Plain Chant: a Common Inheritance for a Fellowship Renewed


Your Excellency the Most Reverend Bishop Milan Shashik, Most Reverend Bishops, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, and Beloved Monastics and Faithful in this joyous celebration:

Slava Isusu Christu!


I rejoice today to be with you in this celebration of such an influential work, and I am humbled and honored to be so invited. The Prostopinije volume compiled by Rev. Fr. John Bokshay has been used as a standard for liturgical singing, for the entire life of my Diocese, the American Carpatho-Rusin Orthodox Diocese.

I am greatly honored and privileged to make this journey, and to fellowship with you. I come here as a son of the Rusin people, and as a Metropolitan of the Orthodox Carpatho-Rusin Diocese in America, and as a Hierarch of the Ecumenical Throne of the Apostolic See of Constantinople, whose Patriarch now is His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

I come here with great joy, for this place is the home of my people. Before I ever spoke English, I spoke the language of my mother and grandparents - the language of the villages of Kalnik and Ivanovci. My grandparents and my family knew well the Izbornik, and would sing from memory all the Divine Services. Before I was ever able to sing the National Anthem of the United States, I knew how to sing Ja Rusyn Byl' i Budu.

In my heart, there lives a profound bond with the Carpathians. I come here out of great respect for all of our people here - Orthodox and Greek Catholic alike. My roots are fixed firmly here as they are in America. And in consequence, I think I have an understanding of the psyche of both our peoples - and I find them very much in common.

Today, I am reminded of the strength of this bond. It is not surprising that our liturgical music relates us so strongly together. Is it not true that there is a powerful Divine Promise in the words of St. Paul, who wrote this in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Colossians:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3.16).

I am encouraged by these words, because we have seen the truth of it. When we sing together, as we do so well, we magnify Christ together. And no two friends, or two historical Churches, or two historical peoples like us, can sing psalms and hymns together long without joining together in the fullness of fellowship.

Greetings of the Patriarch

In the bright promise of that day of restoration, I bring you these words from His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople:

His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, extends to you his greetings on this occasion.

He wishes me to inform you that he will keep you in his prayers for the duration of this gathering. He prays that our time together will be fruitful and spiritually refreshing. He is mindful of the powerful uniting effect of our common musical heritage.

He encourages you to cherish and celebrate the treasures of your past and present. For we share a common past, together, in the great community of the Church of the East.

That which we have is our plain chant

We can no longer ignore one another, Orthodox and Greek Catholics. We can no longer walk on the opposite sides of the same path that leads us to Christ. We will never again become "cannon fodder" of the enemy - those who try to divide us. We have a common heritage, and that means necessarily that we must have a common future.

In the precedent of St. John and St. Peter, who once said, "Silver or gold have I none," we too say that we have no great riches, neither do we have the might of military strength, neither do we have princely buildings and wide expanses of territory. But St. Peter said to the lame man, "That which I have I give you: in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk" (Acts 3.6).

In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, that which we have is our faith and our heritage. That which we have is our prostopinije, the glorious Plain Chant which was given to us by no one less than the Spirit of God Himself - a Plain Chant that has no room for foreign incursion.

In the first Velikij Sbornik, Father Andrew Popovich wrote this in the preface, all the way back in the year 1866:

Take this Sbornik into your hands and bring it with you into the house of the Lord. It will become a strong armor of your faith, an assurance of your salvation, and a constant source of your spiritual consolation. Taste and see, how good is the Lord

History of Boksaj's Work

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of Fr. John Boksaj's Irmologion, known more commonly as the "Prostopinije" book. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the word "Prostopinije" is quite simply a book containing the melodies of the musical chant tradition written out in notation.

There were many other irmologia in use in Karpatska-Rus' at the time of Fr. Boksaj and Joseph Malinich, the cantor of the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Uzhorod whose rendition of the melodies Fr. Boksaj put up into musical notation. These irmologia were hand written for the most part and not standardized. This was the great achievement of Fr. John Boksaj and Professor Joseph Malinich. Their Irmologion became the standard edition of the Carpatho-Rusin Plainchant and remains so to this day.

The history of the Carpatho-Rusin Chant tradition is reflected in the history of the Church in Karpatska'-Rus. Although the beginnings of the Church in this area of Eastern Europe are linked with the memory of the work of Sts. Cyril and Methodios, the Church was not definitively established there until the expansion of 10th century Kievan Rus' into the lands that are considered "Pod-Karpatsksa-Rus" today.

