The Role of Psaltis (Cantor) in the Orthodox Chruch and Parish

Venerable Joseph the Hymnographer (April 4)

Venerable Joseph the Hymnographer (April 4)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

PSALM 146 (145)

[This psalm is a song of praise to God as our hope and as the Restorer and Healer of Israel. In many Orthodox Churches, this is the ordinary second antiphon (psalm sung responsively) of the Divine Liturgy.]

Praise the Lord, O my soul! While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.

Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, Who executes justice for the  oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.

The Lord shall reign forever--Your God, O Zion, to all generations.




From Ancient Times Until the Fourth Century

In the Hebrew Tradition "early cantors (chazzanim or hazzanim) trained as leaders of song at prayer services in the synagogues and homes. Their teachers were parents, grandparents, and musical leaders in the community. Chosen for their beautiful voices and ability to improvise, the chazzanim had no formal education in music and were unable to read notes until the middle of the 19th century. Qualifications included heavy family obligations, struggle for livelihood, attractive appearance, a clean home, musical ability, knowledge of scriptures, ability to preach, memorization of all the prayers and benedictions, and--most essential--a sweet voice...It was a great honor to be selected by the elders of the Synagogue" (Gk. word, Συναγωγή from the word, συνάγω (I gather).

"The Psaltis (Cantor) in the Holy Orthodox Christian Church is part of the Diakonia (ministry) of the lower offices of clergy. While Minor Offices have been in the Church since the most ancient of her days, we begin to see references to church singers as being of a minor order of clerks in the mid-Medieval Byzantine period. The first references to Psaltis (Cantor), the duties and obligations appear in the Holy Canons of the Council of Laodicea, in which we read that those who chant in church must be tonsured Chanters (Cantors), must be male, of good character, etc. In the Holy Icons, particularly of the Exaltation of the Cross--and the Triumph of Orthodoxy on the 1st Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, we see the psaltis prominently placed in song (the sets of gentlemen festooned in brightly colored robes and the characteristics pointed wide brimmed and also bullet shaped hats).

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the Reader (Anagnostis) and the Psaltis (Chanter or Cantor) receive the same rite of setting aside, but the Reader is given a reading from the Epistles, whereas the Psaltis is given a prokeimenon to chant. The Psaltis (Chanter or Cantor) is an indispensable necessity in the serving of most if not all of the Divine Offices (Services) as well as the Divine Liturgy itself. Orthodox Christianity has no'low masses' said by the priest alone. As a psaltis, a man is not only a participant in the Sacred Services of the Church, but is himself, a liturgical artist  charged with the preserving and spreading of his art to others, much as the iconographer.

"Chanting is as much a culture and oral tradition as it is an art; a place where the young and the old come together for the latter to pass their knowledge to the former. As a Psaltis, one has direct access to the theological traditions of our Orthodox Christian Faith. In the recitation of divine texts in Church (and hopefully the ongoing study of them as well), the Psaltis can deeper his own understanding and experience of his faith. By becoming a Psaltis, one learns a musical art that is directly tied to the worship and Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church, and you will learn and appreciate a musical art that is not dictated and marketed by our increasingly secularized, neo-pagan culture. Learning to chant properly is a gateway to advancing to any of the higher orders of clergy." (Source: Orthodox Youth Conference: The Role of the Psaltis in the Orthodox Parish)

We, parish priests, know full well the necessity of the Psaltis in our divine services. However, there is shortage of Psaltes throughout the Archdiocese but especially in communities who are a distance from major cities, i.e., New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, etc. where there is a large number of our Greek Orthodox faithful and parishes. These Orthodox centers may offer training, either by the Archdiocese, Metropolis or even private schools that teach those interested to learn Byzantine Music and to chant in one of the local parishes. For many of the Cantors, chanting is now a profession and they are paid well by the parish that will employ them.

The professional and full time chanters paid by the parish must be men of good character. People who are first and above all, practicing Orthodox Christians, people of faith, pious, humble, reverent, respectful, who understand the divine services and sacraments of the Church. They must always be obedient and respectful of, is the Parish Priest. They must always be punctual, dependable and accept the leadership of the Priest. The Priest is the one in charge of all services and not the chanter. The Priest has the last word in everything. The chanter is there to assist the Priest in his diakonia.

Those parishes away from the local Metropolis who have no chanters, the Priests, are compelled out of necessity, to conduct all the weekly divine services and sacraments by themselves. As one who has done, and continues to do this, I can tell you, is a formidable task and challenge to conduct all these holy services on my own. Parish councils and parishioners take it for granted that the parish priest is obligated to do all these services by himself. That is very wrong.

There are, however, parishes that may have an opportunity to hire a chanter but don't because they cost too much. Why hire a chanter when the parish priest "who is getting so much money" can do both? This is the Greek parochial mind set.

The problem that a lack of psaltis creates is that many of the weekday divine services, Divine Liturgies, etc. are not always conducted. The question from some of us priests is why should I conduct the weekday services since I have no psalti and no Orthodox Christians attend? Are we to compromise our Holy Orthodox Liturgical Tradition and offer only the Sunday Divine Liturgy?

Thanks be to God for the very faithful volunteer men, our Psaltes, who serve in our divine services whenever they are able to, and especially on Sundays and throughout Holy and Great Lent and Holy and Great Week. We are truly blessed, as a parish, that through the holy intercessions of Saint Andrew and Apostle, God has provided our parish, a number of devout men and people with great faith and love for Christ God. A prime example of what I am stating is Mr. George Bilionis who lives in Stevensville and has been travelling from there to South Bend for over 25 years to chant at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. We are all most grateful George!

My sincere gratitude also to the other devout men who chant, Mr. Hristos Kirgios, Mr. Jonathan Swartz, Mr. Alexis Torrance. Thank you to all of you and may the Almighty Lord bless you always.

I have always witnessed how our Most Merciful God provides all that we need. Over the years we were blessed to have young men who served our parish as chanters faithfully. People like Virgil, now Father Peter Andronache, who was a student at Notre Dame, also, Vitali Permiakov who is now a professor at Saint Tikhon's Seminary and School of Theology. Thanks be to God!



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George