Psaltikon: The Day of Resurrection

Cappella Romana Presents Psaltikon

The Historical Development of Easter

The celebration of Easter (i.e., Pascha) for Orthodox Christians commences on Saturday morning with a Vesperal Liturgy that comprises psalms, hymns, and Old Testament readings, followed by the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Pascha is formally inaugurated several hours later, at midnight, in a rush of blazing candles, exuberant Paschal greetings (“Christ is Risen!”), and hymns of ancient provenance (“Christ is risen from the dead”). As on Saturday morning, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, typically ending in the early hours of Sunday morning.  

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Seattle
FRIDAY, 3 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

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Portland
SATURDAY, 4 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Mary’s Cathedral

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Portland
SUNDAY, 5 MAY, 2:00 PM
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral

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These services, in their current form, are the result of a gradual process of development and mutual influence between the two most important liturgical centers of Eastern Christianity, the Cathedral of the Anastasis1 in Jerusalem and Justinian’s Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, with influences from the monastic communities of St. Sabbas in the Judean desert just southwest of Jerusalem, and Stoudios on the outskirts of Constantinople.

In Jerusalem of Late Antiquity, the physical presence of shrines connected to events in the life of Jesus Christ enabled the liturgical reenactment of these events. This resulted in a “stational liturgy” involving litanies and processions between shrines across the Holy City. Our knowledge of these rituals is based on over a dozen sources from the fourth to the twelfth centuries, including the travelogue of Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim who visited Jerusalem around 384, the Armenian and Georgian lectionaries, which describe the liturgy of seventh century Jerusalem, and the typikon (liturgical manual) MS Hagios Stavros (HS) 43. Copied in 1122 during a period of Latin rule of Jerusalem, HS 43 describes the Anastasis Cathedral services as they would have been performed in the tenth century, before the Holy Sepulcher complex was destroyed by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim and the Arab conquest of 1009. 

The First Resurrection

The celebration of Pascha as described in HS 43 preserves the ancient (i.e., fourth century) commemoration of the “first resurrection” at the Cathedral of the Anastasis in several respects: its place on Saturday in the late afternoon or evening, the presence of extra-scriptural hymns commemorating the Resurrection along with a cycle of Old Testament readings typologically related to the Resurrection, and the mass baptism of catechumens at some point before the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. 

In HS 43 we also find a description of the reception of the Holy Fire by the Patriarch, a ritual that continues to this day at the current site of the Church of the Anastasis. The earliest explicit account of the miraculous appearance of the Holy Fire dates to 870, but scholars believe that the seed of this ritual activity lies in the primitive lucernarium (lamp-lighting) ceremony conducted by the Patriarch in the Cathedral of the Anastasis, described in Egeria’s fourth-century account. By the tenth century, the lucernarium had expanded to include a public supplicatory prayer by the Patriarch, the chanting of the kyrie eleison by the faithful surrounding the Anastasis, and a procession to Constantine’s basilica (part of complex of the Holy Sepulcher) following the appearance of the fire and its distribution to the faithful. The gradual expansion of this ritual demonstrates the increased importance of the symbolism of light in connection with the celebration of the Resurrection at the tomb of Christ, which seems to be the discursive result of the increased popularity of the miracle of the Holy Fire.

The Paschal Canon

The first half of tonight’s program features poetry and hymns from the Orthros (i.e., Matins) of Pascha, as it would have been celebrated in tenth century Jerusalem in the early hours of Sunday morning. The most important development in this service from the earliest sources of Jerusalem worship is the addition of the Paschal Canon sometime around the seventh or eighth century. The canon was an extended, strophic poem that typically consisted of eight or nine odes. The odes were thematically linked to – and interpolated with – the nine biblical canticles that were sung as part of morning worship in Jerusalem. Thus, the heirmos of Ode 5 of the Paschal Canon reads, “Let us arise in the early dawn and instead of myrrh give praise to the Master,” an echo of Canticle 5, the Prayer of Isaiah, “Out of the night my spirit arises to you, O God.” Each ode had one model melody called an heirmos and to each heirmos were attached several metrically and musically identical hymns called troparia

