Oriental Orthodox liturgical dance

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about how old liturgical dance is. At that time, I had traced at least one strand of it to Spain in either the late 1400’s or early 1500’s.

But, since that post, one of the readers of this blog pointed out to me what I did not know. The Ethiopian Orthodox do have liturgical dance (some say para-liturgical dance) as part of their Liturgy. The video above gives one example of this dance. [See the correction in the replies to this post. The video pictures a para-liturgical dance of the Ethiopian Orthodox that takes place only on feast days and only outside the Liturgy.]

As best I can tell, the change from early period chanting to the use of drums and liturgical dance began with one of their saints, who lived in the 6th century, Saint Yared. Under Saint Yared, Ethiopian music (and dance) and the Zema, the chant tradition of Ethiopia. Saint Yared composed five volumes of chant. [Again, see the replies to this post were it states that only chant and drums are used during the Divine Liturgy.]

It is interesting to note that during the sixth century, Eastern Orthodox chant also entered a period of development that lasted until the 1200’s. In the fifth century, the kontakion, a long and elaborate metrical composition, shows up in Syria, and by the sixth century, Saint Romanos the Melodist composes multiple kontakia. Thus, in various part of the Mediterranean Orthodox world (whether Eastern or Oriental) the sixth century is a time of great compositional change.

By the second half of the seventh century, the kanon form is developed, think Saint Andrew of Crete. Saints John of Damascus and Cosmas of Jerusalem further develop the kanon form in the eighth century. This is where you get the nine odes that we regularly sing during Orthros and some other times. I could go on with further developments, but I will stop here.

To get back to my original thought, however, the sixth century was a time of great musical creativity when entirely new forms were added to the original monotonic repertoire. In at least one section of northern Africa, this also led to the incorporation of dance, and even drums, as part of the Divine Liturgy.

It is all too tempting to say that we can ignore the addition of drums and liturgical dance because it was by Oriental Orthodox. However, we may need to be cautious in saying that. We also were adding stuff that was not there before. And, if you look at my earlier post on the sixes of Spain and watch that video, you will see a certain dignity in their presentation that is also present in the video above.

So, be careful about how you speak of “inappropriate additions” to the Divine Liturgy. We have our additions as well. I still find it odd to have people arguing that the Slavs were wrong for shifting their tones to western four part harmony. First, that has been over for several hundred years. But, second, it is the pot calling the kettle black because the Byzantines sing kontakia, kanon, and modes that were not part of the Early Church period, but only came up during the Medieval period. Frankly, in America I would rather hear western harmonies than hearing chanting that is hard to learn to reproduce because the grace notes and chromatic scales used are foreign to our ears.

[Despite the corrections to this post, I still think my main point is made about being "careful about how you speak of 'inappropriate additions' to the Divine Liturgy." Chant among both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox entered a period of ferment and compositional creativity in the sixth century. In this sense, we need to be cautious about how we speak of the changelessness of Orthodoxy to not make it a changelessness that would render the compositional creativity of these centuries to be suspect.]

Sigh, moderates are hard to find

You may have read that Senator Ted Cruz was booed off the stage at the In Defense of Christians conference. What makes it really bad is that people from differing viewpoints were deliberately invited to that conference. What could have been a speech that would express one point of view for the sake of discussion, became a terribly embarrassing moment that was played up by the national media. Sadly, this forced the President of the conference to have to issue a full apology.

In Defense of Christians President Toufic Baaklini issued the following statement in response to a disruption at the Inaugural Summit Gala Dinner: “As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few problems.’  In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.

“Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles.  They were made no longer welcome.

“When we set out to form In Defense of Christians, many in the foreign policy and faith-based communities said such an effort was impossible.  That it would be too difficult to bring such a diverse group of Christian sects, religious and human rights organizations together to draw attention not only to the plight of the deteriorating situation facing our Christians brothers and sisters, but also to the plight of all people of faith, in the Middle East who are suffering.

The people who caused the problem were thrown out. Unfortunately, it was too late. An USA Senator was publicly embarrassed. I do not agree with many of Senator Ted Cruz’s political points. But, I also do not agree with disrespecting an USA Senator (or Representative, or the President, or a soldier, or even anyone). Worse, a good faith effort to try to find some linkages that just possibly might bring about a balanced united USA policy toward the Middle East may have been partially derailed.

Let me go farther. I think that Senator Cruz is wrong on some of the points he made. But, here was an opportunity to trigger discussion, to reach agreement, to perhaps take some wholesome steps toward an united strategy. And a few people who had no courtesy, no respect, no sense of what is appropriate decided that they had to protest in a conference designed to let various factions air their views. As Queen Victoria would have said, “We are not amused.”