September 6, 2023

Homilies on the Commonwealth of the Church - The Chanter (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

 The Commonwealth of the Church

The Chanter

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Usually people characterize the Bishop as High Clergy and the Presbyters and Deacons as Lower Clergy. However, this is not correct from the Church's point of view. Because in the texts of the Church, the High Clergy are the Bishop, the Presbyter and the Deacon, who belong to the three degrees of the Priesthood, and to the lower degree belong the Subdeacons, the Chanters, the Readers, because they help the Clerics in their liturgical ministry.

The Lower Clergy also includes chanters, or as they are usually called, sacred chanters. This is the chanter who is on the right side of the Temple, at the right analogion and is called the right chanter, and there is also the chanter who is on the left side of the Temple, at the left analogion and is called the left chanter. In the Patriarchal Church the right chanter is called Protopsaltis and the left chanter is called Lampadarios.

The ministry of the chanter has an evolution through the centuries, as we see in various ancient ecclesiastical texts. In the first Christian period, all the people said "Amen" and chanted the Psalms of David, or they all chanted, as happened at the Secret Supper where "they went up to the Mount of Olives singing hymns" (Matt. 26:30).

Later, there was a chanter who started the Psalm and the whole congregation followed, as it appears in the "Apostolic Constitutions", where it is written: "Let the reader ... chant the Psalms of David and the people will chant the verses." This happens even today in some churches where the chanters chant some Psalms of David and the people repeat "For His mercy endures unto the ages, hallelujah." Later, however, because many troparia were composed, which were also difficult to chant, though mainly because the heretics composed hymns with heretical content, that is why "canonical chanters" were established, who had to chant the Orthodox hymns.

In fact, the Penthekti Ecumenical Synod with its 75th Canon determines how the chanters should chant in the church. It decided: "We will that those whose office it is to sing in the churches do not use undisciplined vociferations, nor force nature to shouting, nor adopt any of those modes which are incongruous and unsuitable for the church: but that they offer the psalmody to God, who is the observer of secrets, with great attention and compunction. For the Sacred Oracle taught that the Sons of Israel were to be pious."

Thus, the evolution of both hymnography and ecclesiastical music contributed to the creation of a special category by Christians, who will acquire specialized knowledge in order to maintain dignity during sacred services, especially during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

But even in this case the best thing is to form a choir, so that all these troparia will not be chanted by just one chanter. The choir complements the vocal skills of an individual and a complete hymn is heard, without creating negative feelings in the churchgoers.

The "canonical chanters" exercise this ministry with the blessing of the Bishops, because nothing is done in the Church without the canonical permission from the Bishops. Thus, apart from the appointment to take up this ministry, a special service is required, during which a relative prayer is read by the Bishop-Metropolitan. Among the other things in this prayer, the Bishop entreats God: "Enlighten him to offer You chants of sweet spiritual songs, find him worthy to serve You intelligibly and venerably, sanctify him in Your fear, keep him in Your grace, that he may live in a manner pleasing to You and be chosen for greater gifts of Your Holy Spirit."

If the High Priest and the Priest during the Divine Liturgy are in the type and place of Christ, the chanters are in the type and place of the Angels. This is clearly seen in the Book of the Revelation of John the Theologian, where in the heavenly Divine Liturgy, the Angels chant: "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord Sabaoth" and "Hallelujah".

The work of the chanters in the Church and indeed in the Divine Liturgy is very important, since in psalmody the chanters express the people they represent, who cannot chant the sacred services and the Divine Liturgy, as they have been shaped today. However, two serious issues must be highlighted.

The first is that the chanters perform an important work, an important ministry, since they are the exponents of a great science, liturgical hymnography and ecclesiastical music.

Through the centuries, great hymnographers composed sacred hymns of great value, which express the theology and faith of the Church. This is seen in the resurrection troparia composed by Saint John of Damascus which we chant every Sunday, as it is also seen in the wealth of Orthodox hymnography during the Despotic and Theometoric feasts and the feasts of the Saints of our Church.

If we add that great composers covered these hymns with exquisite music in various tones, according to the content of each troparion, then we understand that those who go up to the analogion of the Sacred Temples are the expressors of a great liturgical tradition going back centuries and convey to us an unfathomable wealth of liturgical life. This should not only be appreciated by the people of the Church, but also by [the Greek] society and the State. The chanters keep alive an amazing culture.

The second point is that whatever is done in the Church, whatever ministry is practiced, must be done with a humble attitude, because the word of Christ applies to this point as well: "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).

This means that, although the chanters are bearers of a great and rich ecclesiastical tradition, they are not the center of worship and the Divine Liturgy. The center of ecclesiastical life is the Holy Altar, the Sacred Sanctuary and the High Priest and Priest who officiates, and not the analogion of the sacred chanter. The Officiating Bishop and Priest is responsible for worship and the Divine Liturgy, but the center is Christ.

Thus, there should be humility and cooperation while there should not prevail the individualization of gifts.

The chanters are the assistants of the Bishop and the Priests, and they do not act independently, because a Divine Liturgy cannot only take place with chanting. Therefore, the Bishop-Metropolitan is responsible for everything that happens in each Metropolis, and in the Holy Temples the Priest is responsible for the performance of the sacred services and Divine Liturgies.

However, the chanters are our valuable partners in the performance of the sacred services and Divine Liturgies, and we glorify God for the work they do in the Church.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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