Icon of St. Gregory the Dialogist (540 –604), Pope of Rome, author of the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts
Russkaya zhizn’: We heard that the Cathedral Choir will sing the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts for the first time ever. Tell us how this idea came to be?
Vladimir Krassovsky: Yes, that’s true. Such Great-Lenten Liturgies are always celebrated at the Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” in the morning, mainly on Wednesdays and Fridays. The singing would be performed by a psalm-reader and whatever clergymen weren’t serving. The Cathedral Choir never sang these services. I always dreamt of singing this beautiful service, but since almost all of my singers have day jobs, it was impossible. When I learned that on the third week of Lent, there will be a diocesan pastoral retreat, I asked our Ruling Bishop, His Eminence Vladyka Kyrill, if we could sing the Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts in the evening, during the assembly. Vladyka was very approving of this proposal. For me this was a great joy, since my singers could prepare for and sing the service, and of course that our young parishioners could attend the Liturgy after work.
RZ: Many people don’t know anything about this service. Tell our readers about how this Liturgy originated. Who composed it?
VK: Tradition has it that the main author of the Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts was St Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome (540-604)-this is when the Church was still united, the Western Church left the Eastern Church in 1054. When he was elected Pope, the saint fled to the wilderness, since he feared this great responsibility. When he was finally enthroned Pope, he became renowned for his love for the poor and for impoverished monasteries, orphans, widows and the homeless. He was known as the “Diagolist” on the basis of his work “Dialogue,” dedicated to the saints of Italy. St Gregory composed this Liturgy in Latin, which before him was only passed down orally. This rite was confirmed at the 6 th Ecumenical Council in 680 and adopted by the entirety of the Christian Church. The relics of this saint are found in St Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican. The veneration of this saint began very early in the West, which gave him the title “the Great.”
RZ: St Gregory-wasn’t he the originator of the Gregorian chant used in the West?
VK: Yes, it was he who had heard this music in the Orthodox East, and brought the character and elements of this most beautiful chant to the West, establishing it as the proper form of singing in what was then still the Orthodox West.
RZ: When is this Liturgy celebrated, and what is its form?
VK: During Great Lent, Divine Liturgy is celebrated on Saturdays and Sundays, and that communicants should maintain abstention. But for the consolation of the faithful, the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts is offered on Wednesdays and Fridays (the Body and Blood of the Lord are preserved from the prior Sunday Liturgies). This Liturgy is among the most beautiful Lenten services. The faithful are invited to participate in it at least once during every Great Lent, and commune of the Holy Gifts. It has the character of an evening service, specifically it is Communion following vespers. During Great Lent, according to the Church calendar, Wednesdays and Fridays, one must abstain from any food until sunset. The strict Lenten days are sanctified by the anticipation of the Body and Blood of Christ, but this anticipation supports our joyful spiritual effort.
RZ: What are the main elements of this Liturgy? What songs are heard then?
VK: The service begins with vespers. The kathisma (psalms) are read, during which time the Gifts are prepared and brought to the table of oblation (preparation). The sticheron for “Lord I have cried….” The main singing is done during the vespers portion of the service: “Let my prayer be set forth.” Then, instead of the traditional Cherubic Hymn, we sing “Now the Powers of Heaven minister invisibly with us,” during which the Holy Gifts are transferred to the altar table. I selected Grigory Lvovsky’s composition (an arrangement of ancient chants). This work is, in my opinion, without equal. Lvovsky was the director of Holy Trinity Cathedral in St Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St Petersburg. A special Lenten version of the Lord’s Prayers is then sung. Before Communion, the worshipers will hear “O taste and see how good the Lord is,” again, a work by Lvovsky. All the litanies are sung with a special Lenten motif from the Obikhod [church music collection] .
RZ: The few people who are fortunate enough to frequent this Liturgy pay special attention to a trio which sings “Let my prayer arise in Thy sight…” In our church, our priests would sing it, using various compositions. What will you do?
VK: During one of my long conversations with the now-reposed choir director of Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra, Fr Archimandrite Matfei, we discussed this. He told me that on the First Week of Great Lent, they sing strictly according to the monastic Ustav [rule). One canonarch [chanter] sings, and the choir repeats the words. This is the first opportunity our choir will have to participate in this wondrous service, so I decided, in memory of Fr Matfei, to use his method. Victor Collaso will be the canonarch, a soloist and leading bass singer in our choir. He will sing “Let my prayer…” in the middle of the cathedral.
RZ: What else would you like to say to our readers?
VK: Allow me to thank you for your interest in our efforts and intentions. For me personally, and for my singers, it is very supportive, and in our circumstances in today’s world, such support is very important. In conclusion, I would like to remind your readers that the Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts will be celebrated at 6:00 pm on March 30 , and will give everyone the unique experience of one of the most ancient services of our Orthodox Church. His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill will lead the Liturgy along with His Grace Bishop Theodosius and the cathedral’s clergymen.