Fr. Demetri Kounavis
Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Rockford, IL
Fr. John Rallis
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Des Plaines, IL
We are a small group of Orthodox Christians in the Chicago area who prayerfully work together to chant the hymns of our Holy Orthodox Church in English using the original authentic Byzantine melodies. We come from a variety of backgrounds, jurisdictions, and parishes. We are grateful that God has given us this opportunity.
The Panagia Koukouzelissa Choir was formed by a small group of mission-minded Orthodox Christians from various parishes and jurisdictions in the Chicago area in early 2010. It was not something formal--nor did it initially have a name--but rather stemmed from friendships within the context of the sacramental life of the church and a common love of Byzantine music.
The first major endeavor of the choir was to organize a concert of Paschal hymns to fundraise for the upcoming trips of a number of local short-term OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center) missionaries. As interest grew, both on the part of those who chanted and on the part of those who attended the concert, the choir undertook an unexpected second and more laborious task: to make a professional recording of the service of Holy Saturday morning in English.
The goal of the aforementioned CD, Arise, O God, was multifaceted:
First, it had the practical function of supporting the work of OCMC in that all the proceeds would be donated specifically to OCMC's Support a Mission Priest (SAMP) program.
Second, the project grew out of a hope that the faithful who hear the words of the service chanted in English would be nourished spiritually and contemplate the theological significance of Holy Saturday morning, which is rightly often referred to as the "little resurrection."
Last but not least, the choir members wanted to create a recording that would cultivate in the hearts of their listeners a deep love for authentic Byzantine chant, giving them the opportunity to hear how the compunctionate, ancient melodies and modes can serve as a vehicle to the words of the hymns, not only in Greek but also in the English language. The choir members all felt unworthy of such a task and acknowledged from the outset that the recording would not be perfect. May the Holy Spirit "complete what is lacking" in this recording, and may God be pleased that the meager "one talent" was not buried but at least invested so as to gain interest.
At the same time, the choir went to great pains not only in order to obtain the translations (some of which were as yet unreleased) and the music (some of which needed to be written specifically for the CD) but also in order to decide how to best execute the music. Every choice--whether the interpretation of a small musical phrase or the method of the isokratema--was made with thought, study, and prayer.
It is the humble prayer of all the chanters of the Panagia Koukouzelissa Choir that their listeners will be inspired by the recordings and that they will, in the words of St John of Damascus, "reap in joy the sheaves of ever-lasting life" (Sunday Orthros, Hymns of Ascent, Mode 3).
May the blessings of our beloved Panagia and Saint John Koukouzelis be with you!