Prologue by Gregorios Stathis

Concerning Adaptation

Concerning Notation

Byzantine vs. Western Notation

About the Translation

The History of Byzantine Chant

Writing Byzantine Music

Epilogue by
  Photios Kontoglou

Guidelines for Greek Pronunciation

The Intervals of the Soft Chromatic Modal Genre

The Intonations of the Eight Modes



Contact Us

Order Book



Recordings on CD

St. Anthony's


Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom
St. Basil's Divine Liturgy
Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts
St. James' Liturgy
Menaion (Feast Days)
Triodion and Pentecostarion



estern-style harmonizations became the norm for the first time in Orthodox liturgical music in L'viv and then Kiev, [7] where, due to Roman Catholic influences from Poland, this polyphony "suddenly burst into Russian liturgical singing from the West in the middle of the seventeenth century," [8] putting an abrupt end to a seven-century epoch of monophonic liturgical music. [9],[10] Henceforth, this polyphonic music continued to develop under Italian and German influences. [11] Today many Orthodox parishes have adopted this polyphony for their services without regard for its origins or its guiding aesthetic principles.

Of more significance than the historical differences between polyphony and monophony are their spiritual ramifications. As Dr. Constantine Cavarnos aptly notes:

"A single line of melody makes it easy for the congregation to follow the meaning of the text of the hymns chanted. When the melody is in several parts, it tends to suppress the meaning. In addition, it introduces a secular quality into the chant, an element of ostentation and lightness. Traditional, one-part chant is, by contrast, character­ized by humility and solemnity, qualities which are of the very essence of Orthodox spirituality." [12]

One of the foremost contemporary Byzantine musicolo­gists, Dr. Dimitri Conomos, has made the following observations regarding the practical drawbacks of polyphony in ecclesiastical music:

"[Monophonic music] is usually easy to sing, easy to learn, and easy to remember. The chanters can readily match their note to the celebrant's. This style of music is ideal for congregational singing. Polyphonic music, on the other hand, is by its very nature more complex, denser, and more difficult. In order for it to be done wellboth musically and liturgicallyone has to concentrate. The music demands a lot of attentionattention that could better be given elsewhere during a divine service. Unlike polyphonythe music of fashion in the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periodssimple chant melodies can be tailored to follow the text, to amplify its meaning and rhetoric, to give it an appropriate musical dress." [13]

For these and many other reasons, the use of Western-style polyphony in church has been opposed in recent centuries by several saints (including St. Seraphim of Sarov; [14] St. Philaret Drozdov, Metropolitan of Moscow; [15] St. Ignatius Brianchaninov; [16] St. Barsanuphius, Elder of Optina; [17] and the New Martyr St. Andronik Archbishop of Perm) as well as by the Holy Synod of Constantinople, [18] the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, [19] and by many venerable hierarchs (such as Patriarch Germogen of Russia [20] in the seventeenth century, Metropolitan Evgeny of Kiev [21] in the eighteenth century, and Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery [Jordanville] in the twentieth century). Nevertheless, other saints (primarily some of the New Martyrs of twentieth-century Russia) and other hierarchs used and loved Western-style polyphonic ecclesiastical music because they appreciated its beauty. Their acceptance is perfectly understandable, since musical preferences are not dogmatic issues but are dependent upon cultural circumstances and personal taste. Besides, if, according to St. John of the Ladder, lovers of God are moved to spiritual joy, to divine love, and to tears even by worldly songs, [22] incomparably more so will they be inspired by hymns, even if their melodies are of a worldly character or bear some of the aforementioned shortcomings.

[7] Kochmarchuk, Franko, "Dukhovni vyplyvy Kieva na moskovshchynu v dobu hetmans 'koi Ukrainy" (New York: Shevchenko Scientific Society, 1964), p. 120f. back to reference

Gardner, Johann von, Russian Church Singing, Vol. 1: Orthodox Worship and Hymnography, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, New York, 1980, p. 143. To be precise, this music was not polyphonic but homophonic, since homophony is defined as "music in which melodic interest is concentrated in one voice or part that is provided with a subordinate accompaniment, as distinct from polyphony, in which melodic interest is distributed among all parts of the musical texture." Randel, Don Michael, The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1986, p. 380. back to reference

[9] Ibid., p. 139. This statement by Gardner is actually a simplification of a more complicated development. Dr. Nicolas Schidlovsky explains: "Concerning polyphony in Russian church singing we should note the following: it is certain that it existed before the seventeenth century; but its history is obscure, and we cannot be sure of the time or the place of its origin. Based on manuscript evidence, the native polyphonic technique is generally regarded as an outgrowth of folk heterophony cultivated in a few centers with privileged status. There is no written theory preserved on the practice, and the surprising dissonance of the music shows a complete independence from Western counterpoint." (Schidlovsky, Nicolas, Sources of Russian Chant Theory. In Gordon D. McQuere (Ed.), Russian Theoretical Thought in Music, UMI Research Press, Michigan, 1983, pp. 103-104.) back to reference

