Appalachian Orthodox Paschal Hymn

Father Justin Patterson of the OCA uploaded the video above to Facebook. It is the Paschal troparion sung to Appalachian harmonies, but conforming to tonal rules of the Slavic Orthodox. It was sung at a music workshop at the All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, meeting in Atlanta in July of 2015. He filmed it and is aware that I am using it on this post.

I listened to it. I fell in love with it. I played it over and over and over, delighting in the melody and harmonies. I had tears in my eyes a couple of times. And, I found myself wishing and wanting an entire Divine Liturgy setting to be written using this type of harmonic/liturgical structure. We speak about how the Orthodox celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the language of the people who have been evangelized. We do not as often speak about how the Divine Liturgy has melodic settings that, over the centuries, have adjusted themselves to the culture in which the Church has grown. One only has to listen to the difference between the Mount Lebanon choir singing the Divine Liturgy in Arabic, a Greek monastic choir on Mount Athos singing the Divine Liturgy in Greek, and a Russian Orthodox choir singing the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic to hear the differences. Throw in the Romanians, the Serbs, the Africans, etc., and anyone can hear that the tonal principles of Orthodox music have found creatively different expressions in different cultures over the centuries. In all cases, the Divine Liturgy is carried out in a respectful fashion, but the melodic and harmonic structure varies.

In the long run, I hope that an American tonal / melodic / harmonic structure develops that reflects something of our heritage as a nation and a culture. While I know that there are various melodic traditions that have entered what became the USA, I think that the Appalachian religious harmonies lend themselves quite well to adjusting themselves to the tonal traditions that we have received from the various jurisdictions. The video above shows what can happen when efforts are made to compose using that type of harmonic structure.

I should mention that this is not merely an attempt to be American, as though it is not quite as good to be Arab, Greek, Slavic, etc. Rather, many cultural studies have shown that people in a culture respond best, and understand best, music that is written in their heart melodies and harmonies, that is in melodies and harmonies that reflect the music that they learned as children. When we compose musical settings of the Divine Liturgy that both respect and honor what we have received, yet express it in melodies and harmonies with which we grew up, we contextualize the Church in the same way that we do when we adjust the language of the Divine Liturgy to the language that is spoken by the people of a particular country. When the music we hear matches our heart music, it is easier to hear and understand the words that are being chanted.

Well, enough philosophizing. Enjoy the troparion above, and join me in prayer that a full setting may yet be published to the honor of God and the spiritual profit of the Church.

Yes, there are Eastern Orthodox fundamentalists

Fundamentalism, Orthodoxy, Charismatic groups are not the same! ? Is it wrong to hold on to one’s own beliefs? – fundament...

There is an argument among some Orthodox as to whether it is appropriate to speak of there being fundamentalist Orthodox. I would argue that there are. From a lecture by The Rev. Joshua Raja John (UK Anglican), I abstracted the slide above. It has a good set of statements that are well worth noting and can be applied to the Orthodox. He makes the following three important points (read the slide for his wording).

1. It is not wrong to hold on to the fundamentals of our faith. The wrongness comes in if our holding on to our beliefs leads us to, “seeing the other as evil and thus trying to eliminate the other…” There is absolutely nothing wrong with believing that other faiths are wrong. Notice that the key phrase is in seeing the other as evil. When we see the other as evil, we will inevitably less and less consider them as people that we want to evangelize into a solid faith in Christ and membership in the Church. There is absolutely nothing wrong with considering that other people have committed evil acts. Frankly, I am a sinner, which means that by definition I most certainly have committed evil acts during my life, and have had to repent of them.

But, fundamentalists go farther than that in attributing evil, not simply to actions, but to the people involved themselves. Additionally, many fundamentalists can also make the mistake of thinking that because there is some evil in a group that no Orthodox could possibly be a true Orthodox and be a part of that group. Recently, one of the priests attending the OCA national convention was detailed by His Eminence to escort the Archbishop of one of the breakaway Anglican groups, who was visiting. He wrote on his blog about what a wonderful experience that was. Promptly a person I would classify as a fundamentalist made several statements:

“Ecumenism is heresy. We only call them Christian out of charity.” There were replies to him. The rest of his replies have now been removed by the priest, but the person went on to bluntly ask people whether they agreed with ecumenism, to disparage the efforts of the Patriarch of Constantinople, to claim that the escort was wasted because the Archbishop would never become Orthodox (as though that is the only reason to meet with someone), etc. You can see that he was attributing evil to the simple act of hospitality, and—in a sense—evil to the Archbishop, since he would never change and turn toward the Church. From that stance, he had gone on to criticize the fact that the priest had a wonderful experience escorting the guest! Can you see the turn from upholding the faith to attributing evil motives to others?

I have frankly seen the same in the field of politics. I know that among both Antiochians and Greeks, many of the ethnic priests regularly vote Democrat. I have both seen and heard convert priests horrified at that reality, and attributing all kinds of non-Christian reasons for why they voted Democratic. They know that they cannot truly call their fellow priest evil, particularly since the converts were trained by the very priests whose vote they now despise. So, they tie their tongue in great linguistic knots to assure people that they are only calling the priests and bishops mistaken, but not evil. It is common among the convert priests to criticize the Patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople, as though they have been “influenced negatively” by their Syrian and Turkish upbringing and cannot seem to overcome that. There again, one sees the clear mark of a fundamentalism that sets itself up as judge and jury against the very fathers and hierarchs who have given them life in the Church. Instead of being humble, they set themselves up as ready to be the judges of all Orthodox.

2. Every religion has marks of fundamentalism upon it. If you think about it, this makes sense. Every time you enforce the rules of your faith, you inevitably are being a bit fundamentalist in the best sense of the word. You are enforcing the fundamentals of the faith. Any religion that does not enforce its fundamentals, inevitably loses all definition and ceases to exist as a definable entity. Many decades ago, a Protestant theologian commented that the Church always struggles between being closed and open. There is some truth to that. There are times when Orthodoxy must be closed. The Body and Blood is not to be shared outside the Church. The sacraments are for the faithful. But, there are also times when we need to reach out to others in God’s love and our love. The Desert Fathers teach us much about loving others.

3. Catch the third point he makes. There is nothing wrong with a reform movement, with a revival group within the Church, with some provisos of course. Nevertheless, wanting to reform the Church, in and of itself, is not a mark of fundamentalism. Rather, as with the first point, a reformist group crosses the line when they see as outside the Church those who do not agree with them. Worse is when they will acknowledge that those who disagree with them may be in the Church, but they are simply ignorant, or not truly spiritual, etc. I have seen that argument made by convert priests against ethnic priests, as though the ethnic priests have simply inherited some sort of pallid, nominal, version of the faith which the converts are bringing back to its full flower. It is when those priests and lay people feel fully capable of judging those who have inherited the faith and passed it on to them that they most show their fundamentalism, and their sin.

So, yes, I know that there are Orthodox fundamentalists. But, it is not because they believe the fundamentals of the faith but because they desperately need an attitude adjustment.