This genre, which developed out of earlier Greek and Syriac models, matured around the seventh century during a flourishing of literary creativity promoted by monastic hymnographers attached to the Cathedral of the Anastasis. These hymnographers, the likes of Sophronius, Cosmas, and Andrew of Crete, wrote hundreds of Canons for the feasts of the liturgical year, a tradition that would be exported to Constantinople and emulated by the monks of Stoudios, who would write thousands of their own hymns, many of which would find their way back to Jerusalem as early as the tenth century.   

The Paschal Canon is attributed by tradition to arguably the most important of these new hymnographers, St. John of Damascus (ca. 675-749). A Syrian by birth, John of Damascus was a Greek-speaking theologian and poet, the author of several widely transmitted theological treatises and over 1000 hymns of different genres, including at least 115 canons. However, while the Greek manuscript tradition as early as the tenth century names John Damascus (or at least, “John the monk”) as composer, earlier sources of the old Georgian hymnal (the Iadgari) contain elements of the Paschal Canon without attribution. 

The work of St. John Damascus or not, the Paschal Canon was transmitted rapidly throughout the Byzantine world shortly after its composition. Not only did it become the central element of (cathedral) Paschal Orthros in Jerusalem by the seventh or eighth century, but as early as the ninth century it shows up in Stoudite liturgical documents in Constantinople, and soon thereafter it has penetrated cathedral worship in imperial environments in the capital. The treatise of Pseudo-Kodinos, which describes Byzantine imperial traditions of the thirteenth century, states that, after the “Christ is risen” is sung outside of the church of the imperial palace, the Paschal canon is sung by the high priest and the cantors as the clergy and faithful process into the church for the celebration of the Paschal Orthros.

Paschal Orthros: Outside the Anastasis

Tonight’s concert starts with the chanting of the prologue from the Kontakion of the Resurrection by St. Romanos the Melodist, which was sung just outside of the great doors of the Anastasis Cathedral prior to the start of Orthros, according to HS 43. Romanos, born in Syria and active in Constantinople during the first half of the sixth century, is most well-known as an author of kontakia, multi-stanza poems named after the scrolls they were written on. These dramatic, poetic exegeses of Scripture were originally performed as “sung homilies” in urban cathedrals between Vespers and Orthros of major feasts. By the tenth century, their use had been reduced to just two stanzas (the prologue and oikos), for which there coexisted two melodic traditions, one brief and one extended. Here, we sing the brief melody from the thirteenth century codex MS St. Petersburg gr. 674.

The concert continues with the chanting of the Paschal troparion Χριστὸς ἀνέστη (“Christ is Risen”), a hymn of ancient provenance, ubiquitous in liturgical celebrations of Orthodox Easter throughout the world today. The first “Christ is Risen” melody sung tonight, transcribed by Ioannis Arvanitis, is from the fifteenth century codex Sinai 1251. We do not know the specific melody of Christ is Risen that was sung outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the tenth century, but we can be sure that, as with other popular hymns, simpler “congregational” versions coexisted with more elaborate melodies to be enjoyed by trained cantors and their audiences.

After the singing of the Christ is Risen, HS 43 indicates the Patriarch and the faithful processed into the church, the Patriarch and his archdeacon continuing to the Holy Sepulcher itself, where they were met by certain myrrh-bearing women. After the exchange of a Paschal greeting, the women prostrated, arose, censed, and sang an acclamation to the Patriarch. This ritual, an anachronism by the time HS 43 was penned in the twelfth century, was then followed by the singing of the Paschal Canon.

