Difference between revisions of "Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl’)"

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[http://www.pravmir.ru/arximandrit-matfej-mormyl-na-chuzhom-osnovanii-nikogda-nichego-ne-stroil/ Pravmir.ru 2009 publication of a 1998 interview] (in Russian)
[http://www.pravmir.ru/arximandrit-matfej-mormyl-na-chuzhom-osnovanii-nikogda-nichego-ne-stroil/ Pravmir.ru 2009 publication of a 1998 interview] (in Russian)
[https://translate.google.ca/translate?hl=en&sl=ru&u=http://www.pravoslavie.ru/107505.html "'His Ministry was Precious to the Church' : In Memory of Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl)"]
[https://mospat.ru/en/2015/02/09/news115245/ Holy Synod Liturgical Commission]
[https://mospat.ru/en/2015/02/09/news115245/ Holy Synod Liturgical Commission]

Revision as of 15:59, 23 November 2017

Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl').jpg

Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl’) (1938-2009)

Matthew may be spelt Matfei, Matvei.

Lev may be spelt Leo.

The life and labours of Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl')

The following biography, edited somewhat from its original format, is included in this series of biographies mainly because of the significance and wide-spread influence of Archimandrite Matthew (Matfei). His personal testimony of love for Christ and his care for the worship of the Lord in the Russian tradition are important for strengthening our own resolve to be faithful. The words which follow are nevertheless not actually capable of describing this man adequately. Perhaps words are simply inadequate. The original article was written as a memorial to Archimandrite Matthew by the Subdeacon Nicholas Cowall (Kovalenko), Chair of the Liturgical Music Committee of the Australia and New Zealand Diocese (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), on 24 September, 2009. The source interview of 22 June, 1998, at the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra, was published in Russian by Православие и мир (pavmir.ru).

In Memory of Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl’) (1938–2009)

Since meeting Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl') in 1996, the author of the article, Subdeacon Nicholas Cowall (Kovalenko), has been most grateful to have had the opportunity to study under his direction and example. From him, he learnt the centuries-old choral traditions of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery, not far north of Moscow, Russia. This blessing included being able to spend time with the archimandrite, to sing in choirs under his direction, and to spend many hours conversing with him. The following information in this memorial article was gathered and submitted as a part of a Masters thesis at the Victorian College of the Arts (Melbourne, Australia).

A great deal of gratitude is owed to Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl’) for the preservation of sacred music in Soviet Russia and the resurgence of sacred choral music in the post-perestroika period.

Archimandrite Matthew, a monk of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery in Sergiyev Posad and professor at the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary, was considered by many to be one of the last remaining bastions of the sacred choral music of a bygone era (pre-revolutionary Imperial Russia). It was through the work of this remarkable monk that a thread containing the choral traditions of pre-revolutionary Russia was carried through many difficult decades of persecution and hardship. These threads have now become a large web of choral activity and liturgical tradition spanning the breadth of Russia and many other countries.

For more than 40 years, the name of Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl’) was well known, primarily amongst Russian sacred music specialists, Russian clerics and Russian secular musicians. However, the mere mention of Russian sacred choral music brings to light and calls to mind the associations of the "monks of Zagorsk", as they were known before the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the choirs of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery under the direction of Archimandrite Matthew.

The great legacy of Father Matthew can be seen through his many compositions and arrangements of chant, the current manners of liturgical-choral performance in Russia and abroad, the foundation of the Choir Directors School at the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary, and through the hundreds of students that have sung and studied under his direction and guidance. Many of these students have themselves become Russian liturgical music specialists, talented choral directors and clerics serving in parishes across Russia and abroad, passing on the knowledge that had been passed on to them by Archimandrite Matthew.

Surprisingly, there is no substantial Russian or English literature detailing the life, compositional activities and choral legacy of Archimandrite Matthew. One of the reasons for the lack of literature on Father Matthew is due to his monastic meekness and unwillingness to be interviewed. The author is truly grateful for time Father Matthew has given him, and the following information is based on interviews with Father Matthew conducted both in Russia and over the telephone. Unfortunately, much of the remarkable story-telling, plays-on-words, animated intonation of the voice and the rich use of the Russian language by Father Matthew is lost in English translation. Another reason for this lack in the West is the ignorance of, the disinterest in and lack of comprehension of the life of the Russian Orthodox Church. We are still at the very beginning of any such awareness in the West.


On 5 March, 1938, Lev Mormyl’ was born in the village of Archon, in the suburbs of Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia-Alania (formerly part of the former Terek Oblast in the Northern Caucasus). He was born into a pious family of clerics and church musicians and he became a fourth-generation choir director. His birth took place towards the end of the "Great Purge" of 1936-1939. Most of his life was lived out in the midst of a society which was not only godless, but also against any faith or religion. It was certainly a time of anti-Christ.

