Byzantine chant

The Byzantine chant is the mnemotechnics of the rendering of chants in Church services (practitioners, Liturgical Typikon, planning of concerts, resources, manuals, training and its characteristic cultural constitutive elements and idioms).

It was inscribed on the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2015.

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1. Name : Byzantine Chant.
Other names : Byzantine Music, Eastern Orthodox Church Music, Art of Chanting, Chant of Constantinople, Psaltic Art, Psalmody, Hymnody
2. Identification : The mnemotechnics of the rendering of chants in Church services (practitioners, Liturgical Typikon, planning of concerts, resources, manuals, training and its characteristic cultural constitutive elements and idioms).
3. Domain represented by the element: 
Oral traditions and expressions. The fundamental subject of chanting is bound by specific techniques and theoretical knowledge on many levels provided exclusively in church staged rites. These components require long studies and systematic exercise in church choirs, where trainees specialize in specific levels and areas of expertise (rising from the lower roles of Anagnostis [Reader], Canonarch [who intones the verses of the hymns], Isokratis [who holds the fundamental note of a given melodic section] or Melodist, to the higher offices of Domestikos B and Domestikos A [Assistants to the Leaders of the Left and Right Choirs, respectively], Lampadarios [Leader of the Left Choir] or Protopsaltis [First Cantor, Leader of the Right Choir]). In this manner, the knowledge of chanting is transmitted orally from the older masters to the younger. Moreover, mnemonic, practical methods and insignificant phrases or words or even mnemonic verses capture and summarize the basic practical knowledge (interpretations, “ananes” for an intonation, or “neanes”, “nana”, “agia” etc.).
Liturgical arts as cultural means of self-determination. In conjunction with church poetry (psalms, hymns), chant is the liturgical art par excellence within the framework of Holy Services in Orthodox churches. It is practiced in a large number of fixed feasts, ceremonies and Holy Services throughout the year, which it accompanies to a large extent and with a different repertoire for each of the aforementioned occasions. It is a powerful social expression with its original liturgical elements, its unequalled lyricism and various cultural means of self-determination (language, poetry, music, rhythm, movement, vestments, etc.) This can be quickly confirmed by the massive turnouts of people in liturgical services. After all, this is precisely the meaning of the term “Liturgy” in the Church (from the Greek words leitos, people + ergon, work = work of the people).
Knowledge and practices regarding the oral and written tradition of the art of chanting. The success of the practice of chanting is intertwined with the long service of cantors in the hierarchy of church choirs. Thus, the specialized knowledge in question pertains to the system of eight modes and the eight-mode classification and codification of the entire musical repertoire. These technical matters are to do with eight melodic models, independent of one another, which comply with specific technical and theoretical rules. This standardization by means of predetermined and specialized practical applications forms melodic outlooks solely and exclusively characterizing the style, the ethos and the morphology of the chant. Nonetheless, each one of the eight melic modes forms entire sequences of melodic singing patterns, the troparies, apart from the biblical and extra-biblical odes. These original compositions by Church melodists run into many hundreds and in terms of music and poetry are expressed through exceptionally austere means, but with unusual and unequalled power. Thanks to the frequent and dense repetitions of the chants at feasts and rites throughout the ecclesiastical year, these features constitute the best-founded and effective knowledge and practices which thus ensure their own memorization and preservation. Undoubtedly, just as in other musical traditions, oral tradition in chanting decisively contributes to its pedagogical mission. Written tradition, on the other hand, now seems to be an ineluctable need, which was first met, even though with great delay, in the Middle Byzantine period, thanks to an archaic form of notation, of limited abilities but with prospects of development. In this manner, through the later systems of notation and the relevant theoretical and practical treatises, knowledge of chanting was broadened, thus creating a high-level, autonomous musical culture. Today, thousands of music manuscripts and printed editions of the Byzantine, Post-Byzantine and modern times record the psalmic, tropary and formal classical chanting melodies, which of course constitute a safe guide for the memory in the oral tradition, which seems to play a decisive part in the application of the chanting practice up to this day.
Know-how connected with the traditional musical and poetic forms. Chanting is a living art. As a result, its practical application is subject to specific developments and adjustments, given that, as part of the learned tradition, it relates to perennial but also changing musical and poetic standards, in a union, cantordeveloped in this area can be traced through an approach taking specific criteria and the historical needs of each period into account. Even so, one of the most significant parameters of a broader picture of the know-how relating to the vast field of specialist knowledge regards the individual specializations which make up the whole of the work of chanting. More specifically, chanting is exclusively a choral art, which is formed in the Holy Services and ceremonies of churches within the framework of musical choirs: Choir A, Choir B (right – left), and the Choir of the Holy Sanctuary. The whole endeavor is directed by the leader of Choir A, the First Cantor (Protopsaltis), who selects and coordinates the whole development of the music. The main repertoire is distributed between Choirs A and B, with that of the Holy Sanctuary regularly intervening through recitatives and chanting. These individual contributions on the part of each of the three choirs as well as the entire unfolding of Holy Services is recorded in detail in special editions of the liturgical Typikon. In conclusion, the complex knowledge and techniques of chanting, and of the musical repertoire, are consolidated in church rites and orally transmitted, mainly by the First Cantor, whom the apprentice chorists address as Master. Each Master maintains his own personal choices depending on his vocal particularities. Finally, style, ethos, the morphology and sacred solemnity of chanting constitute its fundamental features, directly affecting its know-how, and its theoretical and practical regulations. Given all the above, apprenticeship in church choirs constitutes the only graded and comprehensive program of studies which, according to the Patriarchal tradition, requires nearly a three-decade-long service if one is to reach the highest grades of service such as those of Lampadarios or Protopsaltis, starting from the age of 10 or 15 for the post of Canonarch.

