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Hymns of the Eastern Church, by J.M. Neale, [1884], at

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As a general rule, the first poetical attempts of the Eastern, like those of the Western, Church, were in classical measures. But as classical Greek died out from being a spoken language,—as new trains of thought were familiarized,—as new words were coined,—a versification became valueless, which was attached with no living bonds to the new energy, to the onward movement. Dean Trench has admirably expressed this truth in the introduction to his "Sacred Latin Poetry," and showed how the "new wine must be put into new bottles." Ecclesiastical terms must be used, which rebel against classical metre: in Greek, no less than in Latin, five words in eight would be shut out of the principal

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classical rhythms. Now, the Gospel was preached to the poor. Church hymns must be the life-expression of all hearts. The Church was forced to make a way for saying in poetry what her message bade her say. *

S. Gregory Nazianzen, the first Greek Church poet, used only the ordinary classical measures. S. Sophronius of Jerusalem employed (and in

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their way not unhappily), Anacreontics: and his hymns on various festivals have some elegance. But there is a certain degree of dilettante-ism, rather than of earnestness, in these compositions; and the most airy, tripping, frivolous measure that the Greek Muse possessed, never, by any possibility, could form the ordinary utterance of the Church. The Church compositions of S. Sophronius, though called ποιήματα, are in fact mere prose: as those grand prayers on the Epiphany.

How then was the problem to be solved as to

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the composition of Eastern Church Song? In Latin, somewhat before the time of S. Sophronius, A.D. 630, it was answered by the glorious introduction of rhyme. Why not in Greek also?

Now, it is no less true in Greek, than in Latin, that there was a tendency to rhyme from the very beginning. Open Homer: look for caudate rhymes:—

Νημερτής τε καὶ Ἀψευδὴς καὶ Καλλιάνασσα·
Ἔνθαδ᾽ ἔην Κλυμένη, Ἰάνειρα καὶ Ἰφιάνασσα.
                                  Il. xviii. 46.

Ἄστεος αἰθομένοιο· θεῶν δέ Ϝε μῆνις ἀνῆκεν.
Πᾶσι δὲ θῆκε πόνον, πολλοῖσι δὲ κήδἐ ἐφῆκεν·
Ὡς Ἀχιλεὺς Τρώεσσι πόνον καὶ κήδεα θῆκεν·
                                  Il. xxi. 523.

Οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ἦσιν
Η ὅ τι ποσσὶν τε ῥέζει καὶ χερσὶ Ϝεῆσιν·.
                                  Odyss. viii. 147.

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Leonines are still more common. The reader's attention is particularly requested to those that follow:—

Il. ii. 220. Ἔχθιστος δ᾽ Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ᾽ ἦν, ἠδ᾽ Ὀδυσῆϊ,

      484. Ἔσπετε νῦν μοι, Μοῦσαι, Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχουσαι·

      475. Ῥεῖα διακρίνωσιν, ἐπεί κε νομῶ μιγέωσιν.

   iii. 84. Ὥς ἔφαθ᾽· οἱ δ᾽ ἔσχοντο μάχης, ἄνεῳ τ᾽ ἐγένοντο.

   v. 529. Ὦ φίλοι, ἀνέρες ἔστε, καὶ ἄλκιμον ἦτορ ἕλεσθε.

   vi. 242. Τὸν δ᾽ Ἑλένη μύθοισι προσηύδα μειλιχίοισι.

Od. i. 40.Ἐκ γὰρ Ὀρέσταο τίσις ἔσσεται ἈτρεϜίδαο.

      397. Αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ Ϝοἴκοιο Ϝἄναξ ἔσομ᾽ ἡμετέροιο.

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   iv. 12 1. Ἐκ δ᾽ Ἑλένη θαλάμοιο θυώδεος ὑψορόφοιο.

   xiv. 371. Ἀσπίδας, ὅσσαι ἄρισται ἔνὶ στρατῷ ἠδὲ μέγισται.

And I might mark multitudes more: but these are enough by way of example. The question then occurs at once, Why did not the new life, instilled into the Greek as well as into the Latin language by Christianity, seize the grand capability of Rhyme in the one case as well as in the other? How stately it would have been in anapæstics! how sweet in trochaics! Why was it neglected?

