Easter blessings to you, my friends!
Each year at the Easter Vigil, the choirs of Saint Mark’s gather in the gallery to sing a special anthem at the Offertory, as we turn into the first Eucharist of Easter and hold for a moment the splendid ways that God is working out divine purpose in our lives, and in the world. It is a setting of a Kyivan/Kievan chant melody written by the Russian composer Pavlev Gregorievich Chesnokov more than a century ago, and it is a favorite of many. For me, it marks the moment Easter speaks deep down into my soul. Music does that; this piece does especially so.
The text of the anthem is simple, lifted from one verse of Psalm 74, which when transliterated from Church Slavic to the Latin alphabet reads: Spaséniye sodélal yesí posredé ziemlí, Bózhe. Allilúiya. These are the words the choir sings. In English, it means:
Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia.
We sing of God’s acts of healing right in our very midst, and our response is a sublime Alleluia—a superlative expression of thanksgiving. We need not understand resurrection fully on this side of the grave to know this joy, this referential point in our lives oriented to God who is doing great things!
Chesnokov wrote this in 1912, on the eve of the capitulation of Russia’s last tsar. It would be one of his last sacred compositions before being forced by Soviet reformers to abandon that and turn to secular music for his final three decades of life. (He would never hear the piece performed, and would die of malnutrition during WWII.) He wrote this hopeful music against the backdrop of violence and bloodshed in his native land.
I am mindful this Easter, as the drumbeat of war in the same region weighs heavily on our hearts, we still sing this song, and let its grace pour into our hearts as healing balm once more. If Chesnokov could create this exquisite and hopeful work during such troubled times, surely we can lean on it in our time for solace and strength.
The brilliant piece bears a patient ferment of hope, unrushed, girded by bass tones that afford a certain foundation on which to stand and trust that God is up to something, even if we cannot see it fully just yet. Salvation is made in the midst of earth—not heaven, not in the afterlife only, but in the midst of the earth—here and now, by God, for all the earth to experience. For you and me. That is the gift of Easter, of resurrection hope, of Christ come among us, and rising from the dead, the first fruits of this new life offered freely to all.
And so we make our song, even at the grave: Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
I invite you to listen to the choir sing our way into Easter. May your season of Easter celebration be one of patient ferment of hope in God’s movement in your life, and in this world of ours so famished for such good news.
The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason
Dean and Rector