Place: The important centers of Orthodoxy: Patriarchal Church of Constantinople, the Katholika of the Holy Churches of Mt. Athos, the Cathedral of Athens. Churches of other Metropolitanates, Parishes and Monasteries of Greece and Cyprus.

Keywords: Art of Chanting, Chanting, Priestly Art, Psalmody, Protopsaltis, Lampadarios, Domestikos, Calophonia, Melurgy, Choir, Byzantine Music, Typikon, Asmatikon, Anastasimatarion (Resurrectional Hymns), Doxastarion, Irmologion, Psaltikon, Psaltologion.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”ΙΙ. Identification of the bearer(s) of the ICH element“]

The bearers of the art are the distinguished First Cantors (Protopsaltes) of the great centers of Orthodoxy. First Cantors of other Metropolitanates, Parishes, Monasteries etc.
The following institutions raise and promote the status of the scholarly work of chanting as artistic heritage, cultural good and learned tradition, which essentially contributes to the formation and self-determination of the social whole:
• Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies (, Archives of Byzantine Music. Activities : Implementation of European programs dedicated to chanting, such as INTERREG, EIVTOP (“Education and Initial Vocational Training Operational Programs”) for exhibitions of early printed books, digitization of manuscripts, vinyl records, audio and video recordings of Holy Services, publications). Thus e.g. see the series of publications under the title “Psaltika of Vlatadon” or seminars in “Vocal Training Practice in the Art of Chanting”. Postal address: Holy Monastery of Vlatades, 64, Eptapyrgion Street, 546 34 Thessaloniki, Greece, telephone numbers 0030-2310-203620 or -202302, e-mail address:
• Holy Synod of the Church of Greece – Foundation of Byzantine Musicology ( Activities : series of publications under the title “Studies”, catalogues of manuscripts, independent publications, etc. Audio recordings, discography on “Byzantine and Post-Byzantine composers”, organization of conferences, worship and other choral events. “Masters of the Art of Chanting” Choir of Cantors founded. Concerts organized. Postal address : 14, Ioannou Ghennadiou Street, 115 21 Athens, Greece, telephone number 0030-210-3843545, e-mail address :
Music Societies and Associations, Centers active in the protection of church cantors’ work, in research into and the promotion of choirs
• Society for the Diffusion of Greek National Music, founded in 1929 by Simon Karras, renowned Greek musicologist and music researcher, today known as “Center for the Research and Promotion of Greek National Music” (since 2009, Activities: Audio recordings, publications, lectures, archives, library, teaching etc. Postal address : 9, Ersis & Pulcherias Streets, Strefi Hill, 114 73 Athens, Greece, telephone number 0030-210-8237447, telefax number 0030-210-8811930, e-mail address :
• Romanos the Melodist and John Damascene Association of Church Cantors of the Region of Attica (formerly known as Panhellenic Association of Church Cantors), Acivities : Release of choral performances on a series of vinyl discs, concerts, syndicalist advocacy of employment issues of church cantors. Postal address : 95, Academias Street, 106 77 Athens, Greece, telephone number 0030-210-3236568, e-mail address :
• Research and Publications Center ( . Activities : Publications, lectures, interviews, research into manuscripts and printed books of music of the period 1820-1920, bibliographical catalogues. Postal address : Mr Manolis K. Hadziyakoumis, 119, Solonos Street, 106 78 Athens, Greece, telephone number 0030-210-6425498, e-mail address :
• Saint Maxim the Greek Institute ( Research, preservation and promotion of (Greek) spiritual and cultural traditions. Activities : printed and digital publications, cultural events, concerts, conferences, research etc. Postal address : 22, Mikhail Nouarou, Maroussi, 151 26, Northern Sector of Athens, telephone number 0030-210-6141-171, telefax number -6141-170, e-mail address :
Choirs with published work
• Hellenic Byzantine Choir (also known with its initials ΕΛΒΥΧ in Greek). Founded in 1977 by Lykourgos Anghelopoulos, student of the aforementioned master Simon Karras. Activities : publication of books, release of CDs, concerts, audio recordings. Postal address : 2-4, Nikitara Str. and Emmanuel Benaki,eve Athens, telephone number : 0030-210-3603111, -8823923. For further information, see
• Choir of the Society of Constantinopolitans ( Activities : Concerts, release of CDs. Postal address : 117, Demosthenous Street, 176 72 Athens, Greece, telephone number 0030-210-9517072, -9560611, telefax number 0030-210-9598967, e-mail address:
• Choir of the Society of Music Lovers of Constantinople at Athens ( Activities : E-collection of audio recordings for each religious feast, catalogues of cantors, initiatives for the preservation of the “patriarchal style” in Byzantine chanting. Postal address : 54-56, Melantias Street, 117 44 Athens, Greece, telephone number 0030-210-522-7459, telephax number -894 6903, e-mail address :
• “Trope” Byzantine Choir. Activities : Concerts, publication of books, release of CDs. Postal address : Aeolis, 190 09 Pikermi, Attica, Greece, P.B. 1410, telephone number 0030-6977-408907, telefax number 0030-210-6035128, e-mail address :
Moreover, on websites such as one can find a reflection of multifarious cultural activities in relation to the same subject, audio recordings, videos, theoretical texts, research and publications.
Finally, choirs of Byzantine music are active in virtually every church of Greece and Cyprus, around respected masters of the genre (e.g., while e-discussion fora such as, gather important authorities of the field and present the relative problematics to several followers. For an indicative list of dozens of such choirs, see

