Posts Tagged 'archimandrite ephrem (lash)'

Reminiscences from PSALM, Chicago, 2-5 August 2006

A comment prompted me to look up a series of e-mail I sent to the members of my choir from the thus far one-and-only PSALM national conference held back in August of 2006. This was back in the days before I had a blog. I sent these to my choir partially because I wanted them to engage some of the things I was hearing while I was there; truth be told, I’m not sure they all understood why they were getting long e-mails from me. Such is life.

Reading through them, it seemed perhaps worthwhile to share some of those notes here. My perception — and someone can correct me if I’m wrong — is that PSALM peaked with this event; I think there was talk back then about trying to set up regional PSALM identities and events and then do a regular national conference every other year, but none of that ever happened, for better or for worse. My experience with the PSALM Yahoo! group in its present form is that the ideals expressed five and a half years ago are by no means universally held these days, or even necessarily approved of. I can’t really say for sure I understand what’s going on there, but there we go.

Anyway, without further ado —

Day 1: Hello from Chicago! Day 1 has been packed with a lot of stuff that hopefully will be useful for all of us in the long run, and the days to come look similarly stuffed. The Indiana representation has been significant: the opening remarks were from Fr. Sergei Glagolev, an Indiana native; Vicki Pappas and Fr. Joseph Morris (from Ss. Constantine & Elena in Indy) were both part of a panel discussion; the Paraklesis service was sung by IU alum Jessica Suchy-Pilalis; and I finally had the occasion to meet Lori Branch, about whom I have heard so much over the years. She sends along her love and best wishes to all who might remember her.

We had a rehearsal for the Divine Liturgy Saturday morning, and about two-thirds of the conference participants are making up the choir–that is, probably somewhere around 100 people. It’s like the Sunday of Orthodoxy choir, only about four times the size. In the enormous nave that St. George in Cicero has, one is bathing in the sound when all of sing. It’s quite something. Mark Bailey, one of the instructors in liturgical music at St. Vladimir’s, is conducting the conference choir–and it might be worth mentioning that, when we looked at the “Lord, have mercy” sections, the first thing he did was tell us to drop the r in the word “Lord” so that it came out “Lohd”. Just so you know that it’s not that I’m crazy. (Well, not just that I’m crazy, anyway.)

The Paraklesis service was lovely–unison women’s chant from Dr. Suchy-Pilalis and one other. Really very beautiful.

I’ll have a full account of all the goings-on later, but there are a number of things panelists and clergy said which I’m chewing on already. Some of them are pretty challenging and clear-cut in terms of communicating a strong point of view and expectation:

“There is no such thing as a quick fix, only hard work… We have to have the ability to change, because when things don’t change, they’re dead.”–Fr. Sergei Glagolev. Fr. Sergei also challenged us to think about what we want to pass on to the next generation in terms of singing in church.

Fr. Joseph stressed the need for the choir to be dignified and sober, and to have a servant mentality–that we come on time, and we are prepared. “If you can’t make it on time, you can’t make it on time,” he said. “Better to sing with the faithful in that case. You’re not a bishop.” He also noted that, in his parish, there is the expectation that the singers treat Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturgy as one piece–that is, if someone is singing in the choir for Divine Liturgy, he expects them to have been there for Vespers and Matins as well. “My expectation is that my singers are Orthodox in practice as well as name,” he said.

Valerie Yova, PSALM president, observed that, in general, there is a lack of effective musical leadership in the Church in this country, and noted the following symptoms/factors:

  • Choirs are shrinking and aging
  • People are living further and further away from where they go to church
  • School music programs are dying
  • Parishes are falling into financial trouble
  • There are an almost impossibly small number of places to be trained as an Orthodox church musician
  • The old chanting masters are dying and not being replaced
  • The musical element of worship is being devalued

The panel discussion (David Drillock, Fr. Joseph, Fr. John Rallis, Fr. Lawrence Margitich, Fr. John Finley, Alice Hughes, Carol Wetmore, Rachel Troy, and Vicki) observed that synergy between choir director, singers, and clergy requires time and regular effort, and e-mail cannot be all there is. To that end, not only are regular rehearsals vital, but clerical involvement in rehearsals on some regular basis is also important. Vicki Pappas made the point that volunteerism cannot be an obstacle to excellence, that church musicians have a sacred role, that of being responsible for leading the people’s worship, and that this should inspire us to better things. Fr. Joseph followed this up by saying, cf. St. John Climacus, “If it is possible for one, it is possible for all.” One priest (Fr. Lawrence Margitich, I think) put it this way: we shouldn’t confuse volunteerism with stewardship. As church singers, we are stewards of God’s talents, not mere volunteers, and we should act and think of ourselves accordingly. David Drillock, choirmaster emeritus at St. Vladimir’s expressed this by saying that being in the choir should be a “high calling”.

Other nuggets from the panel: if we as singers are truly connected to the text we’re singing, it will be communicated to the congregation naturally. Also that the church school should be excellent recruiting ground for the choir. Fr. Joseph also suggested that congregational singing should not drag the Liturgy down; it should appropriately done and led. Dovetailing onto that, Vicki suggested a clear intent with respect to which sections we should encourage the congregation to sing, and those which we intend the choir to sing. Having said that, the panel followed that up by saying that it is foolish to replace something people love unless one knows it’s being replaced with something they’ll love at least as much.

Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s, minced no words: “I disagree that dead things don’t change. Rather, dead things become more rotten, corrupted and stinky.” He also issued a rather direct challenge: “The Orthodox Church seems to be the only place on earth where you don’t have to be competent to be asked to do something. How does this come about? What happened? Why will people join a community choir, not miss a rehearsal, pay attention to the choir director, and then then not do the same in their parish choir? If we’re not taking church and everything we do in it seriously, then we’re just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. You can’t raise the bar when you still have to convince people that there’s a bar to be raised in the first place.”