There is a family history of monasticism on both his mother’s and father’s sides of the family. His grandfather’s sister was a nun (Sofia) of the Saint George Monastery located on the Kura River, near the city of Georgiyevsk in the pre-revolutionary diocese of Vladikavkaz and Mozdok. His maternal grandfather, Leontyi Grigoryevich Tratsenko, began singing as a bass in the local remaining parish choir and later became a member of the 40-voice male choir associated with the governor-general of the Caucuses Baron Vorontsov-Dashkov. Leontyi Grigoryevich later became the assistant conductor of this ensemble. This choir, directed by Mihkail Kalatulin, also received much praise for its fine choral sonority. Later, Leontyi Grigoryevich completed studies at Tbilisi Conservatorium of Music in Georgia. He majored in voice, and as part of the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov (1913) sang the role of Ivan Susanin in Mikhail Glinka’s opera, “Life for the Tsar”. After the Bolshevik Revolution, he joined the White Army under the command of Anton Ivanovich Denikin. During the civil war, Leontyi Grigoryevich conducted Denikin’s choir of 120 voices in Pyatigorsk ; and upon the withdrawal and subsequent defeat of the White Army, he was imprisoned for 3 years in Siberia. Upon his release, he returned to Vladikavkaz and he continued working as a church choir conductor. He was arrested and executed on 22 September at the age of 49. Following the years of perestroika and glasnost’ (after 1990), the Mormyl’ family was given access to “KGB” archival sources, and it was discovered that Leontyi Grigoryevich was not fatally shot, but rather that he was, in fact, buried alive. In the words of Father Matthew :

 Indeed, he was shot on 22 September, 1937. But as my mother told me, from the words of the 
 cemetery guard, he was buried alive.  They shot him, he fell down, but he was still alive ... 
 So now ... I was born six months after his death.  
 Stalin devoured my grandfather, whilst Hitler devoured my father and uncle.  My brother and I 
 were the only male descendants of the Mormyl’ family left after the purges and the 
 Great Patriotic War.
 It was hard.  Glory to God ! We survived.

In 1945, at the age of 7, the child Lev began to serve as an acolyte (Altar boy) and to sing in the local church choir in Vladikavkaz. The rector of this Temple was Hieromonk Iosaf (Bundelev). One of his first choral experiences involved helping 2 blind singers – Anna Mihkailovna Kalashnikov and Yelena Sergeyevna Kasyanova. These women knew the rubrics of the entire church calendar by heart, and they simply required the occasional prompting from the young Lev. As is the tradition of many churches in Russia, this Temple also had a “festal” (праздничный) choir which included singers that had been trained by Leontyi Grigoryevich. Secondary school life was difficult for Lev, and he endured criticism from both his class mates and teachers for attending church services. This problem greatly increased because Lev refused to become a member of the Pioneers and the Komsomol. His refusal of the anti-religious doctrine even led to Lev’s being seriously assaulted by his fellow students for not “toeing the party-line”.


The rector of the local parish, Father Iosaf, tried to protect the schoolboy, and he desired that the young Lev enter the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary. However, because of Lev’s young age, he was initially not accepted into the Moscow Seminary. Then, upon the recommendation of Father Iosaf, Lev was eventually accepted into the Stavropol seminary in southern Russia. From the first, Lev did not plan to become a choral conductor ; but upon the request of Archbishop Anthony (Romanovsky), during one of his seminary study breaks, he was sent to the tourist town of Yessyentuki, where he was asked to conduct the local parish’s left kliros choir. The conductor of the right kliros choir was Deacon Pavel Zvonik (?-1964), (himself an accomplished composer and conductor). However, Deacon Pavel did not himself possess the vocal prowess that is synonymous with many Russian deacons. Lev learnt from his example as a musician, the importance of good musicianship and of clear diction in singing. He also learnt the importance of correct intonation in sacred choral performance. Lev could see that because of Deacon Pavel's understanding, his choral conducting enabled the words and the music to penetrate into the soul and to touch everyone. The Lavra choirs still use some of his settings.

During his studies at the seminary, his interest in choral performance was further promoted under the tutelage of Vycheslav Pavlovich Pyestritski. Vycheslav Pavlovich would conduct the main mixed-voice choir, and Lev was required to conduct the seminary male-voice choir. Apart from his conducting duties, he was also required to prepare and copy out liturgical texts for use during services, since there was a shortage of liturgical texts and there were no copying facilities. Following his undergraduate theological studies, Lev was accepted into the Moscow Theological Academy.

 I wanted to become a priest. But, of course, I very much loved the choir. To be in the service 
 is, as they say, to stew in a common cauldron : not to remain apart simply in contemplation, 
 but to participate in the action.  It’s so exciting ! After all, judging by the second chapter 
 of the Typicon, even the serving clergyman should stand on the right choir and participate with 
 everyone in the whole service, with the whole cathedral praying in the service.  He should say 
 the Litany on the solea and go back to the cliros, and not hide in the Altar.  There’s nothing 
 to do to require one to sneak around behind the iconostas partition ! [No-one should be in 
 the Altar unless there is something that must be done there.  Except at the Divine Liturgy, 
 even the serving priest and deacon, after they have done what is required on the solea, should 
 go to the cliros and be with the others unless they are required to enter.]  It is no accident 
 that the Monk Sergius (Saint Sergius of Radonezh) is buried in our Trinity Cathedral on the 
 right side, on the solea, where the igumen's stasidia was.  I believe that in order for a 
 person truly to participate in the service, he should pray, drink, talk, sing, and then go to 
 the Altar to read secret prayers. 

Monastic tonsure

During his first 2 years at the Moscow Theological Academy, Lev sang in the choir, and he desired to become a monk of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery. Therefore, he was tonsured on 21 June, 1961, and he was given the name Matthew. On 1 August of the same year, he was asked to conduct the singing at a morning Divine Liturgy for the first time. The first service that Father Matthew was asked to conduct was on the day of the feast dedicated to Saint Seraphim of Sarov. Since the 19th Statute of the 1961 Khrushchev reforms closed many church choirs, the Monk Matthew was required to sing this first service on his own.

Besides the great importance of his gift as a choral director, the dates of his ordinations to the Holy Diaconate and to the Holy Priesthood are not at this time available, although the ordinations obviously occurred.