[toggle title=”III. Description of the ICH element“]

1. Description
As a living traditional art, chanting is considered one of the most significant cultural goods, which dynamically contribute to the self-determination and self-knowledge of contemporary Hellenism. The features of chanting constitute a powerful combination of Greek literature, rhythm and music, intertwined with particular techniques and morphological idioms, orally transmitted from mouth to ear.

2. Detailed presentation
The art of chanting is developed and highlighted in the great centers of Orthodoxy, namely the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Mount Athos, the Church of Cyprus and the Church of Greece. This paramount expression of Greek civilization spreads throughout the Eastern basin of the Mediterranean and the Slavic regions, translated into many other languages.
Ecumenical Patriarchate. The chanting practice of the Patriarchate can be traced back to centuries-old traditions, with the Asmatikon (music book) of the Middle Byzantine period, the theoretical and practical development of melurgy during the Paleologan period, and the music reform in the 19th century as their main landmarks. The Patriarchal chanting tradition and the style of the Great Church constitute a special prerogative of Patriarchal Cantors. Nevertheless, the notions of Ecumenical Patriarchate and style of the Great Church are ontological and transcendental categories, which are experienced and diligently implemented according to the Patriarchal Typikon in Holy Services. The person in charge of supervising the observance of the Typikon by all contributing parties is the Protopsaltis. It is he who, with his accumulated experience, draws up the Typikon, which is subsequently adopted by the Holy Synod. Accordingly, the Patriarchate is the cradle of the tradition of chanting, as the latter materializes through the Patriarchal Typikon, the provisions of which enjoy great respect on the part of all local Churches. Even so, the morphological elements, technical idioms and typologies of the performance of chanting vary depending on the period in question and on the personality of each Protopsaltis. This is how the various ‘schools’ of chanting are formed, with their respective features, also influencing other local stylistic idioms.
Mount Athos. The chanting tradition of Mount Athos diachronically preserves the most significant and numerous monuments in the form of manuscript (codices) of chanting. Moreover, thanks to its everyday liturgical Synaxes, it has preserved for centuries the most authentic forms of this vocal tradition. All this said, Mount Athos is in a state of constant interdependence with the Patriarchal chanting tradition. Even so, the Athonite style is solemn, austere, mellow and ethereal. It springs from the old ascetic tradition of the Typikon of Jerusalem, which it vests with later elements. In the more recent Athonite chanting practice, three main music ‘schools’ stand out, those of the Dionysios, the Vatopedion, and the Docheiarios Monasteries, with many other significant and interesting chanting activities.
Church of Greece. By virtue of relevant decrees, the chanting tradition is included in schools of music founded by the first governments of the modern Greek state. Despite this specific interest, expressed already by none other than Ioannis Kapodistrias, these schools are not successful. The Church of Greece seems to have organized the chanting issue more fully. After a request it submits to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the early 20th century, the distinguished music master Konstantinos Psahos is sent from Constantinople to Athens, where he becomes active in the Athens Conservatoire. On the one hand, the prospect opening up seems to bear fruit initially. However, it covers only the scholarly side of the matter. Private initiatives (e.g. Simon Karras), on the other hand, seem to have catered more for the practical music needs. Even so, the turn of the Church of Greece to organizing the ecclesiastical Typikon and the chanting work (Bishop Dionysios Psarianos, Protopsaltis Spyridon Peristeris) seemed particularly successful, raising the Cathedral of Athens to the status of one of its great liturgical centers. The main parameters of success can be identified in the orderliness of Holy Services, the selection of the contributors to them (i.e. priests, deacons, cantors, choir singers) and the consolidation of the classical musical repertoire. An exemplary and solemn liturgical idiom (style) is thus crystallized in music, the articulation of readings, the recitals, the sermon, the movements, the liturgical means, established through radio and television broadcasts. Undoubtedly, the contribution of the Church of Greece to the promotion and enhancement of its cultural and educational media, such as music, poetry, language, sermon, and its social action, has been highly effective from the mid-20th century to this day. Moreover, the interest of the Church of Greece in the tradition of chanting is enlarged through the exemplary organization of the aforementioned Foundation of Byzantine Musicology in 1970.