The Paschal Canon: Words and Music

The author of the Paschal Canon draws heavily on the Biblical canticles to which the odes are attached, to New Testament accounts of the Resurrection, and perhaps most closely, to the homilies of the fourth century theologian, St. Gregory Nazianzus, whose first Paschal homily shares an opening phrase with the Canon (“The Day of Resurrection”). 2 While the Canon’s text merely echoes the Biblical canticles, the paraphrases of Gregory are more direct. For example, the Heirmos of Ode 1 (“…passing over from earth to heaven…”) refers by means of allegory to the Hebrew passage over the Red Sea, without lifting directly from Canticle 1 (Exodus 15).  On the other hand, the second troparion of the Ninth Ode is a direct paraphrase of the end of St. Gregory’s paschal homily:3

Ἀλλ ὦ Πάσχα, τὸ μέγα καὶ ἱερὸν, καὶ παντὸς τοῦ κόσμου καθάρσιον! ὡς γὰρ ἐμψύχῳ σοι διαλέξομαι. Ὦ Λόγε Θεοῦ, καὶ φῶς, καὶ ζωὴ, καὶ σοφία, καὶ δύναμις! χαίρω γὰρ πᾶσί σου τοῖς ὀνόμασιν. 

(But, O Pascha, great and sacred and the purification of the whole world – for I will speak to you as a living person – O Word of God and Light and Life and Wisdom and Power – for I rejoice in all your names.)4

The entire Canon is imbued with expressions of light, radiance, and brilliance, as the poet exhorts his audience to participate in the festivities with the involvement of  their full sensory palette, to “see Christ in the early dawn,” to “hear the radiant angel’s voice,” to  “feast death’s slaughter,” and to “partake of the vine of divine joy,” while “singing the triumphal hymn” and “dancing for joy.” 

The music of the Paschal Canon is similarly festive, being in the first mode, considered by at least some Byzantine and post-Byzantine commentators as “more joyous” than all the other modes. Melodies for the heirmoi of the Paschal Canon are first found in notated manuscripts called Heirmologia, the earliest of which date to the tenth century. By the middle of the twelfth century, Byzantine chant neumes have developed enough precision that they can be transcribed with melodic accuracy. In tonight’s concert, we chant the Paschal Canon based on melodies transcribed from MS Cryptensis Ε.γ. ΙΙ,a voluminous Heirmologion written in 1281 and containing nearly 2,000 heirmoi. 

Our rhythmic interpretation of the heirmoi is based on the pioneering work of Ioannis Arvanitis, who developed a detailed theory and method of transcription for the medieval Heirmologion, arguing that the heirmoi were sung in duple meter, with rare exceptions of triple meter. Because the troparia are melodically and rhythmically identical to their heirmos, it is possible to reconstruct the entire Paschal Canon, making minor adjustments based on performance considerations during the rare occurrence of paratonismos, where a stressed syllable in a troparion does not match a stressed syllable’s place in the melody of the heirmos. 

Constantinopolitan Incursions

Psaltikon

By the tenth century (and still to this day), it was customary to insert other hymns after the third and sixth odes of the canon. HS 43 calls for two hymns of Constantinopolitan origin, the hypakoe (loosely related to the Western responds) and the aforementioned kontakion. Tonight, we sing the hypakoe to a simple, syllabic melody in the second mode. Then, after Ode 6, the prologue of the kontakion is sung in its full melismatic version, transcribed by Ioannis Arvanitis from MS Ashburnhamensis 64. This codex, copied in 1289 in Southern Italy, is a radiant example of the Psaltikon, a book of virtuosic chants for the soloists at Hagia Sophia, containing melismatic kontakia, hypakoai, and alleluiaria for the fixed and moveable feasts of the year. In larger urban cathedrals, the soloist would ascend the ambo, an elevated platform situated just off-center in front of the congregation, to sing the florid kontakion. Although the prologue and oikos of the kontakion are still said during Orthros in Orthodox churches today, the melismatic musical tradition of the Psaltikon died out well before the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. 

