“Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to thje Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
In addition to their own liturgical chant, the Rusyn people (who are fond of singing by their very nature) developed another kind of religious singing known as Duchovyni Pisnyi (Духовні Піснї), meaning Spiritual Songs or “para-liturgical” hymns that are sung or chanted outside the official content of liturgical worship – such as processions and pilgrimages – but especially for the seasons of Christmas, Lent and Easter.
These hymns are symbols of sound that have an immense power because they are sung with full congregational participation, requiring not mere observance but a unified community action.
Father Uriel in the Preface of his Pisennik (пісенник) or Hymnal, published in 1902, stated:
“Many of our spiritual songs were composed by simple people, but the majority by the priests, the cantors and, especially, the monks.”
The majority of the original spiritual songs were composed in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, inspired by her repeated miracles. The Marian Hymns, composed with sincere faith and piety, represent the best of Rusyn spiritual compositions and are rightly considered the gems of Rusyn spiritual heritage.
Their simplicity and musical freshness captivated the hearts of the people and were kept alive throughout the centuries mostly by oral traditions. They are considered a treasured part of Rusyn spiritual heritage.
These spiritual songs sustained the piety and devotion of the Rusyn people throughout the centuries, and especially during the difficult days of their earthly pilgrimage. Even the Soviet atheist critics are forced to admit that the Subcarpathian Marian Hymns:
“enriched by numerous poetical figures and choicest epithets, metaphors and comparisons” reach a “high degree of poetical art” (Prof. O. Myshanych, p 106).
The spiritual songs were spread mostly by the living word and, eventually, were collected by lovers of popular songs. Thus in the Carpathian region we can find many hand-written collections of religious songs, popularly called Spivanniki (Співанникі) or Hymnals. Not until 1969 was the first original collection of the Rusyn religious songs with proper music published under the title: Greko-katolic’ki Duchovyni Pisnyi (Greek-Catholic Spiritual Hymns). In this hymnal compiled by Father Stephan Papp collected 178 spiritual songs with their proper music, fifty of which had never been printed before. In the introduction to his publication Father Papp wrote:
“The spiritual songs served our Rusyn people as inspiring prayers. Making some necessary corrections to the lyrics, I tried, therefore, to preserve their original meaning and freshness. Those who are acquainted with the Latin-Rite hymns, which were composed by world-wide famous poets and musicians, are pleasantly impressed by the freshness and beauty of our spiritual songs, composed mostly by simple people and often without any professional guidance. They were inspired by burning love of God, to Whom our people offered these musical gems as an expression of their gratitude.”
Brought by our ancestors to their adopted countries, these “spiritual gems” of the Carpathian region still fill our Byzantine Rite Orthodox and Catholic churches with their freshness and inspiring melodies. Indeed, refreshing and beautiful are our Rusyn spiritual songs!