In aid of this sentiment, he told the following story: a parish started talking about buying a new chandelier. It came to the parish council, and one person stood up and said, “I am absolutely against this. We don’t need a chandelier, we don’t want a chandelier, and we can’t pay for a chandelier.” The priest asked, well, what do you mean? “It’s too expensive,” the man said, “and we don’t even know where to buy one.” (Scattered laughter from the audience.) He went on: “Plus, there’s nobody in the parish who can play one, and it’s not even part of our tradition anyway.” (More laughter from the audience.) He finished by saying, “I just can’t understand why we’re talking about buying a chandelier when what we really need is more light!” (Peals of laughter from the audience.)

Like I said, all very challenging stuff, but there was a truly remarkable consistency to the message I heard today. It’s going to take me a while to process all of it, but there was one more thing that was stressed today, and I’ll close with that for now–

Fr. Thomas Hopko also said that, as church musicians, in terms of purpose and practice, we must start no other place than Christ crucified and glorified, that it is only by starting there we will end up in the right place. In the same vein, the panel also reminded us of Metropolitan +ANTHONY Bashir’s insistence that, once love is manifested, all things are possible.

All of these things are worth thinking about, and I encourage you all to do so as well.

More to come on Day 2.

Day 2: Again, too much to summarize in one e-mail, but a small handful of highlights:

First two presentations this morning were from Fr. Ephrem Lash, who looks and sounds like Gandalf as portrayed by Ian McKellen (and who has a wonderful website, http://www.anastasis.org.uk), who is also a scholar from England (I believe he is a colleague of Bp. KALLISTOS Ware, but I could be mistaken) who has quite a bit to say about translations of the Bible and liturgical texts into English, and Mark Bailey, instructor of liturgical music at St. Vladimir’s. The topic for both was the fittingness of English as a liturgical language, the necessary approach to translating texts, and then how best to set these texts to music so that a) the meaning is communicated and b) the musical tradition is carried on. Both had wonderful things to say about the necessary principles to make these things work. Before the first presentation, we sang “O Heavenly King”, and Fr. Ephrem noted that the setting took the word “impurity” and placed the stress on the last syllable, making it “impuriTEE”. “In the language I speak, English, it’s pronounced ‘imPURity’,” he observed. Mark Bailey had all kinds of fantastic practical examples of good text-setting and bad text-setting, and further suggested, “We’ve gotten our parishioners and singers too used to bad settings, and they’ve become attached to them as a result.” Fr. Thomas Hopko then commented, “Most of our churches are just copying what they’ve heard on recordings. Can we put out new recordings that do it the way you’re talking about?” Something to think about.

The second morning session consisted of presentations from the various heads of jurisdictional sacred music departments as to what they’re up to–Chris Holwey from the Antiochian Archdiocese, David Drillock from the OCA, and Vicki Pappas from the Greek Archdiocese. While interesting, I found it fascinatingly unnecessary to have such redundancy. All three of them are essentially doing the exact same job, providing the exact same resources in exactly the same manner. One fervently hopes that eventually there will be no need for multiple separate departments of sacred music.

The afternoon panel I attended was on the topic, “Educating Liturgical Musicians in the 21st Century.” Vladimir Morosan, a musicologist who specializes in the Russian repertoire, was the moderator. He framed the panel discussion by asking, “How do we explain that the oldest and richest singing tradition in Christendom does so little to formally prepare liturgical musicians? What do we do about it?”

Anne Schoepp, a choir director in the OCA in California, argued passionately that Orthodoxy is a singing culture, and we need to do everything we can at the parish level to start our kids singing and to get them used to singing and loving singing. Fr. John Finley of our own Archdiocese suggested that the model of the Classical School that is starting to pop up in Orthodox circles could be a way to disseminate this kind of curriculum; I suggested that there’s an even more obvious answer, the tradition of the choir school as it still survives in England and even some places here in the US like the St. Thomas Choir School in New York and the Cathedral Choir School at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. “Let’s talk,” Fr. John said.

However we do it, the panel continued, people need to be immersed in good liturgy in order to be able to do good liturgy–it must be soaked in, the liturgical aesthetic must be ingrained in us. To this end, one panelist said, the power of the priest cannot be underestimated in terms of cultivating potential–kids as well as adults need to come to events like this, for example.

After the afternoon panel was choir rehearsal; Mark Bailey is very exact, and it’s a real learning experience to watch him conduct. It continues to be something else having a 100-voice choir singing in a church where the acoustics are as favorable as they are here. Then Vespers, where a small ensemble sang the stichera and whatnot, not dissimilar from what usually happens at All Saints.

After dinner was a concert performed by a group called the St. Romanos Cappella (as opposed to Cappella Romana, a completely different ensemble), singing a program entirely of music by modern Orthodox composers–all but one of whom were in the audience. Tikey Zes (who composed our All Saints troparion), Ivan Moody, Kurt Sander (formerly of Indiana University Southeast), James Green (the one not in attendance), Mark Bailey (man, the guy is everywhere), and Fr. Sergei Glagolev. Each one of them brings something different to the table, but it was all wonderful. It would be nice to learn several of these (particularly the Glagolev, Sander, and Bailey material), because it would be a shame to have all of this beautiful music out there representing a living continuation of the tradition and then have it never actually be sung in our churches. It would also be especially nice to finish learning Fr. Sergei’s setting of Psalm 103/104 for Vespers; now having heard what it actually sounds like in a church and not just on a recording, I’m more convinced of this. (And Bp. MARK already approved it back in December, which is handy.) Besides Psalm 103/104, they also sang one of his settings of the Cherubic Hymn, the Anaphora, the Megalynarion, and the Alleluia before the Gospel (including the refrains), and it was made very evident what a treasure trove his liturgical music actually is. He received a standing ovation at the end of it–surely every composer there deserved one, but he was quite appropriately the man of the hour. It was very moving.

