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An Afternoon of Orthodox Psalms and Hymns

     On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 6, the walls of the McInnis Auditorium echoed with the uniquely beautiful sound of Znamenny chant and other styles of Orthodox music, all part of the thousand-year-old tradition of Russian monastic singing. All of this music was part of the “Psalms and Hymns” concert put on by the Center for Orthodox Thought and Culture at Eastern University, featuring an all-male choir of monks and seminarians from St. Tikhon’s Seminary Choir and The Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. St. Tikhon’s, located in Waymart, Pa., is America’s oldest Orthodox monastery, and its Chamber Choir is a talented professional vocal ensemble. The group’s mission is “to explore, promote and build up the tradition of Orthodox sacred music in America, and to bring people of today’s world into contact with the living tradition of ancient Christianity through vibrant and inspiring choral singing.”

     The event not only helped to raise funds to help offset tuition costs at St. Tikhon’s but also gave audience members a glimpse of the beauty of Russian Orthodox sacred music, as well as offered an experience of the biblical foundations of Orthodox liturgy. The texts for the musical numbers performed in the concert were taken almost entirely from the Psalms, reflecting the integral place of the psalms in worship throughout the history of the Christian tradition and in Orthodox churches today. As the conductor of the concert, Benedict Sheehan, writes, “In modern-day Eastern Orthodoxy, whose liturgical, theological and spiritual tradition has been shaped at the deepest level by monastic life, the practice of using psalmody to mark the hours of the day remains fundamentally unchanged.” In keeping with this foundational place of the psalms in Orthodox worship, the concert began with an arrangement of Psalm 104, praising God as Creator. Following pieces included texts from Psalm 141, 142, 129, 118 and others in addition to texts from the Gospels of Luke and Mark. Through all of the music, one of the recurring themes was rejoicing in God’s faithfulness, especially Christ’s faithfulness in bearing the cross.

     In the concert and the tradition it represented, there was a clear sense of connection between the freshness of the present moment and the richness of the past—the kind of connection that sometimes seems to be getting rarer and rarer in modern culture. And even more beautiful was the way that this time of Psalms and hymns created an opportunity for contemplation of the words of Scripture through the medium of a rich and long-standing musical tradition.

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