When Father Matthew was asked about who taught him, he replied that he had not received formal conducting tuition before commencing his obedience of choir directing at the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery. His conducting skills and repertoire interpretation were developed out of necessity, and they were based on developing a musical expression most appropriate to the Russian Orthodox liturgical services.

 You know, I was more attracted not by the conducting system itself, not by the technique, etc., 
 but by an unusual church chant.  Most of all I was captivated by the style of monastic singing 
 - the singing of blind singers, who sang with the nuns of the former Vladikavkaz monastery in 
 the 1920s, and Father Joasaph (he was a monk).  A lot was given to me by my great-uncle Maxim’s 
 cousin, Matushka Irina (Rudenko) (✝14 September, 1972, Schemanun Hierothea), one of the main 
 singers of the Intercession Monastery in Vladikavkaz.  On all the holidays she came to our 
 church, with Father Joasaph, and she was a psalm-reader.  In 1949 she was arrested and exiled 
 to Siberia, and in 1955 she returned to Vladikavkaz.  Prayer singing, chanting - this is an 
 extraordinary world, imprinted in my memory from childhood.  
 As for the learning, the notes were at home.  To learn them was not difficult, and in the 
 Stavropol Theological Seminary singing was a special subject, which was taught as in all 
 seminaries.  In our case, we were taught by Vyacheslav Pavlovich Pestritsky.  Before Stavropol, 
 he was in Tashkent, then in Saratov, where there was Bishop Guriy.  It was he that opened the 
 Lavra after the war.  Vladyka Athanasius (Sakharov) spoke of him as being one of the best 
 connoisseurs of the Obihod.  As a connoisseur and lover of the Obikhod (everyday) tunes, 
 Vladyka Guriy nurtured a musical flair and instilled this love in Vyacheslav Pavlovich.  Also, 
 he apparently watched over Vyacheslav Pavlovich and his repertoire.  Therefore, Vyacheslav 
 Pavlovich came to us in Stavropol as though he were a regent.
 Before Viacheslav Pavlovich, the choir conductor was Beloysov, a student of Konstantine 
 Konstantinovich Pigrov.  Pigrov had left for Rostov and then Odessa.  Pigrov and Benevskii were 
 from Stavropol.  Everyone knows "The cold waves undulate.." [a famous Russian song about a ship 
 that was sunk by its sailors to avoid capture during the Russo-Japanese war], which was written by 
 Benevskii.  He has also done arrangements of Obihod melodies for the convent of Saint Mary 
 Magdalene and John the Baptist in Stavropol.  So, you see what kind of company I have ended up 
 And further, Vyacheslav Pavlovich Pestrytsky was protected and supported by Bishop Anthony 
 (Romanovsky).  After all, he himself was at one time a party to the ideal all-night vigil.  You 
 see what a coincidence it is.  Stavropol was indeed a very interesting city at the time.  There 
 was something to see, something to choose, something to learn, something to draw and something 
 to love.  Practically speaking, I studied during the service.  On the right choir of the 
 cathedral there was a mixed choir, directed by Pestrytsky.  On the left - our male seminarians.  
 The Bishop’s Choir had its privileges.  Take for instance the example of the Passia service.  
 Vyacheslav Pavlovich would sing 'Who clothe Yourself with light as with a garment' ('Тебе 
 одеющегося') [the Glory... now and ever... verse of the Vespers Apostikha on Great Friday] at 
 the time of the incensing, but we would sing everything else : the stichera of Triodion and the 
 like.  I had to rewrite the texts of the stichera for my choir for every Sunday from the early 
 Liturgy until the Passion.  And then, in rewriting, you put caesura (pauses) for the singing of 
 the texts of the stichera.

When he was asked whether there was a lack of books, Father Matthew responded :

 Just a minute. This is now a grace - a copier and so on.  But then, we had Stepanida 
 Lavrentyevna in the seminary office - one (!) typist for the entire seminary.  Besides, she was 
 not allowed to print our liturgical texts, because she had enough workload with the papers of 
 the seminary and so on.  Thanks to the regular rewriting of the texts of the stichera, I still 
 remember many of them by heart.

Father Matthew added further comments about his formation, and about his experiences before the Khrushchev repression began in 1959 :

