When the choir intones the other-worldly supplications of the Cherubikon (literally “song of the angels” in Greek), even the most theologically unschooled person present in the church can discern that a kind of awe-inspiring, wondrous veil falls over the worshipers gathered together.
What is this veil? Is is the angelic host descending into the temple to worship the Lord together with the people, the choir and the clergy. The angels move invisibly among the church as the choir hymns them, but through a worshiper’s noetic eye (his or her spiritual consciousness of the grace of God in the mystical unity between heart and soul) he or she is inexpressibly aware of their presence.
Since our worship is an other-worldly event which joins us here on earth to the very cosmos, uniting heaven and earth as we join with the bodiless powers of heaven and all the Saints in their endless worship of the Trinity, during the Cherubic Hymn, as the angels move about the temple, we are ushered even more intimately into the heavenly worship which goes on for eternity.
As the choir raise their voices to the heavens, calling on the heavenly hosts of cherubim and seraphim, worshipers whose noetic soul is awakened behold in awe a deep spiritual presence. This presence envelops all who can discern it in a kind of effusive, radiant light. This is the very light of the Lord’s angels moving among the faithful, worshiping God alongside them.
As the priest moves about the temple, censing the icons of Christ and His saints, then censing the people, venerating the image of God present in each of them, the angels move about, hymning and praising the Lord while the choir hymns them. As this takes place in these holy moments, the grace of God overflows in the souls of those who can discern it.
The temple altar represents – and during the Eucharistic offering becomes – the throne of God in heaven. Just as the faithful bow down in worship before the Eucharistic altar when they enter the church, and just as the clergy bow down before the altar at the consecration of the divine gifts during the Epiclesis, so too do the angels bow down before the altar, the heavenly throne, as the choir praises them.
Ponder, if you will, the opening words of the Cherubikon and their profound implications for all those who sing and hear them:
In Greek: Οἱ τὰ Χερουβεὶμ μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες
Transliterated to the Roman/Latin alphabet this becomes: I ta cherouvim mystikos eikonizondes
The normative translation into English is: We who mystically represent the Cherubim
A more literal and theologically profound translation would be: We who mystically image the Cherubim (or) We who are mystically icons of the Cherubim.
We who are icons, or images, of the angels, the bodiless powers of heaven. Think on the deep spiritual meaning of these words.
Rightly, the Cherubic Hymn is considered one of the most ethereal, mysterious choral pieces in the Liturgy, for it is the choir’s attempt to imitate the host of angels singing before the heavenly throne of God.
Recalling the words of St Isaac the Syrian, one cannot help but think of the mystical, transcendent beauty which these words, and the Cherubikon, evoke:
“Let us take refuge in the Lord, and ascend a little to the place where thoughts dry up, and stirrings vanish. Where memories fade away and the passions die, where human nature becomes serene, and is transformed as it stands in the other world.”
This particular Cherubic Hymn is in the Old Bulgarian Chant style of the late Byzantine period. The Very Reverend Igumen Silouan, Abbot of Optina Hermitage arranged this composition in 1993. The Male Choir of Optina Monastery near Kozelsk, Russia sings this transcendent, compellingly beautiful Cherubikon.
http://www.optinachoir.ru/ CD “Russian church singing”
Херувимская песнь. Староболгарский распев. Изложение игумена Силуана (1993 г.)
Мужской хор Санкт-Петербургского Подворья монастыря Оптина Пустынь.
Here is another beautiful Cherubikon, chanted in the first Byzantine mode by Romeiko Ensemble.