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Fear & Trembling In Tbilisi

That is an Georgian Orthodox priest, Father Seraphim, and his choir chanting Psalm 53 in Aramaic, when Pope Francis visited the cathedral in Tbilisi earlier this month. He is of Assyrian descent; there is an Assyrian population in Georgia. This chant is astonishingly beautiful. As you listen to it, keep in mind the text of Psalm 53. These are the words they are chanting in Aramaic:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.

God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.

Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God.

There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.

Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

Here, in a vastly more humble setting, is Father Seraphim and a smaller choir singing the Trisagion hymn in Aramaic. The words mean: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "Fear & Trembling In Tbilisi"

#1 Comment By mrscracker On October 10, 2016 @ 11:52 am

I saw this on EWTN. Just beautiful.
You know, in Maronite Catholic churches the Consecration is spoken in Aramaic, too.

[NFR: Yes, when my wife and I were Catholics and living in Brooklyn, we worshiped at the Maronite cathedral in Brooklyn Heights. I still remember the Trisagion we sang there, and sing it aloud sometimes. — RD]

#2 Comment By NoahK On October 10, 2016 @ 12:00 pm

That was incredible. The sound, I dont know, feels ancient, if that makes any sense at all. But if this is anything what like what Orthodoxy is normally, I get why you chose it, Rod.

[NFR: It is. — RD]

#3 Comment By MikeCA On October 10, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

An old coworker of mine (with whom I’ve sadly lost contact) was an Orthodox convert and went to Bulgaria with a church group to learn how to chant. He & his wife had beautiful voices,it was magical to hear them. They gave a recording of their performances,I hope I still have the cassette (that long ago!) packed away. I’ll have to take a look later. I’m not sure we have a cassette player though!

#4 Comment By Leonard Payne On October 10, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

Makes me want to become Orthodox 🙂

#5 Comment By Will Harrington On October 10, 2016 @ 2:23 pm

Leonard, come and see. You will be welcome.

#6 Comment By k On October 10, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

I suppose it’s the way these sounds have been (mis)used – it gives me the feeling of a film where something extremely evil or violent is happening!

#7 Comment By Scot Stelter On October 10, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

Truly beautiful.

#8 Comment By Eric Todd On October 10, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

Amazing. Sublime.

Chant in our Russian Orthodox parish is lovely, but that was extraordinary.

#9 Comment By Camus On October 10, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

#10 Comment By Sawbuck On October 10, 2016 @ 3:53 pm

You should keep this post at the top in perpetuity as a respite from the noise life throws at us. It is a mind clearing and palate cleaning experience to be bathed in the Spirit. Simply needful and lovely.

#11 Comment By Chris 1 On October 10, 2016 @ 4:08 pm

Love this. Thanks for posting.

#12 Comment By El Skippito Friskito On October 10, 2016 @ 4:30 pm

My blessed Lord. That made me cry in happiness. It’s a pretty world in so many ways, and yet there are still things that stand out in their beauty.

#13 Comment By KyleW On October 10, 2016 @ 4:46 pm

When a piece of music makes you hold back weeping, for fear of bawling in public, you know you’ve come across something special. This did that. Thanks Rod.

#14 Comment By LorenzoCanuck On October 10, 2016 @ 5:18 pm

You all should listen to his rendition of the Our Father, too: aleteia.org/2016/09/30/watch-beautiful-rendition-of-the-lords-prayer-sung-in-aramaic/

I want to know if he has a CD out so I can buy several and give them to members of my parish.

#15 Comment By Edward Hamilton On October 10, 2016 @ 5:22 pm

Thanks for sharing this. It was a moment of peace and beauty in the middle of a time of stress and anxiety. I wish the evangelical world spent less time trying to imitate pop music and devoted more energy to preserving ancient modes of worship.

#16 Comment By cecelia On October 10, 2016 @ 7:02 pm

Exquisite. Thanks for posting this.

It sounds quite similar to Islamic chant. Not just the language but the tonal and melodic characteristics.

I do not know if this is true but I have been told by experts that Gregorian chant originated in a Eastern monastery near Ephesus in Turkey. The buildings still survive but it is a mosque now. Listening to this makes the relationship between western chant and eastern chant obvious so I am inclined to think what I was told is true.

The drone which underlies the chant is also typical of the drone characteristically found in traditional laments of Britain and Ireland. Although the pipe often takes the place of the voice. Listen here: [1]

Lament of the Three Marys. Some scholars believe this song too goes back to the earliest days of Christianity in Britain and Ireland.

It does show how these traditional forms of music reach deeply into our souls and touch us. Something very elemental and true.