 I live in the Lavra by the prayers of Father Joasaph.  Yesterday (21 June, 1998) it is 37 
 years since I settled here.  I arrived here just on the day of the repose of Father Joasaph, 
 after my second year of the academy.  It was a difficult time, under Khrushchev, when all the 
 young people of the Lavra were expelled.  And I and the deceased Father Mark (Lozinsky) were 
 just fortunate.  I was called Leo, and he was called Seryozha.  And so we came to Vladyka Pimen 
 (Khmelevsky).  At that time, he was governor of the Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra, and he taught 
 at the Academy.  By the way, his is a rare case, being a bishop, and spending his whole life in 
 one cathedra [especially at that time].  He was an interesting personality : extraordinarily 
 energetic, active, brave, fearless - and very musical.  He even said in his speech in his words 
 to the bishops : 'There was a time when a gun was already being put to my chest, but the Lord 
 was merciful to me.  And now, when I am in the episcopal seat, God will save me from all 
 Vladyka Pimen accepted us unusually warmly.  We set out our request.  The elders are the 
 elders.  They want to know how the person is set up, and for what reasons he is asking to go to 
 the monastery.  He said : 'Boys ! We do no tonsures.  We do not accept anyone.  And if you 
 would be tonsured, then it could be only after 30 years'.  [The repression stopped monastic 
 tonsuring.  However, the brotherhood understood alternative measures.]  We responded : Please, 
 Father Namestnik [deputy abbot], accept us.  Whatever or whoever it be, no matter what we are, 
 just let us be in the monastery, whether as a monk or as a novice.  In the brotherhood, in 
 fact, you can pray and you can be saved'.  He responded : 'Alright, we shall see'.  We were 
 given a time in the summer, on vacation.  Just on yesterday's Feast-day of Saint Theodore 
 Stratelates, in 1961, I and Father Mark, after a month's rest (on the Feast of Saint John the 
 Theologian we finished the second year and we were given a month of vacation by Father Pimen),
 entered the monastery.  All the hardships that then fell upon the believers were felt in the 
 monastery.  We felt the uncontrollable oppression.  It also crushed the museum - the Lavra.  
 However, glory to God ! The Lord helped ! It is necessary to be surprised only about the 
 firmness, the vivacity of the Dean, Father Theodoret, of our Father Cyril, of Father Tikhon, 
 of our other elders.  By their prayers, a special warmth and comfort were created.  Outside the 
 wall of the Lavra the world raged.  In the press, a violent anti-religious propaganda, and 
 anger on all sides unfolded.  However, on the inside, the people themselves, even in the city... 
 That Lavra is the heart of Russia.  Even atheists felt it.  They were afraid of the Lavra.  And 
 if they came here, they never behaved like masters, always - with some sort of fear, as if they 
 had stolen something.  Thank God. Everything finished ; everything is over.  
 I cannot help recalling how, in 1961, on the Feast of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, in the Trinity 
 Cathedral, imagine, our Dean Father Theodoret came to me and said : 'Brother Lev ! Please ! 
 Today is the Feast-day of Saint Seraphim of Sarov.  Go, sing with the people'.  However, there 
 was no choir, absolutely none.  There was a mixed choir under the supervision of Sergei 
 Mikhailovich Boskin.  They had begun in 1946, when the Lavra was re-opened, with Father Guriy. 
 And here, in 1961, appeared 19 articles from the Soviet legislation on taxation.  And it began.  
 So their poor singers, with whom I later started working, had been summoned to the financial 
 department, which was located just opposite the Lavra.  The head of the choir was Vera 
 Vasilyevna Matveeva, sister of Nikolai Vasilyevich Matveyev, a well-known Moscow regent.  She 
 later took monastic vows and she reposed in 1969.  She was tonsured in the Lavra, and here she 
 also sang.  You know, at those times, it seemed incredible that in a monastery a nun should 
 read the service. The Namestnik, Father Platon ordered : 'In the monastery, only in the 
 monastery'.  He knew how much Vera Vasilievna had taken on to defend the choir.  For me, it was 
 valuable that such a backbone was in the choir - a devotee of the Church.  The regent himself 
 left, but the skeleton remained.  On 1 August, I began to sing with the people ; and on the 
 Pokrov [1 October], with a mixed choir.  Thus, at once, two obediences came to me - both daily, 
 and on holidays.  Then, to these obediences, the male chorus was added.  To this day, we have 
 to work with all these.  

And then, Father Matthew returned to the question :

 Answering your question, I can say this : I never built anything on someone else's foundation.
 When I came here to the Lavra, I first of all got acquainted with the local Obihod.  After all, 
 each church has its own versions of the same hymns.  In Stavropol, the right choir sang 
 according to Bakhmetiev, and on weekdays - our chants were usually sung in Kievan chant.  In 
 Stavropol, in Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, before Vyacheslav Pavlovich, they sang only Bakhmetiev, 
 and in the diocese, Patriarch Alexius I prescribed all the chants to be used.
 Such was the custom.  The initiative came from Vladyka Anthony.  This was in my first year.  In 
 the second year, I was more engaged in reading ascetical literature.  In addition, he led a 
 group in the choir - a dozen.  Immediately after the first course, I was determined to practice 
 with the first seminary class (nowadays, it is being taught by teachers).  The rector of the 
 academy, Father Konstantin (Ruzhitsky) then said : 'Please, work for a month, from Radonitsa 
 (Tuesday in Bright Week) until the end of the exams, and we’ll let you go.  During all the 
 vacation time you can rest'. 
 After the seminary choir, it was easy to practice with the first class.  Many of the pupils 
 later became eminent teachers, rectors, professors, high hierarchs : Vladyka Veniamin (Pushkar) 
 of Vladivostok, Vladyka Alexander (Timofeev) of  Saratov....  Once I worked with them in the 
 first class. 
 In addition, in the first year I managed to visit Pochaev, listen to monastic singing, at a 
 time when there were more than 200 monks - just before the persecution ; and in the 
 Kiev-Pechersk Lavra - just before its closing.  It was just at the Feast-day of the Saint 
 Prince Vladimir, 28 July.  The monastery was closed after Epiphany in 1961.  The last time 
 before the closing was at the Kiev Seminary, at the Akathist to Saint Barbara the Great Martyr,
 in Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, when the seminary was transported to Odessa.  You see how 
 important it is to see and listen at least once in your life.  In the Vladimir Cathedral in 
 Kiev, I listened to Gaidai’s choir.  There, he was such an old man under Metropolitan John. I 
 remember this magnificent choir, although it was a shame that he sang the parts exclusively. 
 The Kiev monks sang according to the monastic tradition, led by Vladyka Nestor.  I remember how 
 the Pochaev monks sang the troparion 'Before the Holy Icon of the Lady' ! Unimaginable ! For 
 me, it was a great joy.  The pilgrimages to both Pochaev and the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra were 
 for me a sort of expedition.

