Skip to main content

The Greek and Latin Cherubikon


This article focuses on the so-called ordinary Cherubikon/Cherubic hymn (Οἱ τὰ χερουβίμ/Oi ta Cherubim) found in Byzantine manuscripts in connection with the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostomos and St Basil throughout the church year except for Lent and Easter. The Cherubikon is not, however, restricted to Byzantine codices, but can be found in various Latin manuscripts transliterated into Western letters and written with Western neumes.

Hide All

1 Monumenta musicae byzantinae, Subsidia 2 (Oxford, 1947).

2 Handschin, Jacques, ‘Sur quelques tropaires grecs traduits en latin’, Annales musicologiques, 2 (1954), 2760 ; Huglo, Michel, ‘Les chants de la Missa graeca de Saint-Denis’, in Essays Presented to Egon Wellesz, ed. Westrup, Jack (Oxford, 1966), 74–83. The term Missa graeca usually refers to the four ordinary chants with Greek texts, Gloria (Doxa/Δόξα), Credo (Pisteuo/Πιστεύω), Sanctus (Hagios/Ἅγιος) and Agnus Dei (Amnos tu theu/Ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ), found in Western manuscripts between the ninth and the eleventh centuries. The Cherubic Hymn, ‘Qui cherubim mystice’ (Oi ta Cherubim/Οἱ τὰ χερουβίμ) is sometimes also included.

3 Atkinson, Charles M., ‘The Earliest Agnus Dei Melody and its Tropes’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 30/1 (1977), 119 ; idem, ‘O amnos tu theu: The Greek Agnus Dei in the Roman Liturgy from the Eighth to the Eleventh Century’, Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch, 65 (1981), 7–30; idem, ‘Zur Entstehung und Überlieferung der “Missa graeca”’, Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, 39/2 (1982), 113–45; idem, ‘The Doxa, the Pisteuo, and the ellinici fratres: Some Anomalies in the Transmission of the Chants of the “Missa graeca”’, Journal of Musicology, 7 (1989), 81–106; idem, ‘Further Thoughts on the Origin of the Missa graeca’, in De Musica et cantu, Studien zur Geschichte der Kirchenmusik und der Oper. Helmut Hucke zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Peter Cahn and Ann-Katrin Heimer, Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Frankfurt am Main: Musikwissenschaftliche Publikationen 2 (Hildesheim, 1993), 75–94.

4 Beside Οἱ τὰ χερουβίμ/Qui Cherubim mystice there are another three Cherubika: (a) The troparion Τοῦ δείπνου σου/Cenae tuae/At your mystical supper replaces the Οἱ τὰ χερουβίμ on Maundy Thursday; (b) the celebration of the Paschal Vigil on Holy Saturday uses the troparion Σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ/Let all mortal flesh keep silence, which originally comes from the liturgy of St Basil and is supposed to represent the oldest text of all the Cherubika; (c) Νῦν αἱ δυνάμεις/Now the powers of heaven is sung at the liturgy of the presanctified gifts, which is celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. For a recent, general study of Cherubika, see Κarangunis, Konstantinos, Ἡ παράδοση καὶ ἐξήγηση τοῦ μέλους τῶν Χερουβικῶν τῆς βυζαντινῆς καὶ μεταβυζαντινῆς μελοποιΐας (Athens, 2003).

5 The source of the Greek text is Ἱερατικὸν περιέχον τὰς ἀκολουθίας τοῦ Ἑσπερινοῦ καὶ τοῦ Ὄρθρου, τὰς θείας καὶ ἱερὰς λειτουργίας Ἰωάννου τοῦ Χρυσοστόμου, Βασιλείου τοῦ Μεγάλου καὶ τῶν Προηγιασμένων, μετὰ τῶν συνήθων προσθηκῶν (Rome, 1950), 182. The Latin text has been transcribed from GB-Lbl Harley 3095, fol. 111v. The English translation is by Taft, Robert, The Great Entrance: A History of the Transfer of the Gifts and Other Pre-anaphoral Rites of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Rome, 1975), 54.

