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The 75th Canon of the Sixth Œcumenical Synod

This canon is addressed “To those who attend church for the purpose of chanting.” It is the seventy-fifth canon of the sixth œcumenical synod, whch took place in Constantinople and the year AD 680.

What strikes the reader immediately is how the canon does not concern itself with the idea of the beauty of the voice, but instead concentrates on the inner spiritual disposition of the singer. In my estimation, the two key words are “attentiveness” and “contriteness,” both of which are to be directed to God.

Canon CXXV (75) of the Sixth Œcumenical Synod

Τοὺς ἐπὶ τῷ ψάλλειν ἐν ταῖς Ἐκκλησίαις παραγινομένους, βουλόμεθα, μήτε βοαῖς ἀτάκτοις κεχρῆσθαι, καὶ τὴν φύσιν πρὸς κραυγὴν ἐκβιάζεσθαι, μήτε τι ἐπιλέγειν τῶν μὴ ἐκκλησίᾳ ἁρμοδίων τε καὶ οἰκείων· ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς προσοχῆς, καὶ κατανύξεως τὼς τοιαύτας ψαλμῳδίας προσάγειν τῷ τῶν κρυπτῶν ἐφόρῳ Θεῷ. «Εὐλαβεῖς γὰρ ἔσεσθαι τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραήλ» (Λευϊτ. ιε´, 30), τὸ ἱερὸν ἐδίδαξε λόγιον.

We wish those who attend church for the purpose of chanting neither to employ disorderly cries and to force nature to cry aloud, not to foist in anything that is not becoming and proper to a church; but, on the contrary, to offer such psalmodies with much attentiveness [προσοχῆς] and contriteness [κατανύξεως] to God, who sees directly into everything that is hidden from our sight. ‘For the sons of Israel shall be reverent’ (Lev. 15.30), the sacred word has taught us.


Ἑρμηνεία. Ἡ ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις γινομένη ψαλμῳδία, παρακάλεσίς ἐστι πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν διὰ νὰ ἐξιλεωθῇ εἰς τὰς ἁμαρτίας μας. Ὃποιος δὲ παρακαλεῖ καὶ δέεται, πρέπει νὰ ἔχῃ ἦθος ταπεινὸν καὶ κατανενυγμένον· τὸ δὲ νὰ κραυγάζῃ τινάς, δηλοῖ ἦθος θρασὺ καὶ ἀνευλαβές. Διὰ τοῦτο προστάζει ὁ παρὼν Κανών, ὅτι οἱ ψάλλοντες εἰς τὰς ἐκκλησίας νὰ μὴ βιάζουν τὴν φύσιν των εἰς τὸ νὰ φωνάζουν δυνατά, ἀλλὰ μήτε ἄλλο τι νὰ λέγουν ἀνάρμοστον εἰς Ἐκκλησίαν. Ποῖα δὲ εἶναι τὰ ἀνάρμοστα εἰς τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν; ἀποκρίνεται ὁ ἑρμηνεὺς Ζωναρᾶς, ὅτι εἶναι τὰ γυναικοπρεπῆ μέλη, καὶ τὰ μινυρίσματα, (ταὐτὸν εἰπεῖν τὰ πολλὰ τερερίσματα, καὶ ἡ ὑπερβολικὴ τῶν μελῳδιῶν ποικιλία, ἡ ὁποία κλίνει εἰς πορνικὰ ᾄσματα) ταῦτα οὖν πάντα προστάζει ὁ παρὼν Κανὼν νὰ λείψουν ἀπὸ τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ οἱ ψάλλοντες νὰ προσφέρουν τὰς ψαλμῳδίας μὲ πολλὴν προσοχὴν εἰς τὸν Θεόν, ὅπου βλέπει εἰς τὰ ἀπόκρυφα τῆς καρδίας, δηλ. εἰς τὴν νοερῶς ἐν καρδίᾳ γινομένην ψαλμῳδίαν καὶ προσευχὴν μᾶλλον, ἢ εἰς τὰς ἐξωτερικὰς κραυγάς. Διότι τὸ ἱερὸν λόγιον τοῦ Λευιτικοῦ διδάσκει, νὰ ᾖναι εὐλαβεῖς πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν οἱ υἱοὶ Ἰσραήλ¹.