The veneration of Sts. Anthony and Theodosios of the famed Monastery of the Caves in Kiev in the oldest strata of the Carpatho-Rusin Liturgical Tradition bears witness to the influence of Kievan Rus. Also, while Sts. Cyril and Methodios originally used the Liturgy of Constantinople in their work, they soon switched to a hybrid "Liturgy of St. Peter" combining both elements of the Roman Rite, which was more familiar to their Moravian patrons, and to the Byzantines. But the Carpatho-Rusin Church has only used the Liturgies of Constantinople.

It should not surprise us then to find that the roots of the Carpatho-Rusin Prostopinije lie with the Znamennyj Chant Tradition that was used in Kievan Rus, as scholars such as Dr. Stephen Reynolds and Johann Von Gardner have demonstrated. The strains of the original chants of Constantinople that underlie this can often be discerned even today in such things as the singing of the "Hymn of Light" at Paschal Matins: the "Plotiju Usnuv," or the "All Creation Rejoices" (O Tebe Radujetsja) of the Lenten St. Basil's Liturgy. Many of the irmosi - now in danger of being forgotten - of the Feastday Canons for Matins contain very ancient musical elements.

Some ancient elements that disappeared in the more modern Russian and Greek traditions have also been preserved in the Carpatho-Rusin Church, and with it the Church of the Russian Old Believers. The former preserved these things because of the isolation that the Unia history brought about from the rest of the Orthodox world ... the latter from the self-imposed refusal to accept the liturgical changes brought upon the Russian Church in the 17th century by Patriarch Nikon.

One of the most prominent of these features is found at the Presanctified Liturgy's Post Communion ritual. Instead of singing, "Let our Mouths be Filled" as is done in the present Greek and Russian practice, in the Carpathian Church the ancient Eucharistic Thanksgiving Hymn of the Liturgy of St. James is sung: "We give thanks to You" (Blahodarim Tja). There are other points of contact as well.

It is tragic that the Carpatho-Rusin Typica has never been studied in depth. Many things written off as "Latinizations" are in fact older usages than those of the Russian and Greek Churches in present-day practice.

Plain chant perpetuates the Rusin Church

So it is with the Prostopinije. It could be said without overstatement, that one of the reasons that our Carpatho-Rusin Diocese exists at all is the existence of the Carpatho-Rusin Plain Chant. I should mention here that the dialogue established between myself and the late +Metropolitan Judson Procyk occurred at the 75th Anniversary of the Pittsburgh Eparchy: during that time, there was a distinct inspiration by the Holy Spirit during the common singing of the plainchant, and the exchange of the ancient kiss of peace.

It is certainly no secret that the first Carpatho-Rusins who embraced Orthodoxy in America were thoroughly "Russianized." Even Alexis Toth, the father of the return movement, was forced to leave his parish in Minneapolis because his newly-received congregation no longer believed he was "Orthodox" or "Russian" enough for them!

The movement to identify "Orthodox" with "Russian" was fostered by the Russian Bishop at that time, and more importantly the Russian priests who served the North American Missionary Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.

These priests, who by and large were from Russia proper, regarded with disdain the culture, language and the plain chant singing of their Carpatho-Rusin faithful, who in most cases made up the majority of their congregations, especially east of the Mississippi River.

The singing of Carpatho-Rusin plainchant, "bez-udarenije" - that is without the proper Russian accents - was especially annoying to these priests. Prostopinjie became Uniatskoje pinije --that is, the chant of the Uniate Church.

Russian Choral singing, which ironically was most often inspired by Italian Catholic composers, became the order of the day. Those who clung to singing the Carpatho-Rusin Prostopinije were looked upon as backward and uneducated.

The Value of the Work of Boksaj

This brings us back to the Irmologion of Fr. Boksaj and Professor Malinich. This work provided a touchstone to those who would keep the Prostopinije Tradition alive in the face of such pressure to abandon it.

The book itself was not without its flaws. Prostopinije, much like a spoken language, had its own "dialects" and was not without variations from locale to locale.

A country choosing to standardize its language usually chooses one of the most widely spoken dialects and establishes that as the standard usage of the language. For instance, the official French language is really the dialect spoken in and around the city of Paris.

