Sunday, 2 January 2011


Those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star ...

In my more liturgy-lite, independent evangelical/charismatic days, Epiphany was always one of those feasts we overlooked. Sure, we had Christmas and Easter, but we never really bothered with Lent, Advent or any of the other traditional fasts and feasts of the Church year.

I wouldn't say I observe them with any great alacrity or discipline now, but I certainly believe there's a lot to be said for marking time in this way - it provides a rhythm and a structure to the year. Not in a superstitious sense, as if these seasons are magical or intrinsically more 'spiritual' in some way. But as opportunities to pause, reflect and celebrate the key events of the life of Christ and special anchor-points for the Christian faith.

 I attended a Churches Together service on an Epiphany theme on Sunday. Since then I've been Facebooking away with an Orthodox friend about the Troporian for Pre-Theophany and about Theophany itself - the next Feast which comes up in their Calendar. The Devil may have all the best tunes, but the Orthodox certainly have all the best words. As well as a good line in beards and funny hats.

For the last ten years or so, I've grown to love and appreciate this Orthodox prayer used by the Eastern Churches in their liturgies over the Christmas and Epiphany period:

'Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom! For by it those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee!'

May we all gain that light of wisdom and know that 'Sun of Righteousness', the 'Orient from on high.'

I can feel a hymn coming on ... 'As with gladness men of old/Did the guiding star behold ...'


  1. Check out the Romeiko Ensemble or the Valaam Brethren Choir (Youtube would be a good place to start), and you might change your mind about who has the best tunes too! Isaac David

  2. Well, it was conditional - 'might' have all the best tunes!

    I'll certainly look these up. I do find the Russian music more accessible to my Western ears than the Byzantine chant.

  3. I agree with you about the difference between Byzantine and Russian chant, but I find that Romeiko Ensemble, which performs Byzantine chant, has persuaded me to put aside any prejudice I might have on that score.

    It is interesting to compare the Valaam Brethren Choir's rendition of Agni Partheni (O Pure Virgin) with that of Simonopetra Monastery (both on Youtube) as they each use the 'same' tune, but Valaam has Westernised it, whereas Simonopetra retains the Byzantine style.

  4. Okey dokey - I'll look out for that. I'm watching the pennies at the moment, but are there any CDs you can recommend? I've got Rachmaninoff's Vespers, of course, and somewhere an ancient cassette tape of Russian church music. I've also got a tape somewhere of Fr Deiniol's Divine Liturgy in Welsh ...

    Now that's quite something ...

  5. I'd love to hear it in Welsh too. I recently bought Romeiko Ensemble's recording of the complete Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (in Greek), but that was quite expensive, as I ordered it from the States. The best website to check out for this kind of stuff is, where you can listen to samples from their CD's.

    You might want to check out Ancient Faith Radio, which regularly broadcasts chant. Alternatively, there is a modest selection of recordings available to download in MP3 format at

    Try searching for "Divna", a Serbian Orthodox woman with a beautiful voice who has stuff on both Youtube and Amazon in various languages.

    If I come up with any other ideas, I'll let you know.

  6. Gosh. I like that stuff. I've heard 'O Virgin Pure' before now, in various versions. But there were plenty more on You Tube. As well as various Liturgies. Good music.

  7. Glad you like it. By the way, although the Nativity has just passed, you might enjoy this Youtube video which has the Kontakion for the Feast chanted in Arabic, accompanied by some arresting images:

  8. I liked that too. Very haunting and evocative. I must create a section on the Blog for links to soulful and sacred music. I'd have some blues and Gospel links there too ... as well as monastic chants. And how about Allegri, Palestrina, Victoria, Tallis, Taverner, Byrd ...?

    And Gregorian chant, too, of course.

  9. Add a bit of Aphex Twin and Brain Eno, and you'll have a fully-orbed ambient blog (did you see what I did there?)