Songs for the Mother of God, Part 1

The next batch of work for the Hymnal Project will feature spiritual songs in honor of Mary, Theotokos and Ever-Virgin.  Many of these songs are well-known, and some of them have particularly thorny issues involving the text, the music, or both.

In this installment, we will look at the hymns on the project page whose titles (first lines) begin with the letters A-M.

Click on each link for the discussion page, and leave any comments below!

The Hymnal Project – May 2019 update

The first half of the initial work to create a new hymnal for our church is pretty much complete:

This month, we will look at hymns to the Mother of God, then conclude with some work on hymns for feast days throughout the year. The results at that point will be collected, and presented to the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission for review.

But there are a few items left over from this first batch of music that could still use some work – and I’m looking for volunteers!

From the Christmas music:

  • In the town of Bethlehem (Viflejemi novina) deserves a new English translation, as well as a close look at the rhythm of the final phrase in English. The Slavonic original ends each verse with praise of Mary; the English translation we have changes this (sometimes contrary to sense) to “O Savior”, and at the same time changes the rhythm of the Slavonic. Meanwhile, there are quite a few additional verses in Slavonic that might be “mined” to make a longer hymn in English.
  • Jesus came from heaven (our translation of Spas nas narodilsja) has real theological problems, and at the same time departs markedly from the Slavonic original in many ways (the original Slavonic does not have the theological problems that the English does).

For both of these, it would help if someone fluent in Rusyn and Church Slavonic could craft a good, LITERAL translation of the full hymn as given in the Slavonic sources, and either that person or someone(s) else could set to work on properly Englishing it for singing.

We have two Rusyn versions of Silent Night in circulation: Ticha noc is a literal translation of the German original, but Jasna zorja is more widely sung.  Which one should be include?  Or both, or neither?

Several hymns for Great and Holy Week have many more verses in the original than we have in English, and often then tell the whole story of the Passion, where our English settings (translating only the first couple of verses) omit much of it.

Christe Carju spravedlivyj has another issue as well: a very popular Lenten hymn, it has several different musical versions in circulation, and we should at least collect them and decide which one(s) to use, and how that affects the English version as well.

Two hymns for Pascha have the same problem (our current English setting only tells the START of the story of the Resurrection, while the Slavonic has more verses):

and these hymns to the Holy Trinity have additional verses, some with solid theological content:

We need someone – or several someones – willing to work with collected verses (which I can provide) and prepare literal English translations, which could then be used to write fuller English versions (and we perhaps could use volunteers there as well).

More verses not only complete the story, but they enhance singing in other ways: once you have a text in front of you and are singing to a melody, singing MORE verses to the same melody is simply less work, requires less coordination by the cantor, and reduces the need to sing 3-4 one- and two- verse hymns over and over in  particular season.  Two longer Paschal hymns might be alternated throughout the Paschal season as singing “before the Liturgy.”

Any takers? Please post below!



Two hymns for the Ascension of the Lord

Our paraliturgical hymn tradition has less material for feasts of the Lord than for the Mother of God and the saints – but that doesn’t mean we should neglect what we do have for these feasts!

Here are two recent additions to the repertoire.

Cantors Ken Dilks and Joe Ferenchik worked up an English translation and setting of Hospod’ vosnesesja, one of two hymns for the Ascension in the Užhorod Pisennik (1913):

For comparison, here is the Slavonic:

Notice that the Slavonic is in strict 2/4 time, while the English setting is reorganized in a chant style, by entire phrases.  The longer phrases have the advantage of not splitting words at bar lines, but they can cause the underlying rhythm of the music to be lost if you don’t know the Slavonic.

The bar lines also raise the question of rests or pauses at the end of the first and third phrase, which we would normally insert in singing chant. The pauses work after the first phrase, but if inserted after the third phrase, the words “angel” and “ascension” are broken in the middle.

Here is a different hymn for the Ascension, from the collection of John Kahanick (1914-1998), long-time cantor and choir director across the Metropolia.  It has been restored (with added verses) by cantor Joe Durko.

If anyone recognizes the melody as coming from some other source, please let me know! But it is entirely possible that this hymn (like some others, notably for the feast of Saint Michael) is an original composition in English.

Please post your thoughts below!

(You can see all the hymns considered so far at the Hymnal Project page.)

Hymns to the Holy Spirit

This is the third and final set of hymns “to God” which are not connected with a particular feast – or at least, not always connected to a particular feast.

In this installment, we are looking at hymns to the Holy Spirit, of which three are well known in our parishes:

They illustrate a range of issues we face in finalizing the new hymnal.

Heavenly King, Comforter

This is a acually a liturgical piece: a sticheron or Vespers hymn from the feast of Pentecost, which was eventually sung before the Divine Liturgy on Pentecost Monday before moving to its present postion in many parishes, on Pentecost Sunday itself.  (See page 203 of our Divine Liturgies book, where it is titled Special Hymn.)

It is sung to the Tone 6 samohlasen melody, and is very often used as a general invocation of the Holy Spirit, before meals, at the start of meetings and so on.

So why include it in the hymnal if it is already in the Divine Liturgies book?

  1. To make it clear that it can be sung on any day, not just Pentecost, and not just at the Divine Liturgy.
  2. To provide the setting in Slavonic, in which it is sometimes also sung.
  3. Because for us, it is used not just liturgically (when the services call for it), but at other times as well.
  4. Because we don’t have many separate hymns to the Holy Spirit!

As we saw with Hymns to Our Lord Jesus Christ, there IS a small problem with titling it.  Do we label it HOLY SPIRIT?  Or PENTECOST? (That is, by the subject of the hymn or when it is used.)  Overall I think it would be easier to label it as a Hymn to the Holy Spirit, and put a note in the liturgical year section of the hymnal noting that it is particular appropriate on Pentecost.

O Holy Spirit, mighty defender

This IS a paraliturgical hymn;  sung to a regular metered melody, it used rhyme and pacing to provide for very strong congregational participation.

In Slavonic, the first two words are exactly that same as for the liturgical hymn looked at above, which is why in both English and Slavonic, I am titling many hymns by the entire first line rather than just the first few words.

Like some of the other hymns “to God”, it ended up appearing in collections of hymns for singing during Holy Communion.  Hymns like these, directed to other Persons of the Trinity, or hymns to Christ which have nothing to do with Holy Communion, would be much better sung before or after the Divine Liturgy, rather than as “communion hymns.”

The Holy Spirit shall come upon you

This very short piece is a THIRD kind of hymn in honor of the Holy Spirit: it consists of the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:35), which are also used in the Divine Liturgy (said by the deacon to the celebrant) as an invocation or calling-down of the Holy Spirit.

In our church, this was long used as a hymn “before the sermon”, asking God’s grace to rest upon the preacher. Because it is a scriptural text, it IS something allowed by our bishops’ guidelines for the singing of paraliturgical hymns during services – but consult your pastor first!

The melody is a simple one that should also sound familar: it is also used for the A settings of the hymn after Holy Communion (“May our mouth be filled with your praise”) and the invocation of the divine Name (“Blessed be the name of the Lord”).

I am still looking for a few more GOOD hymns to the Holy Spirit. Please post your thoughts below!

Hymns to our Lord Jesus Christ

Within the sacred liturgy (Vespers, Matins, the Divine Liturgies, and so on), our prayers are usually directed to God the Father – through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit – while most of our liturgical hymns are directed to Jesus Christ, our Savior and the visible “face” of the Trinity.

Our paraliturgical hymns, on the other hand, surround the liturgy and meet other needs. Many are directed to the Mother of God, and to particular saints, or are sung within the community to bolster one another’s faith. Of course, many hymns ARE directed to God through the liturgical year, but most of those fall in a particular liturgical season, and so are treated separately in the Hymnal Project.

As we saw in the last post, Hymns to the Holy Trinity, there remain a few frequently sung  hymns to the Trinity and its  Persons which are not tied to a liturgical season.  Today, we will look at the hymns directed to our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.  These fall into three basic categories. Continue reading “Hymns to our Lord Jesus Christ”

Hymns to the Holy Trinity

I’m trying something a little different with this installment of the Hymnal Project: instead of having a discussion article on the MCI website for each hymn, I’m going to create one only for spiritual songs which I know have issues (edit to be considered, or the question of whether to included it in the hymnal or not).  If you have comments, please post them here!

Hymns to the Holy Trinity

So far, we have looked at hymns grouped according to their place in the liturgical year: hymns for Christmas, the Great Fast, and so on.  We will also be looking at hymns to the Mother of God, and for saints and feasts throughout the rest of the year.

Next, I would like to look at hymns directed to God, starting with those we sing to the Holy Trinity, or simply to “God” (which in our tradition can mean God the Father, the source and fountainhead of divinity):

Follow the links for more information about each hymn!

The first is our primary spiritual song which praises the Trinity, and so it is most suitably sung at Pentecost; but it could also be sung before the Divine Liturgy on virtually any occasion.  The Slavonic original has several verses which name each of the groups praising the Trinity (cherubim and seraphim, archangels and angels, apostles and martyrs), and from these verses I had added three to the English text.