Father Matthew’s extensive research into the various Russian sacred choral schools included visits to many of the remaining functioning churches and monasteries, as well as discussing these traditions with the few specialists who remained alive after the purges and who had been educated by institutions such as the Moscow Synodal School. He also told the author of this article that

 one can often deduce the vocal traditions of a person by observing the way they sing – through 
 articulation and rendering of a given chant.  This observation is particularly prevalent in the 
 students that come to study at the Moscow Theological Seminary from the various regions of 
 Russia and neighbouring countries.  A Kievan rendering of chant has a particular florid style, 
 whilst the Petersburg style has a western flavour and the Moscow school has its own 
 specifications. The aesthetics of Russian monastic singing are closer to the Moscow School.

It may be said that there seems to have been no formal "course" available to teach him how to become a competent choir-leader. Of course, this had something to do with the systematic suppression of the Orthodox Church by the Soviet State. Nevertheless, he did learn in the traditional manner of the Church before such things as seminaries and formal courses were developed. He learnt everything necessary in the manner of an apprentice. He came to his understanding and knowledge through observing the methods and styles of other good and great choir-leaders. In the course of this, he "organically" absorbed his experience and it became one with himself. From this, by the Gift of God, he developed his well-known style of directing singing : care for the words ; care for the wedding of the words and music ; care for the performance so that with clarity the words would be conveyed properly ; care that the Lord would be glorified in everything, and the people be helped to participate in the worship.

It may be said with some certainty that the Lord had raised up Father Matthew and prepared his way so as to keep the tradition of Russian Orthodox Church singing alive and to enable it to recover from all the oppression. He said :

 'When you teach, then you will learn'.  Is this not so in fact ? Sometimes, it is enough to 
 look at how a person sings, look at a person and see what he has and what he lacks. Or who 
 imitates someone - you can see right away.  System.  School.  Being in Kiev, you immediately 
 determine, here is the Saint Petersburg school, here is the Moscow school.  In Stavropol, for 
 example, the cathedral church felt the influence of the Moscow school, and in the Saint 
 Andrew's Cathedral, it was the Saint Petersburg school. The monastic style is closer to the 
 Moscow tradition.  All this is necessary to know.  I must prepare myself for the service : to 
 sing, to serve.  It is very important that in the Stavropol Theological Seminary I acquired the 
 skill to work, to prepare stichera, to paint, to sing.  And if in the choir for some reason 
 there are no permanent singers, then I should be ready to make a chant for and with the 
 parishioners. The speeches begin. I show them, tell them.  

He let it be known that he still had to produce some settings every day.

 As you see, I have callouses on my hands.  It's the effect of writing with the fountain pen : a 
 sign that I am still writing.  The Kingdom of Heaven to Alexander Efimovich Miroshnichenko, my 
 schoolteacher, who taught us calligraphy.  If I used to do it the wrong way, then I got a ruler 
 on my hand.  However, it was a lesson for life.  

Over the years, Father Matthew instigated and maintained one of the largest Russian sacred choral music libraries in the world. This library was re-established in 1962, and it contains printed and manuscript material covering all the various schools of Russian sacred composition. Before the revolution, the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery was known for its vast music collection. However, it was mostly destroyed during various purges against the lavra and its monastic community. Mercifully, many of the items from the original library were saved. They had been hidden for years, and they have been now returned.

 The library for the choir had to be collected literally bit by bit.  I managed to collect a lot 
 by 1962.  I needed at least partially to restore what I had to the Lavra.  I found many copies 
 of chanting in attics, after asking people.  I managed ! I even have some autographed by Father 
 Nathanael (Bochkalo).  After the closing of the Lavra, he was directing here in the Saints 
 Peter and Paul Church.  Many singers remembered him, and they brought something.  Many chants 
 were given by Vera Vasilyevna Matveeva.  Nikolay Vasilyevich Matveyev had a little.  He, after 
 all, grew up here in Sergeiev Posad.  He moved to Tarasovka in 1948, and then he left for 
 Moscow.  Sergei Ivanovich Zubachevsky, one of the local people, an interesting personality. 
 Sergey Zosimovich Trubachev.  Very valuable were the meetings with Nikolai Dmitrievich 
 Uspensky.  We spent whole nights talking after he came here.  I also talked with Viktor 
 Stepanovich Komarov, director of the patriarchal choir.  Communicating with them gave me the 
 opportunity to check myself as to whether I am on the right path or not.  I leave after each 
 service with a prayerful address : 'Lord ! Do you like what I do ?'  To say : 'Oh, it was 
 possible' ! is a rare case.  Therefore, there should always be self-control, self-testing.  
 You walk as on a razor blade. 
Since there was little published choral material for male choirs by composers of the Moscow School such as Kastalsky, Chesnokov and Nikolsky, Father Matthew was faced with the task of arranging their music for the monastery’s all-male ensembles.  The library also contains more than 1,000 of Father Matthew’s own compositions, chant harmonisations and choral arrangements for both mixed and male choral ensembles.  As part of his daily routine, he made an effort to compose or arrange various chants for upcoming services.  He was also able to expand the library greatly.  In doing so, he greatly expanded his own views of sacred choral composition through his friendship and discussions with composers such as Sergei Zosimovich Trubachev and Sergei Ivanovich Zubachevsky ; with conductors such as Nikolai Vasilyevich Matfeyev and Victor Stepanovich Komarov ; and with musicologists such as Nikolai Dimitrievich Uspensky, as he mentioned.