For this reason: the reader must remember that hardly one of the rhymes I have been pointing out in Homer would be rhymes to a Greek ear. Read them accentually, and you find ἄρισται and μέγισται are no more double

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rhymes to a Greek than gloriously and ferociously are to us: μοῦσαι and ἔχουσαι, no more than glory and victory. Accent, in the decline of the language, was trampling down quantity. Now accent is not favourable to such rhymes, though many poems have been thus composed in the newer Greek:

εὗρον φίλον κοματάκη
καθ᾽ ὅπερ τετεραγωνάκη

[paragraph continues] But it was not sufficiently removed from every-day life,—too familiar,—had too little dignity. There was an innate vulgarity about it which rendered it impossible to the Church.

Now, let it be observed, accentuation even in Latin was not without its difficulty. In the new style, dissyllables, whatever their real quantity, were always read—and so we read them now—as trochees. Férox, vélox, scéptrum.

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[paragraph continues] Hence a verse in the early metrical hymns, such as—

"Castos fides somnos juvat,"

a dimeter iambic, would have been read in mediæval times, Cástos fídes sómnos júvat, and so have virtually become a dimeter trochaic. Popular poetry soon devised its own metre, political verse, as it was called, because used for every-day domestic matters. This was none other than a favourite metre of Aristophanes, iambic tetrameter catalectic,—our own ballad rhythm:—

"A Captain bold of Halifax, who lived in country quarters."

And this, sometimes with rhyme, sometimes without, is the favourite Romaic metre to the present day. For example:—

μή διά θύρας βαίνειν δὲ λέγω τοὺς κλεπταββάδας, p. 33
χωστοὺς, ἐγκλείστους, ἕλκοντας θήρια, στελοβάτας,
πάντας ὅσοι παρὰ τὰ νόμιμα δρῶσι τὸν βίον,
καὶ τῶν μονωτροπούντων δε, πλὴν ἐν ἐρήμου τρόποις.

The Church never attempted this sing-song stanza, and preferred falling back on an older form.

From the brief allusions we find to the subject in the New Testament, we should gather that "the hymns and spiritual songs" of the Apostles were written in metrical prose. Accustomed as many of the early Christians were to the Hebrew Scriptures, this is not unlikely; and proof seems strong that it was so. Compare these passages:—

Eph. v. 14. Wherefore he saith:

ἔγειρε ὁ καθεύδων,
καὶ ἀνάστα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν·
ἐπιφαύσει σοι ὁ Χριστός.

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Undoubtedly the fragment of a hymn. Again:—

Apoc. iv. 8.

μεγάλα καὶ θαυμαστὰ τὰ ἔργα σου,
Κύριε ὁ Θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ·
δίκαιαι καὶ ἀληθιναὶ αἱ ὁδοί σου,
ὁ Βασιλεὺς τῶν ἐθνῶν.

[paragraph continues] And nearly coeval with these we have the Gloria in Excelsis, the Ter Sanctus, and the Joyful Light. Also the Eastern phase, so to speak, of the Te Deum; the καθ᾽ ἐκάστην ἡμέραν. And to this rhythmical prose the Church now turned.

Then, not to pursue the subject with a detail of which this Introduction will not admit, we find that by the beginning of the eighth century, verse, properly speaking (and that with scarcely an exception), had been discarded for ever from the hymns of the Eastern Church; those hymns, occupying a space beyond all comparison greater

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than they do in the Latin, being written in measured prose. And now to explain the system.

The stanza which is to form the model of the succeeding stanzas,—the strophe, in fact,—is called the Hirmos, from its drawing others after it. The stanzas which are to follow it are called troparia, from their turning to it.

Let Ps. cxix. 13, be the Hirmos:—

"I will talk of Thy commandments
 and have respect unto Thy ways."

Then verse 15 would be a troparion to it:—

"With my lips have been I telling:
 of all the judgments of Thy mouth."

So would 17:—

"O do well unto Thy servant:
 that I may live, and keep Thy word."

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and Ps. cii. 16:—

"When the Lord shall build up Sion:
 and when His glory shall appear."

[paragraph continues] Let verse 44 be a Hirmos:

"So shall I always keep Thy law:
 yea, for ever and ever."

and 45 will be a troparion to it:—

"And I will walk at liberty:
 for I seek Thy commandments."

