Spiritual Songs

For centuries, individual Christians have written songs in praise of God and the saints. Some of these have found their  way into the Church's official liturgy; others are sung before and after the church services, and at special occasions such as pilgrimages or other commemorations. Both liturgical and devotional or "para-liturgical" hymns can be sung whenever the occasion permits: "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and inspired songs. Sing praise to the Lord with all your hearts." (Ephesians 5:18-20)

This section of the website provides spiritual songs - devotional and paraliturgical hymns - for use on various occasions.

If your parish has a hymn (notated or recorded) to contribute, please contact the webmaster.

Printed collections of spiritual songs

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the same cantors and copyists who compiled handwritten Irmologia containing the Church's liturgical hymns also created collections of spiritual songs. Some of these collections, called spanniviki, included the melodies as well as texts. Over time, these song came to be included as supplements in popular prayer-books.

In 1902 Father John Silvay (known as Father Uriel) printed an extensive collection of popular spiritual song texts entitled Pisennik ili Sorbanije Pisnej. This volume was printed several times in Uzhorod, and as a result is sometimes referred to as the "Uzhorod Pisennik."

After World War II, Father Stefan Papp collected many of the surviving spiritual songs, with their original melodies; this collection was published in 1969 as Duchovňi Pisňi (Spiritual Songs).

The language of the spiritual songs

The range of languages used in the spiritual songs brought from Eastern Europe varies; while most of the hymns here are in Rusyn (similar to Ukrainian), others show the influence of the Polish, Ukrainian, Slovak and Hungarian traditions. In some cases, copyists have "adjusted" the words of spiritual songs to be closer to "proper" Church Slavonic.

The texts of the spiritual songs are usually less ornate and theologically-oriented than that of the Church's liturgical hymns, while expressing the same basic Christian theology using popular expressions. These songs, embodying the teaching and traditions of the Church in popular form, retain their freshness and beauty to this day.

Translation of spiritual songs in English

In North America, the most popular spiritual songs were translated into English - first as literal translations (not for singing) to accompany the original texts, and then as songs be sung in their own right. Often, these translations were made more difficult by the fact that the Rusyn language often uses more syllables to express a thought than does the English language. As a result, English translators often added to the text in the process of translating it, producing a very "free" or inexact translation of the original text.

In the descriptions of spiritual songs presented here, we will try to identify English translations as "close" or "free", depending on how closely the resember the original text, and provide a literal translation where it seems appropriate. We also welcome contributions of new, singable translations of traditiional spiritual songs.

For more information

The Pisennik project provides an extensive online library of printed collections of spiritual songs, including the Uzhorod Pisennik of 1913.

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