ISOCM News

Protopsaltes Nikolaos Nikolaides 1943-2006

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Nikolaos Nikolaides, Archon Protopsaltes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Stockholm on 25 March 2006.

Eternal memory!

Archon Protopsaltes Nikolaos Nikolaides participated in the First International Conference on Orthodox Church Music in June 2005. The Society dedicates the publication of the Proceedings of the 1st Conference to his memory.

The ever-memorable Archon Protopsaltes Nikolaos Nikolaides now sings with angels by Professor Hilkka Seppälä

Protopsaltes Nikolaos Nikolaides was born on 16th March 1943 in Hypsomatheia (Psomateia), Constantinople. This region is famous for its singers and for the miracle of the Trisagion that took place there.

A series of earthquakes troubled the region in the 5th century. Looking for solution, the townspeople made a procession to a nearby field to pray. During one earthquake, a child was lifted in the air. When he came down again, he transmitted the correct words of the Trisagion hymn to the Church. The church calendar commemorates this miracle on a special day of the year.

Apart from the Synaxarion, there are several historical documents relating the course of this event. The Trisagion hymn is nowadays one of the most beloved hymns of the Church and it is used both in the divine services and in private prayer.

The region where this miracle took place came to be called “the place of the divine uplifting”, i.e., Hypsomatheia, which, in practice, became Psomateia. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium is incorrect in the etymological derivation of Psomateia from the word psamathos, “sand”.

This ancient miracle continues to bless the region even today. Many of the people to whom God would grant the gift of singing were born in Psomateia. Apart from Nikolaos Nikolaides, a great number of famous church singers hail from this region; Psomateia thereforehas a special place in the history of Orthodox church singing.

Ever since he was a child, Nikolaos attended church regularly. Thanks to his musical talent, he was allowed to stand in the kliros of the church of Sts Constantine and Helena at the age of six, and it was not long until he was given the honour of pronouncing with his clear child’s voice to the hierarch: “Keleuson Despota!” – Command, Master! His duty was also to announce the particular tone that was used in the service, for instance, “echos protos!” – the first tone!

At the age of nine, Nikolaos began to learn the theory of Byzantine music. A little later, he was taught by renowned church singers, first Georgios Apostolides and then Georgios Tsauses.

Byzantine church singing has been transmitted both orally and literally. For a future singer, it was vital to learn the traditional way of singing: thus the teacher could transmit orally unwritten information to his student. The line of Nikolaos Nikolaides’s teachers can easily be followed back in history. The list goes back to the 17th century, but it could be explored even further. The awareness of one’s teachers shows respect to them and also the importance of the unbroken line of tradition.

The teacher’s voice was the model that guided the student towards the traditional way of singing, and the teacher’s role was thus decisive. The teachers of church singing were respected masters; their names remained in the history and thus each singer could, if willing, see his own craft in the line of that of his teachers.

Nikolaos Nikolaides was appointed to a chanter’s position at the age of 16. He became the domestikos, the conductor of the left choir, at the church of St George the Victory-bearer in Makrochorion, Constantinople. In 1961 he moved back to Psomateia to be the domestikos of the church of Sts Constantine and Helen, whose protopsaltes at that time was the famous Georgios Tsauses.

Nikolaides was also given a chance to sing at the church of St Nicholas in Iskender (Alexandretta) during his two-year military service. The singing there was performed antiphonally in the Arabic and Greek languages.

In 1966, Nikolaides was appointed protopsaltes of the church of Sts Constantine and Helen in Psomateia, where he also conducted a large youth choir. On the 22nd of May 1969, he was granted by the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras the highest possible position as a singer: he became the Archon Protopsaltes of the Holy Archdiocese of Constantinople.

The first psaltes ever to have been appointed to the church of Sts Constantine and Helen of Psomateia was the famous 18th century singer Petros Glykes, Petros the Sweet. The last protopsaltes of this church, Nikolaos Nikolaides, could also be called by this name: Nikolaos Glykes, i.e. Nikolaos the Sweet, i.e. the Sweet-voiced.

