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Kontakion of the Mother of God sung by Cappella Romana

This season I am thinking a lot about the nature of time—how the evening seems to fall so soon (is it always so dark so early in the middle of December?), how the days can feel so long and yet the weeks so short. Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, an infrequent accident of calendar that makes the season of Advent—a contemplative season in my faith tradition—feel compressed and hurried.

This Kontakion (Greek for ‘hymn’) is a highly stylized chant used for liturgy, or the actions of a worship service in Christian or Jewish faith. Chant is one of the oldest forms of sacred song. The original melody is given the structure of rhythm, which is then led by the Protopsaltis, or cantor, and joined by the choir of men. The low drone, called ison, enriches the melody, creating both tone and overtones, deepening and heightening the experience at the same time.

The men of the Portland-based ensemble Cappella Romana offer a taste of this motion and stillness with their excellent performance of a Kontakion (hymn) for the Mother of God. In Orthodox tradition she is called “Theotokos” or the God-bearer. Nine months of human gestation will end with a birth, but what is sacred exists beyond the scope of time.

In the orthodox Christian tradition, liturgy is considered to be time outside of time, a continuum of the present moment with all eternity. When time feels compressed, minimized, or limited, music like this helps me feel myself a part of time on a cosmic scale, the aural equivalent of looking up into a sky full of stars.

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