In response to a question about how he prepared for a festal service, he responded :

 Since I know the 'Ustav' (Ordo, Typikon) (all the more, after completing the Academy I began 
 teaching liturgics, which is my element), of course, I am thinking everything over beforehand.  
 For example, in 1968, we celebrated 50 years of the Restoration of the Patriarchate.  With 
 Nikolai Vasilyevich Matveyev, we recorded the first record.  One sixth of it is monastic 
 singing.  Or a concert of our choir in 1968 in the Refectory Church.  How many years have 
 passed since then ? - 30 years ... I have always aspired and been eager (it is possible) to 
 give any hymn approbation according to the principle of how close it is to chanting.  The 
 layers of the heritage are rich, diverse : from monolithic melodies, large scores, to works 
 that are close to folklore, which are also sometimes captivated by our choirs.  So, even the 
 usual 'Lord have mercy', you weigh : How much does it corresponds to the 'churchliness' ?

With regard to the selection of a repertoire most appropriate to Russian Orthodox worship, Father Matthew tended to choose music that is indigenous and national in character. His main focus concerning the performance of a repertoire lay in his attempt to combine the intentions that underlie the worship and the prayer, and the intentions of the composer of the composition, and/or the chant that is being sung. The combination of these intentions is also affected by the liturgical action taking place at a given time during a service. The solemn, penitential, joyous or laudable nature of a text must also be reflected in the liturgical performance of the singers. Father Matthew believed that one should also research and understand the organisation of the “Octoechos” (“Oktoikh” : Book of Eight Tones). In choosing non-chant based music such as a “Cherubic Hymn” and “A Mercy of Peace” one must also attempt to blend the quality and nature of Russian chant with these freely-composed works.

Furthermore, the annually-repeated festal services could not be the same every time, because both the people singing and serving and the circumstances of life are constantly changing :

 The service necessarily replenishes something.  And even now, on a holiday, something new and 
 fresh is necessarily introduced. 

He also said that :

 A service should be carried out in such a way that it is not incompatible either before God, or 
 before the Saints, or before our dancers and musicians.  Approach everything, as far as 
 possible, towards the ideal.  After all, there are instructions on the Typikon about the 
 service itself.  For example, first of all, the principle of organising the 'osmoglasia' (eight 
 tones) should be maintained.  Non-vocal chants such as the 'Cherubim Hymn' and 'A Mercy of 
 Peace' should be brought closer to this principle, in accordance, of course, with the Russian 

Father Matthew took a different approach to the choice of concert repertoire, since his choirs were often invited to perform at various festivities in Russia and abroad. The presence of the choirs of the Monastery and of the Academy was noticeable on greater occasions at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow during the time of Patriarch Aleksy II. On such occasions, the male choir would complement the mixed choir of the cathedral, and sometimes there would be a third choir singing.

His approach to concert repertoire was also concerned with the education of the audience and with the balance of a given programme. For example, the text of the Vespers hymn “O Gladsome Light” is based on the theme of Christ (O Gladsome Light) and the Trinity (“we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit : God”). Many compositions of this hymn exist, but they do not all convey and contrast the 2 mentioned themes, or are suited for arrangement into a male choral ensemble. An example of “O Gladsome Light” that is suited for concert performance, and has been arranged and recorded by his male choirs, is the setting by Ivanov Radkevich (1878 -1942). According to Father Matthew :

 The performance of concert repertoire must reach the heart of the listener and must give an 
 aural sense of Orthodox spirituality without being in the visual surroundings of a Russian 
 church. ... It is very important here, how to present the material in order to enclose the 
 hearing and the heart of the hearer so that the face of the church can be shown in those 
 conditions when there are no icons when the interior is completely different.  I experienced 
 this on my own on 12 February, 1988, during our participation in the celebrations that took 
 place in Paris in the UNESCO building, in commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the 
 Baptism of Rus.  There was a concert.  We began to rehearse in an empty room.  I just could not 
 find the sound of the choir, as though it had been replaced.  The UNESCO building is not a 
 Temple.  By the end of our rehearsal, the head of the Elokhov Cathedral, Nikolai Semenovich 
 Kapchuk, brought the emblem of the 1000th anniversary - a banner with the image of Saint Prince 
 Vladimir.  As soon as he put the banner on the stage, with the choir around it, it immediately 
 changed.  Everything has gone ! The hymns began to sound ! They received us warmly, with 
 understanding.  There is one more difficulty in choosing a repertoire for a male chorus. 
 Unlike the mixed choir, in the male chorus, not everything can sound as beautiful as one would 
 like.  For example, 'Gladsome Light' by A Kastalsky.  That is, the possibilities of a 
 homogeneous male composition are limited.  In working with both male and mixed choirs, I am 
 still singing the early Liturgy in the Lavra with a mixed choir, and later with a male choir. 
 I always strive to get close to the sound of children's voices. 

The members of Father Matthew’s choirs were constantly changing every couple of years due to fact that the majority of voices in his choirs were seminary students who only sing for the duration of their study. This high turnover of singers required Father Matthew to develop a system of training his choir based on the similar methods that were employed by the conductors of the Moscow Synodal School. The main difference between the pre-revolutionary and the contemporary model of teaching is that the Moscow Synodal School educated treble voices as well as tenors and basses in the performance of sacred choral repertoire, whilst the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary only trains changed voices, i.e. tenors and basses.

