“Music is among the many and great gifts of nature with which God, in whom is the harmony of the most perfect concord and the most perfect order, has enriched men, whom he has created in his image and likeness.” —Pope Pius XII
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and joy to life and to everything.” —Plato
With music’s transcendent power, language does not even matter. Just listen to the hauntingly beautiful voices on this YouTube video of Russian Orthodox seminary priests singing a Lenten chant titled My Soul in the old Slavonic language on the French TV show The Voice, Jan. 18, 2020.
A complicated amalgam of people and things, I know. I came across the video (wasting time can be research when you are a writer) posted in Russian by Nicholas Temple Dobrinka. Thanks to Google Translate, I deciphered the comments under the video and the story reported by Interfax.
If you do nothing else, simply listen to the video and let your soul rest in the Lord, for such beauty can only come from him. Even the judges recognized that. It was a blind audition, so their backs were toward the singers. Although no one hit their buzzer to work with them and keep them moving up in the show, everyone expressed amazement and were overwhelmed by the music. One judge indicated she had goosebumps and pointed up to heaven.
The priests were from Schola Fratrum, the Orthodox seminary in the city of Epineux-sen-Cenar in northern France. They performed the chant from the penitential canon of St. Andrew of Crete titled My Soul. It is performed in Orthodox churches at the beginning and end of Lent, calling sinners to repentance in anticipation of the end of earthly life and the coming judgment day.
A comment in English under the video, wondering what they were actually singing, received this response also in English:
“There is no translation for this Russian Orthodox chant. To make it worse, it is the old Slavonic language, so online translator won't be helpful. The chant, or prayer, is to wake up your soul from slumber and beg God for forgiveness. The saints see themselves as sinners, as sinners consider themselves saints, because the saints are aware of their sins, their souls are ‘not sleeping.’ So we pray for our ‘soul’ to wake up and admit that we are sinners and need to beg for forgiveness.”
The jury members, including the famous French performers Lara Fabian, Amel Bent, Marc Lavoine and Pascal Obispo, sat with their backs to the participants and looked at each other in perplexity and awe, not knowing how many people there were and in what language they were singing.
The judges later said that they got so lost during the singing, they simply did not have time to press the button. But as a result, the quintet lost the opportunity to continue participating in the show. But singer Lara Fabian invited the singers to “combine voices” and perform with her at her upcoming concert in Mosco.
Comments under the video included:
“In service - heart and soul in paradise”
“Brothers, come to Serbia! We will love you and you will be in front of a minimum of 15,000 Serbs! Bravo!!”
“Well done seminarians !!!! The army of God on earth !!!!”
In French someone wrote:
“What a floating and heavenly moment this is! If this performance comes out on a music platform, I take it with joy.”
“Let demons hear and shudder.”
Apparently, a few did shudder and also trolled saying unkind things. It would seem that they identified themselves:
“Full trash. ‘Do not give sanctuary to the dogs, nor throw your pearls before the pigs.’”
“Horrible performance ... in some places frank falsity !!!”
Music is a gift of the senses from God. We don’t all share the same taste and yet, who is not touched in some way by music? Whales and birds may sing but animals do not stop and appreciate sunsets or art or music. Those things speak to our souls and only humans have them. And that is why it’s not a waste to sometimes stop and take such beauty in.