Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Furnace Rite of Matins

( - Only a handful of specialists now know about a liturgical rite called “the Furnace Act” practiced in Russia from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, and mentioned as early as the tenth century in Byzantium. It was a rite that was celebrated on the great feasts. With this rite also began the forefeast of the Nativity of Christ. One of the musical-folklore specialists who has researched the “Furnace Act” is Andrei Kotov, creator and conductor of the Siren Choir—a marvelous Russian choir that performs ancient Russian religious music.

“We searched a long time for it. At first we found a description of it in the Book of Rites of the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin (there are only two descriptions extant—in the Dormition Cathedrals of Moscow and Novgorod), and having found a detailed description, we started our search for the music,” recalls A. Kotov.

“It took us nine years to gather a unified Furnace Act—we had to find all the music that went into it. Of course, many music theorists helped us… Our own Polina Terentieva, who sings in our group (she is our remarkable theoretician and singer) began an intense search, and found the “demestvo four-tones” and some amazing music for the Furnace Act.

“The Furnace Act was part of the Matins service. It was part of the canon; the canon was read until the sixth ode, and then instead of the seventh and eighth odes of the canon came the Furnace Act.” The canon in Orthodox Church music has nine odes, or sections of song verses, which begin with an “irmos”—generally sung—and continues with the verses, which are usually chanted. In almost all canons, the seventh and eight irmoses mention the themes of the three holy youths in Babylon, Ananias, Azarias. And Misael, who refused to worship the idols of Nebuchadnezzar and were therefore cast into the “burning fiery furnace”. But the youths sang praises to the Lord and were not consumed by the flames. This is a liturgical theme that appears repeatedly, as a prefiguration of New Testament themes. A. Kotov continues, “Nine “dew verses” (that is, nine stichera) were sung, and then came the seventh and eighth “Three Youth verses” (they can be found in the Psalter separately). They were sung in the demestvo tones.” The verses of the Three Holy Youths in the furnace are part of the Biblical Odes, which at one time were sung throughout the year, but are now generally used only during Great Lent. The seventh Ode is annotated in the Psalter as “A Prayer of the Holy Three Children (Dan. 3:26–56)—the praise of the three Youths doth quench the flame. O our God and the God of our fathers, blessed art Thou.” And the eighth Ode is the annotation, “The Hymn of the Holy Three Children (Dan. 3:57–88), O praise the Lord, ye creatures which He hath made. O praise ye the Lord, ye works of His, and supremely exalt Him unto all the ages.”

A. Kotov describes how this would have looked in the cathedrals of ancient Russia...
Complete article here.

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