6 The most authoritative book on these topics is still Taft, The Great Entrance. See also Jaklitsch (Wanek), Nina-Maria, ‘Die zehn Cheroubika des Chrysaphes o Neos in der Wiener Handschrift Suppl. gr. 190’, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 49 (1999), 205–38.

7 Georgius Cedrenus, vol. 1, ed. August Immanuel Bekker, Corpus scriptorum historiae byzantinae 8 (Bonn, 1838), 685. See also Barrett, Richard, ‘Let Us Put Away All Earthly Care: Mysticism and the Cherubikon of the Byzantine Rite’, Studia Patristica, 64 (2011), 111–24, at 114; and Κarangunis, Ἡ παράδοση, 40–1.

8 Jean-Paul Migne, ed., Patrologiae cursus completus, series graeca prior (hereafter PG), vol. 86/2 (Paris, 1865), 2400–1. See also Κarangunis, Ἡ παράδοση, 69.

9 Taft, The Great Entrance, 17.

10 Κarangunis, Ἡ παράδοση, 69–70.

11 Leeb, Helmut, Die Gesänge im Gemeindegottesdienst von Jerusalem (vom 5. bis 8. Jahrhundert), Beiträge zur Theologie, Wiener 28 (Vienna, 1970), 119, 40 . See also Conomos, Dimitri E., ‘Communion Chants in Magna Graecia and Byzantium’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 33/2 (1980), 241–63, at 252–3: ‘The Communion hymn, in its original shape, was not merely a psalm verse with an appended alleluia, but an entire psalm. The alleluia which in later times became attached to the single verse may well have been the old antiphonal response that the congregation chanted after the successive verses of the psalm.’

12 Conomos, Dimitri E., Byzantine Trisagia and Cheroubika of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: A Study of Late Byzantine Liturgical Chant (Thessalonica, 1974), 33 ; Taft, The Great Entrance, 57. Regarding the use of the form ὑποδεξόμενοι, Taft assumes that ‘the true sense of the hymn had been lost, and was no longer understood as referring to the reception of Christ in communion’. On the textual variants of the Cherubikon, see Κarangunis, Ἡ παράδοση, 59–64.

13 Levy, Kenneth, ‘A Hymn for Thursday in Holy Week’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 16 (1963), 127–75, at 163; Taft, The Great Entrance, 57–8; Κarangunis, Ἡ παράδοση, 64.

14 Levy, ‘A Hymn for Thursday in Holy Week’, 166.

15 Ibid .

16 See Taft, The Great Entrance. Κarangunis, Ἡ παράδοση, 71–4, provides an overview. On the mystical aspect, see in particular Barrett, ‘Let Us Put Away All Earthly Care’, 111–24.

17 Les Homélies Catéchétiques de Théodore de Mopsueste, ed. and trans. Raymond Tonneau and Robert Devreesse (Rome, 1949), 503–9. See also Mathews, Thomas F., The Early Churches of Constantinople: Architecture and Liturgy (London, 1971), 157 .

18 Taft, The Great Entrance, 11; Mathews, The Early Churches, 156–7.

19 Such as those as early as the sixth-century Patriarch Eutychios (PG 4, 136) and the seventh-century Pseudo-Sophronios (PG 87/3, 4001) through fourteenth-century informants, including Nikolaos Kabasilas (Nicolaos Cabasilas, Explication de la Divine Liturgie, ed. Sévérien Salaville, Sources Chretiennes 4 (Paris, 1967), 164) and Symeon of Thessaloniki (PG 155, 728).

20 Taft, The Great Entrance, 196, 198–9.

21 Moran, Neil K., Singers in Late Byzantine and Slavonic Painting (Leiden, 1986), 28 ; and idem, The Ordinary Chants of the Byzantine Mass, 2 vols. (Hamburg, 1975), 1: 102–3, where he details the liturgical actions that accompany the Cherubikon in the modern Mass.

