Sunday, April 1, 2012

I've said it before and I'll say it again...

I think I'll make this a regular feature. I guess this would be Part II.

I've said it before and I'll say it again...not singing in church does NOT equal non participation. The gift to sing is precisely that--a gift. It is something given by the grace of God. Singing/chanting is a gift of the spirit much like teaching, prophesying, preaching, etc. Many people may want the gift to sing, but many people simply do not have it.

I'm tired of priests and other laymen who equate participation in the Divine Liturgy almost exclusively with singing. I guess a deaf mute can never participate (hyperbole alert!) then. Our church regularly uses Byzantine chant which is a very difficult musical language. Trained Byzantine musicians, especially classically trained Byzantine musicians will testify to the absolute demand, efforts and study required of one to execute it. So, what is the good to put out 60+ page service books (for one service) for the congregation most of whom have not the first clue about Byzantine music which contains all the musical settings? Answer: it serves no purpose except to create a cacophony.

It is not an unreasonable thing to demand that the service to God be both reverent and aesthetically beautiful. The emissaries from Prince Vladimir of Kiev who found themselves in the Church of the Hagia Sophia hearing the Divine Liturgy being chanted were so amazed by its beauty that they were "out of themselves" and could not tell if they were in Heaven or on earth. I don't think Prince Vladimir asked if everyone was singing along and participating (the sources don't seem to indicate taht). So why the "need" to have everyone sing especially those who have no business doing so?

A friend of mine in the congregation is named George. George is a faithful man, but he cannot sing in tune to save his life. He doesn't even sing words just belts out random notes and does so loudly that it disrupts the heavenly beauty I've never corrected him on this; I'm going to leave that to his family to do so. Again, he's a very faithful man to the church, but singing is not one of his gifts. Why should we insist that he sing?

Not all of the monks on Mt. Athos or in any monastery chant the services and NO ONE would accuse those silent monks of not participating in the Liturgy or the Offices. So why have we created this false standard? I suspect a good reason is the influence of Protestantism. Too many converts have brought over their own remnants of their previous faith and want it instilled in the Orthodox church because something's lacking for them. That's pure egoism. The Catholic Church has suffered great harm because the creators of Vatican II created a liturgy and new hymns which were Protestant in nature and demanded that everyone sing when that was never part of the practice. Now, Byzantine Rite Orthodoxy is not importing Protestant hymns, at least not yet and I hope it never will, but Protestantism is definitely having an effect and it's not a good one.

Encourage people to know the hymns and the prayers but let the dialogue between the priest and the choir be conducted reverently AND beautifully. No one is being denied anything here...unless you feel that you have a RIGHT to sing from the Holy Spirit. Pray the hymns with your lips, your heart and your mind. If that's not participation, then I don't know what is.


  1. I've said it before and I'll say it again (but will spare you a third time): you've got trouble in the parish where you are.

    I hope there's another one nearby, otherwise you have some years of tough sailing ahead of you. May God give you the grace to endure to the end.

  2. Anastasia,

    I hope, I really do, that I'm exaggerating a lot of this. I see the dangers, but I tell myself that maybe I'm overreacting or just given to this "hyperorthodoxy" which we converts seem to infected with. I don't like it; I decry egoism a lot but I also wonder how much of my own ego is involved in my complaints.

    I wish it was as easy as switching parishes. One Greek parish here is served by a priest who likes to excise things he doesn't like. The other Greek parish is more interested in being Greek than Orthodox. The Serbian church is frankly hostile to those who are not Serbs or those who are not originally from some "old" country be it Romania, Greece or Russia. I refuse to go Western Rite. I think my best bet is to stay where I am and learn some humility...if I can.

  3. Agreed. In a society unfamiliar with Byzantine liturgy and theology and generally opposed to iconography, music can be a revelation of grace to the visitor, if the chanting and singing are done well. If not, even members of the parish can be distracted from worship.

    Other former Lutherans have found a home in the Orthodox Church through the Western Rite. I'd like to know the reasons for your opposition, if you are inclined to elaborate.

    1. Ron,

      The people that will be present for the Rush and Orthros of Pascha are members of the church. But so seldom do people come to Orthros outside of Lent/Pascha season that they do not know the "rhythm" of it. What's more is that since few people of our church do come to Vespers and/or Orthros where we use pretty much exclusively Byzantine chant, they're unfamiliar with it and then they try to chant it and get frustrated. That's another reason why I'm not in favor of service books in general. Whatever happened to just listening and praying?

      As far as your Western Rite question, I don't have the time and this is not the appropriate place to draft a response. But I'll get back to you on that.