On account of the unstable conditions in Constantinople, Nikolaos Nikolaides moved with his family to Athens in 1972. In 1979, however, the family moved again, now to Stockholm, where Nikolaides was appointed protopsaltes of the Cathedral of St George the Victory-bearer Cathedral in the metropolitanate of Sweden and all Scandinavia.

Nikolaides accompanied Metropolitan Pavlos of Sweden and all Scandinavia and sang at the hierarchal services also in Norway and Denmark. His singing also became famous outside Scandinavia, even in the USA.

For five years (1991-95), Nikolaides took part in the International Church Music Festival organized in Moscow. His authentic Byzantine melodies contrasted with the singing of the large choirs and his performances greatly appealed to the Russian audience. He continued to receive invitations to visit Russia, but on account of his health problems he was unable to accept. He was also invited to perform in Greek radio broadcasts and to represent the Constantinopolitan Byzantine patriarchal singing tradition on the internet.

In Stockholm, in addition to his work in the church, Nikolaides took part in various scientific and artistic events, thereby promoting knowledge of Byzantine singing tradition, for example at the Swedish Academy. He also continued in his trade as a goldsmith for many years. He had two daughters, Helena and Alkisti, with his wife Despina.

Nikolaos Nikolaides faithfully fulfilled his main task as the protopsaltes of the metropolitan church of St Georgios in Stockholm (1979-2006). Interestingly, this, his last church, was dedicated to the same saint as the church of his first appointment as a psaltes.

Nikolaos Nikolaides’s role in the transmission of Orthodox singing tradition was crucial also in Finland. He was occasionally invited to speak at the Department of Orthodox theology at the University of Joensuu, where the students of church music received valuable professional guidance from him. He also sang at concerts together with the choir of the Department of Orthodox Theology.

At the request of the Department, he composed a Byzantine liturgy in Finnish which was published as a book and a recording in 1997. This publication was a pioneering work of its kind in Finland, in acknowledgement of which the Finnish Orthodox church granted him a small reward. Nikolaides also taught a course of Byzantine singing at the Valamo Lay Academy.

Apart from the Byzantine liturgy, Nikolaos Nikolaides’s voice can be heard also on several other recordings, such as the Easter service which was also made into a CD. His articles on the Byzantine singing tradition have also been published in the Publications of Orthodox Theology series by the University of Joensuu.

Archon Protopsaltes Nikolaos Nikolaides enlightened the audience with his hegemonic personality – his performance reflected a deep commitment to his task – and his voice invoked understanding of the theological truth and the beauty of the ancient tradition. This happened also at many festive events organized by the Department of Orthodox theology.

In 1994, Nikolaides visited the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki as a lecturer and performer, and in 1995 he participated in the International Church Music Festival in Kuopio. The Finnish Broadcast Company broadcast a two-part programme “This singing is not from this world. Byzantine singing for Great Week”, in which Nikolaides sang the solos.

The last publication inspired by Nikolaides was published in 2005. Bysantin laulutaiteesta ja taitajista opens a window on the colourful world of the Byzantine art of singing. The last singing master introduced in this book is Archon Protopsaltes Nikolaos Nikolaides, whose singing is recorded on three CDs also published under the same name.

In June 2005, Nikolaides performed for the last time at the University of Joensuu, at the First International Conference on Orthodox Church Music organized by the Department of Orthodox Theology. He sang at the opening of the conference and also during a lecture on the singing tradition. According to witnesses, his appearance changed when he began to sing – he seemed to forget his illness and pain!

Nikolaides was also a great friend of nature and animals. When walking in the forest in springtime he used to express his joy by whistling (he was a very skilful and expressive whistler; the singing boys of Constantinople used to practice church singing exercises by whistling on their way to school). The birds answered to his melodies. They would have continued the antiphonal singing for hours. After Nikolaides’s death, the animals still remember him; of this I was given proof one May day.

His family had planted two rows of yellow daffodils on his grave. When we reached the grave, we noticed that the outer row was gone: the animals had shared the flowers with Nikolaides, as if cut by a knife. The row on the grave’s side had been left for the singer. His family were delighted: only the flowers planted for Nikolaides had been good enough for our four-legged friends! Other graves were untouched.

