Somewhere In Between: Ivan Moody’s Greek Liturgy

For someone familiar with Greek Orthodox liturgy, today’s performance will echo the experience of actual services, with abbreviations appropriate to a concert. At the same time, those new to the form may experience the performance as though it were liturgically complete even with the adjustments made for a concert context. 

Cappella Romana presents here the Greek Liturgy by Fr. Ivan Moody, one of Cappella Romana’s most important collaborators and friends for over twenty-five years. His largest choral work The Akathistos Hymn was written for Cappella Romana in 1998, which the ensemble later premiered and recorded for international release. Fr. Ivan has also conducted Cappella Romana multiple times, including programs of Serbian and other Balkan works, and Finnish Orthodox music, which was released as our recording “Arctic Light.”

Here Fr. Ivan has produced a set of music that provides nearly all the ordinary materials necessary for singing a full Divine Liturgy. For our presentation, Cappella Romana will omit most of the propers—intersecting cycles of hymns that correspond for example to a particular time of year, day of the month, or mode—that would normally be heard in an actual Divine Liturgy. 

Audiences will not hear any readings from the Epistles or the Gospels with their accompanying psalmody and alleluias, nor will any hymns be heard for the mode of the week, specific saint’s days, or other commemorations. The grand exception here is a nod to the season in which we find ourselves now:  Eastertide! We have included one selection not by Fr. Ivan Moody: the vigorous and joyful choral setting of “Christos anesti” (Christ is risen) by the late composer Michael Adamis. 

Ivan Moody: Greek Liturgy


Friday 28 April 2023, 7:30 P.M.
St. James Cathedral


Saturday 29 April 2023, 8:00 P.M.
St. Mary’s Cathedral


Sunday 30 April 2023, 3:00 P.M.
The Madeleine Parish

The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom

Fr. Ivan Moody (then a layman) composed an initial setting of the Divine Liturgy in the early 1990s, using English, Greek, and Slavonic as his texts, and approaching its music in a very experimental way, not necessarily using preexisting chant melodies. This setting is a departure from that approach, as it employs melodies from the Received Tradition of Byzantine chanting, codified over the last several centuries and currently in use throughout the Greek Orthodox world, in contrast to earlier medieval layers of the tradition that Cappella Romana has also championed over its 32-year history.

So what will you hear? Every Divine Liturgy opens with the Great Litany, or Litany of Peace. The petitions of this and other litanies and all the prayers are sung by a deacon and priest. The clerical selections are sung for us here by the wonderful Eleftherios Chasanidis, newly appointed protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York. Eleftherios just completed a Doctor of Musical Arts at Georgia State University in Atlanta in opera and classical vocal performance, and will be taking up his post in New York next month. As you will hear, his significant vocal contribution to this performance points to the intended liturgical context of Fr. Ivan’s setting.

The response to each of the petitions is “Kyrie eleison” (Lord, have mercy). Fr. Ivan has employed the standard melodies for this litany from the Plagal Fourth mode, presented here in C major. Normally one would hear a single line of melody against an ison, a single held note or drone, that undergirds the melody. In Fr. Ivan’s music here you will regularly hear more than one ison, which Fr. Ivan calls an “expanded ison.” This expanded ison functions not so much as harmony, but a reinforcement of more than one scale degree in a particular mode, creating what I called in our publicity materials for this concert “clouds of sound,” on which the Byzantine melodies are inscribed.

The short responses throughout also evoke a style of harmonization that one finds in Slavic choral settings of Orthodox liturgical texts, making this work a bridge between Greek and Slavic practice. Our guest conductor Maestro Jermihov has also chosen to begin the responses “Kyrie eleison” and the like before the end of the petition, a performance practice heard more in his native Slavic tradition than in the Greek. 

For the first two antiphons and the Trisagion, Fr. Ivan has arranged common melodies by the Greek cantor and reformer John Sakellarides (c.1853–1938), whose body of reformed Byzantine chants aimed to excise supposed Oriental contamination from the four centuries of Turkish rule. His melodies were the majority of what was transmitted to the United States especially following the large immigration of Greek-speaking people after the Asia Minor disaster in the 1920s.

Today Sakellarides’s melodies are heard most commonly in the liturgical choral works of Greek American composers such as Frank Desby, Anna Gallos, and Tikey Zes. Fr. Ivan has stated that his Greek Liturgy is meant to be both sympathetic to the compositions of the Greek Americans and a response to them. In the case of most of the Greek Americans’ output, one detects a strong alliance with a romantic sense of harmony even if, in the case especially of Tikey Zes, with a foundation of Renaissance contrapuntal technique. While Fr. Ivan’s music in Greek Liturgy is deeply affecting harmonically, I would suggest that it is not manipulative in the way that Romantic harmony, such as found in a modern film score, might aim to evoke very specific emotional responses. Instead, the modal Byzantine chant melodies themselves create the basis for his construction of harmonies (the expanded ison), much as a very good graphic designer might pull a color palette from an existing painting or illustration as a way to frame the original work. Fr. Ivan’s approach preserves the modal character of the chant melodies; in many Greek American works, they are overwritten by the requirements of tonal harmony.

Of special note is the inclusion of the received melody of the Trisagion for Sundays, distinct from the westernized Sakellarides melody heard first designated for weekdays. This received melody is employed here as the “dynamis.” The last iteration of the Trisagion is traditionally sung to a more florid melody than the first set, after the deacon calls for “dynamis,” that is “with strength.” This ancient liturgical command is retained in modern Greek services but is generally not heard at Slavic parishes. “Dynamis” settings of the Trisagion can be sung to very florid melodies and sung phrase by phrase in alternation by left and right choirs. A good example of this can be found on Cappella Romana’s recording of the Divine Liturgy in English in Byzantine Chant, modeled after a composition by Nileus Kamarados, which stretches out the short text to just over five minutes.

The central movement in Ivan Moody’s Greek Liturgy is the Cherubic Hymn, more freely composed than any other movement, employing Byzantine melodies and formulas in a polyphonic context. This movement likewise resonates with some Slavic Orthodox choral works that treat voices orchestrally, with doublings and parallel lines, imitating instrumental gestures and bells, and which tend to value the use of very low voices. 

In the second half of the program, I might argue that the peak of the work comes after the Deacon says “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…” and the choir replies emphatically “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.” The singers perform high in their ranges for this short acclamation, along with multiple expanded isons that heighten its intensity. The musical material here encapsulates what will be heard in responses throughout the anaphora (the offering of the gifts), ending with a subdued “we praise you,” that is sung at the solemn invocation of the Holy Spirit over the bread and wine offered. We have naturally opted to not say or sing the actual prayers of consecration in this concert context, but those prayers and acclamations are included for reference in this program book. 

At the conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer a hymn is sung in honor of the Mother of God, the megalynarion. Here Fr. Ivan has employed the so-called “Ancient melody,” transcribed by the monks of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona, again treating the voices orchestrally with doublings including thick parallel chords and expanded ison effects.

In consultation with Fr. Ivan, we have also opted to include two selections that are traditionally spoken, not sung, in the Greek tradition: the Creed, read by Photini Downie Robinson, protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Portland; and the Lord’s Prayer, read by Richard Barrett, Cappella Romana’s director of publications and grants and protopsaltis of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Somerville, Massachusetts.

We return briefly to the westernized chants of Sakellarides for an almost static rendering of “One is holy,” which refers to Jesus Christ as the One by whom those receiving the Eucharist are made holy. This is followed by an ecstatic communion verse, which is based on the transcription by Alexander Lingas of the ordinary Sunday communion hymn of St. John Koukouzelis. The singers skilled in Byzantine chant—Eleftherios Chasanidis, Photini Downie Robinson, Richard Barrett, and myself—discussed and agreed how we were to execute the melody as transcribed with traditional ornamentation, surrounded by the same ethereal clouds of sound, of extended isons.

After the communion verse, we sing a pair of ordinary thanksgiving hymns in syllabic style, a short litany and the dismissal “Let us depart in peace,” with the response “In the name of the Lord,” often omitted in common practice but rightly restored in Fr. Ivan’s score.  The second dismissal from Palestine “Blessed be the name of the Lord” follows the another benediction (the prayer behind the Ambon), then a final blessing, during which in Greek style an acclamation hymn is sung to ask for long life for the celebrant of the liturgy, a holdover from imperial ritual to ask the same for the emperor.

Since the high moments — spiritually and musically — of the Divine Liturgy occur well within the service, conveyed in Dynamis of the Trisagion, the Cherubic Hymn, the proclamation of faith mentioned above (“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…”) and the expansive communion verse, Fr. Ivan’s setting ends with a subdued “Amen.” In an actual Divine Liturgy, this cues the congregation that it may rest, after being drawn into the dynamic work of God for the church assembled. 

Fr. Ivan’s music evokes that divine work and reminds us of this music’s normal home in actual liturgy, here presented somewhere in between a concert and service, a liminal space. For this occasion, and in so many of Cappella Romana’s presentations, beautiful liturgical music is a light not to be hidden under a bushel. For your sake we take it out of the temple temporarily and place it in the public square — a concert context — to be experienced by all.

—Mark Powell, Executive Director, Cappella Romana