Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

On the apolytikion of the honourable Cross

In Orthodox Christianity: liturgics on February 25, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Recently, as one of the two ecclesiarchs in my diocese, I was discussing the English translation and exact musical chant of a very well known apolytikion in the Holy Orthodox Church, “Soson, Kyrie…”   We sing this on all Wednesdays, Fridays, and on all feasts in which the honourable and life-creating Cross is featured. Therefore, it is very important to Orthodox Christians.

Our Antiochian Archdiocese in North America offers this English translation for the apolytikion:

O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting unto Thy people vict’ry over all their enemies, and by the power of Thy Cross preserving Thy commonwealth.

Fr Alban West, our senior ecclesiarch, offered these thoughts, which with his permission, I set forth here:

“I agree that translation presents a challenge both in this hymn and the kontakion of the Cross. In the original, the hymns beseech imperial victory over “barbarians” (apolytikion) and “enemies” (kontakion).   As you rightly point out “grant our king victory over barbarians” had a whole host of theological connotations within the Romaiosyne that are lost (and even subject to gross misconstrual) in the present age. Some translations (such as Nassar) leave in the kings, barbarians and adversaries; possible misconstruals be damned. Others, such as the translation of the kontakion on the Archdiocese Sacred Music Dept. site, replace “kings” with “Orthodox hierarchs” and “enemies” with “false teaching”. I don’t strongly object, though I think this is a bit of a stretch too far from the original to be the most desirable course. Then there is the middle ground occupied by translations such as the Apolytikion on the Archdiocese SMD site, where the “king” becomes “people” and the “barbarians” become “enemies” This is perhaps a bit misleading because it is so general, but I think it is the best course. I think (or I hope) that most people hear this as a plea for divine assistance as the Church battles against unseen, spiritual adversaries (and not a plea for victory in our upcoming volleyball game against the Unitarians). 
Ultimately, it seems to me that the question at issue is “where is the cultural inheritance of the Romaiosyne to be found and how would the inhabitants of such a survivng Romaic culture interpret the hymn?”   I would argue that with the fall of the Polis the unique cultural heritage that was the essence of the Romaiosyne was passed on in its most complete form to the monastic communities of Athos and thence to Orthodox monasticisim generally. It is my impression that in this monastic setting the forces of darkness that were at one time embodied in the encroaching, barbarian hordes were acknowledged in their true essence as the “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”.  In the monastic consciousness (which is, in my opinion, the present day locus of the Romaic consciousness) the veil of political symbols has been torn away and the true spiritual nature of the struggle has been revealed. 
The beauty of the original is that it places the struggle of “us against them” in a very concrete setting that is equally amenable to a spiritualized understanding (where Christ is the essential Basileus and the demons, passions and death are the essential barbarians or adversaries). It is my suspicion that “people” and “enemies” is as close as we can get to this material denotation with a spiritual connotation in our modern era. 
Forgive the rambling nature of this; it is to be taken in the the spirit of “thinking an idea out via email.” Suffice it to say, at the end of this all, I vote for the translation and setting of the apolytikion as found on the SMD site. 
In Xp,  +Alban

Thoughts on Church Music and Liturgics from Bp HILARION (Alfeyev)

In Orthodox Christianity: in general on February 19, 2009 at 1:44 am

I found the following material to be brilliantly expressed, from one of our newer, younger hierarchs.  Some of my readers may be familiar with Bp HILARION’s catechism, “The Mystery of Faith.”


This is drawn from his presentation entitled, “Orthodox Worship as a School of Theology”:  http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/12/1.aspx


On the inspired status of Orthodox liturgical texts:


The school of Orthodox theology that formed my theological thinking was not so much a theological seminary, academy or university but the Liturgy and other services…

Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard. Similar services were once celebrated in other Christian communities, but over the centuries they were lost as a result of both liturgical and theological reforms…

Orthodox divine services, whether it be the Liturgy, vespers, matins, hours, nocturnes or compline … are uninterrupted prayer… Byzantine liturgical texts filled with profound theological and mystical content, alternate with the prayerful incantation of the psalms…

Liturgical texts are for Orthodox Christians an incontestable doctrinal authority, whose theological irreproachability is second only to Scripture. Liturgical texts are not simply the works of outstanding theologians and poets, but also the fruits of the prayerful experience of those who have attained sanctity and theosis.


On Church Singing:


(Church chant) is characterized by a spirituality that is lacking not only in many works of secular music, but also in the contemporary western-style church singing, which is composed according to principles totally different from those of ancient chant. It is not secret that the concert-like, “Italianate” singing performed in many churches does not correspond to the spirit of the traditional liturgical texts to which they were written. The main aim of such music is to give pleasure to the ear, while the aim of true church singing is to help the faithful immerse themselves in the prayerful experience of the mysteries of the faith… It is not easy for modern man to appreciate ancient chant, and just as difficult to “lay aside all earthly cares” and enter the depths of prayerful contemplation. But only this and similar singing is truly canonical and corresponds best to the spirit of Orthodox divine services.