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A Year-Round “Easter Chanter” to Safeguard Hellenism’s Cultural Heritage

“The day of the Resurrection! Let us be radiant… A Pascha of delight, the Lord’s Pascha. An all-venerable Pascha has dawned for us. Pascha. Let us embrace one another with joy… O Pascha, ransom from sorrow. An unblemished Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha that has opened for us the gates of Paradise, a Pascha that makes all the faithful holy…”

It is with these hymns, which offer up ineffable joy and delight, that the Church sings praises to and celebrates the Resurrection of the Savior. The word Pascha has a magical effect on the sacred hymnographers and they forget for a short while the austere and melancholy beauty that characterizes their inspired pieces preceding the delicate and Lydian [note: the ancient Greek Lydian tone is associated with soft and pleasant sounds, suitable for children’s music], so to speak, harmonies that automatically arise from their sacred lyres on this thrice-greatest proclamation. The Church removes its mourning clothes, dons a white and radiant outfit, as if the brilliant white radiance of the angel who rolled aside the stone from the tomb shined upon it. The sunless depths and dark vaults of the Christian churches are illuminated by the unwaning light as if it were daytime and the cool fragrant flowers, brought from the meadows and gardens to decorate the Savior’s ‘epitaphios’ shroud, retain yet their tender grace and traces of their worldly charms in the atmosphere of the churches that has become cloudy from incense. On this day, the Church sends up its resurrection prayer in a language that is different than usual; a language that one might say is filled with childlike exultations and indulgence. It invites everyone to the great banquet of the Resurrection – present and absent, those who fasted and those who did not, believers and non-believers, those wearing wedding attire and those dressed in cheap garb. “O intoxication of the Bride upon regaining the Bridegroom, o thrice-holy and uninterpretable intoxication!”

It is with these words that one of the most renowned Paschal panegyrists, the great author Alexandros Papadiamantis, welcomes Pascha in an article bearing the same name, published in 1888.

Likewise, in his short story the Easter Chanter, published in 1893, Papadiamantis tells the story of a low-ranking municipal council member from his native island of Skiathos, who would accompany local priests as a chanter. The protagonist had promised one of them that he would make it to a remote country chapel where a group of shepherds would gather to celebrate the night of Christ’s resurrection, however, having gotten off to a late start and lost his way, he ended up at a remote monastery.

Despite wanting to stay, due to the lateness of the hour and the comforts of the monastery, the local abbot overcame his temptation to entice him to stay for the Paschal vigil as a countermeasure against the itinerant priest at the chapel who would inevitably be taking away some of his parishioners.

Ultimately, they both exercise prudence and the chanter sets off to his original destination. After getting lost again on the rural goat path and slipping off a rock, falling into a stream, the parishioners of the chapel eventually hear his cries for help and lead him to the church. His arrival coincided with the end of the Resurrection matins, which were by necessity chanted by the priest, thus freeing up the latter and allowing him to celebrate the Resurrection Liturgy.

This charming story is perhaps best known for its preface, in which Papadiamantis counters modernist critics who wanted to downplay the role of the Orthodox faith in the Hellenic identity and connect it only to its ancient past or wannabe Western present, without recognizing the formative role of Byzantium or the middle ages in shaping Romanity.

He says, “an Englishman, a German, or a Frenchman is free to be cosmopolitan, or an anarchist, or an atheist, or anything else. They have done their patriotic duty and built a great country. Now, thanks to this luxury, they are free to profess their faithlessness or pessimism. But a modern-day Graeculus [note: a diminutive Latin reference for Greeks] who wishes to publicly portray an atheist or cosmopolitan resembles a dwarf standing on the tip of his toes and stretching to become taller and appear to be like a giant himself. The Greek nation, the enslaved part, but no less the free one, needs and will forever need its religion.”

This particular excerpt is very pertinent to Hellenism – both at home and abroad. It’s not just Greek politicians’ frequent affronts to the patriotic and religious sentiment of the people. Novelties abroad, supposedly aiming to make parish communities more streamlined with Western mainstream society, seem to be pushing out more people than they are bringing in. People are thirsty for authenticity and genuineness, not uninspired repackaging of foreign goods.

The Greek Orthodox Church has masterpieces of poetry, musical tradition, architecture, and ethos that represent a universal legacy. They are a living example of immaterial cultural heritage and should be preserved and cultivated with the greatest of care. Promoting Byzantine chant, just like teaching the language of the Gospel, is something that should be part of high-level strategy – not only to ensure ethnic vitality, but to effectively sustain and showcase this colossal inheritance. These things go together with the teaching of the modern Greek language, and if the Archdiocese was as adamant about promoting these elements as it is about imposing far lesser and arguably counterproductive details regarding uniformity of appearance or arbitrary changes in rubrics, we would be in a far more advantageous position today.

We conclude with a fitting quote by Papadiamantis from the story: “as for me, so long as a I live and breathe and have my senses, I will never cease to adoringly sing praises to Christ my Lord, passionately describe nature and lovingly depict the genuine Greek customs – especially during these most brilliant of days.” Christos Anesti!

 

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

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