3. Place and means of performance or exercise of the ICH element. Sites connected with the performance/implementation of the ICH element
The church. Byzantine chanting is a tradition born and bred in the church, in this case the Orthodox church, where the Holy Services of the different feasts of the ecclesiastical year are performed and celebrated, as well as the different other rituals, in accordance with the liturgical Typikon. It should be noted that the sacredness of the place is not some abstract notion, given that it follows specific rational forms. In more detail, the faithful within the space of the church constitute the holy community of the Body of the Church partaking of the holy Supper. This is how rational worship, as it is known, unifies and causes society to cohere, as the latter determines and expresses itself collectively through holy arts, church architecture, icon painting, poetry, music. In the church, chanting is not meant to stir emotions or to bring about any personal or collective thrill. On the contrary it ‘alters’ existence, interprets the divine and unspeakable beauty and reveals the mystery of the Chalice of Life in the person of Christ. After all, according to the doxological view of psalmody within the framework of the calendar of feasts, the church is an existential notion, universal to all humans, projects the entire length of history onto a powerful expectation of the age to come, of eternity.
The lecterns. The art of chanting is considered the most direct expression of worship. This is exactly why cantors are placed in a specific and conspicuous area of the church. Thus, the lecterns are specially designated places around which the choirs of cantors gather. Essentially, this is a trace of evolution from the classless society of the historical beginnings of the Church, when the people was divided into two groups in the middle of the church. More specifically, during Byzantine times it was determined that the junior clergy and cantors should stand on the Soleas, a raised part of the floor of the church between the people and the third, higher level of the inner sanctuary. Here, in the middle, the Ambon (pulpit) is raised, a high platform entirely in quality marble, with four steps leading to it so that cantors and deacons may stand on either side of it. This amphitheatric arrangement enhanced the church and served the audiovisual effect of performances better. Lecterns facilitate the performance of cantors and deacons who mainly used the Ambon. The elegant, wooden construction of lecterns serves at the same time as a showcase for the display of liturgical books and a stand for use in chanting. These stands, just as the stalls of cantors, were placed at the two extremities of the Soleas, upon pedestals facing one another for the antiphonal effect of choir singing.
The calendar of feasts. Ecclesiastical poets and hymnographers are at the same time the composers of church chants. Their agenda is purely feast-centred. They draw their content upon sacred texts, enrich it with the various events of church life and destine it exclusively for liturgical use. After all, hymnography in its chanting guise as musical discourse expresses the very lived experiences of the Church and in conjunction with the liturgical Typikon constitutes the scenic presentation of Holy Scripture. The calendar of feasts covers the entire ecclesiastical year and is centered around the Resurrectional Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which gathers the community of the Church every Sunday, the day of the Resurrection of the Lord. Sunday establishes the radical innovation of the Christian feast, a unique feast, whose radiance illuminates the entire year and its doxological richness is developed into a festal cycle by the most prominent melodists and hymnographers. This is how the varied repertoire of the feast of Easter forms the collection of the Octoechos, a system and a liturgical book purely for chanting, by promoting the main symbolism of the Eighth Day for the Orthodox denomination, i.e. eternity. The same starting point of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is also preserved by the other festal cycle, which refers to key milestones of the ecclesiastical historic time : Despotic feasts, Theometoric feasts (i.e. related to the Mother of God, Theometor) and feasts of Saints. The hymnography of these feasts, highly original, forms twelve volumes, collections for each month, the Menaia (plural of Menaion, i.e. book of the month in Greek), also books purely for chanting. The former festal cycle is moveable, while the second is fixed. Both these cycles of the liturgical Typikon jointly proclaim the Resurrectional message, which thus deeply permeates historic time. In other terms, in both cases the Church recapitulates the whole of society in “the chapter of Salvation”, as is sung by the Hymnodist, by hypostasizing the mystery of Resurrection. Hundreds of original hymns in various musical forms and with unequalled lyricism interpret and analyze the festal subjects mentioned above. On the other hand, thousands of manuscripts of music record these musical traditions in a wide range of types of compositions. These monuments, part of the world cultural heritage, have aroused the most intense interest on the part of scholars for decades now.
