Songs for the Great Fast

The next set of music I’d like to address in the Hymnal Project is our collection of spiritual songs for the Great Fast and Holy Week.

Why this poses a particular problem for us

Much of our para-liturgical hymnody (that is, songs meant to be sung outside of liturgical services)developed in an era when, due to Roman Catholic influence, our primary services for Lent were the Stations of the Cross, and the rosary with Sorrowful Mysteries. Vespers and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts were neglected, and instead “daily Mass” was celebrated throughout the forty days of the Great Fast.

This led to an over-emphasis on the suffering of Christ on the cross, in all its physical details (“On the morrow you must face the Cross in pain / Slowly from your bloody wounds all life will wane….”), rather than on urging us to repentance and conversion (metanoia).  Of course, meditation on Christ’s love for us as shown in his sufferings can bring us to conversion, but if you look at our liturgical texts, the Passion itself is much more the subject of Great and Holy Week than of the forty days of the Fast.

So where do we start?

We do have a number of hymns which are eminently suitable for the Great Fast itself.

Beneath your compassion (Pod tvoju milost’) is a heart-felt plea to the Mother of God for protection and aid, sung at the end of weekday Vespers during the Great Fast.  This is actually in the back of our Divine Liturgies book, but should be in the hymnal as well, in both English and Slavonic.  We should also have choral versions of this available.

Do not forsake us (Ne opuskaj nas) is another plea for protection, this time directed to Christ. Originally published in Hymns for Great Lent (see below), it is a true Lenten text.

Have mercy on me, O my God is a versified setting of Psalm 50 (that is, a psalm turned into a hymn). This Psalm is the Church’s great song of repentance.

Having suffering (Preterpivyj), originally a Polish hymn which became “naturalized” in Slavonic, has been sung at the end of Lenten services in our church for many years.  In view of the sufferings of the Lord, it makes a plea for mercy and forgiveness.

Follow each link for more information, as well as a discussion of any tricky points in the hymn which need to be addressed before it goes into the hymnal.

Father Levkulic and Hymns of the Great Fast

Many of the Lenten hymns we use were collected by Father William Levkulic and included in the back of his 1978 Divine Liturgies book.  Some years later, he published a larger collection, Hymns for Great Lent. (The booklet itself is undated; does anyone know when it came out?)

This booklet contained more than just Lenten hymns: it also provided music for the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, as well as the Typical Psalms and Beatitudes (which as a result became associated in the minds of many with the Fast), several settings of Beneath your compassion, and the troparion of Great and Holy Thursday. Much of this music now exists in officially promulgated settings in our Divine Liturgies book, so perhaps half of Hymns for Great Lent is now out of date for our purposes.

Of the remainder, there are quite a few hymns of the Passion – which, as I argued above, may be better saved for Great and Holy Week – and two hymns for Palm Sunday.  Some of these hymns as well known, while others (as far as I can tell) are rarely sung in our churches.

Hymns of  the Cross

We could, of course, just group all the remaining Lenten hymns under the heading “For use during Holy Week”, but this would give us four hymns for all of Great Lent, and perhaps a dozen to sing on the days of Holy Week – where only a few are likely to be used if the full cycle of liturgical services is held. Without regular Stations of the Cross, we simply have too many “hymns of the crucifixion” to sing in the course of a few hours, once a year.

Or perhaps not. Among the Passion hymns in our repertoire, there are at least three that focus more on the Cross (as a symbol of God’s love and Christ’s victory) and our response to it.  These hymns might be suitable for our Lenten observance, especially from the third Sunday of the Fast (the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross) through the end of the Fast:

At the most holy cross of our Savior

Beneath your cross I stand

Come now all you faithful, look upon the cross

My proposal would be to label these as “hymns of the Cross”, or even include them in the Great Fast section of the hymnal. This would provide a more even balance between the hymns for the forty days of Lent, and the songs we sing during Great and Holy Week.