The Paschal Canon is then completed (Odes 7-9), after which the exaposteilarion, another hymn of Constantinopolitan origin, is prescribed. This is followed by the Praises (Lauds) of Orthros, verses from Psalms 148-150, accompanied by stichera (hymns) commemorating the resurrection. HS 43 prescribes ten stichera, four ordinary stichera from the Sunday Orthros section of the Oktoechos and six proper stichera composed for the feast of Pascha. After the stichera, a through-composed hymn called a doxastikon idiomelon is sung, to the text, “It is the day of rejoicing, let us be radiant for the festival.” By the twelfth century, this hymn (with slightly modified text) had solidified its place as the final hymn of Paschal Orthros in most of the Byzantine world. (We close the second half of tonight’s concert with a received tradition melody of this same hymn).

In the tenth century, however, the doxastikon was followed by the chanting of a kathisma (“Today salvation has come to the world”), selected psalm verses, and the hymn, “Arise O Lord my God.” The deacons then led the reading of the Gospel (Mark 16:1-20), followed by the singing of another resurrectional troparion. Finally, the Patriarch read the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom (repeated in Arabic, according to HS 43), and the clergy and faithful partook of the kiss of peace. This completed the Orthros of Pascha.  

A Kalophonic Setting of a Paschal Sticheron

Tonight, we will not sing the exaposteilarion or the Praises and their accompanying stichera. We will instead close the first half of this concert with a composition by Manuel Chrysaphes, a fifteenth-century composer, cantor, and theorist, who served in the imperial court under the last two Byzantine emperors. This composition is a highly-embellished setting of the ninth sticheron of the Praises prescribed in HS 43, Δεῦτε ἀπὸ θέας γυναῖκες εὐαγγελίστριαι (“Come from that sight, you women bearers of good tidings”), written in the kalophonic style. Kalophonia (“beautiful-sounding”) was a new species of elaborate chant whose origins can be traced to a group of Constantinopolitan and Thessalonian composers active in the second half of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Composers of the florid kalophonic style utilized extensive text troping, expansive vocal ranges, frequent shifts in modality, and a wide range of intercalated and nonsense syllables, like ne-na-no and te-ri-rem

Chrysaphes, who lived over a century after the kalophonic movement was well underway, was a masterful exponent of this style. As though feeling the weight of a millennium of Byzantine cultural heritage on his shoulders, being in the center of a rapidly shrinking and impoverished Byzantine state, Chrysaphes seems to have worked tirelessly to copy and preserve the works of his predecessors, while composing a prodigious body of new material in both kalophonic and more traditional styles.

The kalophonic setting of this sticheron demonstrates the trajectory of liturgical creativity in the Byzantine Rite, from the seventh-century hymnographers of Jerusalem, to the Constantinopolitan maistores active during Byzantium’s twilight. While John of Damascus and other exponents of the canon genre explored the edges of intertextuality, drawing on and reassembling a wealth of classical, scriptural, and homiletic material to create new poetic masterpieces, the composers  of the kalophonic era took existing heirmoi and stichera as their starting point, and introduced troping, repetition, chiasmus, and nonsense syllables, to cast existing texts in completely new light. Where the canons relied on simple, concise melodies to transmit their richly stocked dramatic and theological messages, kalophonic chants relied on musical elaboration to transmit meaning, sometimes transcending the bounds of language entirely. 

—Spyridon Antonopoulos

Notes

  1. The Cathedral of the Holy Sepulcher.
  2. Sermon 1, PG 35: 396-401.
  3. Orat. PG 45: 36:664. 
  4. This citation is from the excellent translation and commentary of the Paschal Canon by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Ephraim Lash (+2016) of blessed memory.

Tickets

Seattle
FRIDAY, 3 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

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Portland
SATURDAY, 4 MAY, 8:00 PM
St. Mary’s Cathedral

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Portland
SUNDAY, 5 MAY, 2:00 PM
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral

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