The liturgical books. The means of securing and promoting the work of chanting are the various liturgical collections of ecclesiastical hymnography. Thanks to the development of Byzantine studies these subjects enjoyed widespread diffusion. Moreover, the conviction that they constituted the most genuine and important creation of Byzantine literature was universally shared. As a matter of fact, a brief assessment of the contribution of Byzantium to world civilization is bound to highlight mainly four modes of expression : churches, icon-painting, poetry and chanting, all of which are integral parts of the Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition, and this can certainly not be accidental. This ‘discoursification’ in the arts of worship serving the truth constitutes a globally unique idiom of learning and culture of perennial force. More specifically, through the monuments of its poetic and musical discourse, chanting highlights and promotes the self-consciousness of societies, by interpreting values of ecumenical dimensions, such as justice, freedom, and respect for human rights. Besides, it was on this basis that the world-saving message and the existential prospect of Christianity were built. Viewed from a different perspective, the liturgical books constitute constant signs of the mnemonic method of chanting applied to extensive hymnographic texts, which are to be chanted with the aid of the Canonarch, i.e. the prompter of the choir. In the broader sense of the term, liturgical books are also considered to comprise the various musical editions used habitually, while the main obligation of the cantor in fulfilling his task is the obligation to memorize chants, which is also recommended by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in its encyclicals. The key liturgical books for chanting mentioned above, as well as other auxiliary editions, are placed upon the lecterns of the choirs.
Holy Services. The center of Holy Services is the Divine Liturgy. All other services are performed before or after and around it. The art of chanting plays a paramount part in all Services and culminates in the Divine Liturgy. According to the ecclesiastical tradition, sistinct types and places of Services can be distinguished and divided into two groups. The first group comprises the Sacred Acts and Sacraments (particularly, Divine Liturgy, Sanctification of Water, Consecration, Funeral Service, and Baptism, Marriage, Holy Unction). The second group includes the Services of the Nychthemeron (i.e. full calendar day of twenty-four consecutive hours, night and day : Matins, Hours, Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office). The Divine Liturgy can be combined with some of the Sacred Acts mentioned above (Baptism, Marriage, Consecration). The Offices of the Nychthemeron determine the times of worship, as can be inferred from their names. In other terms, they are linked to specific hours of day and night. In monastic practice, all Offices of the Nychthemeron are performed, whereas in parochial practice the three core ones: Vespers, Matins and Divine Liturgy, over which the hymnography is distributed depending on each case and in accordance with the current calendar of feasts. In other terms, each feast is accompanied by its own hymnography, always pursuant to the provisions of the liturgical Typikon. The content of the Typikon is specified in units, each of which stipulates the performances to be followed, depending on the various coincidences between the calendar and the type of the feast, i.e. moveable or fixed. These coincidences may be highly complex. According to what has been indicated, it goes without saying that all contributors to worship bear a heavy burden of responsibility, and most of all the Protopsaltis, for whom the largest part of interventions in Holy Services is reserved. From this perspective, it also goes without saying that the Protopsaltis should have extensive learning and experience, a heightened sense of responsibility and readiness, in other terms both the knowledge and the qualities that will enable him to carry out his task. From a different perspective, one should note the wide and varied range of Holy Services, as well as its dimensions in time, all of which, apart from the elements already mentioned, also require special preparation, study and rehearsals of the repertoire. Suffice to remind the great number of Sundays and important feasts, rising to ca. 150, apart from other Holy Offices, which cantors are obligated to contribute to. Even so, the significant aspect of the great number of Holy Services, which is of interest to the art of chanting is that they constitute a fully graded system of education. Without the regular participation in Holy Services and the special care on the part of the Master Protopsaltis, it is not possible to achieve the appropriate succession of persons in the task of chanting. What is observed today is a serious deviation with very negative results, in view of which special care should be taken for the preservation of the important ecclesiastical and more broadly cultural work of chanting.

