Because of the Russian Orthodox Beatitudes (More Music for Monday)

Guest post by Allison 
Our parish choir hadn’t sung since the end of the Christmas season. We hadn’t rehearsed since then either; a Thursday evening rehearsal was canceled because of a snowstorm. Yesterday, our choir director, who also plays our organ and sings in the choir, let us know we would be singing the Russian Orthodox Beatitudes as an Offertory song.

Because this piece is a chant, it is easy to sing, even with two members of our eight-member choir missing yesterday morning.

Remember your servants, Lord,when you come in your kingly power.

The verses themselves come from Matthew 5:3-12, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the poor in spirit;
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn;
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek;
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful;
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart;
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers;
for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when the world reviles you and persecutes you;
and utters all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake;
Rejoice and be exceeding glad;
for great is your reward in heaven.

To my modern ears, the tune, with its soulful, irregular rhythms, sounds like a spiritual. But its roots are far older. Russian Chant has its origins in the tenth century and is regularly used as part of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy.  The Beatitudes themselves are woven into Orthodox Divine Liturgy. For both Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Christ’s powerful blessings are our guide for living as God wants us to.

Richard Proulx, a post-Vatican II composer and champion of high church music, arranged this piece. I am grateful he did. Every time I sing the Russian Orthodox Beatitudes, I am reminded not only of my own faith traditions, but also of the deep connections we Roman Catholics enjoy with our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters. What better way to honor our shared beliefs than by highlighting a piece of their liturgy while enriching our own?

The link above is the piece in question. Here’s some more Russian liturgical singing by a wonderful amateur group:

YouTube Preview Image

  • EPG

    Interestingly, Richard Proulx is _very_ well represented in the current Episcopal Hymnal (1982). A lot of his settings for the service are among the most commonly used in Episcopal parishes today. As for chant in general, the Russian stuff is fantastic. I'd love to see a revival of stuff drawing from the tradition of Gregorian chant — like the Russian, once you get a feel for how it works, it's not hard. Pope Benedict has advocated a return to the use of the Gregorian mode of chanting (see "The Spirit of the Liturgy").Then again, I retain a fondness for Anglican chant, which, although it can run to four part harmonies, does fall into patterns which, once you learn the musical "language," aren't that hard.

  • Allison Salerno

    @EPG: Proulx also is well represented in the United Methodist hymnal. He served for 10 years. I don't know his own religious beliefs, but most of his own composing and professional work has been in the Roman Catholic Church. The leading post Vatican II liturgical composer, he published Mass for the City, his adopted hometown of Chicago, where he served as Organist/Music Director at the Cathedral of the Holy Name from his bio:Before coming to Chicago, Proulx served for 10 years (1970-1980) at Saint Thomas Church, Medina/Seattle, where he directed three choirs and chamber orchestra, established a tradition of liturgical handbell ringing, and was organist at Temple de Hirsch Sinai. Previous positions included Saint Charles Parish, Tacoma; Saint Stephen's Church, Seattle; and 15 years (1953-1968) at Church of The Holy Childhood in Saint Paul..Alas, after Vatican II many Catholic parishes threw out our musical patrimony, books and all. Catholic organists, music directors etc. found their work appreciated by Anglican and Episcopal church communities.


    What a marvelous and uplifting praiseful hymn!! Does YOUR choir sound like that yet?

  • Allison Salerno

    @EPG: My sentence – He served for 10 years was supposed to be part of the paragraph dealing with Proulx's tenure in Seattle….long day here

  • Duane

    You may find the audio at the following site to be quite enjoyable: Orthodox brethren have a wonderful musical heritage.

  • Michelle

    We sang a similar hymn at Mass on Sunday. I LOVE when we just sing scripture put beautifully to words!! :)