This fact also was a problem for Father Matthew, since he often was faced with “raw” untrained talent that had had no previous musical education. In the instance of untrained singers, he initially employed the Stanislavsky method with these students : “so that they watch with their ears and listen with their eyes”. At choir rehearsals, Father Matthew would often select individual voices to sing through certain sections of a piece. He would then conduct a performance analysis of each one with the whole choir. “By learning from one’s mistakes and the mistakes of others, the standard of the ensemble gradually improves.”

During rehearsals, Father Matthew often began to rehearse a composition from the most “interesting, beautiful, important or most difficult section of a work”. For example, when approaching a setting of the “Cherubic Hymn”, the rendered portion of the text that is frequently most difficult to perform is on the text of the “And the life-creating Trinity” or “That we may receive the King of all”. Pavel Chesnokov’s settings of these 2 portions of text in his “Cherubic Hymns” are also often based on identical melodic and harmonic material (although the main difference concerning the performance of these sections is related to changes in tempo : “And the life-creating Trinity” text is often performed at a much slower tempo than the “That we may receive the King of all” text). Father Matthew would begin rehearsing one of the sections, and then immediately rehearse the alternate section of text. This approach to repertoire is also applied to sectional and “tutti” (all parts) rehearsals.

Father Matthew also developed a method of music training for his choristers. Each student of the seminary would study Russian church singing from both historical and practical perspectives. In the first semester of their courses, the students would study the “Obikhod” (standard melodies book). By understanding the Obikhod and the liturgical function of specific hymns, chant melodies and texts, the students would learn to approach a given piece of music in the same way as composers of the Moscow School approached their compositions. Father Matthew taught that the correct physical placement of the voice requires firm breath control from the diaphragm. It further involves the focussing of the resonance of sound through the various bones and cartilage of the face and skull. Father Matthew also used the same ensemble principles of P Chesnokov and K Pigrov, where

 the main objective is to demonstrate balance, not only between parts, but within each part, 
 ultimately leading to the choir sounding as one, and, in essence, resulting in a perfect 
 vehicle for transmitting the sacred text.  The method proceeds with technical means to achieve 
 that balance, from the proper singing of intervals to developing pitch intonation, breath 
 control, form and phrasing, nuances, etc.

With regard to the manner of reading during divine services, Father Matthew believed that reading has a solid connection to the act of singing. When the Scripture is read aloud in church, there are clear elements of singing. The reader must not disrupt the natural flow of the service. This means that the reader must follow the pitch of the final cadence sung by the choir, and not begin the reading on some completely unrelated tone. Both the reader (and choir) must have clear diction, so that the text is not misinterpreted by the congregation.

When asked what was the reason for the decline of popularity of Znamenny Chant singing during the 18th and 19th centuries, and whether there is any hope in or reason for returning to entire monophonic Znamenny services, Father Matthew gave the following assessment :

 When Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) was asked the causes of the Russian Revolution he replied : 
 ‘We all attempted to halt the Revolution, but it all slipped through our hands – like water or 
 air’. This same history occurred with the demise of Znamenny Chant by the reforms of the 17th 
 century.  Znamenny Chant is the precious gem of our church – it is the patriarch of all church 
 chants.  We have no right to replace all other chants with Znamenny Chant today.  Each faith 
 has its own singing, and, together with church canonical norms and Byzantine hymnography 
 established by Saint John of Damascus, we all must be faithful to these norms.  I believe that 
 church singing is the Divine Service.  If church canons are followed, one could say that a 
 chant belongs to the Church (and not to Father Matthew), as much as an icon belongs to the 
 Church, or the artistic composition of an icon belongs to the Church.  This is why we should 
 continue to perform and revere Znamenny Chant, and why chant should be revered as a service to 
 the Lord.

It seems that as Father Matthew commented on the general loss of Znamenny Chant, he suggested that although the loss happened in a manner similar to the loss of the empire, it was not a complete loss. For instance, the chant continued to be sung in various forms in various monasteries and in some local regions of the Russian Empire. Nevertheless, the ability to use this chant in most parish communities has long been lost. Therefore, it is crucial to perform it in choral concerts and other similar situations whenever possible. This chant, derived from modifications of Constantinopolitan chant, remains at the root of Russian Orthodox worship.


Father Matthew began to compose music in 1961 when he was asked to prepare a series of stikhera (hymns) dedicated to Saint Sergius of Radonezh. These hymns needed to be arranged in a style that both matched the monastery traditions and were faithful to the liturgical text. These hymns were to be based on the 4th tone special melody “Свыше званный” (“Called from On High”) and required detailed research. This research required the collection and study of manuscript scores as well as transcribing melodies from church musicians and monks who knew and sang these chants before the Bolshevik Revolution. The most famous and often performed of Father Matthew’s compositions is “Земле русская” (“The Russian Land”), a set of stikhira from the service dedicated to All Saints of Russia. This service was written by Bishop Afanasy (Saharov) ; and one year following his death in 1961, Father Matthew completed his arrangement of the set of 4 stikhira, on 28 October, 1962. This set of hymns was based on the special melody “Доме Евфрафов” (“O House of Ephratha”) of the Kievo-Pechersk Monastery (Kyiv Caves Monastery). It was first performed in the week dedicated to the Saints of Russia in 1963, in the lower church of the Dormition Cathedral of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery. This first performance was particularly solemn and memorable, because Mr. Khrushchev had just closed down more than half of the churches that were “re-opened” by Mr. Stalin during World War II. Many of the Temples within the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery were also closed for services, and some were only open as museums. The following is an account of this first performance of “The Russian Land” stikhera :

 When one is conducting a choir, one does feel, rarely, some sort of inner calm.  Of course, this is God’s 
 will.  However, during a service the conductor has his/her own performance concerns.  This first rendering of 
 the work left the entire choir and congregation in tears.  These tears reached their utmost on the rendering 
 of the text ‘HOLY RUSSIA, PROTECT YOUR ORTHODOX FAITH’.  Up to that point in my life I had never experienced 
 such emotion and perfection in performance.  I have not experienced the combined emotion and quality of 
 performance since.  I consider this day to be one of the most memorable days in my entire life.