These troparia are always divided for chanting by commas,—utterly irrespective of the sense. This separation into commatisms renders it very difficult to read them without practice. Take an example, with the corresponding effect in English

Ωιδὴ ά· ἦχος δ᾽· ὁ εἶρμός·

Θαλάσσας τὸ ἐρυθραῖου πελαγος, ἀβρόχοις ἴχνεσιν, ὁ παλαιὸς πεζεύσας Ισραὴλ, σταυροτύποις

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[paragraph continues] Μωσέως χερσὶ, τοῦ Ἀμαλὴκ τὴν δύναμιν, ε̑ν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἐτροπώσατο.

"Israel in ancient times passing on foot with, unbedewed steps the Red Gulf, of the sea, turned to flight by, the cross-typifying arms, of Moses the might of Amalek, in the wilderness."

The perfection of troparia is in a Canon, of which I shall say more presently. I need not trouble the reader with the minute distinction between troparia and stichera; as a troparion follows a Hirmos, so a sticheron follows an bomoion, and then becomes a prosomoion. There are also idiomela,—that is, stanzas which are their own models,—and an infinite variety of names expressive of the different kind of troparia.

A collection of any number of troparia, preceded by their Hirmos, sometimes merely quoted by its initial words, sometimes given at length, and with inverted commas, is an Ode.

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Let the Hirmos, be as before—

"With my lips have I," &c.

and the Ode might follow thus:—


"With my lips have I been telling: of all the judgments of Thy mouth.
"Let us break their bonds asunder: and cast away their cords from us.
"I am weary of my groaning: and every night I wash my bed.
"For he lieth waiting secretly as a lion in his den.
"I am poured out like water: and all my bones are out of joint."


"I will talk of thy commandments: and have respect unto thy ways."

Both now.

And let this be most carefully observed: an Ode is simply a Sequence under somewhat different laws. Just when the system of Greek

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ecclesiastical poetry was fully developed, S. Notker and the Monks of S. Gall hit out a similar one for the Latin Church: the Sequence or the Prose. It was not copied from the East, for we have S. Notker's own account of the way in which he invented it. It prospered to a certain extent; that is, it became one, though the least important, branch of Ecclesiastical verses. Now the perfection of Greek poetry is attained by the Canons at Lauds, of which I proceed to speak.

A Canon consists of Nine Odes,—each Ode containing any number of troparia from three to beyond twenty. The reason for the number nine is this: that there are nine Scriptural canticles, employed at Lauds, (εἰς τὸν Ὄρθρον), on the model of which those in every Canon are formed. The first: that of Moses after the passage of the Red Sea—the second, that of

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[paragraph continues] Moses in Deuteronomy (chap. xxxiii.)—the third, that of Hannah—the fourth, that of Habakkuk—the fifth, that of Isaiah (xxvi. 9–20)—the sixth, that of Jonah—the seventh, that of the Three Children (verses 3–34, of our "Song" in the Bible Version)—the eighth, Benedicite—the ninth, Magnificat and Benedictus.

From this arrangement two consequences follow. The first, that, as the Second Canticle is never recited except in Lent, the Canons never have any second Ode. The second, that there is generally some reference, either direct or indirect, in each Ode, to the Canticle of the same number: in the first Ode, e.g., to the Song of Moses at the Red Sea: in the third to that of Hannah. This gives rise, on the one hand, to a marvellous amount of ingenuity, in tracing the most far-fetched connexions,—in discovering the most remote types;—it brings out into the clearest

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light the wonderful analogies which underlie the surface of Scripture narration; and so far imbues each Ode with a depth of Scriptural meaning which it could scarcely otherwise reach. On the other, it has a stiffening and cramping effect; and sometimes, especially to the uninitiated, has somewhat of a ludicrous tendency. It would be curious to sum up the variety of objects of which, in a thousand Sixth Odes, we find Jonah's Whale a type. On the whole, this custom has about the same disadvantages and advantages which Warton points out as resulting from the four rhymes of a Spenserian stanza;—the advantages,—picturesqueness, ingenuity, discovery of new beauties: the disadvantages,—art not concealed by art, tautology, imparity of similitudes, a caricature of typology, painful and affected elaboration.

The Hirmos, on which each Ode is based, is

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sometimes quoted at length at the commencement, in which case it is always distinguished by inverted commas; or the first few words are merely cited as a note to the singer, for whose benefit the Tone is also given.

The next noticeable matter is that these Odes are usually arranged after an acrostich, itself commonly in verse: sometimes alphabetical. The latter device was probably borrowed from the Psalms; as for example the 25, 112, 119.

The arrangement is not to be considered as a useless formality or pretty-ism: it was of the greatest importance, when so many Canons had to be remembered by heart. We know to what curious devices the Western Church, in matters connected with the Calendar, had recourse as a Memoria Technica; and not a few of her short hymns were alphabetical, either by verses or by lines; I know no instance of any other kind of

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acrostich. Besides the line which forms the initials of Greek Canons, the name of the composer, likewise finds a frequent place. And it is worth noticing that, whereas the authors of the world-famous hymns of the West, with a few exceptions (such as the Vexilla Regis, the Dies Iræ, the Veni Sancte Spiritus), are unknown, the case in the East is reversed. The acrostich may, or may not, run through the Theotokia, of which I now proceed to speak.

Each Ode is ended by a troparion, dedicated to the celebration of S. Mary, and thence named Theotokion. Sometimes there is another, which commemorates her at the Cross; and then it is a Stauro-theotokion. In long Canons, a stanza, sometimes intercalated at the end of the third or sixth Odes, is called a Cathisma, because the congregation are then allowed to sit. There is also the Oicos, literally the House,—which is the

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exact Italian Stanza,—about the length of three ordinary troparia. The Catavasía is a troparion in which both choirs come down together, and stand in the middle of the Church, singing it in common.

The acrostichs are usually in iambics,—sometimes none of the best: e.g.

ἔκπλήττομαί σου τούς λόγους Ζαχαρία,

on the feast of S. Zacharias the Prophet:—and generally bringing in some paronomasia on the Saint's names; as—

φερώνυμόν σε τοῦ Θεοῦ δῶρον σέβω, on that of S. Dorotheus.

[paragraph continues] Or again:—

τρυφῆς μεθέξειν ἀξίωσόν με, Τρύφων·

and of S. Clement:

μέλπω σε, κλῆμα τῆς νοητῆς ἀμπέλου.

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But there are examples of acrostichs which take the form of an hexameter, as—

εἰκάδι οὐρανοῦ εἰς ξενίην Ξένη ἦλθε τετάρτη.


Τιμόθεον τὸν Ἀπόστολον, ᾄσμαστιτοῖσδε γεραίρω·


τὸν θεορήμονα Γρηγόριον τον ἀοίδιμον ᾄδω·

I shall more than once have occasion to observe that, while the earlier Odes, which treat of such subjects as the Resurrection, Ascension, Nativity, are magnificent specimens of religious poetry, the later ones, composed in commemoration of martyrs, of whom nothing but the fact of their martyrdom is known, are often grievously dull and heavy. Herein the Eastern Church would have done well; to have had, for such as these, a Canon of the Common of Martyrs, instead of

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celebrating each differently; if the tautology which composes such Odes can indeed be called different.

I said, some short time since, that the Greek Ode and the Latin Notkerian Sequence were essentially the same. This being so, it is to introduce confusion into the very axioms of hymnology to call that kind of Sequence, as Mone does, by the name of Troparion. The Troparion does not answer to the Sequence, but to each stanza of the Sequence. The differences between Odes and Sequences may be briefly summed up as follows:—

The Hirmos in the former has a number of Troparia following it and based on it, whereas in the latter the Troparia run in couples; that is, one Hirmos has one follower, or Troparion, and there an end; then, another follows another, and so on. There are sometimes triplets, but these are not common.

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2. The Hirmos in Greek Odes is always an already existing Troparion; whereas, in Latin, the writer generally composed that as much as any other part of the Sequence. But in certain Sequences this was not always the case. Godeschalkus sometimes took a verse from the Psalms.

3. Sometimes, indeed, a whole Sequence was made super some other Sequence, and then it became a vast Troparion, the different verses taking the place of the commatisms in Greek Odes. In the February number of The Ecclesiologist for 1859, is given a list of Hirmos-Sequences, from the Brander MS. of S. Gall. But even in these cases, it is better not to call them Troparia, as they have so little real resemblance to Greek stanzas of that kind: I had rather see them called Homoia.

4. The rhythm in the Greek is far more exact. Not only the syllabic arrangement, but the accentuation

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is the same; whereas in Latin, the accentuation is often counter; that is, an iambic dimeter in the Hirmos is answered by a trochaic dimeter in the Troparion. For example, if the Hirmos were,—

"The Lord is great in Sion:
 and high above all people,"

the requirements of a Sequence would be satisfied with the Troparion,

"Look upon my misery:
 and forgive me all my sins."