The second is known well outside our particular church, and has a long and somewhat checkered past, being used by others primarily on secular occasions. But for US, it remains a “churchly” hymn.  I have added the (English translation) of the second verse of “O Jesus Lord, we ask you to bless us” here, since it fits much better here.  This hymn has no particular “place” in the liturgical year, but could be sung before any Divine Liturgy that does not have a particular theme.

The third hymn is explicitly one of thanksgiving; the words “You have enlightened us” make it particular suitable for singing as a thanksgiving AFTER the Divine Liturgy, where we thank God for our enlightenment in the Eucharist, but it could also be sung on other occasions as well, where these same words become a general thankgiving for revelation, for holy Baptism, and so on. Unlike the other two hymns in this set, this one’s origin is somewhat mysterious  (Edit: FOUND – see comment below!), appearing in our recent collections of paraliturgical hymns without a clear source.

Titles, titles, titles

If you look at the PDFs of these hymns, you will see that each one has a “theme” or “title” in the upper right,  suggesting when it might be most appropriate to sing.  These were relatively easy for feasts like Christmas and Theophany.

Here, “Holy Trinity” is fairly obvious for Hosts of angels on high, but what do we do for So great is God?  Some of our books have simply labelled it as “Hymn to God”; I am included to title it “God the Father,” not meanly to absolutely exclude thought of the other Persons of the Trinity, but because we have so few non-liturgical hymns directed to this Person.

The case is a little different with “We thank you, God Most High.” This hymn could be labelled “Holy Trinity” or “God  the Father”, but it could also be labelled “Thanksgiving” so that cantors might select it for that purpose.

Please post your thoughts and comments below!

Music for Pascha, Part 3

Christ is risen! Christos voskrese!  Christos anesti! Al-Masīḥ qām!

As our final installment of Paschal music in the Hymnal Project, we have THREE spiritual songs:

The first is a bit of a standard, at least in some parishes.  See the discussion page for more about this hymn, AND the process we use for editing songs for the new hymnal.

The second is a lovely minor-key carol for Easter, which I would love to see widely sung.  It has additional verses (not yet translated into English) which praise the Resurrection, and include all the characters in the story of Pascha.

The third is better known as a choir piece, but (with a few flourishes simplified) works well for congregational singing.  It, too, has more verses in Slavonic, but these tell the Easter story in order: the myrrh-bearing women, the stone, the angel, and so on.

For convenience, all three have been added (in both English and Slavonic versions) to the MCI Paschal music supplement, which can also be printed as a booklet on legal size paper.  Please try them out, and post below with your comments and suggestions.

May God bless your celebration of the resurrection of his Son!

Music for Pascha, Part 2

As I mentioned in the previous post, we have very few paraliturgical hymns or “spiritual songs” for the time from Pascha to Pentecost, so I am considering the possibility of including new settings of liturgical hymns for this season in the forthcoming hymnal.

In the last post, we looked at some additional settings of the Paschal troparion (“Christ is risen from the dead”).  We might also want to provide a Paschal setting of the Cherubic Hymn or Cherubikon; here is one based on the Paschal hypakoje (“The women with Mary before the dawn”) which has been used for many years at Saint Elias Byzantine Catholic Church in Munhall, PA:

and after the commemorations:

I have also prepared matching versions of “We praise you, we bless you” and the four Communion Hymns which are always sung in the Paschal season (for Pascha, Thomas Sundays, other Sundays, and Mid-Pentecost).

Now, I think there are certainly some Cherubic Hymn settings out there which are sort of so-so, but there are also some that are quite good, and usable in English.  If you have one of your own, consider sending it in!  Years ago, the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission discussed the possibility of taking such settings, looking them over, perhaps making some tweaks as needed, and adding them gradually to our repertoire.  I am not sure if the new hymal is the best place to publish them, but the hymnal process may be a good place to start.

Similarly, we have one setting of the Our Father for use in the Paschal season, based on the Paschal canon (DL 167-168):

But here is another from St. Elias in Munhall, based on the Paschal hypakoje, “The women with Mary before the dawn):

This, too, is music we could probably use right away in some parishes. Especially if weekday Divine Liturgies are held, there are a lot of opportunities to sing the Lord’s prayer!

I have taken all this music and combined it with the Paschal troparion settings from yesterday into a music supplement for Pascha.  Tomorrow, we will look at our one real Paschal hymn, “Christ is risen!  Joy from heaven” and see how that might fit into the picture.

