigate the origins of things. The final section deals with contemporary singing in Russian churches. 

Metropolitan Hilarion has also layered the topic of church singing very well. We have covered the influence of Ancient Israel’s musical traditions, especially the psalms, and Greek antiquity’s melodies, as well as Byzantium’s development of the eight-tone system. Now we arrive back into Russian land. This chapter will be compact, but it’s worth the trekking to discover how everyday words are transformed in divine services to inspire the heart to worship God. Through chanting and church singing we reach our spiritual goal of glorifying God. 

Early Christian and Byzantine Church Singing (Vol III, Ch 11)

From Michael Ruse:

There is a wealth of material in this chapter that covers two major sections: Early Christian Music and Byzantine Church Music. We learn that early Christian musical composition wasn’t fixed from the beginning although there were expectations about what to be used for singing. It developed from the Old Testament hymns, the psalms and also ancient Greek melodies. The eight tones or Octoechos helped form and fix later church singing in the Byzantine period. 

After reading this chapter, we will become easily familiar with the most salient and essential terms and ideas of church music like cantillation, the Octoechos, plagal, cento, neume notation, phonai, domestik, and ecphonetic notation. 

Metropolitan Hilarion also touches on some of the writings of the Church Fathers and what they said about the importance of one’s inward disposition, content and rules for church singing. They viewed the human voice as the primary instrument of praise to God rather than instruments. Because of the association of certain sounds and instruments with pagan culture at that time, they tended to speak against musical instruments for accompanying church singing. 

Join us this Saturday at 4:00pm to learn how church singing unifies our voices toward God in the divine services. 

Background: Music in Ancient Greece and Ancient Israel (Vol III, Ch 10)

From Michael Ruse:

As the title says, this chapter is a background for the next chapter on Early Christian and Byzantine singing traditions. Ancient Greece and Israel – both being Mediterranean cultures –  form the backbone of Orthodox Church singing. For example, much of our notation, rhythm, style, and content of early Christian musical tradition draws from these two sources. But the perennial philosophical question is what does Athens and Jerusalem really have in common? As far as Church singing is concerned, a lot of both ancient traditions come together in early Christian and Byzantine singing. The Greeks imparted much of our notation and style while Israel’s psalmody and temple worship gave much content and structure in terms of what we sing. That liturgical singing draws much from King David and the Psalms. So there are two major sections to this chapter: 1) Music and Song in the Old Testament and 2) Musical Arts of Antiquity.

Join us this Saturday at 4:00 to learn about more how these two ancient traditions formed our own singing tradition.

The Meaning of Icons  (Vol III, Ch 9)

From Michael Ruse:

Icons are venerable, ineffable, mystical, myrrh-bearing, rainbow-hued, miraculous, hesychastic and meaningful. How exactly are icons meaningful to us? 

When we discuss the meaning of icons, there are several major topics that come up. They have a theological, an anthropological, and a cosmic meaning, which means it has to do with God, Christ the God-man, and all of creation and mankind including our experiences, moral and mystical. 

Metropolitan Hilarion draws a distinction between religious art during the Renaissance and Iconography as understood and experienced by the Orthodox Church, and the previous Chapter 8 has helped to set that foundation for us. 

How would we ourselves look in an icon? In the East, icons are “static,” not stuck in this world of bodily movements nor do they even focus on particular emotional experiences as some other religious traditions or philosophies promote. 

Neither are they “dynamic” and passionate as we see beautifully portrayed in Classical Western art of the often nude, muscular, agonizing bodies and realistic beasts that take their form from Greco-Roman mythologies. 

After the struggle with passions having been conquered, Orthodox icons are like the victory laps of the saints. We too struggle to receive that renewed body and mind. In this way, icons are both relatable to our daily struggle and also inexhaustible in their meaning.

Russian Icons (Vol III, Ch 8)

From Michael Ruse:

Since we have read about the early links that existed between Byzantium and Kievan Rus’ in the chapter on Russian Church Architecture, Metropolitan Hilarion discusses the Greek influence on iconography in Russia, certainly seen in major Cathedrals, as he shows. This chapter has several sections that roughly follow a historical outline, and it seems he intends for us to soak up that vision of Russia’s icons. 

