The Sundays of the Council Fathers

In the Symbol of Faith or Creed, we say that we believe in an “apostolic” Church – that is, one built on the foundation of the witness and teaching of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20).  These teachings were then passed on and expounded by the early bishops, especially those who met periodically to resolve issues in Church teaching and practice – the “Council Fathers.”

Any who has attended services in the Byzantine Rite over the course of a year knows that we devote several Sundays to these Fathers, but the progress of these feasts makes more sense it we order them within the calendar years (January to December) instead of the liturgical year (September to August):

  • Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
    (Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost)
    This council, held at Nicea in the year 325, settled the Church’s teaching on the relationship of God the Son to God  the Father, and firmly taught the divinity of the Holy Spirit

  • Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils
    (Sunday closest to July 16)
    This combines older individual feasts for the first six great councils: Nicea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (536); Constantinople III (680).  These councils clarified the Church’s teaching on the Person of Jesus Christ, and resolved issues of church order and practice.

  • Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council
    (Sunday closest to October 14)
    The council, held at Nicea in 787, settled the Church’s teaching on the veneration of icons, holding that “honor given to the image passes over to the one represented.”

On all three Sundays, we sing the troparion of the Council Fathers:

O Christ our God, you are above all praise. * You have established our fathers as beacons on the earth, * leading us all to the true faith through them. * O most merciful Lord, glory to you!

and the following prokeimenon (Daniel 3:26), which is also used for the “fathers” of the Old Testament:

Blessed are you and praiseworthy, O Lord, * the God of our Fathers, * and glorious forever is your name.
V. For you are just in all you have done for us.

The Vespers and Matins hymns for each Sunday recount the history and teaching of the various councils.  But putting them in the above order does make them easier to remember!

Paschal Troparion, 1977

Christ is risen!

Dear Cantors – and anyone who would LIKE to be a cantor:

Please sit down and listening to the following recording of the singing of the Paschal troparion and kontakion, as sung in 1977 at St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church, Nesquehoning, PA. The celebrant is Fr. Basil Boysak; the cantor is John Katchen (whose wife Helen is singing alto; Helen died last week, on Pascha. Please pray for her repose in the place of the just.)

Why am I asking you to listen to this recording?  It is not because it is technically “perfect”; the cantor swoops and slides in a way that can be a bit disconcerting (even if traditional), and I always tell students of prostopinije to hit the notes cleanly.  It’s not because everyone is singing with choir-like precision, because they’re not.  Und so weiter, und so fort.

But the cantor’s voice is leading the congregation in prayer.  He is plenty loud enough to be heard, strong but not bellowing or hectoring the congregation. His vocal  resonance carries through the church, and allows everyone else to blend.

You can hear harmonies throughout – alto and tenor are present, several different singers cooperating and clearly listening to one another. The result, as Johann Gardner described the inter-war singing in Europe, is one of “extraordinary power.”

It is also worth noting that the cantor is singing a strong baritone, allowing the other parts to work well together. While some (not me) would argue that men make better cantors than women, the problem is rather than some cantors, men and women, simply sing too high to achieve the kind of effect we hear in this parish recording.

Finally, this shows why cantorisms like added notes in a melodic pattern come into being: the singing is slow enough that the added notes in the troparion keep the sound moving strongly without needing to swell and descrescendo (something that is hard to do when a church is packed). If anyone in the congrgegation sings without the added “grace notes”, it sound just fine also, so there is no need for anyone to learn these cantorisms: they’re just….  there.

May Christ bless your singing this Pascha.

Our Plain Chant, Episode 1: Introduction

It seems to me that it is time to take a serious look at our plain chant, and how we sing it in worship. That is the purpose of this blog series, Our Plain Chant. 

It has now been

  • 70 years since church first began celebrating services in English
  • 55 years since the first official chant settings in English
  • 12 years since the release of our current Divine Liturgies book, which our bishops promulgated in order to have a common format of the Liturgy across our entire church

It seems to me that it is time to take a serious look at our plain chant, and how we sing it in worship. That is the purpose of this blog series, Our Plain Chant.  I hope it can serve as way to spread knowledge of our chant, how we use it, and how we can improve our church singing while maintaining our tradition of sung congregational worship.

Why a series?

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute website has a wealth of material about individual plain chant melodies, and how to sing services. But because it is an instructional site, we have stayed away from presenting a lot of historical background, or any critical commentary on our chant and how we sing it. I hope that this series will let us provide some of this background, AND enable cantors to contribute to the discussion.

Many of the issues that affect our church singing are common to a range of melodies, so I am going to first look at the shared issues that we face whenever we sing, THEN look at particular chant melodies and services.

Stay tuned!

With each blog post, I hope to include a recording which I consider to be of value in understanding our chant.

Here is a complete recording of the Divine Liturgy for the 25th ordination anniversary of Bishop (later Archbishop) Stephen Kocisko, celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1966. This is one of our best recorded examples of the sound of our congregational singing.

https://soundcloud.com/metr-cantor-institute/1966-kocisko-anniversary

Pittsburgh Church Singing Presentation, February 22, 2020

Last Saturday, February 22, 2020, from 2-4 PM at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, PA, Deacon Jeffrey Mierzejewski gave a publication presentation and workshop on our church singing, covering:

  • The role of the cantor in our church singing
  • The melodies that make up our plain chant, and where they came from
  • Our paraliturgical singing (spiritual songs) for use outside the liturgy
  • Our church’s history of singing improvised (“folk”) harmonies as a normal element of our services, and how these can improve our worship

Continue reading “Pittsburgh Church Singing Presentation, February 22, 2020”

Pittsburgh Cantors’ Meeting, February 22, 2020

Last Saturday, February 22, 2020, a meeting was held from 9 AM-noon at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall for all cantors of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.