#17 Comment By Deacon Nicholas On October 10, 2016 @ 7:15 pm

The language is Aramaic, but is not the setting Georgian? Georgian chant is simply otherworldly.

For the inquirers into Orthodoxy: As CS Lewis said, come on in, it’s just awful. But come.

[NFR: There is a sizable Assyrian community in Georgia. — RD]

#18 Comment By BasilNova On October 10, 2016 @ 7:49 pm

The beauty and holiness of these two recordings make me feel ashamed to have given so much of my heart and mind over to politics and secular worries during the last few months. Let this be a corrective. Lord, have mercy.

#19 Comment By Jan Hus On October 10, 2016 @ 10:13 pm


#20 Comment By jamie On October 11, 2016 @ 2:47 am

The beauty and holiness of these two recordings make me feel ashamed to have given so much of my heart and mind over to politics and secular worries during the last few months.

I second this.

#21 Comment By Erika On October 11, 2016 @ 7:52 am

What a witness. Keep posting.

I have been surprised to find that good church music for unaccompanied voices is still being written in quantity, because the demand is there. It’s not as powerful as that psalm, but still worthy. Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque is popular for Christmas, and both Martin Asander and Kile Smith are also worth a listen.

Also, twentieth century music in that tradition is awfully good, and still pretty new, considering. If you don’t know the Stravinsky Pater Noster (1926, right after his reconversion, originally Slavonic), I’ll bet you would enjoy it.

Much of this music is easily sung by an ordinary church choir.

#22 Comment By Rati On October 11, 2016 @ 9:49 am

Deacon Nicholas: Could you please tell me where that CS Lewis quote comes?

#23 Comment By Gentillylace On October 11, 2016 @ 10:08 pm

Simply beautiful. I think church music is better a cappella. More hymns and other church music — in all denominations — should be unaccompanied by instruments, in my opinion.

#24 Comment By Julia Duin On October 12, 2016 @ 12:13 am

If only Orthodoxy in Georgia were these incredible singers. But it’s also a patriarchate that treated Francis so rudely. The glory and the shame.

#25 Comment By Jeffrey Hoffman On October 24, 2016 @ 10:53 pm

Actually, the text for Psalm 53 is not what you have transcribed here. The English (Anglican) Bible follows the Masoretic Psalm numbering, whereas the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles follow the numbering of Psalms in the Septuagint, which conflated Psalms 9 & 10 into one psalm, making all subsequent Psalms in those books one digit off in their numbering in comparison to the English Bible(s). I think the character of the music makes a lot more sense when one reads the correct text in translation.

Here is the actual text from the Book of Common Prayer (1662):

Psalm 54
SAVE me, O God, for thy Name’s sake : and avenge me in thy strength.
2. Hear my prayer, O God : and hearken unto the words of my mouth.
3. For strangers are risen up against me : and tyrants, which have not God before their eyes, seek
after my soul.
4. Behold, God is my helper : the Lord is with them that uphold my soul.
5. He shall reward evil unto mine enemies : destroy thou them in thy truth.
6. An offering of a free heart will I give thee, and praise thy Name, O Lord : because it is so
7. For he hath delivered me out of all my trouble : and mine eye hath seen his desire upon mine

#26 Comment By Catherine Pocock On July 18, 2017 @ 1:44 pm

Hello. Are the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 53 as sung by Fr. Seraphim on the visit of the Pope to Georgia in 2016 one and the same? The Youtube versions I have heard sound remarkably similar. Also, where might I be able to get an MP3 or CD version of this beautiful and moving recording?

#27 Comment By Andy McGehee On July 30, 2017 @ 10:51 pm

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the building shown Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, which is to the north of Tbilisi?

#28 Comment By Andrew On October 31, 2017 @ 10:57 am

@ Andy McGehee – I believe you are correct. I had the same feeling. At the very least, the building shown is obviously not the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi which is larger, has a golden dome, is surrounded by steps rather than this flat closed courtyard, and is up on a hill rather than down next to the river. And this looks like Svetitskhoveli to me. The main chyron is unhelpful since it just says “Pope of Rome’s Visit” throughout, but the scrolling part seems to say something like “We offer you a live broadcast from Mtskheta and Svetitskhoveli” about 36 seconds in, although my Georgian is rusty and was never very good to begin with.

@ Catherine Pocock – Yes, there are definitely videos on YouTube of this performance (which is not the Our Father) from Pope Francis’s visit to Georgia which are incorrectly identified as the Our Father. But another commenter above (LorenzoCanuck) posted a link to a different video of Fr Seraphim singing the Our Father, which really is recognizably an Aramaic version of the Our Father.