The chanting, or psalmody, that is done in churches is in the nature of begging God to be appeased for our sins. Whoever begs and prayerfully supplicates must have a humble and contrite manner: but to cry out manifests a manner that is audacious and irreverent. On this account the present Canon commands that those who chant in the churches refrain from forcing their nature to yell, but also from saying anything else that is unsuitable for the church. But what are the things that are unsuitable for church? The expositor Zonaras replies that they are womanish members and warblings (which is the same as saying trills, and, an excessive variation or modulation in melodies which inclines towards the songs sung by harlots). The present Canon, therefore, commands that all these things be eliminated from the church, and that those who chant therein shall offer their psalmodies with great care to God, who looks into the hidden recesses of the heart, i.e. into the psalmody and prayer that are framed mentally in the heart rather than uttered in external cries. For the sacred word of Leviticus teaches us sons of Israel to be reverent to God.²


Συμφωνία. Λέγει δὲ καὶ ὁ προφήτης Δαβίδ «ψάλλεται συνετῶς»· τοῦτο δὲ τὸ ῥητὸν ἑρμηνεύων ὁ Μέγας Βασίλειος (ὅρ. κατ’ ἐπιτομ. σοθ´.) λέγει· ἡ σύνεσις τῶν λόγων τῆς ἁγίας Γραφῆς παρομοιάζει μὲ τὴν ποιότητα τῶν φαγητῶν ὁποῦ τρώγει τὸ στόμα· ἐπειδὴ κατὰ τὸν Ἰώβ (κεφ. ιβ´, 11), Λάρυγξ μὲν σῖτα γεύεται· νοῦς δὲ ῥήματα διακρίνει. Ἀνίσως λοιπὸν ἡ ψυχή τινος διακρίνῃ τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ κάθε λόγου, καθὼς ἡ γεῦσις διακρίνει τὴν ποιότητα κάθε φαγητοῦ, οὗτος πληρώνει τὴν Δαβιτικὴν αὐτὴν ἐντολήν. Προσθέτει δὲ ὁ ἴδιος Βασίλειος (ὅρ. κατ’ ἐπιτ. σπα´) ὅτι ὅποιος δὲν πηγαίνει μὲ ἐπιθυμίαν νὰ ψάλλῃ εἰς τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν, ἢ νὰ διορθώνεται, ἢ νὰ διώκεται. Ἐὰν δὲ ἦναι ψάλται πολλοί, λέγει (ὅπ. κατ’ ἐπιτ. τζ´) ὁ αὐτός, νὰ μεταχειρίζωνται τὰς ψαλμῳδίας, μὲ ἐφημερίαν, καθ’ ἑβδομάδα δηλαδή. Ὁ δὲ τῆς ἐν Λαοδ. ιε´ προστάζει νὰ μὴ ψάλλῃ ἄλλος τινὰς ἐν τῇ Ἐκκλησίᾳ, ἔξω ἀπὸ τοὺς Κανονικούς, καὶ ἀπὸ διφθέρας ψάλλοντας ψάλτας, ἤτοι ἔξω ἀπὸ τοὺς μετὰ μεμβραΐνης, ἢ ἄλλης χαρτίνης ψαλτικῆς ψάλλοντας. Ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ κγ´ τῆς αὐτῆς λέγει, νὰ μὴ φοροῦν οἱ ψάλται ὀράριον ὅταν ψάλλωσι. Πρέπει δὲ ἀνάμεσα εἰς τοὺς ψαλμοὺς νὰ γίνεται καὶ ἀνάγνωσις (ἢ προσευχὴ) κατὰ τὸν ιζ´ τῆς αὐτῆς³.

David the prophet, too, says, ‘chant ye understandingly’ (Ps. 47. 7). In expounding this text Saint Basil the Great (Epitomized Definitions, no. 279) says: ‘Understanding the words of the Holy Scripture is like the quality of meals which the mouth eats: since, according to Job (12. 11), ‘The throat tastes foods, but the mind discerns words’. So if anyone’s soul discerns the power of every word just as the sense of taste discerns the quality of every food, he is fulfilling that commandment of David’s’. Saint Basil himself adds (Epitomized Definitions, no. 281) that whoever does not go to chant in church eagerly should either be corrected or be ousted. If there are enough psalts available — many, I mean — the same saint (Epitomized Definitions, no. 307) says that they should practice chanting in rotations, once a week, that is to say, Canon 15 of Laodicea, on the other, commands that no one else must chant in church but canonical chanters, or psalts, and parchment-reading chanters, or psalts, or, in other words, except those who chant with membranous and other paper chant. In addition, c. XXIII of the same Council says that psalts are not to wear an orarion when they are chanting. Between the chants there ought to be reading (or praying) too, according to c XVII of the same Council.


