Journal of Roman Studies

Papers Presented to N. H. Baynes

The Nativity Drama of the Byzantine Church

Egon Wellesz

The service books of the Eastern Church contain a large number of monostrophic hymns, or Troparia, which originally followed a verse (στἰχος) from a psalm or canticle, and were therefore also called Stichera. As hymnography developed, their connexion with the content of the Stichos was loosened, and their number increased. The term ‘Sticheron’ was, however, maintained for this new type of Troparion, which was inserted into the Office so freely that it is not surprising to find a great authority on Eastern liturgy speaking of ‘the ivy of poetry’ which had strangled psalmody.

Investigations into the Stichera have not been carried out on a large scale by students of Byzantine hymnography, because they were mainly interested in the study of the two major forms, Kontakion and Kanon. These two, indeed, offered so many problems, both of structure and content, that the study of the vast number of short hymns was set aside. The prevailing opinion that the Stichera were of little or no poetic value contributed to this neglect; and, in fact, many of them are nothing more than slight variations of the text of the preceding verse, and it would be a long task to sort out those Stichera which have literary merit.