The Greek Church is little known in the West, and it would seem as if there were little desire on our part to alter that state of things. The causes which have led to this indifference are many and not easily traced, but there are two which may be briefly referred to as being, perhaps, the chief.
The first of these is the inherent peculiarity of temperament which finds its expression in habits of thought and modes of action in the East, against which the spirit of the West frets and for which it has neither sympathy nor toleration. The quiet, meditative restfulness, the satisfaction with past attainment in doctrine and worship, the wistful retrospective gaze upon magnificent accomplishment, which the experiences of centuries of trial have only intensified,—these are totally alien to the active, speculative, hopeful spirit of the West.
The other is the great Roman Church. Inspired with the spirit which commends itself to the Western mind,—its activity, its aptitude to fit itself to the ever-changing circumstances of the times, its progressive spirit, and thirst for achievement,—that Church, for the past nine centuries, has obtruded itself upon our attention, and claimed, nay, demanded, our consideration. It pervades the West; its advocates are ubiquitous; its influence is everywhere felt. We are out of touch with the East; the Greek Church fades from our view,—out of sight it is out of mind, and it is the Roman Church that bars our vision.
Needless to say, the Greek Church deserves better at our hands than to be thus forgotten. Do we forget that the Fathers of that Church formulated our doctrines and shaped our creed; that the creed framed at Nicea is practically our creed; that the churches founded by the Apostles still hold by Apostolic doctrine, and are parts of that great Church; and that, in unbroken succession, from the dawn of Christianity down to the present time, the bishops have handed on the torch of truth? We reap the blessing of Eastern fidelity to Christian truth, and forget, or ignore, the source whence it came to us.
Prior to the Great Schism in A.D.1054, Christendom in East and West was practically one. The causes which led to that separation—fraught with such momentous and far-reaching issues, not only for Christianity, but also for the nations of the East—cannot be dwelt upon here. Suffice it to say that the estrangement found its completion when, in 1054, the addition of the word Filioque to the Latin Creed by which the Roman See expressed its adherence to the double procession of the Holy Ghost,—from the Father, and the Son, a doctrine against which the Greek Church had repeatedly protected,—supplied the ground for a renewal of the quarrel, which resulted, this time, in separation complete and final, Pope Leo IX excommunicating Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople.
In 1453 the Turk entered Constantinople, and the history of the Greek Empire was closed: but not that of the Church. She accepted the change of conditions imposed upon her, and when her temples were despoiled, and her worship profaned, still held to the Faith. Now that the Ottoman rule is gone, let us hope for ever, the prospect brightens, and the suffering Church, which has so nobly maintained the conflict, will doubtless reap her reward; and not in those dominions only, but also over the vast extent of Russia, when the sorely tried people of that late empire shall have emerged from the present welter in blood.
The Greek Church, in its Orthodox and Heretical divisions, comprises, among others, those peoples who speak the Greek and Slavic tongues. The Russian Church includes the peoples of that vast dominion. Christianity was first preached to them shortly before the Schism of 1054, and their conversion marks the greatest conquest of Christianity since the days of the Apostles. It was that great event which laid the foundation of Russia's subsequent greatness; and our hope for that interesting people lies in their warm religious temperament, and the Christian element that has entered their life, which have been fostered not alone in years of prosperity, but through centuries of oppression; and in these days in the midst of horrors to which the experiences of earlier Greek Christians alone afford a parallel.
In the ninth century commercial relations with Constantinople brought the Slavic people in contact with Eastern Christianity. Kiev became a centre of influence. Later, under the rule of Vladimir, who had become a devoted convert, Greek missionaries carried the Cross into Russia, preaching the Christian Faith to the people in their own language. The result was phenomenal. Churches, schools, monasteries were built, and were soon filled. For a century after the Schism of 1054 the Russian Church continued its connection with the See of Rome, but later resumed its old allegiance to the Patriarch of Constantinople.
The error has got abroad that the Russian Church is not really Greek, but only akin to it. This is a pure fiction; there is no Slavic Church; the Church in Russia has always been, and still is, essentially Greek.
Early in the fourteenth century the first Russian Patriarch was consecrated, although the Church continued for some time longer to look to the Patriarchs of Constantinople for guidance: and about the same time the Metropolitan See was transferred to Moscow, and relationship to the state established. In the reign of Peter the Great the patriarchate was suppressed, and the Holy Governing Synod took its place. This Synod, which has never changed its constitution, consists of the Metropolitans of Moscow, Kiev, and Petrograd, the Exarch of Georgia, and other prelates, the number of which is not limited. The Czar had the right to nominate six other dignitaries, as well as the principal chaplain to the forces, and his own private chaplain. A change of constitution will, however, now be necessary, and it will be interesting to learn what it will be.
The Service books from which the hymns in this volume are taken were, early in the history of the Russian Church, translated into Slavic. On account, however, of the separation and long distance from Constantinople, and for other reasons, many interpolations and not a few errors crept into these books, and continual revision had to be undertaken. The result is that at the present time the Russian Church has an excellent translation of the Greek Offices, in language clear enough, and simple enough, to be understood by all, even by the illiterate peasantry.
In these books the hymns with which we deal are to be found. Fully two-thirds of their contents are hymnodical; and as there are seventeen quarto volumes, closely printed, the extent of the praise material of the Russian Church can be imagined,—a veritable thesaurus, and practically unknown to the Churches of the West. They are written in rhythmical prose, in which metre and quantity are ignored, accent alone being observed. Commas are used, not to mark the sense, but to indicate the musical notation, much as we employ the colon in prose Psalms prepared for chanting. An exception to this rule is found in a few hymns by St. John of Damascus, which are in iambics. The hymns of the earliest Greek Christian poets, of which a very few are included in this volume, are not found in the Office books, and are consequently not used in canonical worship. The praise is conducted by a choir of Singers, who are ordained to their office; or, in the event of the service being lengthy, recited by a Reader, who is likewise ordained. No instrumental accompaniment is permitted.
