Songs of the Passion of Christ

We now come to one of the thornier problems in the hymnal project: those “Lenten hymns” which are really songs of the suffering of Christ on the Cross. These were often sung in connection with Stations of the Cross and other Lenten services which were imported from the Christian West, and replaced our own services such as the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Lenten Vespers, and the Royal Hours on Great and Holy Friday.

In addition to those printed in our 1978 Divine Liturgy book, our “core” collection of these hymns is Father Levkulic’s Hymns for Great Lent. About half the context of this work is strictly liturgical: music for the Liturgy of Saint Basil, the Typical Psalms and Beatitudes, the troparion of Thursday, and the hymn, Beneath your compassion, which is sung at Vespers on fast days.  This music we already have in official versions, and need not concern us here.

There are also Lenten hymns in this  collection which are properly hymns of repentance, that could be sung at services throughout the Great Fast as well as our minor fasts.  We discussed those in a previous thread,  as well as a pair of songs for Palm Sunday.

The remaining hymns in this collection are very specifically about the suffering and death of Christ on the Cross. In our tradition, these would be most suitably sung during Great and Holy Week, especially on Holy Thursday and Holy Friday.

These should definitely be considered for the hymnal:

The ones marked with an asterisk could use a literal translation of the Slavonic to accompany the music, and also have additional verses we might want to consider. (One problem with some of our English hymns is that they take only the first few stanzas of a much longer composition, and so focus on only a small part of the whole drama of Christ’s death, burial, and Resurrection. In these cases, more verses would be a good thing!)

This hymn, though popular in our church in the past, has a very complicated history, as regards both text and music. I am looking for someone who would be willing to do the work to establish a printable version of it in English and Slavonic.

The following hymns are more problematic.  If your parish sings these hymns and you want them included, let me know in the comments.

  • O my Jesus, suffering in pain (O Isuse, poranennyj)
  • O my people, my people (L’udi moje, l’udi)
  • O soul so sinful (Hl’an duše moja)
  • We venerate, O Christ (Poklanjajusja, moj Christe)

Please leave your comments below – as well as any additional Lenten hymns you would like to have us consider!


5 thoughts on “Songs of the Passion of Christ”

  1. I was not raised in this tradition and have been learning the music gradually as I have been trained and am now the main cantor in St. Louis. So my comment is more logistical about the hymnal project as a whole. We have the “Sunday Hymns” and the “Byzantine Catholic Hymnal” in two different books and it creates confusion for guests in trying to keep up with the music. I would gently suggest that these books be put together in a single volume to reduce the number of books used in the service.
    Many Thanks!

    1. Yes, there was a discussion of this in another thread; my plan is to have the “new” hymns for the cycle of Sundays in the same book, but in its own section.

      1. Dear Father Deacon,
        The Hymn for the Sundays of The Great Fast- “With Joy we keep the Holy Fast.” Will that be included in either section. It has the changeable stanza for each 5 Sundays. I think that represents the entire essence of the Fast-Tide. We keep the fast with joy! The sadder hymns I believe are more appropriate as we approach the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Week itself. That is just my humble opinion.
        Thank you for your kind attention.
        Yours truly,
        Ed Matusiewicz,
        Parish Cantor
        St. Andrew the Apostle Byzantine Catholic Church
        Westbury, (LI) New York.

  2. One late addition: I had a request for We venerate, O Christ (Poklanjajusja, moj Christe), and so that is going into the draft hymnal.

    Here are the results so far!

    Lenten Hymnal –

    Lenten Hymnal (booklet form)

  3. I really like The Grieving Mother.” I find myself wanting to change the cadence at the final note (EG) to three sequential descending notes G, Fsharp, and E.

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