Reflections on Regionalism: Orthodox Church Chanting in Lithuania

One of the main orthodox canons is that this Church is universal-catholic, so it has to unite and be open for all the orthodox believers, no matter the race, nationality, status, etc. There is a heresy (heresy is that it is not canonic) in the Orthodox Church, called filetism. It formed in 19th c. after the Greek-Bulgarian schizma, when a part of Bulgarian believers separated from the Orthodox Church because, they wanted to create a separate Bulgarian Orthodox Church, open only for Bulgarian believers.

On the other hand, Orthodox Church doesn’t intend to be global and create one and only Church worldwide, of one language or one tradition. The universality of the church is not a privilege of an only throne or a center, but it manifests in a variety of local traditions that unanimously point the same truth. It’s liberal when it comes to different country’s traditions and cultures, that is why there is such a phenomena like local orthodox liturgical culture and chanting tradition.

So canonicaly the Orthodox Church is universal-catholic, and localy (territoricaly) Orthodox church has Autocephalous, Autonomous and Self-ruled Orthodox Churches in different countries (or regions that are bigger than a country), that depends on the same canons. So canons and dogmas are the main point uniting these different local Churches. If a Church tries to create something new, that doesn’t continue tradition of the orthodox canons, it is called not canonical Orthodox Church, and doesn’t have canonical communication. So the main task (together with the active faith) is to keep true faith and preserve the oldest Christianity canons.

Each major christian orthodox culture is based on musical regionalism – the traditional music features are typical to a particular country or region. So, the dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’ occurs within one religion. But it is not the etno – differentiation process when it is consciously and purposefully tried to separate the ,us’ and from ,them’ within the limits of one religion (that is filetism). Most likely we can call it an automatic process where the main goal was not only emphatically separate the ,us’ from ,them’, but to construct the orthodox canons in your own country in your own language, so that people can understand the mass. We cannot even claim, that what was wanted was to adapt a certain orthodox culture in your own country, as a universal orthodox culture as such simply did not exist. Essentially it is thought that because the universal orthodox culture was not opposed, unique local culture and chanting traditions could form.[1]

Moving on to orthodox chanting specifically, situation is completely the same, on the one hand the established canons are followed (Typicon) like…. (Even one type of chant (for example only Cherubikon) has about 50 melody variants in chant books from 16th to 19th c.) and on the other hand, the musical chanting part mainly is not regulated, except from certain reference to how the chanting should sound, for example, there should not be no exclamation, an even and calm chanting, that sets to the prayer and does not distract thoughts, is seeked (pursue).

Many various local chanting traditions exist, however the current major ones are: The New Byzantine and Russian as well as unique Georgian chanting tradition. In this case I speak in general, I’m not trying to simplify them, to make them primitive, because they consists of many chanting types or styles. I meant to show the biggest, general tendences.

The orthodox chanting musical characteristics are monophonic, monophonic with ison, homophonic and three-part polyphonic.

Nowadays neume notation still widely used in byzantine chanting tradition. All the other chants are mostly written in five-line stuff notation. 


There is interesting example of byzantine chanting, witch is sung in old Church Slavonic. This kind of chanting we can hear in Bulgarian, Serbian, Romanian orthodox churches. There is harmonic/homophonic chanting also in this countries.

It is interesting, how the Orthodox Church and chanting in Lithuania functions in the previously mentioned framework of orthodox canons and traditions.

So, a separate Autonomous Orthodox Church in Lithuania does not exist. Eparchy belongs to the Russian Autocephalous Church, that is why a Russian orthodox chanting is mainly used in Lithuania. It is interesting, that in the neighbouring countries Latvia and Estonia, the State Church acquires a Self-ruled Church status (that is distinguished by more governing rights of the church affaires).

Such situation could have formed because of different historical and political circumstances as well as the number of believers and their ethnical dependence in Lithuania. The local Lithuanian orthodox culture formation dates back only to the beginning of the 21st c., after the establishment of the first orthodox parish, where the mass was held in Lithuanian.

A study showed that certain manifestations of Lituanian-ness in the orthodox chanting exist not only in the historical but also in the current context. Chronologically the first manifestations of Lithuanian-ness are related to historical figures and are noticeable already since the 13th c. It is attested by an orthodox monastery established by Vaišvilkas, St. Vilnius martyrs, St. Charitina Lithuanian, St. Daumantas Timothy’s hagiography, kontakion and troparion chants and prayers. There are no remaining old melodies of kontakion and troparion, therefore it is unknown whether they were created similarly to the current chanting example – psalmodic, recitative style including more melodical cadencies. Recently, the aforesaid kontakion and troparion texts have been performed in church using 19th c. melodies. Since 15th c. Kievan Rus’ chanting style dominates in Lithuanian territory. This style, much earlier than Moscow‘s Russia‘s chanting, adapts the western music influence and transfers from monodic to homophonic chanting. Starting at 16th-17th c. a number of local chants increases, Vilnios and Lietuviškos chants melodies are found among them. A part-song choir chanting emerges.

Because of insufficient sources and lack of comprehensive research, particular local chanting versions of 17th c. Vilnios ir lithuanian cherubikon chant melody origins are difficult to assess. However, even being unaware of the exact origin of these chants, nevertheless the chants title itself is directly linked to Lithuania and is to be attributed to the Lithuanian-ness manifestations in orthodox chanting, even of it requires further research.

In 18th c. homophonic orthodox chanting starts to form. In 19th c. publishing of joint structured chant books (Obikhods), used for chanting in all Russian orthodox churches, starts. Its musical examples are still followed for chanting in churches. One of the most popular ones is Bachmemtjev‘s Obikhod. It is interesting that in the late 19th c. orthodox mass is translated in the then Lithuanian for the first time. Of course, the text was written in Cyrillic. 19th-20th c. chanting melodies, created by professional composers‘ become popular.

Currently, harmonized 4- voice chanting melodies from Obikhod are used in almost all of Lithuania, as well as chant melodies created by composers in 19th-20th c. Lithuanian St. Paraskeva parish chanting is distinctive where parallel to known melodies, byzantine style chanting, Georgian chanting is used.

So, the Lithuanian-ness manifestations are most clearly defined in the current context, therefore we can discuss the beginning of local Lithuanian orthodox chanting tradition and culture development. That is the first Lithuanian St. Paraskeva parish established at 2005, where mass and chanting are performed in Lithuanian. The works of the orthodox composer deacon Viktor Miniotis are to be attributed to Lithuanian-ness manifestations. Dynamic chanting modernization is in process, based on the influence of the Lithuanian language and culture.

To sum up, we see how difficult it is to draw clear regionalism limits in regards to the orthodox religion. The Orthodox Church has a complex regionalism concept. Of the one part it is an all-uniting church of which administrative allocation is not political or ethnical. On the other part, theoretically, the allocation is done regarding countries’ or region borders. Parallel to canon following, The Orthodox Church does not unify and does not create a one synthetic culture or tradition to be introduced in each parish. Different local cultures and traditions emerge. Therefore, the global Orthodox Church includes all local Orthodox Churches, but at the same time the local Orthodox Church is not intended to the believers of one, but all nationalities.