Kyrie Eleison

As an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, I attended the debut performance of a contemporary setting of a classic Greek Orthodox chant, known widely by the words that are repeated over and over again within it, “Kyrie Eleison,” which translates as “Lord have mercy.” In listening to the performance, which I found deeply moving, I was reminded that not all repetition is vain reptitition. To be sure, there are some reptitions (one thinks of the reading of the rosary or other prayer beads) that is done often by rote, where the words are repeated over and over again without meaning, but all the same there are also times where people repeat themselves with great feeling and sincerity of heart. Sometimes someone has to repeat the same things over and over again in order to process or express themselves, and so it was in this particular performance.

The mental image I have of this particular chant is of the passage in Luke 18:9-14, where the tax collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven but cries out, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” Regardless of how good I have been on a relative scale, compared to the standards of my time, or compared to the sorts of horrors I have experienced and struggled (with a great deal of divine aid) in overcoming, I have never seen myself as being whole or righteous in my own eyes. Indeed, I have often tended to see myself as darker and more wicked even than others would judge me (except for those who have judged me even harsher than I judge myself, which has happened on a few occasions, sadly). Knowing the extent to which I have needed the mercy of God, I have sought to extend that same mercy to others, knowing them to be broken vessels of the same flawed clay that I was formed out of by the loving hands of my Heavenly Father whose character and image I would wish to be reflected in my own conversation and conduct.

The most moving version of the Kyrie Eleison chant was that from singer Gerry Rafferty [1], best known for his deeply personal hit songs “Right Down The Line” and “Baker Street” and for his hit song with Stealer’s Wheel “Stuck In The Middle With You.” On the last album he ever made, called “Life Goes On,” produced as he was slowly dying from the effects of a lifetime of alcoholism spent in self-medication for a savage and abusive childhood, he recorded a deeply moving and deeply personal rendition of this classic hymn [2], singing “Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy” with obvious feeling and passion. He was a man who knew that he was a sinner and that he needed the mercy of God, a man who had struggled openly and honestly with his demons even as they defeated him in this life. I would pray for him, and for those like him, that he may find peace and rest in Sheol and may see the mercy of God and of His Christ when he is raised up in the Great White Throne judgment, for all too many of us have found mercy and love elusive in this present evil world.

Perhaps the most famous recent cultural reference to this particular song comes from the Mr. Mister #1 hit “Kyrie,” which along with “Broken Wings” was a massive hit from a band that deserved greater success [3] but whose legacy allowed them to be namechecked in the Train comeback hit “Hey Soul Sister.” While Mr. Mister did not wish, probably for reasons of popularity, to make the religious aspects of their music too visible, the fact is that Kyrie can be seen very easily as a prayer to Jesus Christ for mercy on the difficult road for a rock band seeking to avoid temptation and sin, which all too easily ensnare us all, especially those who are in the limelight and who face its pressures. Their other massive hit, “Broken Wings” is an honest and heartfelt examination of brokenness and the desire to be whole again that I find it easy to sympathize with.

It may surprise some people, but probably not very many, that in my own songwriting I have explored similar themes of brokenness and a desire for God and Christ to have mercy on me. Recently I wrote a song called “Broken” that was a prayer for help and aid in a time of great trouble. When I sang the song in my head, I realized that it might be a song that could speak for the longings of others beside myself, however personal it was, and so I took up a friend on a long awaited offer to add musical accompaniment to my vocals for a project of Church of God musicians. I’m still waiting to hear the track as it is produced, and I do not know if it will be good enough to make the final compilation, but it was a very cathartic process for me to write and perform the song, and I hope that others are able to draw comfort from it once it is released (if it is released, that is). This life is difficult enough for many of us, and not only for myself but for many others, both known and unknown to me, I pray as well that our Lord and Christ may have mercy on us, and bring us into His family and into an eternal life of joy and peace and love.


[2] [Warning: This video contains idolatrous representations of Jesus Christ from Greek icons and other religious art.]


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, History, Music History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Kyrie Eleison

  1. Pingback: Unwatched, The Garden Bough Shall Sway | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Right Down The Line | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: I’ve Been Thinking Too Much; Help Me | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Born For Love | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Attributed To G.F. Handel | Edge Induced Cohesion

  6. Pingback: Book Review: Lord, Have Mercy | Edge Induced Cohesion

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