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Sunday, June 05, 2011

What's a Musician To Do...in the orthodox Christian Church?

Early in my Journey to Orthodoxy I noticed that the word orthodox was used more often than the word Christian in referring to a baptized person in the Church. It is understandable that the term orthodox is needed today to distinguish between those in the original church, established by Christ, and those in the myriads of pseudo-christian groups claiming to be churches. In fact, the word orthodox, meaning "right teaching" or "right glory", was first used in the early centuries of the church to distinguish between those who adhered to the faith of our fathers and those who were given to heresies. "We are orthodox Christians," one might have said.

Though the word's usage started as an adjective, today it is erroneously used more often as a noun; the Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, the "Orthodox" church, and the like. The fact is, we are not Orthodox, we are orthodox. We are not part of the Orthodox Church, we are part of the orthodox Christian Church. It is easy to clear up the misunderstanding with non-orthodox people, but it seems a little harder to clear it up with the orthodox faithful. The word orthodox has become so synonymous with Christian, that some very important lines have become skewed. We are actually orthodox Christians not Orthodox Christians.

I often hear the phrase, "that's not orthodox", but rarely hear the phrase "that's not Christian." The phrase, "that's not orthodox", is often used in reference to doctrines, but I have discovered the phrase is more often used in reference to a cultural tradition or practice. This is where the Orthodox and the orthodox can get skewed. A case in point is the use of songs of praise with musical instruments. Are songs of praise and musical instruments un-orthodox? Are they un-Christian?

When musicians come into the orthodox Church, they learn very quickly that there is no room for their instrumental skills in the Temple worship. They also learn that their vocal skills even must be tweaked to sing and chant according to the byzantine or other liturgical traditions. The "o" and the "O" becomes skewed when musicians are told or made to feel that their instrumental or vocal talents are not orthodox. This is where one must be careful to respond, "Yes, but is it Christian"?

There is and should be a place for musicians in the orthodox Christian Church. It may not be orthodox in the Temple but it is Christian to use instruments, lyrics, melodious songs of praise and joy to worship and praise our God in other venues. Would it be un-orthodox to allow such expression of praise in the coffee hour or in another venue? No. Would it be un-Christian? Certainly not.

We often hear the phrase, "passionless worship", to be practiced within the Liturgy. There is great value in this and it is orthodox to refrain from human passions in that context. However, one must not skew the Christian faith to say, "that's not orthodox", to the orthodox Christian musician who would, with great passion, sing and play songs of praise to our God outside the context of the liturgy.

I encourage all of the orthodox Christian world to encourage the musicians amongst them to write, play, sing, and record songs of praise. Why? Because it is both orthodox and Christian to do so!
  1. Ephesians 5:19
    Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
  2. Colossians 3:16
    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
  1. Psalm 7:17
    I will praise the LORD according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high.
  2. Psalm 9:2
    I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.
  3. Psalm 9:11
    Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings.
  4. Psalm 13:6
    I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.
  5. Psalm 18:49
    Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.
  6. Psalm 21:13
    Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power.
  7. Psalm 27:6
    And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.
  8. Psalm 30:4
    Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.
  9. Psalm 30:12
    To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.
  10. Psalm 33:2
    Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.
  11. Psalm 33:3
    Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.