Twenty-six cantors were present, representing the following parishes:

Continue reading “Pittsburgh Cantors’ Meeting, February 22, 2020”

Send us your photos!

As part of our church music documentation project – AND to fill out information on the current cantors pages for Pittsburgh, Passaic, Parma, and Phoenix – I would love to have photographs of the following from each our our parishes:

  • of the enterior of the church – something recognizable
  • the iconostasis or sanctuary
  • of your current cantor(s), with names
  • of your cantor stand or loft (whichever places the cantors sing from)
  • your retired or deceased cantors, with names, and dates of service if possible

Photos can be in any format; you can send them to mci@archpitt.org, or contact me by email (same address) for a physical mailing address and I will scan them. Thanks!!

The demise of metropolitancantorinstitute.org

metropolitancantorinstitute.org is the old name for the MCI website.  We moved all the content to mci.archpitt.org when the MCI web pages were shifted to the Archeparchy’s own webserver, way back in 2014.

As of January 16, 2020, we are dropping the old domain name, and metropolitancantorinstitute.org will no longer be forwarded automatically to mci.archpitt.org.    Please update any bookmarks to point to the new address (the rest of  the URL remains the same).

Feel free to add a comment here if you have any questions.

Making the Grade: Final MCI graduate under the “old” program

From 2001 to 2014, the Metropolitan Cantor Institute held Saturday chant classes in Pittsburgh, covering a different topic at each class.  Over a multi-year rotation, cantors learned  necessary skills, and received a certificate for finishing the full course of study.  Eventually, we added an in-person “final exam” in the form of a cantored Divine Liturgy at which an MCI instructor could see, comment on, and “sign off” that a student had in fact learned the skills we tried to teach.

So it is with great happiness that I can congratulate Mary Benedict, cantor of Saints Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church in Erie, PA.  Mary is the last cantor to complete the “old” MCI program, having regularly driven to Pittsburgh to attend classes, and completing her final examination in 2019.

Here is a list of graduates of the Metropolitan Cantor Institute program. As we move from occasional classroom courses to online, year-round education for cantors, I would like to recognize all those cantors and cantor-students who traveled to the Byzantine Catholic Seminary throughout the fall, winter, and spring to learn the art of church singing and chant leadership.

2005  / 2006
Marylyn Barone
Delcine Caddy
John Glegyak
Thomas Marco
Sharon Mech
George Mihalick
Stephen Petach
Mary Caryl Planiczki
Steven Puluka
Barbara Sowko
Henry Zolyak

2007
Mary Frances Zadzilko
Nicholas J. Nagrant
Diane Ryan Oravecz

2008
Jeff Mierzejewski
Michael Oravecz
Ann Pawluszka

2011
Saundra Frankowski
Marilyn Hertenstein

2016
Tom Rodack

2019
Mary Benedict

(and if you know anyone who should be on this list but isn’t, please add their name below in the comments!)

Finally, I would like to thank J. Michael Thompson, first director of the MCI, who put together this multiyear program and saw it become a reality.

Congratulations, 2019 MCI Students!

The following students have successfully completed MCI Online courses in 2019.

Introduction to Liturgy
David Boney
Sidney Cline
Lawrence Coleman
Steve Doucet
Stephen Farlow
A Gerling
Stephen Hilgendorf
Gregory Hrinda
Diane Hvasta
Michael Katalenich
Seraphima Kemner
Sophia Kemner
Corey Knick
Nicholas Mataya
Jacob Moylan
Scott Romanoski
Sam Schroetke
Naomi Sweetman
Olivia Whitlock
William Wilson
Patricia Yamrick

Introduction to Church Singing
Michael Katalenich
Sam Schroetke
Russell Ward

Introduction to the Typikon
Gregory Hrinda
Michael Katalenich
Jacob Moylan
Scott Romanoski
Olivia Whitlock
Patricia Yamrick

Reading in Church
Robert Dillon

Introduction to the Divine Liturgy
Robert Dillon
Maria McKay
Mike Schulz
Colin Ventralla
Judith Walsh

Introduction to the Eight Tones
David Hennessy
Michelle Rubush
Ron Somich
Susan Tate
Colin Ventralla
Judith Walsh

The Liturgical Year (new class)
Sherill Franklin
Susan Kopko
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Amy Seyfried

The Divine Liturgy
Sue Ann Rudolphy

The Office of Vespers
Sherill Franklin
Judith Walsh

Mastering the Eight T0nes
Sherill Franklin

The Great Fast and Holy Week (new class)
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Andrea Riley
Amy Seyfried

From Pascha to All Saints (new class)
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Andrea Riley
Amy Seyfried

Services for the Living
Sue Ann Rudolphy

Hierarchical and Reader Services
Matthew Minerd

Services for the Departed (new class)
Robert Bartz
Sherill Franklin
Mary Hendricks
Steve Petach
Milan Revilak
Julia Revilakova
Andrea Riley
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Amy Seyfried
Patricia Yamrick

Services of Christmas and Theophany (new class)
Matthew Minerd
Julia Revilakova
Andrea Riley
Sue Ann Rudolphy
Amy Seyfried
Patricia Yamrick

Congratulations to all!  For more about MCI Online classes in 2020, see here

(By the way, the classes page now includes the total number of students who have completed each class.)