22 Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 31–2.

23 Brightman, Frank E. and Hammond, Charles E., Liturgies, Eastern and Western, Being the Texts Original or Translated of the Principal Liturgies of the Church, vol. 1, Eastern liturgies (1896; repr. Oxford, 1965), 312.

24 St. Germanus of Constantinople on the Divine Liturgy, ed. P. Meyendorff (New York, 1984), 86.

25 McKinnon, James, The Advent Project: The Later-Seventh-Century Creation of the Roman Mass Proper (Berkeley, 2000), 73 .

26 Much scholarship has been devoted to the Missa graeca over the past century, beginning with that of Amédée Gastoué, ‘Grecs et Latins. Le chant du Gloria in excelsis’, Tribune de St. Gervais, 3 (1897) 6–74; ‘Le Trisagion’, Tribune de St. Gervais, 3 (1897), 166–8; and ‘Le Sanctus et le Benedictus’, Revue du chant grégorien, 38 (1934), 163–8, and 39 (1935), 12–17, 35–9. More recently Charles M. Atkinson has contributed an important series of articles (see above, note 3).

27 ‘That the Trisagion, and probably the Cheroubikon, was borrowed from the Byzantine rite raises the question of when such Byzantine influence upon the Gallican rite might have been exercised. The most appropriate time would seem to be the later sixth century, particularly if the Expositioʼs [Expositio brevis antiquae liturgicae gallicane] newly proposed dating to that period is sound . . . The general historical background also favors the later sixth century. The eastern empire was well established then in its exarchate at Ravenna and the southernmost reaches of Italy.’ McKinnon, The Advent Project, 72. The first part of the so-called Expositio brevis antiquae liturgiae gallicane of Pseudo-Germanus is a full description of a Gallican Mass. According to McKinnon, ‘There is good reason to believe . . . that the “sonum”, the offertory chant described in the Expositio, is the Cheroubikon. The text is not given, but the sonum is spoken of as an ʻangelic song, which has a first, second and third alleluiaʼ (ibid., 71–2). See also Johannes Quasten, ‘Oriental Influences in the Gallican Liturgy’, Traditio, 1 (1943), 55–78, at 70–1.

28 Levy, ‘A Hymn for Thursday in Holy Week’, 127. According to Oliver Gerlach, ‘Mein Befund ergab, daß das Ordinarium der Missa greca, das den Gesang des Cherouvikon als Offertorium in lateinischen Handschriften der Region corbeio-dionysienne aus dem 10. und 11. Jahrhundert überliefert, tatsächlich das älteste erhaltene Korpus ist’, ‘Im Labyrinth der Oktōīchos – Über die Rekonstruktion einer mittelalterlichen Improvisationspraxis in der Musik der Ost- und Westkirche’, Ph.D. diss., Humboldt University of Berlin (2006), 328.

29 The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Randel (Cambridge, MA, 1986), 154, s.v. ‘Cherubikon’.

30 Huglo, ‘Les chants de la Missa graeca’, 80–2.

31 Ewald Jammers, Die Essener Neumenhandschriften der Landes- und Stadtbibliothek Düsseldorf, Veröffentlichungen der Landes- und Stadtbibliothek Düsseldorf 1 (Ratingen, 1952), 21.

32 Gerlach, ‘Im Labyrinth’, 328.

33 The dating is Strunk, Oliver’s. See ‘S. Salvatore di Messina and the Musical Tradition of Magna Graecia’, in Essays on Music in the Byzantine World (New York, 1977), 48 .

34 According to Conomos, ‘Communion Chants in Magna Graecia’, 251, ‘it is a well compiled Asmatikon, whose generous repertory of Koinonika is transmitted in a clear and reliable notation’. Gerlach, ‘Im Labyrinth’, 328, states that the Cherubikon in this manuscript bears the rubric ‘Τὸ χ(ε)ρουβικ(ὸν) ποίημ(α) συμ(εὼν) τοῦ εἰρμολ(ό)γ(ου)’. See also Moran, Ordinary Chants, 1: 106 and 2: 104.

35 This manuscript, like Cod. crypt. graec. 156 (Γ.γ. I), originated in Messina. See Conomos, ‘Communion Chants in Magna Graecia’, 252; and Strunk, ‘S. Salvatore di Messina’, 48. Conomos describes the notation of Cod. crypt. graec. 62 (Γ.γ. VII) as ‘less trustworthy than that in . . . Γ.γ. I . . . but it does have the advantage of being the only source, other than Γ.γ. I, with two complete oktoechal cycles’.

36 Moran, Ordinary Chants, 1: 118, and 2: 129–34 (table XV).

37 For a detailed description, see Touliatos-Miles, Diane, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music Collection of the National Library of Greece: Byzantine Chant and Other Music Repertory Recovered (Aldershot, 2010), 400–7. The manuscript is the earliest dated Akoluthia (‘order of services’), dated 4 March 1336. It contains a didactic section at the beginning, the evening and morning Offices (Hesperinos and Orthros), the Divine Liturgy of St Basil as well as the one for the Presanctified Gifts.

38 Levy, ‘A Hymn for Thursday in Holy Week’, 166 and fn. 65: ‘The term ἀσματικόν may be used adjectivally, with the meaning “very florid”, rather than as a reference to the Asmatic collection. The opening section is a kalophonic elaboration ascribed to Michael Aneotes; other sections have embellishments by more recent men, among them Joannes Glykes.’ Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 123, also comments on this version: ‘According to the accumulated rubrication from the numerous sources which transmit the Cheroubikon setting, at least five composers have contributed to its final assemblage. What may have been quite an early setting . . . has emerged in the 14th and 15th-century Byzantine musical manuscripts as a kalophonic potpourri with internal alternatives, interpolated kratemata and soloistic coloratura. Whether this chant was or was not performed in its entirety, it remains as the most festive and the most complex of the Cherubic hymns in the repertory.’ See Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 124–37, for a transcription of this Cherubikon without neumes. This version can also be found in Phil. gr. 194, fol. 161v.

39 Stathes, Gregorios Th., ‘Ἡ σματική διαφοροποίηση ὅπως καταγράφεται στόν κώδικα ΕΒΕ 2458 τοῦ ἔτους 1336’, in Χριστιανικὴ Θεσσαλονίκη: Παλαιολογεῖος ἐποχή. Πατριαρχικὸν Ἵδρυμα Πατερικῶν Μελετῶν, Ἱερὰ Μονὴ Βλατάδων, 29–31 Οκτωβρίου 1987 (Thessalonica, 1989), 167241 ; Touliatos-Miles, Descriptive Catalogue, 474–8.

40 The manuscript is described in Hunger, Herbert, Katalog der griechischen Handschriften der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek 1: Codices historici, codices philosophici et philologici (Vienna, 1961), 304–5. Phil. gr. 194 contains seven versions of Οἱ τὰ χερουβίμ: an elaborate ‘asmatikon’ on fol. 255v, where no hymnographer is indicated but where directions are given as to when the Domestikos and the choirs sing (this information is also provided in EBE 2458, fol. 161v; see Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 123–37); one by Ioannes Glykys (fol. 259r), two by Agallianos (260v, 261r), one by Xenos Korones (262r) and an anonymous one (260r).

41 Hunger, Herbert, Kresten, Otto and Hannick, Christian, Katalog der griechischen Handschriften der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek 3, 2: Codices theologici 101–200 (Vienna, 1984), 370–4. Theol. gr. 185 contains Cherubika for the various feast days. The ordinary Cherubikon, Οἱ τὰ χερουβίμ, can be found in five different versions by Ioannes Damaskenos (fol. 129v), Agallianos (130v), Ioannes Glykys (132r), Xenos Korones (133r) and Markos Hieromonachos (158r).