4. Process of transmission of the ICH element from one generation to the next
Description of the process
Passing the art of chanting over from generation to generation follows specific modes of apprenticeship. It has already been mentioned that the main and most effective form of exercise and education, under the special care of the Protopsaltis, is the regular, unfailing participation in the liturgical work of the Church. All other forms of apprenticeship are useful, yet insufficient and limited, whatever level this may take place at, and irrespective of the form of the educational foundation involved. Indeed, it would be a progress and an enhancement of the work of such foundations, if they could overhaul their curriculum so that it may be more closely aligned with the needs of the Church.

Modes and duration of learning / apprenticeship / initiation
The educational work and its modes as well as the duration of the apprenticeship and learning of the art of chanting may only be understood if one realizes that this process must be intertwined with initiation and the specialist Master, the Initiator. It should be noted that the concept of initiation in the arts has many parameters, both positive and negative ones. Moreover, it comprises many extremely useful rules. Furthermore, there are also many secrets which are revealed or concealed, depending on the case. Regarding initiation in chanting it would be relevant to quote one verse from the exquisite hymnography of the Holy Week : Let no one, o ye faithful, remain uninitiated into the Lord’s Supper. The gravity of these words is determining for the entire pleroma of worship. If this initiation does take place, then everything unfolds rationally and ontologically. Otherwise, everything will deviate. If, in other words, the contributors to worship are not aware of their ministry, then the essence and the very initiation disappear. In a nutshell, chanting should be solemn not on a superficial level but in its essence. And for that to be achieved, the cantor should realize where he addresses himself to and, first and foremost, be initiated into the Supper. The modes of apprenticeship and learning of the art of chanting related mainly to the preparation of the musical repertoire, for the purposes of its conceptual and practical understanding, as well as to the careful involvement of the student in the melodies chanted, develop in a similar manner. In practice, the process of preparation of the melodies chanted must be thorough and stop short of memorization. It has already been pointed out that the apprenticeship and the learning require a large amount of time. The following information from the Ecumenical Patriarchate (regarding the Protopsaltis Iakovos Nafpliotis, 1910-1939) are indicative of the graded, long education in the choirs of the Great Church, which takes ca. 20 years in orfer for one to reach the rank of Cantor B (Lampadarios).

Year Post Age Years of service
1879 Canonarch 15 
1882 Domestikos B 18 
1888 Domestikos A 24  17 
1905 Lampadarios 41 
1910-1939 Protopsaltis 46  29 

Instruments of transmission
Essentially all the churches are instruments of transmission. The Parish, as the diocese was called for many centuries, turned out to be one of the more robust social subdivisions as the smallest ecclesiastical unit. Apart from the purely ecclesiastical matters, it organized various areas of social life, literature and culture. Many stars of the art of chanting still rise out of parishes, including other dilettanti, who, each in his own manner, by means of their papers and studies, promote and spread the importance and contribution of this tradition to the cultivation of the modern Greek mind. Alexandros Papadiamandis was one of those cultural beacons. Many of the older and contemporary Greek musicians and artists, more broadly, were regular members of church choirs. Unfortunately, in our times, on the one hand, such phenomena become dangerously scarce, because younger generations do not seem to wish to staff church choirs in sufficient numbers. On the other hand, the complex education and the lack of incentives for professional recognition in chanting are not conducive to attracting young students. Be that as it may, the various associations in large urban centers, as well as the Schools of Byzantine Music operating in many Metropolitanates of Greece and Cyprus contribute a significant amount of work to the development and transmission of the tradition of chanting.

