Transcendent Moments of Faith and Music, from all Orthodox Traditions

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Source: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Bulletin, Kankakee, IN

Christ is Risen! Alithos Anesti!
What a wonderful – against all apparent odds – Holy Week and Easter we had, connected in new and unusual ways – by icons in the pews, by Facebook live and Zoom, by our souls and by Christ’s love and sacrifice. I hope you were able to feel the transcendence of it all. Spiritual music helps, and our Church is loaded with it, and blessed with multiple traditions of sublime combinations of sacred text with melody, harmony, tone, and mood, to create moments that transcend everyday life and take us to the very side of God.
Here are 13 examples of that. I have tried to represent unique aspects of most of our Orthodox traditions and cultures. All reflect on Easter and Lent (except two versions of the most beautiful Romanian Christmas carol, from a land of extraordinary carols, where the people come out of the womb singing in harmony to the glory of God).
I think that, as a group, these recordings reflect the totality of American Orthodoxy, combining ancient beauties from the Old World with creative adaptations of these eternal truths in the New World. I like to call it “Gifts from our Parents; Gifts to our Parents.” We are the descendants of immigrants and we are converts to the faith; together, we are the ancestors to the new generation and the new reality of Orthodoxy. Our music will continue to grow, building on ancient verities and traditions, and adapting to new understanding and conditions.
I’ll add a line of intro and context to each video. Meanwhile, let’s keep at the forefront our saving text and prayer:
“Christ is Risen from the dead,
By death trampling upon death,
And bestowing life to those in the tombs.”
Please enjoy it all and please pass it on, in the spirit of Bright Week, and in Christ’s departing admonition to us on the Day of His Ascension, “…to be disciples to all the nations.”
Almaseeach Kam! Voistinu Voskrese!!

Yours, in the Risen Christ,

Father Nicholas
1. The moment and hymn of Resurrection, beautifully chanted in several of our languages. You know, we publish lists of dozens or even hundreds of language versions of this immortal exclamation, but you could cover at least 95% of the whole Orthodox world with just five:
Greek: Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!
English: Christ is Risen! Truly he is Risen!
Slavonic (including several national peoples): Christos Voskrese! Voistinu Voskrese!
Arabic: Almaseeach Kam! Hakin Kam!
Romanian: Hristos a Inviat! Adeverat a Inviat!

2. An electronic coming together of 100 great Romanian artists in this time of quarantine, including a host of beautiful children. This one makes me weep with its beautiful passion, every single time. It is a miracle of beauty, created out of equal measures of necessity, invention, faith, and creativity. Admittedly, the music itself is not Byzantine, nor even really traditionally Orthodox, but the people and their belief are.

3. A relatively new hymn – said to be written by Saint Nektarios – sung in Greek and English by three American sisters, two of whom are presbyteres. A wonderfully pure sound and spirit.

4. One of the most magnificent settings of a Byzantine hymn for a mixed choir, “Soma Christou” was written and is here directed by Tikey Zes, using a virtual choir from 40 parishes around the United States. This is the communion hymn sung between Easter and Ascension.

5. “Soma Christou” again, this time in a live performance by a wonderful choir at the University of Southern California, where Tikey Zes studied.

6. When Pope Francis visited the independent Orthodox country of Georgia a few years ago, he was said to have had a profound spiritual experience, with some controversy too. This recording was perhaps the focal point of his special experience there. It is not The Lord’s Prayer as captioned, but rather Psalm 50. The emotional crescendo of it is incredible, especially through the singing of the young priest and the little girl.

7. An ethereal choir of young women in Serbia. It is often fun and instructive to read the comments that are written by viewers of YouTube videos. In this one, soloist number 4 wrote directly to us in the comments, a heartwarming touch.
8. This Russian “Christ is Risen,” written for and sung by a large choir of mixed voices, and performed in concert in a historic hall at the Moscow Conservatory. The conductor is Chicago-based Peter Jermihov, who is engaged in local Pan-Orthodox musical activities.
8. This Russian “Christ is Risen,” written for and sung by a large choir of mixed voices, and performed in concert in a historic hall at the Moscow Conservatory. The conductor is Chicago-based Peter Jermihov, who is engaged in local Pan-Orthodox musical activities.

9. The best choir I have ever heard was the Romanian Madrigal Choir in Bucharest in the early 1990s, just after the fall of Communism there. If anything, they are even better now. This exquisite performance is of the most beautiful Romanian Christmas carol, entitled in English “Oh, What Wonderful News!”

10. In 1994 Placido Domingo came to Bucharest for a big concert, and his guest collaborator was a young Romanian soprano named Angela Gheorghiu. I was the young American consul who gave Angela her visa then to visit the United States for the first time, and we all had dinner together at our house, and we have been friends with Angela ever since. In 1995 she created a sensation (you couldn’t get a ticket for love or money) with Georg Solti in La Traviata at Covent Garden, and Mary and I went to London and sat in her box. For the next 20 years, she was arguably the biggest diva in the world, making front-page news all the time. Here she sings the same carol with the Romanian Radio Orchestra. The same Madrigals are the choral accompaniment this time. Quite a different approach and feeling, but spine-tingling too in a different way.

11. OK, I couldn’t resist. This is Angela, just four nights ago in Bucharest, singing a melodic “Hristos a Inviat” in the courtyard just outside the Patriarchal Church, shortly before the Resurrection Service. That is Patriarch Daniel in the latter part of the video.

12. The Romanians sing together from birth, in harmony and in all different choral genres. This evocation of the central Paschal hymn “Hristos a Inviat” has a marvelous feel of authenticity and conviction. Indeed, we felt that conviction in these post-Communist days all over Eastern europe, and still do. The West needs more of it, I would say.

Fr. Nicholas Greanias
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Bulletin No. 44, April 22, 2020

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