Prostopinije (Slav. prostopinije, "simple chant") is the traditional liturgical chant of the Rusyn peoples of the Carpathian Mountains, and of their descendents who emigrated to other parts of the world. This chant is sung in the parishes and monasteries of the Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic Church and the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in the United States, and in the Ruthenian Catholic dioceses of Mukačevo (Ukraine), Prešov and Kosice (Slovakia), Hajdudorog (Hungary), Krisevtsi (Croatia), and Ruski Kerestur (Serbia) in Europe.
The primary characteristics of prostopinije are its suitability for congregational singing, its deep spirituality (duch), and its great beauty. The spirit of sung prayer embodied in prostopinije is a precious heritage and possession of the churches which use this form of chant.
The history of prostopinije
Prostopije is a descendant of the ancient znammeny chant common to Slavic Christianity. Used for centuries among the Carpathian mountains, prostopinije absorbed melodies from Greek and Bulgarian sources, as well as indigenous Slavic folk music. Eventually, this chant was standardized in both Church Slavonic and Hungarian, but continued to show variations from one region or village to the end.
Notation for prostopinije
Prostopinije is essentially traditional - that is, it has been passed down from one generation to the next. For centuries, it has been both an aural tradition (passed on by hearing and memorization) and a written one (passed on with the help of chant books or manuscripts). Generally speaking, the more ornate or seldom-used melodies were written down, while the simpler and frequently used melodies were simply sung from memory.
The rhythm of prostopinije
Prostopinije is sung speech, adding grace and beauty to the words of our prayers and hymns. To do this, it must respect the underlying rhythm of speech - its accents, cadences, and pauses - while still being suitable for singing by one voice or by several. The prostopinije tradition has developed a variety of tempos and rhythmic styles to suit the texts of the liturgy.
The melodies of the prostopinije tradition
The plainsong rhythm of prostopinije is a characteristic it shares with many families of liturgical chant; it is the prostopinije melodies, along with the strong tradition of congregational singing, which distinguish Carpatho-Ruthenian chant. These melodies have been inherited from the oldest layer of Slavic liturgical singing, the znammeny chant, and broadened with the incorporation of chant from other Slavic regions, and from the native folk-song tradition of the Carpathian Mountains.
How prostopinije is used in (and outside of) church
Prostopinije can be used to sing all the services of the Byzantine Rite liturgy of the churches that use it - the prayers of the clergy, the responses of the people, and the hymns of the people, who are ordinarily led by a cantor. Some texts are sung only by a single voice (whether a priest, deacon, or reader); others are be sung by the whole congregation, or sung back and forth between two parts of the congregation. Prostopinije may also be used for services that are sung outside of church - in missions or homes, for example, on on pilgrimage.
Congregational singing in the prostopinije tradition relies a great deal on the presence of one or more experienced cantors. To learn the prostopinije as a member of the congregation, one must simply be able to recognize the melodies and texts as they come up in the service, and join in the singing. But to lead the singing of the faithful requires a knowledge of the Church's services, the prostopinije melodies, and how to employ them in a variety of circumstances.
See Becoming a cantor.
To acquire a broader knowledge of prostopinije, however - without necessarily expecting to lead the singing of the congregation - we recommend that you study the prostopinije melodies, and learn to match these up with what you hear in church; then do the same thing with recorded examples of chant, to expand your familiarity with the entire tradition, including the music not sung in your own parish.
To hear examples of prostopinije, follow the links on the Recorded Music page.
- "Prostopinije" - The liturgical chant according to the Carpatho-Ruthenian Tradition. Byzantine Leaflet Series, No. 23. (Pittsburgh: Byzantine Seminary Press, 1981).
- Roccasalvo, (Sister) Joan L. The Plainchant Tradition of Southwest Rus' (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1986). A book-length study of prostopinije, its history, and the evolution of prostopinije melodies.
- von Gardner, Johann. "Several Observations on Congregational Chanting during the Divine Services" (Liberty, TN: St. John of Kronstadt Press, n.d.). Two articles, originally published in 1969, which describe the congregational singing of prostopinije in Carpatho-Russia between the First and Second World Wars, based on von Gardner's own recollections.