42 Hannick, Christian, ‘Cod. suppl. gr. 190’, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 17 (1968), 194 . The manuscript contains Cherubika by Chrysaphes the Younger, Germanos Neon Patron, Paulos Hiereus, Balasios, Damianos Hieromonachos, Karykes, Joachim Bizyes and Ioannes Glykys or Bereketes, among others.

43 A fifth manuscript, Vatican City, Bibl. Apost. Vat., Reg. lat. 334 (fol. 78), which contains an unnotated Cherubikon, will not be considered here. See Handschin, ‘Sur quelques tropaires’, 46.

44 Opelt, Ilona, ‘Die Essener “Missa greca” der liturgischen Handschrift Düsseldorf D2’, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 23 (1974), 7788 , at 78–80 and 88.

45 Handschin, ‘Sur quelques tropaires’, 46.

46 Ita cherubin mysticos Iconi zontes ketizopion tria diton tris a gyon ymnon propha gentes passanin bio tikin apothometa merinnan oston basile on tonolon. Ipodoxo menites angelikes aoraton doriforu menon ta xa sin alleluia.

47 See also Michel Huglo, ‘Remarques sur un manuscrit de la “Consolatio Philosophiae” (Londres, British Library, Harleian 3095)’, Scriptorium: Revue internationale des études relatives aux manuscrits, 45 (1991), 288–94, at 291.

48 Gerlach, ‘Im Labyrinth’, 384.

49 The Cherubikon in this manuscript is listed in Walters Robertson, Anne, The Service-Books of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis: Images of Ritual and Music in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1991), table 11. My thanks go to Oliver Gerlach for pointing this book out to me.

50 Gerlach, ‘Im Labyrinth’, 221. See also

51 Strunk, ‘Chants of the Byzantine-Greek Liturgy’, in Essays on Music in the Byzantine World, 325.

52 Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 37. Moran, Neil K., ‘Byzantine Castrati’, Plainsong and Medieval Music, 11/2 (2002), 99112 , at 108, cites Anthony of Novgorod as follows: ‘At the Transfer the castrati chant, however, beforehand the subdeacons [sing] and afterwards a single monk chants. And at that time many priests and deacons carry in the Divine Gifts. At that same time there takes place a great weeping and emotion and humility among all the people, not only in the Hagia Sophia, but also in the galleries.’ See also Moran, Neil K., ‘The musical “Gestaltung” of the Great Entrance Ceremony in the 12th Century in Accordance with the Rite of Hagia Sophia’, Jahrbuch der österreichischen Byzantinistik, 28 (1979), 167–93.

53 On the melodic history of the Cherubikon, see Κarangunis, Ἡ παράδοση, the second part in particular.

54 Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 37. For his part Levy, ‘A Hymn for Thursday in Holy Week’, 163, observes that ‘nearly two dozen melodies for the ordinary Cheroubikon, Οἱ τὰ χερουβίμ, are preserved in sources before the year 1400. The first impression that can be gleaned from these is one of great diversity. There is not a single syllabic version, and the broad use to which the text was put evidently encouraged elaborations.’

55 Strunk, ‘Chants of the Byzantine-Greek Liturgy’, 324–5. See also Harris, Simon, ed., The Communion Chants of the Thirteenth-Century Byzantine Asmatikon (Amsterdam, 1999), 51 : ‘Unlike the music for the Roman Mass, these chants are not arranged in cycles of ordinary and proper chants; in fact, for the Eisodikon, Trisagion, and Cheroubikon the Asmatikon provides only a single unvarying chant.’ Again, according to Levy, ‘A Hymn for Thursday in Holy Week’, 130–1 and note 19: ‘The preserved melodies begin with the 12th century, and the three earliest chants – one each in Greek, Latin and Slavic – form a particularly interesting group . . . The Slavic chant, which appears as part of a cycle of Communions, is transmitted by a dated manuscript of 1207, the Uspensky Kondakar of the Historical Museum in Moscow, but it may also have been copied in the Blagoveshchensky Kondakar at Leningrad, a slightly earlier manuscript . . . and it is preserved in the Synodalny Kondakar, a manuscript of the 13th century now at Moscow. Last of all, the Greek melody, again a Communion, appears in a number of manuscripts of the 13th century.’