The hymns of the Office books have a variety of characteristics, and are distinguished by terms the meaning of which is in most cases extremely vague, and in others to be derived from the subject of the hymn, or from the form, or it may be from the time, place, or manner, in which it is sung. As we have no corresponding words in our language for most of these it is necessary to retain the originals.
The Canon is the most elaborate form into which the praise of the Church is cast. A Canon consists nominally of nine Odes, for the reason that there are nine scriptural canticles employed at Lauds, viz. The Song of Moses after crossing the Red Sea, The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. The Songs of Hannah, Habakkuk, Isaiah, Jonah, The Three Children (first part, and second part), Mary (Magnificat), Simeon (Nunc dimittis).
As reference is made in each Ode to the canticle of the same number, e.g. in the sixth Ode to Jonah's prayer in the whale's belly, a considerable amount of ingenuity has been expended to secure the reference. The effect in some cases, as may be fancied, is somewhat grotesque, but it is remarkable with what skill it has in so many cases been accomplished.
The Hirmos is the first stanza of the Ode. It may or may not have a relation to the stanzas following, for its function is to give them their rhythmical model.
Troparia are the stanzas which follow the Hirmos. There are usually three in an Ode, but the number may exceed that. The term is probably derived from the verb (trepo) to turn: the Troparia turn to the strophes of the Hirmos as to a model.
Scattered over the Canon is a variety of verses variously named. The Kathisma occurs after the third or sixth Ode. The verse is sung during a pause in the service (kathizo).
Hypacóe occur after the third Ode; Kontakia, another obscure term, after the sixth Ode. Each Ode is followed by a Theotokion (theotokos, God-bearing), a Troparion dedicated to the Virgin Mother. In some cases a stanza depicting her at the Cross follows, called the Staurotheotokion. The Icos follows the Kontakion after the sixth Ode. Stichera are a series of verses, in some cases taken from the Psalter. The Idiomelon, unlike the Troparion, follows no model. The Exapostilarion is a verse sung between certain Psalms by one of the clergy, who is sent (exapostello) from his place among the choir down to the middle of the Church, for that purpose.
The hymns of this collection are, as the title describes them,—Translations or Renderings, Centos and Suggestions. It is in their suggestiveness that the chief attraction of Greek hymns lies. By the ordinary process of translation, the harmony which they present in the original language and setting, and the combined effect of metaphor and symbol in which they abound, are apt to be lost. It is by capturing the subtle suggestion of the original, and utilizing it to the best advantage in our more matter of fact language, that the value of the original is made appreciable. Objectiveness, which is the prominent mark of these hymns, enables us to do for ourselves what less wholesome subjective hymns aim at doing for us, and not always successfully; it presents a picture,—an icon in words, and if the worshipper be not hopelessly blind, he sees it, and the impression is made upon the mind and heart, with the desired result in varying degrees. It is this that makes the hymns of the Service books so suggestive, and hence the result of a reminiscence of the original is usually subjective. In the Suggestions included in this collection the original is used as a basis, a theme, a motive; oriental colour and some of its warmth are, it is hoped, preserved. Now and again an oriental figure is retained, and to those who have any acquaintance with the worship of the Eastern Church it must be obvious that the peculiar themes of her praise are in abundant evidence.
What, then, is the net result? To an unpractised eye, if no indication of the source of these hymns had been given, could anything about them have suggested their source? To the unpractised eye, nothing. But no one who knows the Greek Offices will travel far before he overtakes well-known landmarks. This is just as it should be. It is sufficient that a fertile source of suggestion has been found—of theme, thought, form, colour—and that from this ancient source it is possible to procure much that is beautiful for the adornment of the worship of God's house to-day. And this gratifying fact is made plain, that the themes of Greek praise are the themes of the praise of the Church in our land, and in all Christian lands;—The Christ in all the might and glory of His Person and Work; the need of our humanity, and the way in which Christ met it; His miraculous birth, which is not shorn of any of its mystery, and the embellishments of the event, which are never toned down, but, in true oriental fashion, made, if possible, more dazzling; His Passion and Death, and the fullness, of their atoning efficacy. But, as is to be expected, the grand theme of the Greek singers, as became those who, more than we have done, caught the first inspiration of their praise from the Apostles, is the glorious Resurrection of our Lord from the dead. Here the praise of the Greek Church touches its highest note and pours forth its most enchanting melody. "Christ is risen," and the glad response, "He is risen indeed,"—these words constitute the keynote of all that is best and most beautiful in Greek worship. The Knowledge and the Wisdom of God are everywhere extolled, and the attribute of Light is continually and cordially applied to the Deity.
In most cases initial Greek headlines have been omitted from the hymns of this collection for the reason that they can serve no useful purpose, nor indicate with any certainty the source of any particular hymn.
The foregoing Introduction to our subject has been deemed indispensable in view of the scanty information possessed by our people relative to the great Church of the East. The hymns must speak for themselves. May they be as a gift from a deeply suffering Church to many sad hearts in our own land—saddened by the events of the cruel war from which we have just emerged, thank God, victorious. If the comfort which many of them breathe should help to soothe the wounds of our sorrow, the Church from which it proceeds will only be continuing the office which she has so nobly fulfilled to her own suffering people during the past six centuries, and which she herself so sorely needs in these days of oppression and bloodshed.