Here is the entire Christmas story in one icon.
Have you heard some of the following music on this Blog before? Probably. No matter. At this time of year, Christians everywhere love the same old songs – sing them and listen to them again an d again. And now we can even see them!
Here I’ve included some of the best Orthodox music for Christ’s Nativity that I could find, both liturgical and popular carols.
Is it wrong for me to tell you: “Enjoy”? I think not. Much of this music is so lovely, the texts so deep and profound, the imagery often so beautifully presented that it would be difficult not to enjoy it.
The music is divided into three sections: Liturgical music in preparation for Christmas, Liturgical music of the Feast, Orthodox Christmas carols.
I’ve numbered the videos. If your time is limited, I’d suggest viewing at least #1, #5 and #9.
A note for any non-Orthodox visitors here present: Good Orthodox liturgical music is not meant to call attention to itself, but rather to “carry” and clarify the text. It is properly sung slowly, so the words of our complicated liturgical texts can be heard and absorbed. Byzantine music, in particular, often sounds strange to Western ears. * Listen for a while, and you will begin to hear the mystery and holy awe expressed in it.
- It completely bewildered me when I first became Orthodox. Now I love it – when it’s well sung. When it’s not it can sound like a lot of groaning and moaning.
Liturgical music In preparation for the Nativity
1 No matter what it says on the video, this is not a Christmas carol. It is taken from the “Ninth Hour” of the four “Royal Hours” sung a day or two before Christmas, chanted by the Orthodox Choir of Beirut, with images from the land where Christ was prophesied and born, including the place of his birth in Bethlehem. It gives me the holy chills every time I watch.
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2 This Kontakion is sung on the Sundays before the Nativity, as well as daily during the four days of the Prefeast – sung by Father Apostolos Hill of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona.
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3 This is chanted by the group “Anaphora”, as adapted by Bishop Basil of the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America.
Liturgical Music of the Feast of the Nativity
4 These Katavasia are the “refrains” for each Ode of the Canon of Orthros/Matins. I wish it told us who chants this so beautifully and powerfully.
from “Orthodox Christian Chants” site
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5 This is sung gorgeously by “Archangel Voices”, a professional group dedicated to presenting the best Orthodox music. You can listen to much of their music and also buy CDs at: http://www.archangelvoices.com/titles/withthevoice.htm
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6 In what follows, I do wish they told which language is which. However, you get the point the video is making. The sixth version, in English, is (I’m almost sure) a Serbian melody sung by the choir of Saint Mary’s OCA Cathedral, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shined the light of knowledge upon the world; for thereby they who worshipped the stars were instructed by a star to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know You, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to You.
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7 This is sung by… I think I know who, but it doesn’t say. It’s from the Orthodox Christian Chants site, which is well worth exploring: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2eQY65jlYsdDuevEUE9CGQ
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8 Here is a Western Orthodox liturgical hymn – Orthodox because it was from the Fourth Century (long before the split between East and West – written in Latin by the Spanish poet Aurelius Prudentius, for use in the daily monastic Offices. The tune “Divinum Mysterium” seems to be from the Thirteenth Century, but likely with much earlier roots. The English translation was by done in the Nineteenth Century by John Mason Neale of the Church of England. You can easily find many videos of the same words and tune, some quite elaborate, elegant and beautiful. Here I’ve chosen a version close in its simplicity to how it was originally sung. Note that the English words are in fine print below the music.
Orthodox Christmas Carols
9 This you absolutely must watch: the Romanian Christmas carol, “From the Clear Blue Sky”. The music and video together capture the wonder of the Incarnation and of the Church so beautifully. They make me so grateful to be a believer and to be an Orthodox Christian. It is sung by the Nuns from Camarzani Monastery in Romania. I’ve included the words below the video.
On my computer, at least, sometimes this video opens and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t for you, all you need do is punch “Watch on YouTube”; then when it’s finished, be sure to shift into reverse and come back. There is more to come.
“From the Clear Blue Sky (x2) From the clear blue sky, a divine choir Can be heard sweetly singing. (x2) Gifted shepherds appear on the hill Bringing white lambs as gifts. (x2) A star on the horizon watching over the paths, Shining in the distance (x2) Leads the magi with their precious gifts Carried in white bags. (x2) And a frail infant with a holy face Sits quietly smiling. (x2) And His Mother was cradling Him And everbody was joyous. (x2) And the holy sky and this earth Were illuminated by the Infant. (x2) And they became holy and they received God’s grace Those who let Him in. (x2) And, having seen this, we pray And we kiss His face. (x2) Yearning to devote our lives to Him And to praise Him forever. (x2) From the clear blue sky, a divine choir Can be heard sweetly singing.”
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from “Greek Patriot” site
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11 Here’s something different! from The Kyiv Post, “the village of Kryvorivnia is considered the capital of Ukraine’s Hutsul minority [who live in the Carpathian mountains]. People here have preserved Ukraine’s oldest Christmas carol tradition, which has existed since pre-Christian times. They start singing and dancing at the church, and travel around the area, singing for whole families, individual people or even animals.”
Considering the Christmas story, I think cows and donkeys and sheep deserve to be sung to.
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12 Our last video is from the Monks of the Svetogorskaya Monastery in Ukraine (still Moscow Patriarchate, so far as I know).
God bless you all, and give you a holy conclusion of the Advent Fast and a blessed feast of the Nativity of our dear Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. Father Bill
Next Week: 1) How Saint Nicholas transmogrifield into Santa Claus in five simple images (no words), 2) Six Surprising Ways Jesus Changed the World, 3) A Nativity Poem by G K Chesterton
Week after Next: I haven’t even thought about it yet.