[paragraph continues] Such a licence would not for one moment be allowed in the Greek.

I next have to speak of the books in which Greek Hymnology is to be found. They consist principally of sixteen volumes.

α. Twelve of the Menæa:—which would answer, in Western Ritual, to the Breviary, minus the ferial offices. But, whereas in the

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[paragraph continues] West, the only human compositions of the Breviary are the lections from the sermons of the Fathers, the hymns, and a few responses—the body of the Eastern Breviary is ecclesiastical poetry: poetry not, strictly speaking, written in verse, but in measured prose. This is the staple of those three thousand pages—under whatever name the stanzas may be presented—forming Canons and Odes; as, Troparia, Idiomela, Stichera, Stichoi, Contakia, Cathismata, Theotokia, Triodia, Staurotheotokia, Catavasíæ,—or whatever else. Nine-tenths of the Eastern Service-book is poetry.

β. The Paracletice, or Great Octoechus: in eight parts.

This contains the Ferial Office for eight weeks.

Each week has on Sunday—

A Canon of the Trinity.

A Canon of the Resurrection.

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A Canon of the Cross and Resurrection.

A Canon of the Mother of God (one or more).

On Monday:

A Canon of Penitence.

A Canon of the Angels.

On Tuesday:

A Canon of Penitence.

A Canon of the Forerunner.

On Wednesday:

A Canon of the Cross.

A Canon of the Mother of God.

On Thursday:

A Canon of the Apostles.

A Canon of S. Nicolas.

On Friday:

A Canon of the Passion.

A Canon of the Mother of God (two).

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On Saturday:

A Canon of Prophets and Martyrs.

A Canon of the Dead.

In the first week, the whole of the Canons are sung to the first Tone: in the second, to the second, and so on. The Greek Tones answer to our Gregorian, thus:—




























Varys (heavy.)









The Paracletice forms a quarto volume (double columns) of 350 pages: at least half is the work of Joseph of the Studium. The

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[paragraph continues] Octoechus, sometimes called the Little Octoechus, contains the Sunday services from the Paracletice: they are often printed separately.

γ. The Triodion: the Lent volume, which commences on the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican (that before Septuagesima) and goes down to Easter. It is so called, because the leading Canons have, during that period, only three Odes.

δ. The Pentecostarion,—more properly the Pentecostarion Charmosynon,—the Office for Easter-tide. On a moderate computation, these volumes together comprise 5000 closely printed quarto pages, in double columns, of which at least 4000 are poetry.

The thought that, in conclusion, strikes one is this: the marvellous ignorance in which English ecclesiastical scholars are content to remain of this huge treasure of divinity—the gradual completion

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of nine centuries at least. I may safely calculate that not one out of twenty who peruse these pages will ever have read a Greek "Canon" through; yet what a glorious mass of theology do these offices present! If the following pages tend in any degree to induce the reader to study these books for himself, my labour could hardly have been spent to a better result.


26:* As an illustration of this remark, it is worth while noticing how very few examples of Hexameters occur in the New Testament. I believe that the following are all that are tolerable; that is, that can so be scanned without one or two false quantities:—

S. Luke xxi. 18. Θρὶξ ἐκ τῆς κεφαλῆς ὑμῶν οὐ μὴ ἀπόληται

S. John xiii. 5. Βάλλει ὕδωρ εἰς τὸν νιπτῆρα, καὶ ἤρξατο νίπτειν.

S. John xiii. 16. οὐκ ἔστι [ν] δοῦλος μείζων τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ.

S. John xvii. 20. καὶ περὶ τῶν πιστευσόντων διὰ τοῦ λόγου αὐτῶν.

Titus iii. 2. μηδένα βλασφημεῖν, ἀμάχους εἶναι, ἐπιεικεῖς.

Heb. xii. 13. καὶ τροχιὰς ὀρθὰς ποιήσατε τοῖς ποσὶν ὑμῶν.

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There are some which are very near a hexameter: as S. Matt. xxiii. 6—

καὶ τὰς πρωτοκαθεδρίας ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς.

[paragraph continues] A tolerable pentameter occurs in Rom. vi. 53—

καὶ τὰ μέλη ὐμῶν ὅπλα δικαιοσύνης·

and a remarkable iambic in the Lord's Prayer.

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δίδου.

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