[toggle title=”IV. History and genealogy of the ICH element“]

Historical information or local accounts of the appearance, duration, presence and adjustments or modifications of the ICH element
Chanting is today more broadly known as Byzantine music on both local and international levels. In its broad sense, the expression was used a century ago to include secular music as well. On the part of the Church, indeed in its formal texts of the Holy Canons, but also on the part of Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, the terms psalmody and hymnody are used, while in Byzantium the expression art of chanting is consolidated, sometimes as an alternative of the expression papadic art (i.e. the art of priests, related to Papadike, a late Byzantine anthology of musical settings for hymns, psalms and other chants).
Still, the designation of “chanting” better represents ecclesiastical musical tradition. The history of chanting may be divided into three long periods: from the 1st c. to the 10th c. A.D.; the Byzantine period proper of development of chanting until the 15th century; and the whole of the Post-Byzantine period up to this day. Regarding the study of chanting there are indirect and direct sources. The first group comprises the various information provided by Church Fathers and other writers. During the same period the different genres of musical composition were formed. Of course, the first information is drawn upon the Old Testament (mainly Apostle Paul’s writings) and are necessarily limited to the various types of chants of the Eucharistic Synaxis: psalms, hymns, spiritual odes. In this manner, as early as the Apostolic Age, an independent activity of musical composition was developed within the Church both in the Syro-Palestinian and in the Greek areas, as is recorded in passing by many authors (Bishop Ignatius of Antioch, Governor Pliny of Bithynia). Nonetheless, an essential prerequisite for the development of ecclesiastical music was the Psalter by David, in the Septuagint translation, a fact which demonstrates the immediate use of the Greek language, even during the first years of the liturgical synaxes of the faithful. The Psalter became the basis of development of all the forms of music of the Church, a fact best confirmed by the designation of this music as psaltic art which is established during the Middle Byzantine period. However, even in its first historic period (1st-10th centuries) this art showed the first signs of its remarkable early development, through the so-called strophic hymns. Until that time, Christians used the Psalter : one person would chant the verses and the congregation would join in the akroteleution or the ephymnion, both of which were different types of a refrain. Despite its simplicity, this music magnificently expressed the liturgical experiences lived and, in a manner which only the early classless Christian community could formulate, modestly signified the unity and authenticity of what by that time was the institution of the Church. Subsequently, the genre of strophic hymns, represented by creators such as the great Melodists (Romanos, Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus, Kosmas), comparable only to Classical Antiquity, lift the artistic expression of worship to unprecedented heights, as was keenly desired by the Church because of the serious turmoil caused by heresies. The result was the resounding defeat of the sad movement of Iconoclasm.
During the second period of the psaltic art, which excelled in masterpieces of musical composition, the Church, now freed, comes to prove that the Orthodoxy has solid structures which raise it to the status of a powerful ecumenical expression, not a mere watertight and marginal area. Thus, works by great composers of the Golden Palæologan period such as Ioannis Glukys, Ioannis Koukouzelis, Ioannis Kladas, Manuel Chryssaphes, Xenos Koronis, among others, not only enrich the tradition of chanting but establish it as one of the greatest cultural outputs and one of the most robust depositories of the world cultural heritage. In the same period one of the most exquisite samples of Byzantine musical communication is developed, namely Byzantine musical notation, in which innumerable formal musical compositions are recorded and included in many thousands of manuscript codices, now scattered in Libraries of Greece and abroad. This Byzantine musical output, which has not yet fully been researched into, was called Ars Nova by scholars.
The entire Post-Byzantine period to the present day, absolutely connected with its older sources, is enriched in terms of the chants composed and produces
remarkable creators such as Panaghiotis Chryssaphes, Germanos of New Patras, Balassios the Priest, Ioannis of Trebizond, Petros Peloponnesios, Iakovos Protopsaltis, Peter the Byzantine, and others.
A turning point in the tradition of chanting turned out to be the Musical Reform of the Three Masters (Chryssanthos of Madytos, Gregory the Protopsaltis and Hourmouzios Hartophylax). Their work (1815) constitutes an endeavor to simplify the older musical notation. Moreover, it was supported by the Ecumenical Patriarchate through the foundation of a school of music. The results of that musical reform have not yet been studied systematically. Indeed, the Three Masters are still numbered among the brightest minds of contemporary Hellenism. Their principal act consisted in the transcription of chants from the old into the new notation. A Patriarchal Musical Committee (1881) assumed a special part in regulating matters of musical theory and practice further. Today’s musical theory and practice can be said to lie in the interstice between the formal regulations of the Three Masters and those of the Patriarchal Committee.
Chanting was the subject of extensive scholarly research by Greek and foreign researchers, who were systematically active in the 20th century. Among these, it is worth noting the initiative undertaken by the “Union Académique Internationale” of Copenhagen (1935ff.) to promote a great number of publications in the series Monumenta Musicæ Byzantinæ. In Greece scholarly work on Byzantine music is hosted by Universities, the Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies and the Foundation of Byzantine Musicology of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece.
In conclusion, thanks to its unique and magisterial repertoire and its original mnemonic notation which was perfected to the highest degree as a system of memorization of the melodies by Cantors, the tradition of chanting cannot be paralleled to anything in the traditions of the Middle Ages or of the Renaissance in the West (Egon Wellesz). Undoubtedly, learned Byzantine musical compositions constitute masterpieces of the world cultural heritage.

