The All-Night Vigil is one of the most important Services of the Orthodox Church. First, Jesus Christ Himself used to spend “all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Second, in the times of early Christianity the faithful used to gather for prayer services in a lonely place or a cemetery in the night because they had to hide from the Romans who constantly persecuted them. Today the All-Night Vigil lasts about two hours in parish Churches and three to four hours in monasteries. According to the Russian Orthodox tradition the All-Night Vigil consists of two parts: 1) the Vespers dedicated to the events of the Old Testament and prophecies about the Messiah, and 2) the Matins, which is a representation of the New Testaments stories about Jesus Christ, His Earthly Life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.
The Monastic choir of St Elisabeth convent has recorded an album consisting of the most important chants sung during the All-Night Vigil. Unlike most Belarusian Orthodox choirs, which stick to the four-part harmony music, the Monastic choir is reviving an old tradition of the Znamenny and Valaam unison chants. However, apart from professional musicians and conservatory students who study them as a part of their curriculum, these chants might seem very unusual and even odd to the people of the XXI century.
The Znamenny chant is not often welcome in the parish Churches because there are priests who think this old-style singing can scare away the people. On the other hand, the Old Believers and other enthusiasts of “the good old days” contemptuously call the four-part harmony music “Italian” and only consider the Znamenny chant to be the “angelic singing”. Probably, both extremes are dangerous. We should neither reject the ancient unison chants nor claim that they are the only true genre of Orthodox music. After all, the Optina elders did not use the Znamenny chant and still achieved spiritual heights.
In my opinion, the Znamenny and Valaam chants are especially good for the Great Lent services since they are calm and correspond well to praying for repentance. Even non-monastic Church choirs can include such chants as “O Gladsome Light” (track No. 3) and “Praise Ye the Name of the Lord” (track No. 8) into their repertoire. The monks and nuns can sing the angelic Znamenny and Valaam chants throughout the whole year, all the more so since they dedicated their whole lives to the worship and repentance.
Listen to a short preview of the “All-Night Vigil” album on the Catalog of St. Elisabeth Convent.
By Vladimir Sypchu,
the chorister from the parish of
the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God
into the Temple, Minsk
The Catalog of Good Deeds, 2019