  1. Δι’ ὃ καὶ ὁ θεῖος Χρυσόστομος (ὁμιλ. εἰς τὸ, εἶδον τὸν Κύριον καθήμενον ἐπὶ θρόνου σελ. 120. τόμ. ε´) ἐμποδίζει πολλὰ τὰς θυμελικὰς ψαλμῳδίας, τὰε ἐρχήσεις τῶν χειρονομούντων, καὶ τὰς ἐκτεταμένας βοάς, καὶ ἀτάκτους φωνάς· ἑρμηνεύων γὰρ τὸ ψαλμικὸν ἐκεῖνο, δουλεύσατε τῷ Κυρίῳ ἐν φίβῳ, σφοδρότατα μὲν ἐλέγχει ἐκείνους, ὁποῦ ἀνακατόνουσι μὲ τὰ πνευματικὰ ᾄσματα, τὰ ἐξωτερικὰ τῶν θεάτρων σχήματα, καὶ θέσεις, καὶ ἀσήμους φωνὰς (ὁποῖα εἶναι καὶ τῶρα τὰ τερερίσματα, καὶ νενανίσματα, καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἄσημα λόγια) καὶ λέγει, ὅτι ταῦτα εἶναι ἴδια, ὄχι τῶν δοξολογούντων τὸν Θεόν, ἀλλὰ τῶν παιζόντων, καὶ ἀνακατονόντων τὰ τπων δαιμόνων παίγνια μὲ τὴν ἀγγελικὴν δοξολογίαν· διδάσκει δὲ διὰ πολλῶν, ὅτι πρέπει μὲ φόβον καὶ συντετριμμένην καρδίαν νὰ ἀναπέμπωμεν τὰς δοξολογίας εἰς τὸν Θεόν, ἵνα αὗται γένωνται εὐπρόσδεκτοι, ὡς εὐῶδες θυμίαμα. Ἐπαινετὰ δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ καὶ λόγου παντὸς ἄξια εἶναι καὶ ἐκεῖνα ὁποῦ λέγει ὁ σοφώτατος Μελέτιος ὁ Πηγᾶς ἐν τῷ γ´ περὸ χριστιανισμοῦ, γράφων. «Ὥσπερ οὖν τὸ σεμνὸν καὶ σύμμετρον τῆς μουσικῆς εὐπρόσιτον διὰ τὸ ἀκμαιοτέρας κατασκευάζειν τὰς καρδίας, οἶον ἀνασπῶσαν τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ σώματος. Ἁρμονία γὰρ τῷ πνεύματι οἰκειότατον, μέσην ἔχουσα φύσιν, σώματός τε παχύτητος, καὶ πνεύματος ἀϋλότητος. Οὕτω πάλιν ὑπέρμετρος μουσική, καὶ τῷ ἡδεῖ παρὰ τὸ μέτρον ἐνασχολουμένη, οὐχ ἡδύνει, ἀλλ’ ἐκλύει… διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ φωνὰς μόνον τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀποδεχόμενοι ἐν τῇ Ἐκκλησίᾳ, ὡς φύσει ἐνυπαρχούσας καὶ ἀπεριέργους, τὰ δι’ ὀργάνων κρούματα καὶ ἐμπνεύματα ἀποδιοπομποῦσιν ὡς περιεργωδέστερα οἱ θεῖοι Πατέρες»· τὰ ὁποῖα ἀγωνίζονται νὰ ἐμβάσουν πάλιν εἰς τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν τινὲς τῶν τωρινῶν μουσικῶν μὲ τὰ ὀργανοειδῆ αὐτῶ ᾄσματα. Τὰ δὲ τερερίσματα καὶ νενανίσματα τὰ χαλλόμενα, δὲν φαίνονται νὰ ᾖναι παλαιά, ἀλλὰ νεωτερικά· καθ’ ὅτι εἰς τὰ ἐιγραφόμενα τῷ Δαμασκνῷ Ἰωάννῃ, καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις παλαιοῖς μουσικοῖς πονήματα, δὲν εὑρίσκονται τοιαῦτα ἄσημα λόγια καὶ κρατήματα, φαίνονται δὲ νὰ ἄρχισαν ἀπὸ τὸν καιρὸν Ἰωάννου τοῦ Κουκουζέλους. Ἀλλὰ τὰ κρατήματα ὁποῦ οἱ τωρινοὶ ψάλται ψάλλουσιν ἐν ταῖς ἀγρυπνίαις, μὲ τὸ νὰ ᾖναι διπλᾶ, πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τριπλᾶ τοῦ κειμένου, ἀηδῆ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ καὶ ὀχληρὰ γίνονται κοντὰ εἰς τοὺε ἐυλαβεῖς ἀκροατάς· δι’ ὃ παρακαλοῦμεν τοὺς κανονικοὺς ψάλτας νὰ τὰ ψάλλουν διὰ νὰ μείνῃ καιρὸς νὰ γίνεται ἀνάγνωσις, καὶ οἱ Κανόνες νὰ ψάλλωνται ἀργότερα, ἐις τὰ ὁποῖα στέκεται ὅλος ὁ τῆς ἀγρυπνίας ψυχικὸς καρπός. Λέγουσι δέ τινες, ὅτι τὰ ἄσημα ταῦτα τερερίσματα ἐδέχθησαν εἰς τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν, ἵνα διὰ τῆς ἠδονῆς των ἕλκωσι τὸν ἁπλοῦν λαόν.^
  2. That is why divine Chrysostom (Hom. on “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne,” p.120, vol. v) strenuously prohibits theatrical singing, dances of gesticulators, and prolonged cries and yells, and disorderly intonations. For interpreting that passage in the Psalm saying “Serve the Lord in fear” (Ps. 2. 11), he severely censures those who mingle the secular gestures of theaters with spiritual songs, and who admix therewith theatrical postures and meaningless intonations (such as arenowadays the trills and quavers and other meanigless utterances); and he says that these things are natural, not to those engaged in the doxology of God, but to those playing, and mingling the sports of demons with angelic doxology. By means of many arguments he teaches that we ought to offer up doxologies to God with fear and a contrite heart, in order that they may be welcome, like a fragrant incense. What Meletius Pegas, a very learned man, says in his third discourse concerning Christianity is in truth to be praised and deserving of all admiration: “Precisely, therefore, as modesty and symmetry of music is attractive, it is adapted to render hearts more robust, by drawing the soul up from the body. For harmony is most agreeable to the spirit, having as it does an intermediate nature partaking of the crassness of the body, combined with the immateriality of the spirit. Thus again excessive music, pursuing what is sweet beyond moderation fails to excite pleasure, but, on the contrary, tends to enervate… for it is on this account that only the human voice finds acceptance in the Church, on the ground that it is inherent in nature and unartificial, whereas the percussions and efflations produced by instruments are sent packing by the divine Fathers on the ground that they are too artificial.” Yet some of the musicians of today are striving to put these things back into the Church with their instrumental songs. The trills and quavers that are now being chanted do not appear to be old, but, on the contrary, modernistic, in view of the fact in the songs ascribed to John Damascene and other musicians of olden times such meaningless words and prolongations; they appear to have come into existence about the time of John Koukouzelos. But the prolongations which the psalts of today are chanting in the vigils, being double and often triple the standard length are in truth nauseating and become offensive to reverent listeners. Wherefore we beseech canonical psalts to chant their songs more quickly, in order that their songs may at the same time be more tuneful, and in order to leave time for readint ot be done; accordingly, the canons may be chanted more slowly, in which is rooted all the soulful (or physical) fruit of the vigil. Some say, however, that these meanigless trills were introduced into the Church with a view to attracting the simple laity by means of their pleasant effect on the ear.^
