Father Orthoduck is happy to present a well-considered answer from another Orthodox reader, Mr. Nathan Speir. He is a chanter at my Orthodox parish, has a Bachelor of Music degree, and is also an instrumental composer. So, he is not against musical instruments, per se, but does consider that instruments do not belong in worship. Below is his considered reply.
I just caught this writing of yours this morning. I have a few cents to add. I believe the abstinence of instruments is actually very theological.
1) The voice is the only appropriate instrument for Church music because it is more than just and instrument. Albeit music is nothing more than movement, rhythm, and silence or stillness. Contribution of instruments to music dates to very ancient times. The analyses of instruments in Jewish worship does have some relevance to Church music today, but the qualities of instruments used has more relevance than their history. Before we look further into this lets briefly examine how a voice serves as an instrument in music.
The three aspects of music mentioned above can be incorporated into any facet of life; furthermore, the voice alone fulfills these aspects in Church music. The voice and the lack thereof fulfills movement, silence, and rhythm. The voice and the lack thereof fulfills the the cycle, or rhythm, that man approaches God in action, or movement, then in prayer, or stillness.
With this analogy in mind, the importance of action and prayer comes into play. A man made instrument is simply incapable of helping man to continuously synergize action and prayer because a man made instrument is not wholly integrated with the heart in the way that the human voice is. The voice was made by God, and it is a part of man.
Argumentatively, people claim to have very spiritual bands with their man made instruments, but I believe this to be very artificial compared to the natural bond the human voice has (as an instrument) to the rest of man’s carnal and spiritual anatomy. This leads to the second point concerning the voice as the only appropriate instrument for Church worship.
2) Keeping in mind that the Church is a hospital in which all people may receive a cure for their spiritual illness, the reason for no instruments in Church worship becomes more apparent in the writings of the Holy Fathers, the Ecumenical decisions of the Holy Fathers, and in Scripture itself. The music of the Church is supposed to be a contribution to man’s cure, and his deification. Really, all aspects of the Church are universal, especially in its method of cure for the soul. Music offers many things for the soul and body, but music of the Church always implements the characteristics of prayer, fasting, vigilance, thanksgiving, praise, repentance, and love. Prayer, especially, is a key to understanding the writings of the Holy Fathers and their Ecumenical decisions. St Gregory Palamas is one of the greatest contributors the Church has in understanding the relevance of prayer to our salvation; more importantly, the Saint has fought for and won the Church’s understanding of the proper method of prayer that all people in the Church should have, if they abide in the Orthodox Church.
3) The voice is a Catholic instrument. Their is no other man-made instrument that maintains a historical or cultural universality as the voice. Really, the creation of other man made instruments has many diverse mythologies, histories, and applications. Choosing additional instruments for the Church simply interrupts the Catholicity of the Church.
4) The view of man’s relationship with God changes when additional musical instruments are used in Church music. Concerning the ideology of man made instruments, there are several implications here concerning technology, western theology, and instant gratification. Without further explanation on these previous points, there is a universal instrument, the voice, by which the Church maintains its Catholicity. In short, man made musical instruments divert to a more impersonal Worship, to less focus on God in worship, to further focus on human reason and instant gratification. This kind of music with additional instruments in Church music opens the door to a more humanistic and existential ideology.
5) Additional instrument have never been added to music in God’s temple because the Holy Spirit has never led the Church to do so. The Saints are the pillars and victors of our Church. None of the Holy hymnographers of the Church have ever been led to write music for any other instrument than the human voice. This is a very obvious but important point to consider in any period of the Church’s history. Passages in Scripture concerning the shofar, or the harp have been used to argue that saints have indeed been inspired to use instruments for Church worship. However, such conclusions can only be arrived at when the Scriptures are taken out of context of the Church.
A summary of the five points listed above looks at the theological reasons for the Church’s exclusive use of the human voice for music. The voice is an intimate part of man created by God, and there is no other comparable instrument. The human voice is the only musical instrument that can be incorporated with the Church’s Tradition for man’s cure. The human voice is the most Catholic instrument of all instruments. The use of man made instruments in Church also lends to a very un-Orthodox ideology concerning man’s relationship with God. Finally, none of the Saints of the Church have been inspired by God to write for any other instrument than the human voice.