Saturday, January 10, 2015

Greek Fathers on Psalmody

Byzantine Music is one of the unique features of Orthodoxy, not found in another Church or religion. The Greek Fathers, i.e. the Fathers of Eastern Christianity, have given their views on psalmody, on chanting within the Orthodox Church. Some of these statements are the following:


‘The rational man chooses that which is best and knows God, the Creator of all things; and he thanks and praises God in hymns. (St. Anthony the Great)
Reading [of holy writings], vigils, prayer, and psalmody set the mind against the deception of the passions. (St. Thalassios)
Pray as is meet and undisturbed, and chant with understanding and the right rhythm. (St. Neilos)
God is peace, beyond all tumult and shouting. Our hymns, accordingly ought to be angelic, without tumult. (St. Gregory of Sinai)
When you psalmodize, watch lest you say one thing with your lips, while your mind is dreaming about others. (Abba Philemon)
We ought, as the sacred writings teach, to guard our mind carefully and to psalmodize without distraction and with understanding. (Abba Philemon)
If you know what you are chanting, you acquire consciousness of what you know; from this consciousness you acquire understanding; and from understanding springs putting into practice what you have become conscious of. (Theoleptos)
Among the things that awaken the mind from its sleep and help one become attached to God are the reading, in right measure, of the Holy Scripture and the interpretations of them by Saints, and psalmody executed with the proper understanding. (Callistos Telekoudis)
If you have not yet received the gift of prayer or chanting, seek it vigilantly and you shall receive it. (St. Neilos)
Even the quantity in the chanting of prayers is excellent, when it is preceded by patient endurance and inner attention; but it is the quality that vivifies the soul and may produce spiritual fruit. Now the quality of psalmody and prayer depends on praying with the spring and the mind; and one pays with the mind when, in praying and psalmodizing, one observes carefully the mind that is contained in the Divine Scripture and thence receives uplifting ideas into his heart from divine meanings. (Niketas Stethatos)
Psalmody has been given us that we may rise from the sensory to the intelligible and true. (St. Gregory of Sinai)’[1]



[1] Cavarnos, Constantine, Byzantine Sacred Music, (Massachusetts, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1981), pp.24-25.

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