Greek Orthodox Psaltic Art: Performance and/or Prayer?

  • Konstantinos Karagounis Assistant Professor on Byzantine Church Music in Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens


The Church of Jesus Christ, since the very early centuries, has embodied music into its worship process as a means of reinforcing comprehension and absorbing dogma by the faithful in an easier way. Later, when dogma became unequivocal and definite, sacred psalmody was placed on a secondary footing, while quite a number of ascetic fathers of the Church foresaw a large number of spiritual dangers for the faithful in Psaltic Art. Finally, Orthodox patristic theology recognizes holy psalmody as a means of prayer, especially for beginners and the spiritually incomplete faithful, but also makes it clear that the perfect prayer through which man can accomplish  the viewing  of the Uncreated Light of God is the “monologistos” prayer of the mind and heart Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, ἐλεησόν με – “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”. Nevertheless, Byzantine and post-Byzantine Psaltic Art reached extreme heights. Today, the problem is that, since psaltic compositions of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods cannot be used in contemporary Orthodox worship on account of their length, they are often treated more as artistic creations and less as intended for worship. Thus, nowadays, the compositions of those periods are selected as repertoire for non-worship events, that is to say Western-style performances, which have been adopted very recently by the Greek psaltai, only from the second half of the 18th century.

This paper will try to give convincing answers to some serious questions related to its title: Do non-worship performances serve the worship of the Holy Trinity or are they have egocentric in origin? Is the Lord well pleased with them or does the Lord dislike them? How much does the ethos of non-worship performances influence the ethos of the chanters during worship? What impacts are there when the distorted forfeiture of psaltic prayer becomes a “one man show”? Does this situation turn off the faithful away from Church and the Common Worship? What do the Fathers of the Church say about Psalmody with selfishness and Psalmody with secular ethos, which does not bear prayer?

Conference Papers: Sounds of the Holy, Joensuu 2019
Nov 30, 2020
How to Cite
Karagounis, Konstantinos. 2020. “Greek Orthodox Psaltic Art: Performance and/Or Prayer?”. Journal of the International Society for Orthodox Music 4 (2), 276-84.