Your comments welcome below!  You can use this space to provide your insights on the general topic of Lenten hymns, and on any of the specific hymns linked above.

And as always, see the Hymnal Project page for the overall status of the hymnal, and each hymn we are looking at.



Changes to MCI music in 2019

It’s been twelve full years since the new Divine Liturgy books were published and distributed, and fifteen years since the MCI began regularly distributing music for liturgical services.  With that in mind, I am planning on making a few changes in the coming year.

Communion Hymns – starting in 2005, the MCI distributed music for liturgical Communion Hymn of the day using a full assortment of the various Cherubic Hymn melodies, in order to help cantors and congregations learn them.  But we are long past that point, and so in the New Year, the MCI will only print the TEXT of the Communion Hymn(s) of the day, allowing the  cantor free choice of which melody to use. The exception for now will be a few feast days where the green book has a very specific seasonal melody to use; for now, these will be left in the propers.

Remember that the Cantor’s Companion has a table of ALL the Communion Hymns, and where they can be found in the Divine Liturgies book to each of the different Cherubic Hymn melodies.  You can also use this handout.

Vespers – the current MCI Vespers books were prepared in 2005-2006, and don’t always match the texts, music and rubrics in  our 2007 Divine Liturgies book and 2010 Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts book.  In the coming year, ALL the MCI Vespers books will be getting a much needed revision to match official texts and  correct various typos and infelicities which have been noted over the years.  Stay tuned!

The Hymnal Project – this will continue through 2019, and with luck a draft will go to the Music Commission next Fall.  Watch the blog!

The Harmonization Project – as part of our work toward chant and church music revitalization, in January we will be launching a project to make available harmonized (3- and 4-part) settings of plain chant and spiritual songs, along with materials to help teach and learn choral singing in church.

New music – there is at least some music which we might fruitfully introduce, now that most parishes are used to what is in our Divine Liturgies books (after ten years, I can’t call them new!).  For example, there are settings of the Cherubic Hymn into English which might be added to our repertoire, as well as complete collections of all the Communion Hymns set to each melody. This will probably be a project for later in the year, but I would welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

Online classes – these will continue.  The introductory courses in liturgy and church singing can be taken for free, and I am adding one in the history of our chant.  The remaining courses follow a regular schedule, and can be completed in two years from beginning to end, at a cost of about $35  per month.  Classes on reading in church, the liturgical year, and music for the Great Fast start on January 7.  See the classes page for more information.

As you can see, we have a lot going on – but the goal here is the glorification of God through the singing and worship in our parishes.  Christ is born!

Hymnal roundup: Christmas and Theophany

So the first part of the forthcoming hymnal – material for Christmas and Theophany – is basically complete, and the results are available online in the second edition of the Byzantine Catholic Hymnal for Nativity and Theophany.  Take a look!

There are a couple of pending issues on these:

In the town of Bethlehem could use a new translation, one which includes more than just two of the seven Slavonic verses, avoids bad accents, and which keeps the poetic conceit of ending each verse with some sort of the name, “Mary.”

Jesus came from heaven – I would love to have a complete singable setting of Spas naš narodilsja, which also avoids the theological issues of “Jesus coming from heaven.”

Jasna zorja – this uses the tune of Silent Night, but has a different text. I would like to include this in the hymnal, but in general nothing goes in with a non-English text unless there is also a translation provided (whether singable, as a separate hymn, or a literal English translation to put beneath the Rusyn Slavonic hymn.  Anyone out there who can provide either a literal translation, or some history on this hymn, please drop me a note at!

Silent Night – there IS a literal translation into Magyar (which I have) and one into Slavonic (which I don’t – or rather, the only text I have isn’t clear on how to match the text to the melody). Can anyone provide a text for Ticha noč, or text and music, that have been in actual use?

I am starting to fill in the tables at The Hymnal Project with things to work on for the Great Fast (which we will start on in January), Pascha (March-April), the Mother of God (May-June), and the saints and lesser feasts (July-August). God willing, by September we should have something to hand off to the Music Commission, and perhaps be able to publish it for next Christmas. As always,  your suggestions are welcome!

Traditional “English” Christmas Carols

All the spiritual songs we post on the MCI web site include English language versions – but for Christmas there are a collection of primarily “English” Christmas hymns and carols which were added to the Christmas Eve service book at the request of cantors, as text only (no music), so the words would be available for parishes that want to use them:

  • Angels we have heard on high
  • Hark! the herald angels sing
  • It came upon the midnight clear
  • Joy to the world
  • O come, all ye faithful
  • O little town of Bethlehem
  • Silent night

They can be found here. on pages 13-15, and I plan to incorporate them into the proposed hymnal, as you can see here.


  1. I am not convinced ALL of them are needed, or if there are others that should be included.
  2. We should at least consider adding the Rusyn (and perhaps even the Hungarian) texts for Silent night and O come, all ye faithful, since these exist and are sung in some of our parishes.

Your thoughts?

This will wrap up our discussion of Christmas hymns for now, so if you have any suggestions, please make them below!

Three Christmas Songs in Hungarian

When our church came into being in the US (formally in 1924), it served Rusyn, Hungarian, and Croatian Greek Catholics – basically, all those coming from within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In this country, we have had both Hungarian and Croatian parishes, of which a few are still in existence.

With this in mind, for the forthcoming hymnal I plan to include some of the best-loved or most frequently sung hymns from those traditions. So here are three Hungarian spiritual songs for Christmas:

The first is a Hungarian version of So nebes anhel (and may even have been the original version), so we already have it in English.  The other two are provided with new English translations.

When the hymnal is finally published, I plan to provide recordings of BOTH the Slavonic and Hungarian lyrics, as an aid to proper pronunciation.

Let me know what you think!

Christmas Songs Old and New

This third (and near-final) group of spiritual songs for Christmas includes two old favorites:

and three NEW English translations of Slavonic hymns:

Please look them over and post your comments below.  Wondrous news, in particular, has had a couple of small changes made to the English setting, and I would appreciate your thoughts.

For more about the new hymnal, see The Hymnal Project.

Many thanks to J. Michael Thompson, Kenneth Dilks, and Glenn Sedar for submitting English translations for potential use in the new collection!


Five Christmas Songs

Here are is the second batch of spiritual songs for Christmas that we are considering as part of the Hymnal Project.  Click on the link for the status and discussion page for each one, and see what you think:

Please post your thoughts and suggestions by leaving a comment below!

The current status of the entire project can be found by going to the MCI website (  Look on the left-hand side to find The Hymnal Project, and then click on any Discuss link in the article – especially the ones in bold face, since these are the songs we are focussing on currently.

And if  you have suggestions for Christmas songs or hymns to add, now is a very good time to do so!  I hope to have a first draft of the Christmas/Theophany portion of the hymnal done by December 16.

Four Christmas Songs

Here are the first four spiritual songs for Christmas that we are considering as part of the Hymnal Project.  Click on the link for the status and discussion page for each one, and see what you think:

Please post your thoughts and suggestions by leaving a comment below!

O who loves Nicholas the saintly?

The next spiritual song for the hymnal project is the popular hymn to our holy father Nicholas, bishop and wonderworker:

O who loves Nicholas the saintly?

Follow this link for the current state of the discussion, covering the Slavonic text, a few possible tweaks the the English, a new verse, and possible harmonizations.  Add your thoughts using the comment block below!

(I will admit that the commenting mechanism not working out QUITE as well as I had hoped.  I am considering the option of having weekly working sessions, using a phone/web conference.  If so, they will be on Thursday evenings.)

Also – now is a really good time to add your suggestions for any additional Christmas hymns we should work on.

Hymnal Project: Spiritual Songs for the Nativity of the Lord

Please add your suggestions to the blog entry for the Nativity hymns, or send me a note at Thanks!