Specialized information about the element
Dr Antonios E. Alygizakis, Professor of Byzantine Chanting and Musicology, 6, Kydonion Street, 546 55 Depot, Thessaloniki, Greece. Telephone number 0030-2310-429384, e-mail address :

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As vocal music, and therefore as intangible cultural heritage, chanting is, like the other liturgical arts of the Church, of a purely transcendental and ontological nature, which is not designed to serve the titillation of the senses but to interpret the truthful contemplation of world and life. Specifically, this commitment raises powerful social determining elements and incentives such as the language, education, technique and æsthetic perception. These cultural features of chanting, of an ecumenical scope, are consolidated into specific social and broader, cultural formations. In this manner, the elements in question contribute to a sense of a comprehensive, inter-Orthodox unity which renders them popular and viable. Particularly telling are those cases which regard the kinship of structure between ecclesiastical troparies and folk songs. On the other hand, the use of the liturgical books and particularly of the Octoechos in education (with the Octoechos having been used as a school reading manual during the Turkish rule, with the letters of the Greek alphabet on its first page, highlights the dynamics of the intangible cultural heritage of the tradition of chanting. Many of the troparies of the Church, just like the Thourios patriotic hymn or folk songs, can still have a powerful effect today, springing up directly from the inexhaustible sources and lived experiences of the people. In other terms, poetry and music magnificently encapsulate perennial ideas and notions such as spirituality and the traditions of social and ecclesiastical life. This dynamics of chanting was expressed anonymously and has been preserved with dedicated diligence for many centuries now, passed down through the generations by word of mouth.


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Alygizakis, Antonios E., Issues of Ecclesiastical Music, Thessaloniki 1978-2011.
——————————-, The Eight Modes of Music (Octaechia) in the Greek Liturgical Hymnography, Thessaloniki 1985.
——————————-, The Nature of Orthodox Chanting, Thessaloniki 1995.
——————————-, Chanting Exercises in Liturgics, Thessaloniki 1996.
——————————-, The Historical Framework of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Liturgical Music, Thessaloniki 1996.
——————————-, “The philosophical and theological background of music”, in Byzantine Macedonia. Art, Architecture, Music and Hagiography, Melbourne 2001.
——————————-, Byzantine Music in the Arabic and Hellenic Languages, volume + CD, Beirut-Thessaloniki 2008.
——————————-, Byzantine Music. Iakovos Nafpliotis : the Protopsaltis of the Holy Great Church of Christ, volume + 5 CDs, Istanbul Rum Patrikhanesi Başmuganisi 2008.
——————————-, “Byzantine Music on Mount Athos”, The Holy Mountain in the Years of the Liberation, Mount Athos Center, Thessaloniki 2012, pp. 353-369.
Léon-Dufour, Xavier, Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (transl. and supervision by Savas Agouridis, Stavros Vartanian a.o.), Athens 1980.
Spyrakou, Evanghelia H., Choirs of Cantors in the Byzantine Tradition, Athens 2008.
Stathis, Gregorios Th., Anagrams and Lessons of Byzantine Composition, Athens 1978.




Form of the element of Intangible Cultural Heritage – The Art of Chanting