The Boksaj Irmologion in essence did the same thing for Carpatho-Rusin Prostopinije. Fr. John Boksaj was the Cathedral Choir director for the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Uzhorod Joseph Malinich was the Cathedral Cantor.

The melodies used in their Irmologion generally are believed to reflect those in use in Uzhorod and in the area around it. This Prostopinije "dialect" thereby became the standard model for the chant even though in parishes today sometimes different elements are heard even still.

But the work of Boksaj and Malinich established a printed standard reference for all of those interested in singing the chant and learning it. Other Irmologia, such as Stephan Papp's printed in 1970, are based upon it.

The Challenges For Plain Chant in English

One of the greatest challenges to the survival of Prostopinije in our own diocese was the advent of the use of English liturgically on a large scale, to the point of it being the predominant liturgical language in the diocese.

The transition to English presented several problems to those wishing to insure the survival of prostopinije. The first is the language itself.

Although people erroneously sometimes refer to the Church Slavonic language as "po-našemu", it is not a spoken language and hasn't been for the last seven or eight hundred years. It is most certainly not spoken Carpatho-Rusin.

For Carpatho-Rusin or Ukrainian speakers, Church Slavonic holds a place akin to Latin, in a manner analogous to the Romance Languages such as Spanish or Italian. Although individual words can be identified very often, the whole passage is often little understood. Compounding this with Church Slavonic, is the appearance of Classical Greek words and syntax which occur often abruptly.

(As an example: some our older people in the United States who still have a knowledge of spoken Carpatho-Rusin recall that the word for a rooster is "kohut" or "petuch", depending on one's dialect. Yet when Jesus tells Peter in Church Slavonic - "Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times" (Matthew 26.34), the word used is "alector" - which is the Classical Greek word for a rooster! Apparently, the translator was stuck for the word and simply substituted the Greek word into his translation!)

The fact that Church Slavonic was not a spoken language, allowed for certain liberties to be taken with the singing of the text. For example, the long melisimata - the drawn out notes in the responses for the Anaphora of St. Basil's Liturgy, cause no difficulties in Church Slavonic - but they are a nightmare for those trying to render both the text and the melody into English.

Whereas Church Slavonic is an inflected language, in which case endings are used to convey the function of a word, in a sentence English is heavily dependent on word order or syntax. Trying to match English sentences word for word with Church Slavonic is impossible.

A number of years ago, when the paper back that we call the "Blue Book", with the English text of the Divine Liturgy set to Prostopinije was published, it was decided to preserve the melodies of the chant as much as possible and to make the text conform to the music.

This principle has been adhered to in our later editions of the Liturgy intended for the pew. The goal was to have the tropar or other hymns recognizable on the basis of the melody.

There were others who attempted to adapt the melodies of the Prostopinije to the English text in order to preserve the correct English accents. But this produced a strange sounding chant that was not easily recognized as the familiar melodies of the Carpathians.

The liturgical and musical commissions of our diocese have worked and continue to work hand in hand to insure that the ancient melodies captured by Boksaj and Malinich will continue to be heard, though transplanted into English in the New World.

In the past we have approached this work independently from others. But recently the legitimacy of the Carpatho-Rusin Chant Tradition has been recognized by other Orthodox of Carpatho-Rusin descent. In addition we note that our brothers and sisters and kinsmen in the Rusin Byzantine Rite Catholic Eparchy of the United States, are attempting to plow these same fields.

It is to be hoped that all of those who have an interest in keeping the chant tradition alive will be able to come together, to continue the work of Boksaj and Malinich in the English language for both the descendants of Rusin immigrants, but also for all those who seek God through the path of the Eastern Church.

Prostopinije is that most perfect vehicle to bring into practice this reflection of St. Basil the Great on the goal of liturgical singing centuries ago: Who indeed can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God? So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining the people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, charity" (Homily on Psalm 1)


I remember, with fondness, the 75th Anniversary of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. The celebrant of the occasion was was the late Metropolitan Judson M. Procyk. He had invited me to this celebration, along with His Eminence, Archbishop Kyril of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The celebration was charged with a tremendous throng of people, priests, and religious in holy orders. They came from Byzantine, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox of various backgrounds. But even more impressive than the great throng was the singing of our common plain chant.