56 Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 121; Κarangunis, Ἡ παράδοση, 168–9. Later manuscripts no longer apply this chronological principle.

57 The figures are reproduced with kind permission of the Manuscript Department of the Austrian National Library.

58 Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 121.

59 Ibid . In Phil. gr. 194 and Theol. gr. 185, for instance, versions by Ioannes Damaskenos (7th/8th cent.), Manuel Agallianos (14th cent.) and Ioannes Glykys (13th/14th cent.) employ the second mode plagal, and the one by Markos Hieromonachos (15th cent.) the fourth plagal. The Cherubikon by Xenos Korones (14th cent.) is the only one in the first plagal mode.

60 Ibid ., 35–6, ‘New demands were continually being made on the composers and by the 14th and 15th centuries these were satisfied with the advent of new musical books which reveal unprecedented techniques of professional composition and, with the Cheroubikon on particular, new expressions of interplay between dramatic and musical forces . . . From the earliest times, however, the music for the Cheroubikon must have been quite elaborate.’ See also ibid., 121.

61 Ibid ., 123.

62 Jaklitsch (Wanek), ‘Die zehn Cheroubika des Chrysaphes o Neos’, 223–5.

63 Moran, Ordinary Chants, 1: 103.

64 Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 123.

65 Ibid .

66 Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia, 274, 280; Jaklitsch (Wanek), ‘Die zehn Cheroubika des Chrysaphes o Neos’, 222–3.

67 About Glykysʼs Cherubikon, Conomos writes: ‘A setting which appears in almost all 14th and 15th-century Akolouthiai is that by Ioannes Glykes, the protopsaltes . . . [Glykysʼs setting] certainly identifies the work of an individual intent on creating a completely organised musical composition with regularly recurring musical phrases. At the same time the melody is simple, without excessive melismata and ornamental devices. Quite probably it was performed on Ordinary liturgical days.’ Byzantine Trisagia, 146–50.

68 See Conomos, Byzantine Trisagia and Cheroubika, 146, 150.

69 About Cherubika in the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, see Wanek, Nina-Maria, Nachbyzantinischer Liturgischer Gesang im Wandel: Studien zu den Musikhandschriften des Supplementum Graecum der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, 2007), 162–88.

70 Handschin, ‘Sur quelques tropaires’, 45–6, as well as Gerlach, ‘Im Labyrinth’, 386, are of the same opinion.

71 Handschin, ‘Sur quelques tropaires’, 46.

72 Moran, Neil K., ‘A List of Greek Music Palimpsests’, Acta musicologica, 57/1 (1985), 5072 , at 50.

73 Strunk, ‘S. Salvatore di Messina’, 48; Moran, Ordinary Chants, 1: 106–10, 2: 131 (Table XII).

74 Moran, Ordinary Chants, 1: 106, mentions this inscription and that Antonio Rocchi (in Codices Cryptenses seu Abbatiae Cryptae Ferratae in Tusculano (Tusculani, 1883), 432) suggests that Symeon the Heirmolog might be one and the same with Symeon Studites.

75 The example is taken from Gerlach, ‘Im Labyrinth’, 328.

76 Moran, Ordinary Chants, 1: 106.

77 See also Moran's transcriptions and comparisons of the melodies of this asmatic Cherubikon in Ordinary Chants, 2: 86–113, 120–8 (Tables XII, XIII and XIV), where versions in Codex crypt. graec. 156, Laura Γ 3, Sinai 1257, Sinai 1276, Sinai 1293 and Messina 161 are compared.

78 Handschin, ‘Sur quelques tropaires’, 46.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Plainsong & Medieval Music
  • ISSN: 0961-1371
  • EISSN: 1474-0087
  • URL: /core/journals/plainsong-and-medieval-music
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed