The Orthodox Church has always had a great appreciation for true beauty, understanding that the greatest expression true beauty must be in God, the Holy Trinity. And that beauty will be experienced not just in what we see, but what we hear. Should we be blessed by God to attain to paradise, the sights and sounds we will hear will be beautiful beyond our wildest expectations. Thus, the music of the Orthodox Church is very important as we work to remember paradise and to offer our worship to the Undivided Trinity.
“Orthodox Church music is that music which raises the eyes of our hearts to see the True Light. Orthodox Church music lifts up our hearts to receive the Heavenly Spirit and discover the true faith as we worship the undivided Trinity in the Kingdom of God not of this world. Orthodox Church Music . . . transcends all . . . expressions and labels . . . Church music makes audible for us the inaudible song of the angels around the throne of God.” (Rev. John Finley)
However, Orthodox music is first and foremost about the words which the melodies fit around. The goal of our singing and our worship is not to experience an emotional “high,” but to experience and offer ourselves to God, “Church music is music that helps us to pray, to worship God, to enter the heavenly Holy of Holies.” (Rev. John Finley) “In Byzantine (Orthodox) music the words are primary. If a hymn does not make sense in the language in which it is being sung, then it does not matter how beautiful the melody is. The music is there to serve the words; the words do not serve the music. This is theology, not simply ‘taste”! The human person is first ‘logical’ or ‘rational’ being created in the image and likeness of God. The words of the hymn are the means by which we contemplate God, pray to God, and learn about God. The music is but a ‘skin’ if you will, surrounding the words of the hymn. Unfortunately, creating both the best translations of the hymns and the most effective melody for the hymn requires generations of effort.” (N. Apostola, A Guide to the Music of the Eastern Orthodox Church, p. XII)
Since the Orthodox Christian Faith transcends geographical and time, that same transcendence should be reflected in her music. Musical settings will differ in style from nation to nation and from one century to the next, but the words of the hymns will ever be the same, evidencing Jesus Christ Who “is thesame yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
The music heritage of the Orthodox Church is certainly drawn from the worship in the times of ancient patriarchs of the Old Testament and shaped by the great patriarchal sees of Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome as well as the Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Carpathian and Bulgarian traditions. The music of Church is sung variously by a lone chanter, a group of chanters, a choir, and the entirety of the worshipping congregation. The various cultural backgrounds of the Church shape our various parishes may “sound” musically.
St. John Orthodox Church is a nice blend of several “styles.” Sometimes you will hear a full choir. Other times there will be a chanter, or several. Byzantine, Greek, and various Slavic settings are used, reflecting the varied background of the members of the parish.
“It is important to note that the Church has always accepted certain cultural adaptations of its music in order to minister to the faithful, to further the spread of the Gospel and to continue to baptize the culture in which it finds itself, and in order to continue living in the renewal of the Holy Spirit in the Church.” (Rev. John Finley)
Come sing and pray with us!