by Professor David Drillock
St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary



I. Music in the New Testament and the Early Christian Church

II. Liturgical Development and the Monastic Reaction

III. The Mystical and Angelic Quality of Church Singing

IV. Late Byzantine Kalophonic Singing

V. Church Singing in Russia

A. The Byzantine Inheritance

B. Canonical Chant

VI. Western Influences and Choral Development

A. The Polish Influence

B. The Italian Influence

C. The German Influence

D. Nationalism and the Return to the old Russian Chant

VII. Liturgical Singing and the Worshipping Community




I. Music in the New Testament and the Early Christian Church

St. Paul

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Col.3:16-18)

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. (Eph. 5:18-21)


Clement of Alexandria

What my Eunomos sings is not the strain of *Terpander, nor of Capion, nor the Phrygian, nor Dorian, nor Lydian, but the eternal strain of the new harmony which bears God's name, the New Song …

To me, then, that Thracian Orpheus, that Theban and Methymnian, men of a soft but not really men, appear to be deceivers, corrupting human life under the pretext of music, possessed by a kind of artful sorcery for purposes of destruction, outrageous in celebrating their orgies, deifying misfortune, the first to lead men by the hand to idols, indeed to construct an ill-omened wall about a nation with blocks of stone and wood, that is statues and images, and by means of their songs and incantations to subject to the most dire servitude the noble freedom of those who lived as citizens under heaven. But not such is my song which has come to depose the bitter oppression of the tyrannical demons. While leading us under the gentle and benign yoke of piety it calls back to heaven those cast down upon the earth. It alone tames man, the most intractable of all beasts …

[Note: *Terpander, c. 675 B.C., musician of Lesbos, was one of the earliest founders of Greek classical music.)

He who is from David, yet before him, the Word of God (logos), …This is the New Song, who was in the beginning and before the beginning.

If people occupy their time with flutes and psalteries, and choirs and dances, and Egyptian clappers and such amusements, they become disorderly fools and unseemly and altogether barbarous. They beat cymbals and drums and make a loud noise on the instruments of deceit. Certainly such a banquet — as it seems to me — is a theatre of drunkenness … Let the pipe be given back to the shepherds, and the flute to the superstitious who are engrossed in idolatry. For, in truth, such instruments are to be banished from a temperate banquet, being more suitable to beasts than to men, and to the more irrational portion of mankind. For we have heard of stags being charmed by the pipe, and when they are pursued by the huntsmen, being lured into the toils …


Lucian of Samosota

On certain days the throng assembles in the temple. Many Galloi [priests of Cybele] and designated holy persons celebrate the orgies, while the unfortunate people mutilate themselves and beat each other on the back. A great crowd standing nearby accompanies them with flute music, the clashing of cymbals or the ecstatic singing of holy songs. All this occurs, however, outside the temple. Those who are occupied with such actions do not go inside. In these days the number of Galloi is increasing. For when the others play the flute and celebrate the orgies the frenzy falls on many who have come only as spectators. A young man seized by this madness rips his clothing from his body and dashes into the middle with a loud cry and, snatching one of the swords that stands ready for just such a purpose, he castrates himself.

He who is from David, yet before him, the Word of God, scorning the lyre and the cithara as lifeless instruments, and having rendered harmonious by the Holy Spirit both this cosmos and even man the microcosm, made up of body and soul he sings to God on his many voiced instrument and he sings to man, himself an instrument: ‘You are my cithara, my aulos and my temple,’ a cithara because of harmony, and aulos because of spirit, and a temple because of the word, so that the first might strum, the second might breathe and the third might encompass the Lord.

Now this David whom we mentioned above, a king and citharist, urged people to the truth and dissuaded them from idolatry; indeed he was so far from hymning demons that they were actually put to flight by his music, when simply by singing he healed Saul who was plagued by them. The Lord made man a beautiful breathing instrument after his own image; certainly he is himself an all harmonious instrument of God, well tuned and holy, the transcendental wisdom, the heavenly Word … This is the New Song, the shining manifestation among us now of the Word, who was in the beginning and before the beginning.