  3. Καθὼς τώρα συνειθίζει νὰ γίνεται εἰς τὰς ἀγρυπνίας, καὶ μάλιστα τὰς ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ Ὂρει γενομένας, καὶ καθὼς πάλαι ἐγίνετο, Ὠς ἀναφέρει ὁ Μέγας Βασίλειος (ἐπιστολὴ πρὸς τὸν Κλῆρον τῆς ἐν Νεοκαισαρείᾳ Ἐκκλησίας) γράφων· «Τὰ νῦν κεκρατηκότα ἔθη πάσαις ταῖς τοῦ Θεοῦ Ἐκκλησίας, συνῳδά ἐστι καὶ σύμφωνα. Ἐκ νυκτὸς γὰρ ὀρθρίζει παρ’ ἡμῖν ὁ λαός… τελευταῖον ἀναστάντες τῶν προσευχῶν, εἰς τὴν ψαλμῳδίαν καθίσταται, νῦν μὲν διχῆ διανεμηθέντες, ἀντιψάλλουσιν ἀλλήλοις». Ἔπειτα πάλιν ἐπιτρέψαντες ἐνὶ κατάρχειν τοῦ μέλους, οἱ λοιποὶ ὑπηχοῦσι, καὶ οὔτως ἐν τῇ ποικιλίᾳ τῆς ψαλμῳδίας τὴν νύκτα διανέμοντες, μεταξὺ προσευχόμενοι. Ὃρα δὲ ὅτι ἡ ψαλμῳδία διαφέρει τῆς προσευχῆς, καθότι ἡ μὲν ψαλμῳδία γίνεται μετὰ μέλους, ἡ δὲ προσευχή, χωρῖς μέλους. Καὶ ὁτι εἰς μὲν τοὺς παλαιοὺς ἡ ψαλμῳδία ἐγίνετο εἰς τὸ ψαλτήριον τοῦ Δαβίδ. Διὸ καὶ εὑρίσκονται παλαιὰ ψαλτήρια τονισμένα ὅλα μὲ φωνὰς τῆς μουσικῆς. Τὴν σήμερον δὲ γίνεται τὸ ἐναντίον, καὶ ἡ μὲν προσευχή μας ἐστὶ τὸ ψαλτήριον ἀναγινωσκόμενον, οὐ μελῳδούμενον (πλὴν τῶν τριῶν πρώτων ψαλμῶν, καὶ τοῦ πολυελέου), ἡ δὲ ψαλμῳδία μας, τὰ περὶ τῆς νέας χάριτος διαλαμβάνοντα τροπάρια. Οἱ θεοφόροι ὅμως Πατέρες οἱ καλούμενοι Νηπτικοί, ψαλμῳδίαν μεν λέγουσι τὴν διὰ στόματος καὶ λόγου προσευχήν, Προσευχὴν δέ, τὴν διὰ τοῦ νοὸς γινομένην.ΠΗΔΑΛΙΟΝ Ἀγαπίου ἱερομονάχου καὶ Νικοδήμου μονάχου (Ἐν Ζακύνθῳ, 1864· ἐπανέκδοσις τοῦ ἐκδοτικοῦ οἴκου «ΑΣΤΗΡ» Αλ. ϗ Ε. Παπαδημητρίου, 1990). ^
  4. Just as is now usually done in connection with the vigils, and especially those held in the Holy Mountain, and just as used to be done, as St Basil (in his letter to the clergy of the church in Neocaesarea) mentions in writing: “The customs now prevailing in all the churches of God are consonant and consistent. For among us the laity commences morning prayer in the nightime… lastly leaving off prayers they turn to psalmody, and, being now divided into two, they chant to one another alternately.” Afterwards again: “Having allowed one to commence the song, the rest of them maintaining the balance; and thus in variety of psalmody they divide up the night, praying betweenwhiles.” But note that psalmody differs from prayer, since psalmody is done with singing, whereas prayer is done without singing. And that among the ancients psalmody was domne in connection with the psaltery of David. That is why there are to be found old psalters all provided with musical notes. But today the contrary is done, and our prayer is the psalter read aloud, not sung (except for the first three psalms and the Polyeleios, whereas our psalmodyconsists of the troparia alluding to the new grace. Our God-bearing Fathers, however, the so-called Neptics, call praying by mouth and spoken words‘ psalmody’, and praying done by means of the mind alone ‘prayer’. ^

ISSN: 1941-7616   Copyright © 2008, Konstantinos Terzopoulos.

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