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Once, when John Koukouzelis was chanting during an all-night vigil, as soon as he completed the “Axion Esti” (*), he was stunned to see the Most Holy Theotokos in front of him, who thanked him as she put a gold coin in his hand, because he chanted the hymn devoutly and with humility.
The Venerable One was not trying to impress by demonstrating his vocal abilities, but he chanted naturally, calmly and he felt the sacred texts in the depths of his soul. He prayed chanting and chanted praying which is why he fascinated listeners, but he also caused their souls to be solemn and and helped them pray. This is very important, because when chanters pray, then they help the people pray. And vice versa. When the congregation participates meaningfully in Worship without making noise, this facilitates in the work of the choirs of chanters, because they are given the opportunity to concentrate within themselves and have their attention focused, with the result that they offer the hymnological texts in the best possible way. But when those who “circle the sacred analogion” are not as careful as they should be, the people will speak to each other even worse and laugh, and instead of creating a solemn atmosphere of prayer, they cause distraction and upset those praying. Thus they not only sin themselves, but they cause others to sin. Great care is required together with a daily struggle against habits, which are deleterious.
By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas, source
(*) Another tradition states that St. John actually was chanting a composition of his to the Theotokos when she appeared to him. This hymn (“Anothen oi Prophetai”) is still chanted to this day during Orthros at the vesting of the Bishop:
“Of old, the prophets aforetime proclaimed thee, the Jar of Manna, the Rod of Aaron, the Tablet, the Lampstand, the Ark, the Table, the Mountain Unhewn, the Golden Censer, the Gate Impassible, and the Throne of the King. Thee did the Prophets proclaim of old.”
Photo: The miraculous icon of Panagia Koukouzelissa, treasured by the Monastery of Megiste Lavra. Before this icon St. John chanted, and the Theotokos appeared to him.
Video: The chanting of the hymn “Anothen oi Prophetai” and the vesting of the Bishop at the Monastery of Kseropotamou, Mount Athos.