Divna and the Melodia Choir

Agni Partene is one of the most loved Orthodox hymns, despite its recent origins in 20th century Greece. I’ve sung it in English and Greek; it’s also popular in a number of Slavic versions. Some sing it fast and some sing it slowly. The simple melody combines with praises to the Virgin and the repeated refrain: “Rejoice, Thou Unwedded Bride.”

The text uses phrases drawn from numerous hymns and odes to the Virgin. The melody is more like a Greek folk tune than Byzantine chant - and that gives it immediate accessibility. The singer here is Divna Ljubojevic, a Serbian singer with a style so ardent that you’ll want to hear more of her work with her Melodi choir. She tours in Europe and divides her time between Paris and Belgrade. Divna and Melodi do have an official YouTube channel and you’ll want in it your favorites.

The composer was a Greek presbyter who had a singularly difficult life. St. Nectarios of Aegina (1846-1920) was born to poor parents in what is now Istanbul. After completing some of his studies, he became a monk and then completed his studies at the University of Athens. Sent to Alexandria, he was ordained a priest and eventually was ordained a bishop. Nectarios went to Cairo and there he encountered opposition and was removed without explanation from his position. Back in Athens, he taught, preached, and was head of a seminary.

Istanbul, Athens, Egypt, Athens. So where’s Aegina? At the request of some nuns, he founded a monastery on the island of Aegina. On his retirement, he spent the remainder of his life there and in due course composed this most beautiful hymn.

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