The Practice of "Stichologia"
in the Pre-Nikonian Russian Church

by Nikita Simmons, June 2004

--- In, Reader Andrew Moulton wrote:


I have a recording, in Slavonic, of the Brotherhood of Valaam singing/chanting the 17th Kathisma (I'm taking that on faith, since my comprehension is poor, and I don't know the 17th Kathisma in Slavonic). It sounds as though one psalt is chanting the psalm "recto tono" while the choir is singing what must be selected verses (I understand enough to know that it's different verses each time). If I had to guess, I would suppose that this is Znamenny Chant (it's 100% unison singing). There seem to be sections in which the choir takes over and sings a rather melismatic verse without the "recto tono" part underlying it; the cantor returns to his chanting the psalm after they have finished singing a verse. The whole piece takes 13 minutes.

Does anyone know anything about this tradition? Where is it used liturgically?

Reader Andrew Moulton

Dear Andrew and fellow Typikoners,

This is a detailed response, excerpted from my book on pre-Nikonian chanting practices (which I've been working on for years but am still a long way from completing). Please forgive me if this is far too much detail.

That which you describe is an ancient practice which is now seldom done in the mainstream Russian Church, but which is observed extensively by the Old Believers. (Either the Valaam monastery was trying to do a historical recording, or perhaps the newer generation of educated monks is trying to revive the traditional monastic liturgical practices.) I believe that this practice is derived from an earlier Byzantine practice, since the Slavonic verb to describe it is "stikhologisati" (obviously derived from the Greek, and roughly translated as "to recite by verses"). In pre-Nikonian practice, the following portions of the services are performed this way:

1) Psalm 103 at the beginning of Vespers whenever there is a vigil (but note that it is read as usual - NOT sung - on Saturday evening if there is no vigil).

2) The first stasis of the First Kathisma at Vespers - when the service is Great Doxology rank or higher. (The other two stases are read as usual, unless they are not appointed to be read. The first stasis is simply read on Saturday evening Vespers if there is no feast. The chant books provide some beautiful melodies for the other two stases, for whenever a Great Feast coincides with a Sunday, but these have fallen out of use.)

3) The four Psalms at Vespers, beginning with "Lord, I have cried", whenever they are appointed to be sung. Modern practice is to chant only the first two verses and read the rest, but pre-Nikonian practice is responsorial, as you have described. We sing the refrains all the way to the end of these Psalms, then back up ten verses and do them again with the appointed stichera.

4) The two appointed kathismata at Matins whenever there is a feast, no matter the day of the week. (These are simply read on Sundays if there is no feast.)

5) The 17th Kathisma, which in pre-Nikonian practice is read following the two kathismata at Matins on all Sundays (except Pascha). -- This is probably the same rendition as the one which you heard on the recording, Andrew.

6) The Polieleos, which is Psalms 134 and 135. Psalm 134 has the refrain "Alleluia", and Psalm 135 has the refrain "Alleluia, alleluia, for His mercy endureth forever, alleluia."

7) On the three Sundays before Great Lent, we chant the Psalm "By the rivers of Babylon" in the same manner.

8) Whenever there is a Velichanie (Magnification) following the Polieleos, we antiphonally chant the Selected Psalms, with the Velichanie sung as the refrain. The Psalmist (Psalomshchik) reads a portion of these psalms, then the choir finishes a verse and sings the Velichanie; this goes on until the end of the selected psalms.

9) The Praises at Matins, whenever there is a Great Feast. (But they are read as usual on a typical Sunday.) This melody is definitely a favourite for many Old Believers, and it is sung in a vigorous triumphant manner, very much in keeping with the spirit of the feasts; it is almost always followed by a very slow, stately manner of singing the Great Doxology. (Note: Due to the rank of the feasts, we always hold candles during the festal chanting of the Praises and the Great Doxology.)

10) We also chant the 17th Kathisma whenever we observe a Panykhida. But the melodies we chant are different from those we use for Sunday at Matins. In addition, the Panykhida version of the 17th Kathisma is divided in half, with only 2 melodies, as opposed to the usual 3 stases.

11) The Lamentations on Holy Saturday are also chanted this way, but the interesting variaton here is that the refrains for each of the three stases are a type of Velichanie. (The service for the Three Great Hierarchs borrows this formula, and thus we have three Velichanii sung according to the Lamentations melodies.)

There are probably a few instances that I can't think of right now, but you have the idea I'm trying to convey. To sum up the basic differences: The pre-Nikonian usage preserves the entire psalms which are appointed to be read, including the chanted refrains, while post-Nikonian usage usually eliminates the read portion of the psalms and preserves only the chanted selections (the verse just before the refrain, and the refrain itself). Pre-Nikonian practice is responsorial (between Psalmist and antiphonal groups of chanters), while post-Nikonian practice is choral.