It was felt by all of us, then and there, as a sign of sincere prayer.

I was moved profoundly by the singing of this same plant chant tradition that we celebrate today. But at that time, my thoughts were those like an examination of conscience. I remember asking myself, "Why have we ignored each other? Why have we not supported each other? Why have we not witnessed together to the faith of our ancestors?"

For what unites us for the past 400 years, as it was at that very moment, is the singing of our common prostopinije.

At that moment of the Liturgy when the Kiss of Peace is exchanged, His Eminence, Metropolitan Judson Procyk approached me with the words, "Christ is among us."

I felt right then the necessity to say to him there, before he returned to the Altar, these words: "Your Eminence, we greet each other as two bishops. We greet each other as two Rusins. And do you not think that we can sit together in dialogue? and find ways and means of being more of a witness to our people and to the world, and to try to work together for the betterment of our people? Again, I emphasize, do you not think we can do this?"

Then he responded: "You and I have to sit down and work together." And that is what we did indeed. And the rest of our work of dialogue and cooperation has continued to this day, even and despite the fact of his tragic early demise.

At that moment of this community, brought about in the context of our common plain chant, many swords were beat miraculously - as the Prophet Isaias said (Isaiah 2.4) - into ploughshares. In a moment, much antipathy of the past melted away. And the delay during the Exchange of the Kiss of Peace was noticed by the faithful present, who sensed that something miraculous had truly transpired.

During this delay, in the space of these courteous words, two hierarchs from two jurisdictions, separated by centuries of distance and difference, recognized a Christian fellowship that still hearkened to separated brethren from the same, single homeland. That Christian fellowship from the past was still echoed by the living, vibrant melodies of peace and unity that thrive in the measures of our plain chant.

So in that moment of the Kiss of Peace, the late Metropolitan Judson and I came to an agreement that we would work, to the best possible extent, to forge a new cooperation and fellowship.

At both seminaries - my own seminary at Christ the Saviour, and Metropolitan Judson's at Sts. Cyril and Methodios - our dialogue continued. Our faculty and students visited each other on two different occasions, and joined together at each visit in prayer. At each occasion, many were heard to remark, "We sing together so very well."

What a beautiful thing to say. It is beautiful especially, when one considers that it was not so long ago that such visits would have been unthinkable. There would have been no opportunity to sing well together. There would have been no dialogue. Instead, there would have been only a continuation of separation.

But because of the simple, beautiful gift of the plain chant, the old melodic strains that echoed in these mountains of our homeland, echoed also in the brethren of the Eparchy of Pittsburgh, and the Carpatho-Rusin Orthodox Diocese - and the echo reminded us that we shared the same inheritance, and that we must work now toward the same future.

You should know that the inception of this work, and its continuation, was framed by our common ecclesiastical heritage enshrined deep within the centuries-old tradition of the plain chant.

It is my continuing hope that the Eparchy of Pittsburgh and my Diocese of Johnstown can continue along this path of cooperation. In particular, I hope to establish a cantorial seminar that would be comprised of faculty and participants from both my diocese, and that of the Eparchy. I hope that as we share this noble heritage of the plain chant, that we will be able to study it and practice it together.

There is much work to be done in extending the work of Fr. Boksaj into the English language. The task of applying the English words to the melodies of the plain chant requires a great deal of careful attention. Much work has been done already with the troparia and kontakia. But much remains to be done with the irmosi, the canons and the other material.

I am happy that much work remains, because that work will become an opportunity for further cooperation. It will become an opportunity for further exposure to the unifying power of spiritual music.

The Festal Voice of Praise

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul writes that we have "come to Mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, where the voice of those who feast never ceases" (Hebrews 12.22-23).

It is this festal voice of the heavenly Mount Sion that we listen to, in the melodic strains of our plain chant. It is this festal voice of the heavenly Jerusalem that carries the healing force, and the unifying power, that can bring together brethren who are separated throughout the centuries. It is the festal voice that echoes in our plain chant, that reminds of our past in the Great and Holy Church. It is that same voice that promises us of our eternity in the New Heaven and the New Earth, where never again will be separation, distance and difference, where there will always be light, always peace, always the voice of unifying praise, to the great glory of the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


(Archpastoral Address Delivered In Uzhorod, Subcarpatho-Rus On the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of Fr Boksaj's Edition of Protopinje-June 2006)