After a looooooooooooooooooong, far-reaching conversation with Dn. Kevin Smith, choirmaster at St. Vlad’s, we managed to miss the shuttle back to the hotel and had to get a ride back from a Bulgarian woman named Danielle. And now it’s time for me to fall over and go to sleep. More to come tomorrow.

Day 3: There was a lot of theoretical stuff talked about today. I found it fascinating, but there’s little I can just summarize into an anecdote. Mark Bailey again had interesting things to say on a variety of topics; one issue he described was that of a common faith not necessarily uniting the Orthodox into a common sense of heritage. In terms of what that means musically–well, for many of us who are converts, “all Orthodox music is music for all Orthodox”, but that’s a very unique attitude to some (by no means all) American converts. He noted that in Russia right now there’s an argument over what kind of liturgical music from their various indigenous traditions (common chant, znamenny, etc.) will adequately represent the Russian culture. In this country, we have the opposite problem–we as yet have no indigenous Orthodox musical tradition, and so are trying to determine what bits and pieces from other national practices will best express Orthodoxy as it exists in America. Do we do a little bit of everything and make it a “checklist”-style approach? Do we pick one thing–Byzantine chant, Russian 4-part chant, whatever–and try to make it our own?

Mark Bailey is really big on liturgical singing doing no more and no less than supporting the liturgical action. That is, that liturgical singing either prepares for, accompanies, or is a liturgical action or rite. To do something other than one of these three things is, therefore, not liturgical and therefore spurious as far as this context is concerned. To that end, he says, musical form should elaborate on, and therefore draw the member of the congregation in to, a sacred action. At the same time, David Drillock two days ago reminded us that a large part of what we do is “proclamatory”–the exact opposite of drawing somebody in. I’m coming to the conclusion after hearing all of this discussed for two days that, as is so often the case in Orthodoxy, it cannot be “either/or”–it must be “both/and”. Part of its musical beauty come from the way in which the liturgical event is supported, and part of its ability to support the liturgical event must come from its beauty.

See what I mean about a lot of theoretical stuff?

One really practical thing he said with which I really agree is the idea that we need to not turn antiphons into anthemic pieces–they are a liturgical dialogue, not a big choral moment. What does that mean for us at All Saints? I don’t know yet; as it is we have a soloist sing the verse followed by the choir singing the refrain. What about this–rather than soloist plus choir, maybe it’s something like having the men intone one verse, the choir sings the refrain, the women intone the next verse, choir sings the refrain, etc.? We will play with possibilities at future rehearsals.

The afternoon panel, “Where do we go from here?” was interesting. People talked about a number of things, from PSALM formally getting behind issues like jurisdictional unity and a standardized English translation, to spearheading an English musical setting of the entire Octoechos (using, of course, this as-yet nonexistent “American chant” as the medium), to devising a music curriculum for use in parish schools. I think there are all kinds of things we can accomplish, we just need to think big. One of the issues, of course, is that in the past it has been possible for these issues to be solved in a “top-down” manner; the patriarchate or synod or whatever ruling body standardizes the practice/text/chant/whatever and promulgates it. The reality in this country, however, is that we’re having to solve many of these problems from the grassroots level on up. There’s a lot of “rolling our own” that takes place (as I found out earlier this week when I thought I needed a hierarchical “Before Thy Cross” and couldn’t find one to save my life), simply by necessity, because if we don’t do it, nobody else will.

Vespers was lovely. The large conference choir sang everything, and it was something. Being able to worship together (and commune together, tomorrow morning) is what makes this more than just a conference.

The evening panel, on composing liturgical settings for the English language, was made up of Ivan Moody, Fr. John Finley, Fr. Ephrem Lash, Mark Bailey, Fr. Sergei Glagolev, Vladimir Morosan, Tikey Zes, and Nicolas Resanovic. All I can say is–to have all of these people in one room was simply stunning. Not just their brilliance and talent, but their clear love for God and the Church as well. Ivan Moody provided a deft touch of dry, droll Englishness as the moderator. He provided a wonderful quote from St. John Chrysostom: “The tongue is made holy by the words when spoken by a ready and eager mind.”

There was a question where somebody described the situation of somebody coming up to the kliros or into the choir and being told, “Here’s the music for this service. We don’t actually do it that way, but here’s the music.” Big understanding laugh from the audience.

There was a fascinating moment where someone stood up and said, “You know, I’m from the Deep South. The South is a ripe field for Orthodox evangelism–the people there are crying out for the truth. Culturally, however, if we don’t bring it to them in English, their English, they are not going to care what we have to say.” This prompted Mark Bailey to remind us that, in this country, we are a missionary church with a missionary imperative, and that must inform what we do musically.

And then that, as they say, was that.

Day 4: Day 4 was short and sweet. With a 7:30am Matins service, I had to wake up at 6 to check out of the hotel. They did Matins and Liturgy as separate services, as opposed to Matins running right into Liturgy. There was a pause of a few minutes as Mark Bailey got set up to conduct the conference choir, and as the octet (into which I was roped) got into our places.

I may quibble with some (but by no means all) of the settings that were selected (I’ll be honest–the Russian chant in English is very jarring to my ear), but I have to say, having that 150 piece choir singing most of it and getting to sing in the octet that did the rest, in that church, with that conductor, was absolutely something else. I wish you all could have been there to take part, and my hope is that when this happens again, perhaps more of us can go. Fr. John Finley celebrated and homilized; it being the Pre-Feast of the Transfiguration, that was his topic. He started out with the quote from the Gospel reading, “It is good to be here.” It was quite apt. He exhorted us to “embrace the struggle” that we have adopted over the last few days, which was well-taken.

And that was that, more or less. There were some parting remarks at breakfast, and I think a lot of people are coming away from this event feeling like it was something seminal, that there has been good seed sown. Time will tell how God’s hand is in all of this, but one way or the other, it seems that the conference has exceeded everybody’s expectations.

A funny anecdote and a really cool thing: I went up to Fr. Ephrem Lash (the priest who looked and sounded like Ian McKellen’s Gandalf) and asked for a blessing. He sized me up and said (you’ll have to imagine the Ian McKellen-like voice), “Young man, did you receive Holy Communion this morning?”

“Yes, Father.”

“You never ask for the priest’s blessing after receiving Communion. You never ask for a blessing or kiss an icon. You have the Lord inside of you, so what can they possibly add? The Russians and the Arabs have gotten very bad about this.” I took it in stride, because I’m aware that it is an issue where there is not uniformity of practice or opinion. It was funny nonetheless. I then told him that I found his talk very edifying and he said, “Ah, ‘edifying.’ I never mean to edify, my boy; I only wish to make people laugh.”

So there we have it. Thanks for reading my ramblings; I just wanted to make sure that you all knew for sure I was where I said I was going to be, and hadn’t just taken off for Hawaii or something for a few days. If anybody wants to know more about anything I’ve talked about (or anything I haven’t, for that matter), let me know, I’d love to talk about it, particularly now while the memories are all still fresh.

In Christ,

Richard

 

In which the author laments the state of English language liturgical books

Last Saturday, it being Great Vespers for the Feast of St. Luke, there were Old Testament readings appointed for the service. I normally leave those to other people so as to save my voice, but I got asked to do one of them anyway since we were short some people we might otherwise have had. “Just read off of the printout of the liturgical guide?” I asked. Yes, I was told, since the parish doesn’t own a Prophetologion.

Well, long story short, nobody owns an English-language Prophetologion, because it doesn’t exist. There’s Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash)’s draft version online, and I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that if I were to be involved in starting a mission I would argue passionately for the use of his translations, but obviously an electronic version just isn’t quite the same thing as actually having a printed liturgical book. Besides which, Fr. Ephrem has done the exactly right thing of translating liturgical texts as a self-referential whole, being aware of biblical references, internal references to other liturgical texts, and so on and so forth — and while this is exactly right, it also renders his liturgical texts somewhat difficult to use unless you’re using them exclusively.

Which gets us to the broader question of English language liturgical books, and the practical situation in various parishes.

The situation at All Saints is interesting, and I expect reasonably common — we use Nassar as the spine, but not everything is in there, and there has been cobbling together of things from various sources over the years. This effort has been by necessity a real “do it yourself” matter by many people, for reasons I won’t go into here but I’m going to assume can be guessed by a sufficient number of people in similar situations. As a result, we use one translation for the proper texts for weekday services, a different translation for Great Vespers, Sunday Matins and Sunday Divine Liturgy, and still another translation for some of our Lenten texts. Sometimes we use the HTM Psalter; sometimes we use the KJV/NKJV variants that are used in the Antiochian service books. For the epistle reading, we have the Holy Cross Apostolos, which we bring out during services, but we insert a sheet with the NKJV text into the book so that the reader is actually reading from that and the book itself is really for show. In other words, we have a fundamental disunity of English translations, thereby achieving a fundamental disunity in the texts themselves. It used to be worse; our Divine Liturgy music used to be a patchwork of things from all over the place, so that there was no textual consistency whatsoever within the service — “Thee/thou” in one section and “You who” in the next. I am also told that for awhile we were trying to use the Orthodox Study Bible liturgically, but since it’s not arranged as a liturgical book (i. e., no prokeimena etc.), that was a non-starter from a practical standpoint.

These are the moments when I see an excellent argument for sticking with ecclesiastical Greek or Church Slavonic.

(On the matter of the HTM Psalter — HTM obviously publishes liturgical books that a lot of people use. I will note for the record that I find the use of liturgical materials by schismatic groups problematic, but I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me.)

I’m not sure what the solution is; what I’d hate to see is the worst kind of “by committee” translation, where all of these texts which were composed by saints and monks are rendered into bland, inoffensive, artless English. There are good “by committee” translations, like the Thyateira translation of the Divine Liturgy, but on the other hand, their committee includes Fr. Ephrem as well as Metropolitan Kallistos.

Maybe if any of our seminaries start offering doctorates, the problem of establishing a fundamental unity of English language liturgical books, and doing it right, can be taken on as a dissertation — or rather, several dissertations, more than likely. Best of all would be if modern-day Ss. Cyrils and Methodiuses would make themselves known for the English-speaking world. I understand that a hundred years ago for the most part the books didn’t just exist, and thus we’re better off than we used to be, but I’d like to think that we’re at a point where we can respect the efforts that have been made, re-assess where we’re at and try to move forward from here nonetheless.

Is a unified English translation of all the liturgical books a realistic goal? Or is the hodgepodge one of those things where we need to accept that it’s not going to happen because Things Are Different In America?

Philotheos Kokkinos and the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council

According to Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), both in his article “Byzantine Hymns of Hate” in the book Byzantine Orthodoxies (ed. Fr. Andrew Louth and Augustine Casiday) as well as on his website of liturgical texts, the hymnody for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council is by Philotheos Kokkinos, a 14th century Patriarch of Constantinople. The Greek text, as Fr. Ephrem says in “Hymns of Hate,” notes in the rubrics the presence of “Philotheos” as an acrostic in in the Theotokia of the Canon at Matins.

So why aren’t these texts contained in the critical edition of his poetic works, which appears to contain all the rest of his hymnody? Where can I find this Petroula Kourtesidos to ask?

AGAIN, again — postcript

My Divine Liturgy in English review generated a letter to the AGAIN editor over a not-unexpected issue — that of the use of “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion. Here are the highlights:

I’m uneasy with regards to the language [Cappella Romana] would institute. Changing the music is one thing; changing the language it’s written in is another thing entirely.

It’s important we don’t discard and/or replace the words that stir mind and soul, just to smooth some inconvenient bumps that have come about with the coupling of the Byzantine chants to English. If the truth be told, there’s a strong benefit inherent in the older English words. Simply because it takes an act of self will to use them, just like enter our church buildings leaving the physical world for the spiritual. The uncommon older words in our worship allow for the erecting of a similar barrier for the mind allowing separation from the offal baggage of our degenerate common day to day language. It’s a mistake to replace the word mighty with the word strong; to do so is to lose the Divine Authority inspired by the first in exchange for the wrongly elevated physical insinuation of the second.

Whatever the history regarding these two words, as well [as] the translations that have brought us to this point, the fact is the word strong is no longer capable of instilling the divine contemplation needed to lift the mind from the physical to reflect on the mystery of the spiritual. Our modern English speaking society throughout the world has mitigated this awe inspiring word by making an idol of strength.

Mighty, another word that carries much the same thoughts as the word strong once did, is currently used in the Liturgy. It has been for the most part spared the jaded attention of our society. Retaining its potency it bears well its burden, conveying the authority, the astonishment, the respect required of us. It commands us to humility, and as much as our puny minds can attempt, to contemplate and reverence the trenchant* power of our triune God.

If people don’t understand the meaning of such words, we should follow the example of our early church fathers that developed though God given inspiration the Divine Liturgy and a system of enlightening the ignorant, and educate them.

So when we think of our risen Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, do we want to glimpse him in the Divine Authority of his Majesty, or as…a glorified strongman?

Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal; have mercy on us.

Phillip, your brother in Christ

* Keen, Sharp, vigorous, intensely perceptive, Penetrating, clear-cut, Distinct

My response:

Dear Phillip,

Thank you for your reflections on the translation of the Trisagion as sung by Cappella Romana. I am agreed wholeheartedly that it is a mistake to replace or discard words capriciously. What might help clarify things for you is that Cappella Romana followed the official translation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira; that is to say, Dr. Lingas and co. did not write their own translation or change words as they saw fit. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, neither an amateur nor a shrinking violet when it comes to the matter of rendering biblical or liturgical  texts into English, was the chief architect of the Thyateira translation, and he has a detailed essay regarding the proper translation of the Trisagion, found here: http://www.anastasis.org.uk/THE%20TRISAGION02.pdf

In any event, the two most salient points might be:

  1. The Greek word “ischyros” is translated as “strong” virtually every other place it is used, and in other liturgical languages (such as Slavonic) the equivalent of “strong” is employed rather than “mighty”; “krataios” is the word which better corresponds to “mighty,” as in “Pantokrator” – “All-Mighty” being how that is often rendered in English.
  2. Translating “ischyros” as “mighty” in the translation of the Trisagion, ironically enough, appears to date back to the 1772 translation of Dr. John King, a Protestant. The earliest known English translation, that of Dr. John Covel in 1722, uses “strong.”

I hope this helps!

In Christ,

Richard Barrett

No denying it’s a sensitive matter; this is a tricky instance where a translation of a prayer, regardless of its relative merits, has taken on a life of its own beyond that of its source. The 20th century certainly demonstrated that you mess with the language in which people pray at your own risk. On the other hand, Phillip makes the excellent point that in such cases an effort should be made to educate the people, and I think Fr. Ephrem’s essay does that quite well. The other side of that bargain is just that the people need to be willing to not refuse the instruction out of hand.

For my own part, I’ll note that I don’t consider myself my own authority on Greek, particularly not where these kinds of issues are concerned. I’ve been there for Fr. Ephrem Lash sight-translating a Gospel reading from Greek during a Liturgy without realizing he wasn’t reading from an English version until I was told later, so if he says “Holy Strong” is what the prayer actually says and means, I don’t think I have too much of a basis to disagree with him.

The Divine Liturgy of St. James: A recap

To answer the first question everybody asks: No, it wasn’t five hours long. Truth be told, we didn’t cut a blessed thing from Fr. Ephrem’s text and rubrics (perhaps the only service where we haven’t), and it was…

…drumroll please…

all of an hour and thirty-five minutes. I’m guessing the issue regarding length is a function of two things — 1) it is a recension which is itself abridged (Fr. Ephrem does note that there is an “extremely long commemoration of the Saints” that is missing), and 2) many of the priest’s “silent” prayers would have at one time been said aloud. At any rate, with the materials we have, it’s not really any longer than a Divine Liturgy of St. Basil; we may very well wind up doing it again for the Sunday after Christmas (the other traditional day for it, evidently).

Alas, nobody was there to take pictures. There are a couple of people in the parish who would normally function as “event photographers,” and neither of them could be there. If we do it again in a couple of months, we can rectify that then.

I will note that I made an earlier comment in error: the Liturgy does not begin with the entrance into the nave with the Gifts, but rather with the Gospel (roughly corresponding to the Little Entrance in St. Basil/St. John Chrysostom). This is the only “Entrance” in Fr. Ephrem’s rubrics, hence my confusion; “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” does accompany the deacon while he processes, by himself, into the sanctuary with the Gifts (presumably the idea is that this is the time when he would get them from the skevophylakion), but it’s not quite the same big to-do that it is in St. Basil’s or St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy.

