Our Syriac Maronite Hymns

By Tresa Van Heusen

During our monthly classes at the Chancery in Brooklyn, New York, we study Maronite music with Father Geoffrey Abdallah. Father Geoffrey, Director of the Maronite Inter-Eparchial Music Commission, teaches on the origin and development of our Maronite liturgical music – as well as some singing lessons!

Father Geoffrey comes to us from the Eparchy of Sydney, Australia, and is here in Brooklyn to undertake the project of the Maronite Inter-Eparchial Music Commission in conjunction with the Maronite Bishops of America, Australia and Canada. The commission is working to translate authentic Maronite liturgical hymns from the Syriac to English. In order to ensure fidelity to the Syriac hymns, the Commission adheres to the following guidelines:

1. The original Syriac melody be unaltered.
2. The text be as close as possible to the original text.
3. English language/syllabication not be compromised.
4. The English words match the same cadence points as the Syriac chant.
5. The final English version be convincing and not awkward as if originally written in English.

As we learned in our first lesson with Father Geoffrey, it is important in our Maronite churches that we “affirm the living tradition of the singing of chants in Syriac. This is of particular importance so as to maintain our cultural and religious links with our Antiochian Syriac Maronite tradition in Lebanon and around the world. For that reason also, the adaptation of these chants into Arabic, English and other languages is of enormous pastoral and cultural advantage.”

Father Geoffrey is a gifted priest and musician, and we feel very blessed to have him as an instructor. We look forward to many more lessons with him in order to increase our knowledge and understanding of this important aspect of our Maronite Liturgy, and then be able to share this information within our parishes. And hopefully we can also improve our own singing abilities!

Below is a sample of the music from the Commission (in the “ad experimentum” phase). The Communion Hymn, “I Am Truly the Bread of Life” (in Syriac: Bo’ooto dmor ya’qoob – Eno eno lahmo dhayeh):

I am truly the Bread of Life,
who will grant you life eternal,
if you eat my Body in faith.

Come and drink from this precious cup,
which was poured out on the Lord’s cross
and obtain the pardon of sins.

Come receive his pure Body now.
Come in true faith; drink his pure Blood.
This, the Church proclaims singing praise.

Holy, holy, the Church proclaims,
Lord most holy, who forgives us
By his precious Body and Blood.

The sheet music and recording of these hymns can also be downloaded from: