Ecclesiastical music during the first centuries A.D.
Music has always and everywhere been considered to be the most lively display of religious sentiment, and hence the most pleasing and acceptable tribute to God. Music was used in the ancient greek feasts and celebrations, as well as in the Jewish rituals from the Church of the Old Testament.
Similarly the Churches of Christ from their foundation have used music besides prayers and supplications in order to praise and glorify God. This is perhaps because the melodies soften the heart and assist in it attaining and keeping the required devoutness and attention during divine worship. The example was first gicen by the Founder of our faith during the Mystical Supper, which was concluded by sacred hymnody. As St John Chrysostom characteristically says: «The Saviour hymned in the same way as we also hymn today». The Apostles, based on the example of our Lord, were shown to be musicians and hymnologists, as St Luke confirms «And they were always in the temple praising and blessing God».
In the Acts of the Apostles, we see that the Apostles gathered for psalmody and prayer at the third, sixth, and ninth hour, and during night. So did the Apostles Paul and Silas, who praised the Lord praying at midnight. The Apostles also used hymns and prayers when burying the departed. Burial hymns were sung at the Dormition of the Mother of God, and also at the burying of the first martyr and archdeacon Stephen.
The Church of Christ during the first centuries of Christianity put forth not few melodists and composers, who created metric songs and odes in the spirit of the Gospels. The highest clergy ranks were usually responsible for composing hymns and melodies; that is why great hierarchs of the Church are mentioned as melodists: Dionysius Areopagites, Hierotheos of Athens, Ignatius the Theophorus (who introduced the antiphonic psalmody, and the two choirs of cantors), Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin the Martyr, Irinaios of Lugundes, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Origen, Gaius presbyter of Rome, Gregory of Neocæsaria, Anatolius of Laodicea, Athenogenes of Sebasteia, Nepos of Pentapolis, et al.
The progress in music was facilitated by the official recognition of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine the Great. But besides that, the godly Fathers of the various Christian communities worked systematically towards the organisation of music, because of the heretics of that time, who wanted to spread their improper beliefs through music. From the Fathers of the Church who worked with zeal towards this aim we should mention: St Ephrem the Syrian in Syria, St Athanasius the Great in Alexandria, St Ambrose in Milan, St Basil the Great in Asia Minor, St John Chrysostom in Constantinople.
Until the fourth century all the faithful used to sing together in the Churches. But later on, as Christianity spread out and more hymns were written, the quality of singing often became rather poor. Hence two choirs of cantors were formed who gradually took over the communal singing.