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.

Liturgical Vestments of the Clergy (Vol III, Ch 5)

From Michael Ruse:

If you are interested in fashion and liturgy, know something about either or know nothing about it at all, then come and join us this Saturday evening at 4:00pm. 

Metropolitan Hilarion explains, “The apostolic Church did not have special vestments for sacred serving … everyday clothing came to be treated as sacred.” How do objects come to be treated as sacred?  

In this chapter, he continues with this kind of question and he discusses the origins of liturgical vestments that became sacred in the Greek and Russian traditions. That may be easy enough to understand. But why would it be inappropriate for the Orthodox today to change their liturgical vestments to everyday clothing in the spirit of the early Church or as other Christian communities do? It is important to know that sacred significance and symbolism of liturgical vestments took root in the early centuries of the Church. 

In the East, we see the phelonion and omophorion become more widespread in liturgy and in icons and mosaics of the saints more than in the West. Although Russian liturgical vestments have a lot of influence from the Byzantine tradition, there were developments – like the sable mitre-caps for patriarchs – that were specifically Russian in adaptation to culture and climate. 

Metropolitan Hilarion discusses these main vestments in more detail: sticharion, orarion, epitrachelion, omophorion, sakkos, turban/mitre, and staff as well as a section about the color scheme of vestments.  

Arrangement of Churches and Church Objects (Vol III, Ch 4)

By Michael Ruse:

Join us this Saturday March 23 and learn more about what makes us so Orthodox when we use liturgical objects and how we arrange space for worship. Each thing and place has a purpose because we are not keeping up antiques.  

It would be good to be able to point out that some form of seating, the cathedra, lighting candles, the nave and the narthex were church objects and arrangements we use today are as earlier Christians did in ancient times. 

Although there are some exceptions like “electric-lightening” candles, air-conditioning, indoor-plumbing, and electricity itself, we seem to worship in much the same way as our ancestors did in the Church. In this Chapter 4, there are a lot of new or familiar vocabulary surrounding liturgical services; and learning those terms will help us become more aware of the significance and history of the things we use, touch, walk or stand by and sit on when we worship. 

Metropolitan Hilarion also helps contrast some distinctions within Orthodox traditions – primarily Greek and Russian – so that we can appreciate some of the differences we have. For instance, some liturgical objects such as eagle rugs and royal gates have imperial origins in Constantinople, while every Orthodox tradition will use a chalice or “drinking vessel” (poterion in Greek) for communion.