When certain Russian cities grew in cultural importance, they also became important places for the development of iconography, for example, Tver and Moscow. The masterful iconographer, Theophanes the Greek, was well-known in the 15thc. He was on the artistic scene of Muscovite iconography, and importantly he also taught the painter, Andrei Rublev. 

Saint Andrei Rublev and Icon of the Holy Trinity follows next, and Metropoitan Hilarion also includes a discussion on the topic of iconostasis development. But the “Holy Trinity” icon of the Trinity Lavra at St. Sergius is a fascinating topic that deserves its own book because of its important theological and mystical meaning. 

The remaining sections of this chapter cover: 

-      Dionysius and the Subsequent Development of Russian Iconography 

-      Post-Petrine Period and Academic Painting in Orthodox Churches 

-      Russian Icons in the Post-Revolutionary Period

There may be more than one thing that we can appreciate about Russian Icons when we read of the history. One great appreciation we can have for icons and which the Church recognizes in icons are not only beautiful paint seen on the wood, but equally the master craftsmen who are skilled at making them. Metropolitan Hilarion again covers with virtuosity a key part of Orthodox worship and he highlights important icons throughout Russian history. The next chapter will deal with what icons mean. 



Game of Thrones is a phenomenon; there's no doubt on that score. I mean,it has even achieved the much-coveted Acronym Status: all you have to say is GOT, and everyone knows what you're talking about. I  didn't look up any of the actual metrics, but the show is now being regularly referred to as the most-watched series in the history of broadcasting. However, if that is true, I can't help but wonder what that says about our culture.

What Makes Easter So Special?

What Makes Easter So Special?

For this roundtable, Scott the Editor wants us to explain why Easter is more significant than other Christian holidays. In Holy Orthodoxy, Easter is the most basic Christian holiday. That’s because, on Easter, we celebrate the central event in the salvation of this world: the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. And since the Resurrection is so fundamental to the Faith, we actually celebrate it each and every Sunday of the year.

Iconographical Tradition in Byzantium (Vol III, Ch 7)

From Michael Ruse:

It doesn’t come as a surprise that Christians in the 4th-7th c. would — from a mostly Roman and Levantine background of the Byzantine Empire — make mosaics, frescoes, and images to represent important Scriptural messages and beliefs and teachings from Apostolic tradition.  

As Metropolitan Hilarion explains in this chapter, Orthodoxy has passed through a period of iconoclasm (destruction of icons). Likewise, we might be going through a similar kind of iconoclasm of traditions, beliefs and ideas that we thought couldn’t ever be challenged seriously or changed.

There are more than a few sections in the book that cover different topics that survive in Byzantium’s entrancing iconographical tradition: 

1.   The Icons of the 4th-6th c. and Sinai’s Encaustic Icons 

2.   The Canonical Image of Christ, Image Not-Made-By-Hands that is mentioned in the Teaching of Addai, and its connection to the Shroud of Turin 

3.   Iconoclasm and the Veneration of Icons that has received probably most of its inspiration from Islamic mindset. But there are deep theological currents behind the bloody conflict

4.   Decorative Painting and Basic Iconographical Types 

5.   Byzantine Mosaics and Frescoes, 4th-9th c., 9th-14th c. 

6.   Book Miniatures 

Join us all this Saturday at 4:00 and immerse yourself in Orthodoxy’s iconographical tradition; this class, and the next several classes) will be taught by an expert in the field of iconographical tradition.

Early Christian Painting: Frescoes of the Roman Catacombs (Vol III, Ch 6)

From Michael Ruse:

Come and join us this Saturday at 4:00 to learn more about icons. We cannot discuss the veneration of icons in the Orthodox Church without first talking about how some early Christians were not Jewish. If the older Jewish religion forbade making images of human beings, what made images appear more often in human form among early Christians? 

We find out that some scriptural accounts were turned into mosaics, portraits, catacomb paintings, frescoes and ultimately traditional icons in our temples. Icons burst forth as symbols and images of our salvation and humanity “in a tense dialogue with the pagan world and active missionary work among pagans.” This brief chapter will help us understand the larger chapter on the iconographical tradition in Byzantium. It also introduces some important concepts and categories when discussing icons such as: posture, reverse perspective, symbolic, antique, and other typological images.