Saturday, May 01, 2021

Byzantine Music for Holy Saturday

On the Julian Calendar, today is Holy Saturday, one of many days on which the Slavic choral tradition shines especially brightly. In the Byzantine Rite, the evening ceremony of Holy Saturday consists of Vespers joined to the Divine Liturgy of St Basil; it is often anticipated to the morning, since the night time celebration of the Resurrection can be very long indeed. (The latter consists of the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, an hour called the Midnight Office, which has a special form done only on Holy Saturday, a procession, Matins, Prime and the Divine Liturgy.) After the usual beginning (the introduction, Psalm 103, and the Litany of Peace), a series of hymns are sung between verses of Psalms 140, 141, 129 and 116, as at every Vespers, while the church is incensed. The entrance is done with the Gospel book and censer, and the daily Vesper hymn Phos hilaron is sung, followed immediately by 15 prophecies. (In practice, many places make a selection.)

1. Genesis 1, 1-13
2. Isaiah 60, 1-16
3. Exodus 12, 1-11
4. The Book of Jonah
5. Joshua 5, 10-15
6. Exodus 13, 20 - 15, 19
7. Sophoniah 3, 8-15
8. 3 Kings 17, 8-24
9. Isaiah 61, 10 - 62, 5
10. Genesis 22, 1-18
11. Isaiah 61, 1-9
12. 4 Kings 4, 8-37
13. Isaiah 63, 11 - 64, 5
14. Jeremiah 31, 31-34
15. Daniel 3, 1-57, and the Song of the Three Children

For the last part of the final prophecy (58-90), the reader continues as before, while the choir sings the refrain, “Sing to the Lord and exalt Him unto all ages!”, as heard here. (The same is done with the sixth reading from Exodus, once the reader reaches the beginning of the Canticle of Moses at verse 15, 1.)

After the prophecies, a small litany is sung, followed immediately by the chant “As many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ, alleluia.” (Galatians 3, 27) This replaces the normal chant of the Trisagion (“Holy God, Holy mighty...”) on all of the days traditionally dedicated to Baptism, such as Epiphany and Pentecost. In the following video, it begins at 0:52.

The reader and choir chant a Prokimen as usual before the Epistle, Romans 6, 3-11; however, on this day alone, there is no Alleluia between the Epistle and Gospel. Instead, Psalm 81 (82 in the Hebrew numbering) is sung with the final verse, “Arise, O God, judge thou the earth: for thou shalt inherit among all the nations.” as the refrain. The full Psalm is appointed to be said in the liturgical books, but it may be shortened, as in this recording from the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, which has only the first three verses.

Reader: Arise, O God, judge thou the earth: for thou shalt inherit among all the nations. Choir repeats.
Reader: God hath stood in the congregation of gods: and being in the midst of them he judgeth gods. Choir repeats Arise, O God.
Reader: How long will you judge unjustly: and accept the persons of the wicked? Choir repeats Arise, O God.
Reader: Judge for the needy and fatherless: do justice to the humble and the poor. Choir repeats Arise, O God.
Reader: Arise, O God... (Choir repeats.)

During this chant, the clergy change from dark to bright vestments, and the dark coverings of the altar, the icon stands, etc., are replaced with bright ones. Its theme, that Christ receives as His inheritance the nations which come into the Church in the Sacrament of Baptism, is continued in the Gospel, the whole of Matthew 28: the first report of the Resurrection to the women who come to His tomb (1-7), His appearance to them (8-10), the bribing of the guards (11-15) and His commission to the Apostles (16-20) to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

On Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, the regular Cherubic hymn “Let us, who mystically represent the Cherubim” is replaced with a different chant; the hymn for the latter was originally the daily Cherubic hymn of the Liturgy of St James. This version is also from the choir of the Novosspasky Monastery.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and in itself consider nothing of earth; for the King of kings and Lord of lords cometh forth to be sacrificed, and given as food to the believers; and there go before Him the choirs of Angels, with every dominion and power, the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces, and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

Another very beautiful version according to an arrangement by Fr Ludwig Pichler SJ, from Holy Saturday 2018 at the Russian College in Rome, where he served as the director of the choir from 1948-2009. (At 3:50, the first part is repeated from “for the King of kings...” My less-than-great hand-held camera could only do 8:11 of video, so unfortunately this breaks off at the word “Seraphim.”)
During the anaphora, a hymn to the Virgin Mary is sung; the regular hymn “It is truly worthy” is substituted on a number of major feasts by a chant from Orthros. On Holy Saturday, it reads as follows. “Weep not over me, Mother, as Thou beholdest me in the tomb, Thy Son whom Thou didst conceive in the womb without seed; for I shall rise and be glorified, and as God, shall unceasingly exalt in glory them that magnify Thee in faith and love.”

To all Christians who celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord tomorrow, we wish you a most blessed Feast of All Feasts - He is truly risen!

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