When Nikolaos Nikolaides was singing the holy services in the church of St Georgios the Victory-bearer in Stockholm, those praying experienced the utmost holiness and beauty. Their prayers were lifted to the heaven lightly, as with the wings of song. In accordance with Byzantine tradition, the church singer’s task was indeed to “raise the prayers of the Christians as incense towards God’s face with a sweet melody”.

This “sweet melody” appealed not only to subjective emotions, but to the achievement of knowledge and skill, rising from the heart of a believer, as he enlivened the texts of the holy services with his “princely” voice, following the rules of the holy tradition of singing, with humility and piety.

As if in a dream, the lock of the gate of heaven was double: to open it, a “club card”, presented by the priest, and the “code”, presented by the psaltes, were needed. When the service began, the priest began to open the gate with the blessing he pronounced.

However, the actual opening of the gate happened only after the answer of the Protopsaltes: “Amen!” And thus the service began and heavenly beauty spread into the church.

The ever-memorable Nikolaos Nikolaides now sings in the heavenly choir. We take comfort in the precious memories and the recordings which remain with us.

Eternal memory!

Memorial speech of Metropolitan Pavlos of Sweden and all Scandinavia at the funeral service of Protopsaltes Nikolaos Nikolaides

Nikolaos Nikolaides, the protopsaltes of our metropolitanate, became the cantor of the left-side choir in Constantinople at the young age of 16, in 1959, and since then he praised God with hymns, “while he had his being”: as is written in the psalm, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.” (Ps. 103/104:33) And since then he sang without ceasing, for 47 years, wherever he was, for the last time on the Sunday of Orthodoxy at the Metropolitan Cathedral of St George in Stockholm.

The sorrowful tidings of his death reached us on the 25th of March, in the morning, as a lightning from a clear sky, although we had known that his health had been unstable during the past few years. We are, however, comforted by the words of Apostle Paul who says, “whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Today, in great sorrow and deep pain, we give Protopsaltes Nikolaos Nikolaides the last rites. The prayers of the Church accompany him, as does the love of his family, and the love of the parish to which he gave for 27 years the sweetness of his voice and his musical skills, to uplift the services, in reverence and spirituality.

Nikolaos Nikolaides was born in 1943 in Hypsomatheia, suburb of Constantinople. Already as a child he received guidance from music teachers, and in 1959, as we have already said, at the age of 16, he entered the kliros as a singer and sang until 1972 in the churches of Constantinople. In 1969, the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras granted him the title “Archon Protopsaltes of the holy archdiocese of Constantinople”.

In 1972, Nikolaos Nikolaides moved to Greece, to sing in the churches of Athens, and in 1979 he was appointed as the protopsaltes of our church. He settled with his family in Stockholm.

The ever-memorable Nikolaos Nikolaides was always kind and helpful towards all, loved by all. He was not only an excellent church singer, who was characterized by his musical talent and the patriarchal singing style. He also knew the history and theory of Byzantine music and followed truthfully the order of the church. He always came to church on time, well-prepared for the service, and discussed the details of the services. Skillfully he followed the order of the service, because he had a long experience of the Typikon, an interest in the sources, and continual practice.

The untimely and unexpected death of the ever-memorable Nikolaos Nikolaides is a true loss. A loss to his family. A loss to the metropolitanate. A loss to the cathedral of St George. A loss to the Greek population of Stockholm. A loss to the tradition of Byzantine chant. A loss to us personally, because he always offered us his brotherly support in the holy services as well as in the other aspects of our work for the Church.

Our beloved Nikolaos Nikolaides walks today the “blessed road” and awaits “the resurrection of the dead and the life to come”. And we, the Church, walk towards the great feast of Resurrection, Holy Pascha, but unfortunately this year we are without the “prince” of the analogion, the sweet-voiced protopsaltes of our church, believing, nevertheless, as he did, that Jesus Christ, our Lord, “rose from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

Eternal memory to our brother Nikolaos.

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