Every Sunday morning, parishioners of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio pray full Matins, led by the harmonized chant of eight fellow parishioners, most of them seasoned cantors.
What began as a special initiative to offer Vespers every Sunday evening during the Great Fast, blossomed into an ongoing commitment to chant weekly Matins.
Father Andrew Summerson, who leads the singers and who serves as parochial vicar, said some parishioners had approached him with the desire to continue offering the same quality chant they had offered during the Great Fast during Holy Week and Pascha.
Thus began the cathedral singers, who after Pascha, took on Matins, which are now sung entirely in English.
The group rehearses every Thursday evening for 60 to 90 minutes, and is open to new and interested members. Rehearsals are spent going over music, becoming familiar with the chant, and learning harmonies. Occasionally, Father Summerson will offer theological insight on the hymns.
Father Michael Hayduk, rector of the cathedral, said “singing has been greatly enhanced,” as a result.
“We have introduced English in accord with the new translations. This has made the text and music more accessible to the people,” he said.
Father Summerson said the endeavor was important because of the cathedral’s responsibility to be “a model of parish life, particularly liturgical life.” He said the initiative has had other effects on the parish.
“We are raising up new leaders while fortifying the skills of our seasoned leaders,” he said. “It provides a visible group and access to greater involvement in parish life.
“If we don’t actively help cantors become more confident as singers and leaders of our chant, the effects will be felt instantly in the singing during liturgy; we reap what we sow,” he said.
“One of the four priorities of the Eparchial Pastoral Plan involves increasing sacramental practice and this priority offered a specific way to do this — by improving church chant and congregational participation,” he continued. “The cathedral initiative is a response to this aspect of the pastoral plan.”
Michele Trompak, who cantors the Saturday evening Divine Liturgy, said the singers group was just right for her and her son, Stephen, to increase their involvement at the parish. “You are supposed to give of your talents. Both (of us) felt compelled to get moving. We had something to give, so we stepped up,” she said.
Trompak said good chant is important in the Byzantine tradition. “When done well and from the heart, what could be better? How can it be anything but spiritual?” she said.
Former long-time music teacher and choir director Sue Ann Rudolphy said having singers who are trained and confident in chant “makes it easier for people coming to Matins to sing with us.” “If the people are singing, too, they are participating more prayerfully,” she added.
Pat Biller, who is new among the singers, said he appreciates that full Matins is now sung at the parish, rather than the abbreviated version that used to be sung, which then segued into Divine Liturgy. “Matins isn’t just introduction to liturgy anymore,” he said. “It has its own purpose now, and there are people who are coming consistently in order to fulfill that purpose.”
Attendance at Matins is increasing week by week, said Father Summerson.“The zeal and confidence in singing is bleeding into liturgy,” he said, noting the increased fervor of the congregational chant during the Eucharistic celebration.
Father Hayduk said he is pleased with how the chant is developing. “My hope is that they (the singers) will continue and inspire more congregational singing,” he said.
The cathedral prays Matins on Sundays at 9 a.m., followed by Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m.
Article by Claudine Grunenwald Kirschner. Reprinted with permission from the September 25, 2016 edition of HORIZONS, the official periodical of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma.