When Augustus Reigned

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Album Details

EAN/UPC: 796133050226
Catalog No: GR-502
Release Date: January 1, 2000
Liner Notes

Christmas Music from the Byzantine Tradition

Cappella Romana’s recording for Christmas and Epiphany, this album features both contemporary a cappella choral works and medieval chant for the feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany (known as Theophany in the East). Compositions by Peter Michaelides, Frank Desby, Tikey Zes, and Cappella Romana singer and composer John Vergin.

In the third and early fourth centuries A.D. the Christian Orient celebrated a single feast of God’s incarnation entitled ‘Epiphany’ (Greek ejpifavneia, ‘manifestation’). Placed on 6 January, it commemorated Christ’s Nativity and Baptism. A similar commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ was celebrated in the West during the same period on 25 December, the date of another pagan sun festival. By the end of the fourth century, the East and West had adopted each other’s winter celebration, thus laying the foundations for the familiar cycle of Christmas and Epiphany, followed later by the dependent feasts of the Circumcision (1 January), the Meeting or Presentation in the Temple (2 February), and the Annunciation (25 March).

Even after the harmonisation of the Eastern and Western calendars, a number of regional differences persisted. In the East, the Adoration of the Magi was incorporated into the new feast of Christmas, whilst Epiphany became exclusively a celebration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John. The latter was renamed “Theophany” (“manifestation of God”) by the Cappadocian Fathers in a time of theological controversy, in order to emphasise its Trinitarian significance—i.e. the voice of the Father and the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

Although separated from Theophany, Christmas in the Christian East continued to be coloured by the original concept of Divine Epiphany, emphasising God’s condescension in taking on human nature. The picturesque details of the Baby Jesus lying in a manger were not ignored, but placed in the cosmic context of the Incarnation:

Today He who holds the whole creation in the hollow of His hand is born of the Virgin. He whom in essence none can touch is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mortal. God who in the beginning founded the heavens lies in a manger…
— Sticheron doxastikon, from the Ninth ‘Great’ Hour of Christmas

  1. Kontakion for the Forefeast of Christmas
    Peter Michaelides (b. 1930)
  2. Four Christmas Idiomela
    Michael Adamis (b. 1929)

  3. Glory to God in the Highest
  4. Today Christ is born
  5. The Magi, Kings of Persia
  6. Today Bethlehem receives him
  7. The First Ode of the Kanon for Christmas
    St. Kosmas the Melodist (8th c.)
  8. Three Christmas Hymns
    Peter Michaelides

  9. Apolytikion
  10. Megalynarion
  11. Christ is born
  12. As many of you as have been baptized
    Frank Desby (1922–92)
  13. Alleluiarion for Christmas Day
    Byzantine Chant (13th c.)
    Alexander Lingas & John Michael Boyer, cantors
  14. Cherubic Hymn (Mode Plagal IV)
    Tikey Zes (b. 1927)
  15. Megalynarion & Communion Verse for Theophany
    Zes
  16. When Augustus Reigned
    John Vergin (b. 1954)

Full Greek track listing in liner notes