For a Liturgy perhaps one person there (Fr. Nabil from St. George) had seen before, everything hung together remarkably well; the choir kept it together very well on the music, there were no train wrecks, and everything proceeded smoothly in general for clergy, choir, and congregation alike. The makeshift ambo was quite a nice touch; the proclamation of the Word from the center of the people seemed to have an impact on some. When it was over, after we returned the church to normal and replaced the platforms in the choir area, there were a couple of people who expressed the sentiment, “Now that it’s gone, I sort of miss it.” Fr. Peter even suggested that it might not be out of the question to include a central ambo in the design of the permanent All Saints temple, hinting that it’s starting to be revived in other places.

We had a nice group of visitors; one inquirer brought his whole family, plus a contingent of folks from St. George, and a handful of people from the Bloomington Chamber Singers (who consulted us a bit regarding their upcoming performance of the Rachmaninoff Vigil).

I’m looking forward to the next time we do this. It’s a wonderful, prayerful Liturgy, and it would be nice for it to have a regular spot in the liturgical life of our parish.

Coming soon: The Divine Liturgy of St. James

On 22 October 2008, at 6pm, All Saints Orthodox Church will celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. James for the Feast of St. James, the Brother of Our Lord.

It was mentioned to me about a year ago that this might be a desirable thing to pursue. It isn’t exactly happening the way originally envisioned; the hope at the time was that we would be in a new building with more forgiving acoustics than our current nave, but that hope remains unrealized for the time being. Nonetheless, we are pushing forward — hey, since local Catholic parishes have started celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass semi-regularly, leave it to us to break out our oldest rite, right?

The Divine Liturgy of St. James — can we call this the Iakovian Liturgy? I’d hate to call it the Jacobite Liturgy — is said to have been the rite taught to St. James by Our Lord and was subsequently the principal rite of the ancient Church of Jerusalem, edited and embellished as the St. Basil Liturgy and further pared down to become the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy. I will let liturgical scholars with PhDs argue whether or not the traditional first century dating of the Iakovian rite is accurate or if it’s more reasonable to assume that it came about somewhat later. Clearly the use of the Trisagion and the “Only-begotten Son…” are later accretions, but in terms of the overall structure and character — well, let’s just say that there are ideological reasons to want to support any of the various arguments, and leave it at that. One way or the other, we can say that we know it as the oldest complete form of the Divine Liturgy still in continuous use, and it is still in use by various Syrian and Indian communities.

Putting together an English text was not a small consideration; Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash)’s translation served as the base, but it is insufficient for use in an Antiochian parish, given the official preference for Elizabethan English. Where necessary, the Antiochian text was substituted (for components such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and so on); where possible, Fr. Ephrem’s text was kept, converting to Elizabethan English as needed. Particularities such as “Let our hearts be on high”/”We have them with the Lord” were also retained.

Once we had a text, then it fell to me to create a book for choir/congregational use. Thankfully, Sibelius 5 and Microsoft Word made that relatively easy. I adapted the St. Anthony’s Monastery settings of hymnody specific to St. James to our text, used the version of “Only-begotten Son…” from the Mt. Lebanon Choir Divine Hymnal, used the Trisagion we sing every Sunday (had to keep something the same) and then added all of the other parts — litany responses, anaphora responses, etc. The choir/congregation book ultimately contains every word and every note which concerns those worshiping from the nave — it is as complete as it needs to be without including the priest’s personal prayers and so on. (At 43 pages already, it would be significantly longer were I to include those.)

I will say that, in many respects, it’s a simpler liturgy; there are no antiphons, no troparia (although we will sing the Troparion to St. James as a recessional), there is no Megalynarion, and since it begins with the clergy processing into the church with the Gifts (from the skevophylakion, no less — such things make me happy, although we don’t actually have a skevophylakion), no Great Entrance in the middle of the service, either. From the choir’s perspective, there are significantly fewer major portions to sing, and the Alleluia and Prokeimenon are the only propers. The rubrics call for the Body of Christ to be received in the hand and for the Blood to be drunk from the chalice by the communicant, but we will be communed from a spoon regardless — no one’s particularly comfortable with what could go wrong the other way, given that we’re all used to the spoon by now.

Anyway, it will be an interesting liturgical adventure, to say the least. We’ve tried to visibly open it up to as much of Bloomington’s greater Christian community as wish to attend; given the provenance of the rite, it is clearly the common heritage of all Christians, and to be able to serve it in English is a gift we would like to be able to share with as many as possible, even if it’s our humble little church that’s doing it and not the Midwestern Regional Campus of the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom. (That place is going to be gorgeous, I have to say — and they might even have built a skevophylakion, I’m not sure.) To that end, we’ve put out a press release to the local papers (let’s not hold our breath that they’ll care, but who knows) and sent flyers to every area church and campus ministry we could find. We’ll see.

On a different matter — my friend Gavin used to have a favorite Microsoft joke (at least before he started working there): “Microsoft — solving tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s technology, today.” So, maybe that could be tweaked and made appropriate to Orthodox Christianity — “Addressing tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s Christianity, today.”

Or maybe not.

