Znamenny Chant- The pre-Nikonian tradition

Znamenny Neumes

Znamenny Neumes

The Orthodox Christian Church music before 17th Century Russia, during the Muscovite era, was done by using signs that look similar to elegant marks. These marks were known by the general term called “Znamenny Chant” which means Sign Singing. Znamenny Chant was sung in octaves by men (and now women) without having any harmony, excluding the classical type of singing used by Papists, but performs with peoples own, natural voices, in order to achieve the sound of all voices to become united in one single voice that would sound almost folklore. Znamenny Chant was done in this way to be pleasing to the ear, while most importantly proclaiming truth which penetrated into the hearts of Christians. However, until the unfortunate and hideous reforms of Patriarch Nikon in 17th Century Russia, the old Muscovite tradition of Church music was shattered. The only people who faithfully retained to the Znamenny Chants were the Old Believers and Old Ritualitists.

Patriarch Nikon’s reforms introduced the dominant harmonized choral screeching into the Russian Orthodox Church which caught on rather quickly, especially due to the requests of wealthy people in Russia at the time. This un-canonical way of singing in many Orthodox Christian Churches still exists, while Neumatic Notation and the ancient Znamenny chant melodies within the Churches has been almost completely forgotten.

Gladly, many monasteries and Orthodox parishes in North America are bringing back the traditional Znamenny Chants in order for Orthodox Christian hymnography to once again penetrate in its simple and traditional way into many Orthodox Christians.


3 Responses to “Znamenny Chant- The pre-Nikonian tradition”

  1. 1 01varvara September 6, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Our traditional Russian hymnography is hideous? For shame… there is nothing wrong with the harmonised chant (indeed, a great deal is based on Stolpovoy/Znamenny originals), many souls have been uplifted and saved through its use. Do be careful with the term “uncanonical”, our form of church-singing is more “accepted and traditional” rather than “canonical”. In any case, there is a canon that forbids women to sing in church. Are we to enforce that as well?

    As for harmonisation itself, the Demestvenny napeva was contemporaneous with the Stolpovoy rospeva, and it is flowery and ornamented. I accept the Church as it has evolved, you, apparently, do not. May God have mercy on you and lead you to wisdom. The present church chant is beautiful and I would NEVER abandon it. The Russian Church agrees, you should know, with me and not with you.


  2. 2 Rdr. Vitalis September 8, 2008 at 2:17 am

    Read some holy fathers, dear Varvara

  3. 3 Fila September 11, 2008 at 12:51 am

    Varvara, the Melodists of the Church have labored their time in prayer and fasting to put together the hymnography of the Church. Sadly, the Russian Church had adopted the music composed for the secular society, which is rather nice sounding- I must agree, but this music is not prayerful and does not mingle together with the atmosphere of our mystical Church services.

    Good post, dear maryofegypt!

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St. Mary of Egypt


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