Melito of Sardis

And the law became word, and the old new, coming out of Sion and Jerusalem, and the command grace, and the image reality, and the lamb a son, and the sheep a man, because born as a son, and led as a lamb, and slain as a sheep, and buried as a man, rose from the dead as God, being by nature God and man. He is everything: The Law because he judges, the word because he teaches, the grace because he saves, the father because he begets, the son because he is begotten, the sheep because he suffers, a man because he is buried, a God because he rises. This is Jesus Christ, whose glory is in the ages of the ages. Amen.


II. Liturgical Development and the Monastic Reaction

St. John Chrysostom

In earlier times all came together and sang psalms in common.We do this now also, but then there was but one heart and soul among all, while now one could not see such unity even in a single spot but much dispute on every side … Then the houses themselves were churches, while now the church is a house, or rather worse than any house. For in a house one might see considerable good order since the mistress of the house is seated on her chair with total propriety, the handmaidens weave in silence, and each of the servants has his appointed task in hand. Here, however, there is much noise, much confusion, nothing to distinguish our assemblies from a tavern; baths and the market places …

And indeed there must always be but one voice in the church, as there is one body. Thus the reader alone speaks, and he who holds the episcopacy sits and maintains silence, and the singer sings psalms alone, and, when all respond, the sound issues as if from one mouth, and only he preaches who gives the homily.


Abbot Pambo

Woe to us, my son! The days have come when monks turn away from the enduring nourishment which the Holy Spirit gives them and surrender themselves to singing. What kind of contrition (katanyxis) is that? How can tears come from the singing of troparia? How can a monk possess contrition if he stays in the church or in his cell and raises his voice like the lowing of the cattle? For when we stand in God's sight we must be most contrite and not presumptuous. Monks have not come into this desert to place themselves before God in pride and presumption, to sing melodic songs and make rhythmic tunes, to shake their hands and stamp their feet. Our duty is to pray to God in holy fear and trembling, with tears and sighing, with devotion and diligence, with modesty and with a humble voice. See, I tell you, my son, the days will come when Christians will destroy the books of the holy Evangelists, the holy Apostles and the inspired Prophets, and they will rip up the Holy Scriptures and compose troparia in their place.


Niceta of Remesiana

Thus, beloved, let us sing with alert senses and a wakeful mind, as the psalmist exhorts: `Because God is king of all the earth,’ he says, ‘sing ye wisely' (Ps 46:8), so that a psalm is sung not only with the spirit, that is, the sound of the voice, but with the mind also (1 Cor. 14:13), and so that we think of what we sing rather than allow our mind, seized by extraneous thoughts as is often the case, to lose the fruit of our labor. One must sing with a manner and melody befitting holiness; it must not proclaim theatrical distress but rather exhibit Christian simplicity in its very musical movement; it must not remind one of anything theatrical, but rather create compunction in the listeners. Further, our voice ought not be dissonant but consonant. One ought not to drag out the singing while another cuts it short, and one ought not to sing too low while another raises his voice. Rather each should strive to integrate his voice within the sound of the harmonious chorus and not project it outwardly in the manner of a cithara as it to make an immodest display … And for him who is not able to blend and fit himself in with the others, it is better to sing in a subdued voice than to make a great noise, for thus he performs both his liturgical action and avoids disturbing the singing brotherhood.


III. The Mystical and Angelic Quality of Church Singing

St. John Chrysostom

Above, the hosts of angels sing praise; below men form choirs in the churches and imitate them by singing the same doxology. Above, the seraphim cry out in the thrice-holy hymn; below, the human throng sends up the same cry. The inhabitants of heaven and earth are brought together in a common assembly; there is one thanksgiving, one shout of delight, one joyful chorus.



Divine beauty is transmitted to all that exists, and it is the cause of harmony and splendor in all that exists; like light, it emits its penetrating rays onto all objects, and it is as if it called to it everything that exists and assembles everything within it.


IV. Late Byzantine Kalophonic Singing

V. Church Singing in Russia

A. The Byzantine Inheritance

B. Canonical Chants


VI. Western Influences and the Choral Development

A.   The Polish Influence

Metropolitan Meletious (Pigas) 1590)

We do not censure either monophonic or polyphonic singing as long as it is proper and decent … As for the noise or droning of animate (sic, ed.) organs, Justin the Philosopher-Martyr condemns it; and it was never accepted in the Eastern Church.