[10] Although there is a sixteenth century document (Книга Степенная Царского Родословия Содержащая Историю Российскую) which mentions that "tripartite sweet-singing" was introduced in Russia by Greeks in the eleventh century, Stasov convincingly proves (vid. Стасов, В.В., "Заметки о Демественном и Троестрочном Пении", Известия Императорского Археологического Общества V, 1865, сс. 225-254.) that this does not refer to harmonization and must be treated as a later interpolation. (See also Velimirović, Milos M., Byzantine Elements in Early Slavic Chant: The Hirmologium. Main Volume and Appendices. Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae Subsidia, Vol. IV, Copenhagen, 1960, p. 10. For other possible explanations of this curious phrase, see Gardner, Johann von, Russian Church Singing, Vol. 2: History from the Origins to the Mid-Seventeenth Century, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2000, pp. 30-36 and 313-314.) back to reference

[11] Vid. Gardner, Johann von, Russian Church Singing, Vol. 1, p. 145. back to reference

[12] Cavarnos, Constantine, Byzantine Chant. Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Belmont, Massachusetts, 1998, pp. 25-26. back to reference

[13] Conomos, Dimitri. Excerpt from a lecture given at the St. Sergius Orthodox Institute, Paris, in 1997. Published on Monachos.net, February 2003. back to reference

[14] Vid. Zander, Constantine, St. Seraphim of Sarov, translated by Sister Gabriel Anne S.S.C., St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, New York, 1975, p. 64. back to reference

[15] Vid. Письма митрополита Филарета к архимандриту Антонию часть 3. 1850-1856. М., 1883. сс. 17-18. back to reference

[16] Vid. Собрание писем святителя Игнатия (Брянчанинова), Епископа Ставропольского и Кавказского, М-СПб, 1995, сс. 130, 131. back to reference

[17] Vid. Afanasiev, Victor, Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California, 2000, pp. 452-3. Despite his disapproval of Western-style polyphony in a liturgical context, St. Barsanuphius had a great appreciation for serious opera music and played the harmonium while still a layman. back to reference

[18] In an encyclical dated November 5, 1846, the synod proclaimed that the use of Western-style polyphony in church is a sin against the canons and the holy Church of Christ due to its "unspiritual melody, unbecoming to ecclesiastical propriety." (Click here to read this encyclical in English or Greek.) See also Παπαδημητρίου  Ἀλεξάνδρου, Ἐπίσημος Καταδίκη τῆς Τετραφωνίας, «Κιβωτός» Ἀθήνα, Ἰούλιος 1952, σελ. 301-303.) back to reference

[19] When four-part harmonies were introduced in churches in Athens, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece issued many encyclicals vehemently opposing their use. See encyclicals dated: July 31, 1870; June 13, 1874; February 1, 1886; March 10, 1886; May 25, 1886; March 23, 1888; and March 29, 1888. See also Παπαδόπουλος, Γεώργιος, Ἱστορικὴ Ἐπισκόπησις τῆς Βυζαντινῆς Ἐκκλησιαστικῆς Μουσικῆς, Ἀθῆναι, 1904, σελ. 298-314. back to reference

[20] Metallov, Archpriest Vasilii, An Essay on the History of Orthodox Church Singing in Russia [in Russian], p. 101, n. 2, cites Metropolitan Makarii, The History of the Russian Church [in Russian], vol. X, p. 154. back to reference

[21] Metropolitan Evgeny (1767-1837) opposed European music in church for the following reasons: "The works of many foreign kapellmeisters have in our time been adopted as compositions of the Greek-Russian Church. The truth must be stated that either because of their unawareness of the power and expressiveness of many moments in our church poetry, or because of a prejudice only for the laws of their music, they have often disregarded the sanctity of the place and the subject of their compositions, so that generally speaking, it is not the music which is adapted to the sacred words, but instead, the words are merely added to the music and often in a contrived manner. Apparently, they wanted more to impress their audience with concert-like euphony than to touch their hearts with pious melody, and often during such compositions the church resembles more an Italian opera than the house of worthy prayer to the Almighty." (translation taken from Schidlovsky, Nicolas, Sources of Russian Chant Theory, pp. 84-5.) back to reference

[22] Κλῖμαξ ωάννου το Σιναΐτου, Ἐκδόσεις .Μ. Παρακλήτου, Ὡροπὸς ττικῆς, Ε᾽ κδοσις, 1992, σελ. 207 (ΙΕ᾽, νθ᾽) See also The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, 1979, p. 113 (Step 15:61). back to reference