Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Music and Worship

There are many types of music used by Christians throughout the world in their worship of God. There are many beautiful hymns which have been written by pious men and women in the two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth and there were hymns written by people like King David even before Christ came. Music is a fundamental part of the worship of God and this is especially apparent in the musical tradition of the Orthodox Church.

If you have never been to an Orthodox Church you might not be aware that during our services there is very little which is spoken. Almost every single word, from beginning to end is sung. Now, there can sometimes be variations from parish to parish (for example in my parish we say the Lord's Prayer rather than sing it, although there are plenty of parishes who do sing it), but on the whole this is the case everywhere.

Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago (from the Greek Archdiocese) says,

The Church was born singing, and it has never ceased to sing!
If the focus of the Church's music is in the form of song, this is because, for the Orthodox, liturgical music is "performed" only on the most perfect instrument of God's creation: the human voice. While instruments are mentioned in the Bible (as in the Psalms), nowhere in the New Testament is human worship described as anything but sung. 

As a singer myself, I naturally am drawn to all music. But what I love about the music of Orthodoxy is not only its beauty of melody, but more importantly the words which are sung. And in fact, the words themselves determine how they will be set to melody. The melody is always subject to the text and the melodies used are proscribed according to the message being communicated in a given hymn. There are melodies (or tones) which are triumphant and celebratory as well as tones which are repentant and sorrowful. The way the words and melody are woven together allows the people present to transcend "all earthly cares" and to be for a time in the heavenly kingdom,

Archbishop Demetrios (also of the Greek Archdiocese) has this to say:

The music of the Church opens hearts and minds to the revelation of God's love and will. ..[O]ur sacred music helps us to recognize and teach to others the differences and influences of the holy and the profane... of what leads us to life and what leads to destruction.  

In the hymns of our liturgical services one encounters the lives of the Saints, understanding of the Incarnation of Christ, the importance of true and sincere repentance, the mystery and great joy of Holy Week and Pascha (Easter). There are countless hymns that have moved my own spirit and spurred me to desire to draw nearer to Christ. These hymns are able to speak to the heart and  help one on the narrow way. In fact, if you pay close attention to what is sung throughout the cycle of the liturgical year, you will find that all the theology of the Church is contained in her hymns and prayers. 

I have not spent much time memorizing scripture in my life, yet I find that I know a great deal, simply from being in church every week. The Psalms especially are present in our worship. Vespers and Matins are full of Psalms and when I read through the Psalms in the my Bible at home I often come across verses which are the inspiration for many of the prayers that the priest prays during the Divine Liturgy.

Saint Gregory of Sinai said: 

Psalmody has been given to us that  we may rise from the sensory to the intelligible and true.

and Saint  Athanasius said that

"...he who sings well puts his soul in tune, correcting by degrees its faulty rhythm

"...a soul rightly ordered by chanting the sacred word forgets its own afflictions and  contemplates with joy the things of Christ alone."


For this reason I feel that if we parents would simply bring our children to church, there would be no need for Sunday School classes. They can learn all that they need to know by listening to the music of the Church and being present at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. We should talk about what is being sung with our children and point out what it means. God has established His Church in such a way as to provide us with all that we need and we cannot go wrong if we stay within what has been given to us.

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