The Divine Liturgy in English by Cappella Romana: the review and other thoughts

As someone who has sung in church at a more-or-less professional level for many years and who always had a deep love and appreciation for, shall we say, more historic forms of liturgical music, when I first became aware of Orthodox Christianity it was a very natural instinct for me to seek out this aspect of the faith. The trick here, of course, is that when you don’t know what you’re looking for it’s a bit difficult to find it, but eventually what I found was the Boston Byzantine Choir‘s recording of the Divine Liturgy, called Mystical Supper: Byzantine Chant in English. I was quite struck at how similar the approach on this recording sounded to something like Shapenote/Sacred Harp singing, to say nothing just how much of the service was sung rather than spoken. When I told my friend Mark Powell about this, he said simply, “Listen to the Greek Byzantine Choir’s recording of the Divine Liturgy in Greek. Then we’ll talk.” It was not an easy recording to find in the States in 2003; I wound up having to order it from a Canada-based Hellenic specialist, as I recall. (It’s much easier to find these days, at least for the moment. Amazon seems to no longer sell it directly — which has changed from a month ago — which suggests to me that the current pressing is gone, the distributor is out of stock, and whoever has it, has it, whoever doesn’t, doesn’t.) This recording really blew the lid off of my nice, safe, clean world of church singing, and redefined a lot of my expectations. Between that and getting to hear Cappella Romana‘s Fall of Constantinople program in the summer of 2004, I began to develop a strong affinity for the Byzantine repertoire.

What I didn’t learn, and what I wouldn’t fully appreciate until I was leading an Orthodox parish choir myself for the first time, from these exposures to Byzantine music — which are, admittedly, highly-idealized “best case scenario” presentations; as one musicologist told me, “Field recordings made at monasteries in Greece don’t sound anywhere close to the Greek Byzantine Choir” — is how divisive the repertoire can be for some people. It is clear that for certain ears, the otherworldly musical characteristics are, to say the least, less transcendent than foreign — “music to whip camels by” and “the nasal-sounding stuff the old man sings before the Divine Liturgy” being among the characterizations I’ve heard. I’ve even heard somebody say that Byzantine music “sounds more like the Muslim call to prayer than Christian singing.” The common assertion appears to be that there’s no way to make Byzantine music sound “friendly” to Western ears — it’s always going to sound like an ethnic import, “too Arabic” or “too Greek” or too something. A related concern is that it’s unison singing (save for the ison, the drone underneath), and Western ears expect four-part harmony as a non-negotiable given, period. It is certainly fair to say that Byzantine music is not appropriate for harmonization; this is for the simple reason that the conventions of four-part harmony are based on a tonal system, and Byzantine music is modal. You can’t harmonize a modal melody according to tonal conventions (i. e., “What Would Bach Do?”) without largely eliminating the distinctives of the given mode (as can be made clear when a new cantor instinctively, but erroneously, assumes that the ison for Byzantine Modes 2 and 4 is supposed to be C/Ne instead of G/Dhi and E/Vou, respectively).

There’s also the more specific complaint that Byzantine music doesn’t play well with English. This is a view shared by some rather visible and influential people; for example, the Preface of Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)’s edition of The Festal Menaion (St. Tikhon’s Press, 1969) says the following:

In course of time English-speaking Orthodox will doubtless evolve a musical tradition of their own, which will takes its place alongside those of Greece, Russia, and the other Orthodox nations. As yet, no such tradition has had time to develop: and Orthodox of English language must therefore draw for the present upon some existing musical heritage within Orthodoxy. The best adapted for this purpose seems to be that of Russia. Byzantine chant is too intricate: if it is to be used, then the stress and rhythm of the Greek original must be preserved almost exactly in English translation, and this raises insuperable difficulties. But Russian music is far more flexible; and in particular the simpler Russian monastic chants can easily be adapted to an English text. (p. 13, emphasis mine)

I have to be honest and say that I find this to be an odd claim (and yet one which seems to have influenced the assumptions and thinking of many people since its publication); it seems to me that Byzantine music is far more extensible and expressive when it comes to being adapted to English texts, where many forms of Russian chant, at least as presently used in English adaptation, tend to utterly disrespect the needs and conventions of English. It’s true that in many of the attempts to adapt the Byzantine repertoire to English — Kazan’s Byzantine Project, for example, being the one I use week in, week out — it seems like one winds up with melismas on odd words or emphases on the wrong syllables and so on, but I’d argue only that this means we haven’t perfected the system of adaptation yet (or perfected the English version of the text, for that matter), not that it fundamentally can’t work or that somehow we need to “file the corners off” of Byzantine chant, or in general make it something it isn’t, in order to make it work for English-speakers.

But nonetheless, the assumption is held by many that Byzantine chant fundamentally won’t work for English-language, Western Orthodox folks. The lengths to which some marginalize Byzantine music as being merely one of those pesky, overly ethnic, “little-t traditions” which drive away people who are culturally Western is demonstrated by a recent discussion on the PSALM Yahoo! group which involved speculation as to whether or not use of Byzantine chant might contribute to a decline in attendance in parishes.

Which brings me, at last, to Cappella Romana’s masterful, ground-breaking new release, The Divine Liturgy in English, which serves as the definitive response to all of these concerns, providing a fantastic model to emulate, transparency enough in the process to make it replicable, and, for the foreseeable future, the standard to meet for liturgical singing.

This is the recording of Byzantine chant in English which says, “Yes, we can.” This is the CD which you will see wearing black body armor and fighting off Rottweilers on an IMAX screen and telling Michael Caine, “Byzantine chant in English has no limits.”

Several years in the making and part of Cappella Romana’s “Excellence in Orthodox Liturgical Music in English” project — which includes the delightful Lay Aside All Earthly Cares, a collection of the liturgical music of Fr. Sergei Glagolev, which I’ll say more about shortly, and a future release of a Divine Liturgy setting by Peter Michaelides — this 2-disc set represents the monumental effort of adapting the traditional Byzantine repertoire so that it fits the English language idiomatically, often recomposing melodies from scratch in order to match the text. Conducted by Artistic Director Alexander Lingas, these settings are presented in a natural church acoustic, using native English speakers, and in their proper liturgical context, with Archimandrite Meletios (Webber) and Dn. John Chryssavgis serving as the clergy. The result is at once prayerful and phenomenally well-sung, full, rich, and in tune, and entirely Byzantine in character while never straying from understandable, natural-sounding English. It is ecclesiastical ensemble singing of the highest order, easily ranking with the recordings of Lycourgos Angelopoulos and the Greek Byzantine Choir, as well as with the best of English-language recordings of liturgical music such as those by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

Because it is a Divine Liturgy entirely sung in one musical idiom, and therefore comes across as a seamless garment of whole cloth as it were, it is difficult, if not inappropriate, to make critiques of particular sections, so I’m not going to do that. I would say that the best way to get a sense of exactly what has been accomplished with this recording is to become familiar with a recording of the traditional Greek repertoire such as Angelopoulos’, getting a sense for the function and aesthetic which govern hymns such as the Trisagion or the Cherubikon, and then to listen to this recording and hear how those principles are maintained in the English language adaptation. The exact notes of the Greek versions are not preserved because they’ve applied the Byzantine compositional process to the English text, not simply slapped the existing Byzantine melody over the English text and then figured out how to make the syllables fit. The result is a new melody which is completely faithful to the spirit of the model and the conventions of Byzantine music, and fits the English text like a glove at the same time. These adaptations — which Cappella Romana are publishing on their website in both Byzantine and Western notation — range from simple and syllabic (such as the troparia and the Anaphora) to florid and melismatic (the Dynamis of the Trisagion, the Cherubic Hymn), according to the rubrics and intended liturgical function. The booklet credits John Boyer, Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, with much of the work of adapting of the chants, and his sensitivity to the English text while maintaining the Byzantine ethos is to be highly commended.

Let’s be clear — The Divine Liturgy in English is not intended as a musicological curiosity for specialists, but rather as a practical liturgical model for the wider Church. In other words, this is meant to be a clear demonstration of how we can do things now, not an obscure example of how some people used to do it. As such, the set presents a complete Divine Liturgy as would be found on a typical, non-festal Sunday after Pentecost (a “vanilla Sunday” as some choir directors jokingly call it). This includes the celebrant’s spoken prayers, the Epistle and the Gospel, as well as the full Alleluia and Prokeimenon with verses — only a homily is omitted. (An argument can be made that the way they’ve harmonized the various Typika, they’ve in fact left some things out such as the Beatitudes, but this is addressed in the liner notes.)

Among the many delights of this recording is the text. The official translation of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain is used, the product of a panel involving scholars and clergy such as Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), Metropolitan Kallistos, and Fr. Andrew Louth. Certain renderings are initially unfamiliar — in particular, the use of “Mother of God” instead of Theotokos, and “Holy Strong” in the Trisagion — but It is nonetheless a wonderful translation which adheres quite closely to the Greek text. The booklet includes a helpful essay by Archimandrite Ephrem about the methodology and pastoral principles guiding the Thyateira translation. “Holy Strong” is arguably closer to the actual meaning of the Greek text than “Holy Mighty,” despite the English tradition of the text; see this paper for a thorough look at translating the hymn. I would have liked the “Mother of God” usage to have been addressed in the liner notes; as it is, it is unclear why the Greek word Theotokos, surely standard usage for English-speaking Orthodox by now, is not retained when Greek words such as Dynamis are. Such questions aside, the Thyateira text is an incredible effort which would ideally influence future undertakings of the translation of liturgical texts. 

I will admit to being somewhat puzzled as to why, given the clearly considerable vocal resources Cappella Romana has at its disposal, antiphonal choirs were not used; the liner notes say that “some elements of of the traditional interchange between two choirs are preserved through the use of alternating soloists”, but this strikes me as an unnecessary reduction given everything else they go out of their way to achieve on the recording.

Another major plus of this recording is something which actually isn’t sung — it includes the entire ensemble speaking the Creed and Lord’s Prayer with conviction. This is sadly lacking on the Mount Lebanon Choir recording, where one guy limply reading the prayers into a microphone is too-obviously spliced in after the fact.

Can the musical level achieved on this set, and/or the acoustic in which it was recorded, truly be seen as practical or normative? To be sure, the kind of training needed to meet this standard is not yet widely available in the United States, and many parishes do not have the resources to either provide such musical instruction or to give attention to proper acoustics in their building design. Nonetheless, The Divine Liturgy in English should be understood as a presentation of the “best-case scenario” to which liturgical singers may aspire. As well, Lingas opts for an all-male ensemble — the traditional arrangement, certainly, but unlikely to be the pastoral reality in most places.

The Divine Liturgy in English also shows the way for future adaptations of other Orthodox liturgical music into English, not just Byzantine. To slavishly preserve music written for a different language when adapting it to English is to miss the point of adaptation; that approach does violence to the language and, eventually, the music as well. Rather, those who would adapt the chants for use in a different language must understand the principles which guided the composition in the first place, and then apply those to the new text, while preserving the spirit of the original as much as possible. The music on the previously-mentioned disc of Fr. Sergei Glagolev’s liturgical settings — I said I’d get back to him, didn’t I? — demonstrates his own mastery of how this works for music in a Russian idiom; it is identifiably Slavic in terms of musical character, while still being sung, and sung well, in natural-sounding English in a way which does not obscure the meaning of the text. Perhaps with both the Glagolev settings as well these Byzantine adaptations, one inevitably runs into the objection, “Nobody knows them!” That will simply take time to overcome.

Cappella Romana’s recording is no less than a gift to the English-speaking Orthodox world which will inspire and instruct. Thyateira’s Archbishop Gregorios writes in the liner notes that The Divine Liturgy in English is intended to “increase the understanding and appreciation of both the spirituality of Orthodox worship and the heights of musical expression to which its chanting aspires”; this it does stunningly well. Highly recommended (in case that wasn’t clear by now).


Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 227,965 hits

Flickr Photos