Archimandrite Matthew was an exacting choir-leader. He demanded a great deal both from himself and for those who would sing the praises of the Lord. He occasionaly lost his temper (as is not unknown amongst choir-leaders), and likely mostly because he would perceive that one, another, or a group was/were not serious. The singers are offering the praise to the Lord, not only from themselves but also on behalf of all those gathered. It is a concern about life in the Kingom. For persons such as he, it is not only inattentive singing and subsequent mistakes which can cause emotional, spiritual and physical pain, but also any lack of spiritual dedication and love for the Lord which can increase this felt pain.


After a long illness, Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl’) fell asleep in the Lord on 5 September, 2009, in the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra north of Moscow.

The Canadian priest, the Mitred Archpriest Michael Fourik, sang almost daily under the leadership of Archimandrite Matthew for about 8 years, while he was at the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Academy. He also served as one of the choir-directors formed by Father Matthew, and he led choirs in Moscow as well. Father Michael's father-in-law, the Mitred Archpriest Nicholas Petrov reposed 17 days before Father Matthew's repose. They are both interred in the monastery grounds, a rare event nowadays.

Following the repose of Father Matthew, his work as a professor of the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary, as a conductor and as a composer, continues. His example continues to inspire and educate new generations of future clerics and church musicians in the traditions of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Monastery. In the words of Archbishop Evgeniy (Reshetnikov) of Verey (Rector of the Moscow Theological Academy) :

 [People such as Father Matthew] 'are born, perhaps, once in a hundred years, maybe once in a 
 thousand years'.  

His past students have been appointed to dioceses as bishops, to parishes as priests, deacons and choir directors across the breadth of Russia and the world. These students are now passing on those traditions that were miraculously preserved and not destroyed during a 70-year regime of godless secular leadership. This preservation and restoration was accomplished by this wonderful person, this true monk, this ascetic, who loved God, who loved the Church, and who loved the Lord's people. Father Matthew was able to pass this love on to all who knew him and who learned from him. Memory Eternal be to Archimandrite Matthew.

The rich experience of the "regent" (choir-leader) of the Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra, and the principles and methodology of his many years of work with the choir, have not yet become the object of serious, in-depth study and generalisation. There are also no published testimonies from which we could learn about how to make a proper beginning of discussing Archimandrite Matthew, his teachers and mentors, and how he developed as a choir-leader. It is hoped that the conversation offered to the reader, and these reflections, will serve that beginning and will stir up this good and necessary work of many researchers of Russian church singing. Sadly, though, writings are insufficient. Much of who was the man are lost : in many ways a unique, special, only inherent intonation and manner of speaking, of telling, of edifying. Even in preserving the oral original, there is loss. Nevertheless, there were still expressed thoughts : thoughts, it seems, which are important, and which have many applications.

Thankfully, in Western Europe, one may find 2 similarly-disposed personalities. The first is the late Archbishop Paul (Olmari) of Finland. He had a similar devotion and focus in choir-direction, and a similar humility. He had learnt conducting at the Old Valaam Monastery. The second is the Archpriest Michael Fortounatto, who is of the same or similar “school” as Archimandrite Matthew. Father Michael is a long-time choir director, who is of a Russian émigré family (the Italian part of the family dates to Saint Petersburg and Tsar Peter I). He conducted the choir for many decades at the Dormition Russian Orthodox Cathedral in London, England, before he retired in 2004 to live in France. He has written a book on the nature of conducting, which is as yet only available in Russian.

Reference :

Original article, obituary

Additional information :

"Музыкальная академия". 1999. № 1. С. 11–21.

Московская регентско-певческая семинария. 1998–1999.

Наука. История. Образование. Практика музыкального оформления богослужения: Сборник статей, воспоминаний, архивных документов. M.: Святитель Киприан, 2000.

Balueve, N V, “Regent: Sud'ba i Sluzhenie: Protoierei Mikhail Fortunato” (Moscow : Iazyki slavianskoi kul`tury, 2012) [in Russian]. ISBN : 9785955104812, ISBN-10 : 595510481X, ISBN-13 : 978-5955104812.

Троице-Сергиева Лавра. 22 июня 1998 года 1998 interview (in Russian)

Pravmir.ru 2009 publication of a 1998 interview (in Russian)

"'His Ministry was Precious to the Church' : In Memory of Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl)"

Holy Synod Liturgical Commission


Web-site of the Moscow Theological Academy

Memorial video

Conducting Cherubim Hymn (video)

Bless the Lord, O my soul (1988, Germany) (video)

Many years (1988, Germany) (video)

Conducting 1988 concert in the lavra (video)

Conducting in his fragility (video)

Funeral photos (video)

Burial procession (video)

Panikhida 2012 (video)

"It is Truly Meet" (everyday choir) (video)

The choir under the hand of Archimandrite Matfei (audio)

"O Mother worthy of all praise" (1987) (audio)

RT Documentary about the monastery

^https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xORWdWYQ3w Documentary abut the monasteryç

1999 г. День памяти Прп.Сергия в Троице-Сериевой лавре (in Russian) (video) Short summary of the Altar-feast-day with Patriarch Aleksy II and other bishops.