In this symposium, liturgical scholars and practitioners present papers discussing themes of poetry and song in the medieval and contemporary religious and musical traditions of Judaism and Christianity.
Cathedral Vigils, Canons, and Akathists: The Strange Case of the Paraliturgical Place of the Kontakion
Richard Barrett, Indiana University
Today's received liturgical tradition of the kontakion, a short, syllabic hymn sung during the Divine Liturgy, belies its late antique origins as a paraliturgical, long-form hymnographic genre that nonetheless was a popular vehicle for urban liturgizing par excellence as a major element of Constantinopolitan cathedral vigil processions. Under the pen of St. Romanos the Melodist, the sixth century hymnographer who perfected the genre, they became vehicles for theological and political discourse. Historical and liturgical developments obscured the role of the kontakion by the end of the first millennium. Cathedral vigils were gradually being replaced by a synthesis of monastic and urban liturgical practice, bringing the canon, another long-form hymnographic genre, into the foreground. As the kontakion's paraliturgical popularity waned, its liturgical use became increasingly abbreviated and prescribed, with all but the prelude, the initial verse, largely being silenced. The primary exception, the kontakion known as the Akathistos, dedicated to the Mother of God, was sung in its entirely, but reserved for a lone festal occasion. Meanwhile, in the centuries to come, paraliturgical compositions that were sung, such as the kalophonic irmos, tended to prefer short texts, setting them in lengthy, highly virtuosic, melismatic musical textures. In the last two centuries, the form of the kontakion has been revived to a certain degree, with Russian faithful copying the form of the Akathistos as a form of paraliturgical lay piety. In the present day, composers have turned to the full-length kontakion as texts for long-form choral compositions, such as Richard Toensing's (1940–2014) 2009 setting of St. Romanos' Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ.
Hebrew Hymns and Their Seasonal Leitmotifs
Brian Mayer, Hebrew College
The opening and closing hymns of Jewish worship, although not required as part of the liturgy, serve as calendrical signifiers through their seasonal musical leitmotifs. This paper will examine two such hymns in their various settings, tracking their multiple melodies, which are associated with the Jewish holiday cycle.
Carmen Christi: Kenosis in Hymnography
Sarah Jenks, University of Notre Dame
The concept of κένωσις first appears in the ‘song of Christ’, Philippians 2:1–6. This text played a major role in pre-Chalcedonian christological controversies, and appeared in a very different form in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the works of such theologians as Thomasius, Barth, and Kierkegaard. In the long centuries between, the concept of κένωσις was largely absent from the development of theological doctrine. At the same time, however, κένωσις continued to be explored in liturgical and para-liturgical poetry ranging from Christmas to the Passion. This paper will examine examples of the ‘self-emptying’ Christ in hymnography, both Eastern and Western, ranging from the fourth to seventeenth centuries.
On the Christocentric Nature of Holy Saturday Lamentations Compared to the Mariologic and Hagiologic Deviations in Later Lamentation Compositions
Nick Giannoukakis, Pittsburgh, PA
The Holy Saturday Lamentations are a distinct sequence of verses interspersed with verses of the 118th Psalm, divided into three parts. They are a masterful and passionate composition positioning the Theotokos across a reposed Son and one can easily be led to consider the Lamentations as a dirge song of the Virgin. A careful examination of the Lamentations, however, will reveal an interesting series of elements that derive from what later has been termed “the cult of the Theotokos” along with established traditions of dirge song. The Holy Saturday Lamentations aim at directly demonstrating the perfect union of Man and God, in a Christ that, although reposed, is in fact alive; the coincidence, through dirge song, and cult aspects, of an event in time and in space, in an existence that transcends the earthly and in the image of a perfect man and perfect God, aims at the deification and immortality of man, through Christ.
This poetic, literary, and theologic masterpiece became the template for later and more recent compositions (Lamentations of the Theotokos, Lamentations of saints, for example). The later and more recent compositions, however, deviate from the Christocentric aspect of the original template and, instead, represent a compendium of local folklore, elements of local cults and local worship practices. These distinguishing features confer a more para-ecclesiastic nature and susbstance to the later innovations and a less ecclesiastic, theologic, nyptic character as evidenced in the Holy Saturday Lamentations. These para-ecclesiastic aspects of later compositions will be discussed in relation to the evolving practice in the Orthodox world of incorporating them in worship and to the influence of regional “cult-like” elements in the modern worship services in which such Lamentations have been instituted.