Please leave your thoughts about this music – or other liturgical settings we might like to have for the Paschal season – in a comment below!

Music for Pascha, Part 1

As we move into the final week of the Great Fast, it’s time to move the Hymnal Project forward and look seriously at music for the Great Fast.

Strangely, we don’t have nearly as many paraliturgical hymns or spiritual songs for Easter as we do for other seasons; instead, we tend to sing the Paschal troparion (Christ is risen from the dead) a LOT, in both chant and choral versions.

We do have one well-known spiritual song for Pascha (“Christ is risen / Joy from heaven”) which I will talk about later this week.  And I had hoped to delve into our choral tradition, such as the music of our Archieparchial choir, and the settings of the Sybertsvile Franciscans. But for better or worse, many of those don’t work nearly as well for ordinary congregational singing. (I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, and will circle back to consider a few next week!)

So instead, I’d like to do something which was discussed by the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission when the new Divine Liturgies book was printed, but never started: the proposal of some new settings for liturgical texts we already have, to supplement our existing official chant settings, choral music, and spiritual songs and hymns.

Check out the following article and tell me what you think!

Alternate melodies for Christ is risen

Later this week I will present some settings of other liturgical music for Pascha, before turning back to our own “spiritual songs” for singing before and after the Liturgy.

Please leave your comments below.  May God bless your Fast!

Have Mercy on Me, O My God

This week, I’m beginning a new series on non-liturgical songs for use before and after church services, as part of the MCI’s contribution toward a new hymnal for the Byzantine Catholic Church.

Singing during the Great Fast

Our first “official” set of spiritual songs for Lent is probably the set in the back of the 1978 Levkulic Divine Liturgy book:

  • The sentence is passed (Uže dekret)
  • Christ our King, who reigns with justice (Christe Carju spravedlivyj)
  • In Gethsemene’s Darkness (Jehda na smert’ hotovilsja)
  • Beneath your cross I stand (Pod krest’ tvoj staju)
  • Come now, all you faithful (Prijd’ite voschvalim)
  • Now do I go to the Cross (Idu nyni ko krestu)
  • Having suffered the passion (Preterp’ivyj)

A later book from Father Levkulic and cantor Jerry Jumba, Hymns of the Great Fast (1984), added music for the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil as well as:

  • At the most holy cross (Krestu tvojemu)
  • Earth and heaven mourn (Nebo, zemlja sotvorinjnja)
  • O my Jesus, suffering in pain (O Isuse poranennj) – two versions
  • Rejoice today (Radujsja zilo) – for Palm or Flowery Sunday
  • Have mercy on me, O my God
  • Do not forsake us (Ne opuskaj nas)
  • O my people, my people (L’udi moji)
  • O my God, you are so merciful (O Bože, moj milostivyj)
  • O soul so sinful (Hljan’ duše hrišna)
  • So boundless is her sorrow (Stala Matia zarmuščenna)
  • The grieving mother Stradaljna Mati)
  • We venerate, O Christ (Poklanjajusja moj Christe)
  • O Son of David – for Palm or Flowery Sunday

I hope to look at each of these over the next three weeks. But what these have in common (for the most part) are that they are not so much Lenten hymns, as hymns of the Passion of Christ.

In our tradition, broadly speaking, the texts and prayers of the liturgical services tell us what we are about. And the forty days of the Great Fast are mostly about repentance and conversion, NOT on the sufferings of Christ.  Those are much more the focus of Holy Week itself, which comes after the forty days of Lent.

But there is one hymn in Hymns for Great Lent that definitely “works” for the entire period of Lent: a versified setting of Psalm 50, King David’s psalm of repentance.



  • The original was in 2/4 meter, but only fit into that meter with difficult. Instead, I re-barred it in a chant style, still keeping a fairly duple meter.
  • I changed the opening note from G to  E, following an oral tradition in a number of parishes. This has two advantages: it gives a gives the piece a better minor-key sonority, and it allows each verse to begin and end on the same note.
  • In three places an extra note had to be added to put an accent in the right place. Rather  than complicate the music at the top, I marked those places with an asterisk (*) and added just the problematical music at the bottom.

Whoever leads this is still responsible for SINGING the accents correctly, but I think it works, and I plan to add it to the proposed draft hymnal.

There is one spot that doesn’t sing as well as I would like.  In the last verse, “a heart contrite with humbleness” requires work to fit it to the first ten notes of the last phrase. It CAN be done, but it’s awkward. Any suggestions for a text that works better?

Please append your thoughts below!  Do you have any Lenten hymns we should talk about that are not listed above?