B. The Italian Influence

Metropolitan Eugene of Kiev (1799)

Besides this famous Russian choral director (Bortniansky), the works of many foreign kapellmeisters have in our time been adopted as compositions of the Greek-Russian Church, for example, Galuppi (teacher of Bortniansky), Kerzelli, Dimmler, and the eminent Sarti. But even so, the truth must be stated that either because of their unawareness of the power and the expressiveness of the texts of 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 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 the 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.


C. The German Influence

Feodor L’vov

Italian singing … by its array of sounds leads a sensitive person to sweet self-oblivion … (But) no learned complexity of voices and instruments will remind me why I am standing in God's temple … Any honest thought is simple (and), therefore, convincing … Sacred melodies must be, without exception, short and fixed invariably, so that they would become rooted in the memory and not distract one's attention with either novelty or variety; they must be simple and inspired by heart-warming fire, inflaming the heart and elevating the spirit.


Alexis L’vov

Is it possible that music in our time cannot, and must not, exist in a framework other than that of the prevailing and inviolable squareness or other uniform periodicity of rhythm? … An internal aesthetic instinct loudly proclaimed to me that a free, so-called improper rhythm, i.e., one not measured symmetrically, has the same rights of citizenship in music as what is called proper, symmetrical rhythm …

The labors, deliberations, and researches of many years finally led me … to conclude that it was both possible and legitimate to introduce a free, unsymmetrical rhythm into music (and primarily into church music) … The language of our prayers has a special character which must find its appropriate reflection in the character of singing. Many composers strove to subordinate certain ancient chants to proper rhythm and definite measures … needless repetitions of words, inappropriate elongation of syllables, and worst of all, non-simultaneous pronunciation of the text, as a result of which not only the impact but often the very sense of the text was lost …


D. Nationalism and the Return to the old Russian Chant

Alexander Kastal’sky

Of late (church music) has tended to become complex, to disregard the difficulty of performance for the sake of effective sonority, to choose harmonic and melodic means without any discrimination, provided only that they be new and beautiful, and if this tendency continues to develop, church music will end in becoming like any other, except that it will have a religious text. This would be extremely unfortunate…

And what about style? Our indigenous church melodies when set chorally lose all their individuality: how distinctive they are when sung in unison by the Old Believers, and how insipid they are in the conventional four-part arrangements of our classic (composers), on which we have prided ourselves for nearly a hundred years: it is touching, but spurious …

In my opinion it is first of all necessary to get away from continual four-part writing …

The future of our creative work for the church can … be merely surmised, but I feel what its real task should be I am convinced that it lies in the idealization of authentic church melodies, the transformation of them into something musically elevated, mighty in its expressiveness and near to the Russian heart in its typically national quality … I should like to have music that could be heard nowhere except in a church, and which would be as distinct from secular music as church vestments are from the dress of the laity.


VII. Liturgical Singing and the Worshipping Community

Johann A. von Gardner

In Subcarpathian Rus' in all the villages both among the Uniates and also among Orthodox, there was always practiced only congregational singing of the complete services, not excluding the changeable (proper) hymns in all the varied chants. They sang according to the Great Zbornik (collection of prayers and liturgical texts) containing every necessary text. The numerous chants (not excluding all the podobny, not even found in the Synodal notated liturgical books) were known by everyone, even the children of school age. The leader of song — the most experienced singer from the parishes — standing at the kliros sang the chant. As soon as the worshippers would hear the hymn, they would join in the chant and the entire church sang all the stichiry, all the tropars, all the irmosy — in a word, everyone sang properly according to the established canonical parts of the Liturgy. They sang in unison and whoever could, imitated or reinforced the bass. The impression proved to be overwhelmingly strong.


Deanery Report of the Shenkursk Province, Archangel Diocese

We must restore singing to that state which it should and formerly did have. It is necessary to renew in the minds of the people the notion that congregational singing is the norm, and that choral singing is only a substitution for this …