What is Byzantine Chant?

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When you attend a Greek Orthodox Church service, you may notice the music right away. It’s a little different than what we might typically associate with church. Music in churches outside of the Orthodox faith follows a Western musical system, but the Greek Orthodox Church follows a different system. The music here is based off of an older form of music referred to as Byzantine chant. Here’s more information:

About Byzantine Chant

This is a specific style of music that existed during the Byzantine Empire. The earliest manuscripts that exist of Byzantine chant have been dated to around the 9th Century AD. There is some debate as to what the origin of Byzantine chant is. Some believe that it has borrowed elements from a few different styles of music, such as the music of the early church, as well as the music that originated from other cultures, such as from Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Greece. Over the years, the form of music evolved to what it is today.

The music is classified by the choice of notes and how the notes are arranged. It is based on a seven not scale, notated in Greek letter as follows: Νη, Πα, Βου, Γα, Δι, Κε, Ζω. The sounds for these notes are similar to the notes that are part of the Western musical scale, but with some differences since the music operates under different diatonic modes than western music does.

Forms of Music in the Greek Church

In Greece, the typical type of music that can be found in a Greek church is Byzantine chant. However, in Greek Orthodox Churches located elsewhere in the world, it isn’t uncommon to also here other forms of music. For example, in many Greek churches in the United States, they may also have a choir. The chanters and choir often collaborate during a church service and take on different duties. The hymns are usually the same, it’s just a matter of reliving the music in a different style.

As you can see, the music in the Greek Orthodox Church is unique. If you have any questions about the music, you should contact a Greek Orthodox priest for more information. Also, if you attend a Greek church, you can ask one of the church musicians, chanters, or maybe even the choir director for more information.


OrthodoxWiki – Byzantine Chant


The Religion section on GreekBoston.com was written by Greeks to help people understand some of the traditions of the Orthodox Christian religion, which is a religion practiced by people in countries such as Greece, Russia, United States, and other nations throughout the world. This article is not a substitute for information found in the Holy Bible or by our church fathers, priests, and other clergy members.

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