Glory to God for All Things

Why Does God Sing?

167502985_1130add41dWhy would God sing? The question may sound strange and yet it is said in Zephaniah (3:17), “He will rejoice over thee with singing.” I first noticed this verse when I was a very young Christian and have puzzled about it for nearly forty years. Equally puzzling to our modern way of thought is the question, “Why does anybody sing?” I have been to plenty of operas and have to admit that even the ones in English need subtitles – singing does not necessarily make something more easily understood. And yet we sing.

God sings. Angels sing. Man sings.

Other than some adaptations that have been made in a few places in the modern period, any Orthodox service of worship is sung (or chanted) from beginning to end (with the exception of the sermon). Like opera, this musical approach to the liturgy does not mean that it will be better understood. And yet, the Christian Tradition, until the Reformation, was largely universal in its use of singing as the mode of worship. In the Western Church there was a development of the “Low Mass” in which little chanting was used – though this never found a place in the East.

This is not solely a Christian phenomenon. As a teenager I had a close friend who was Jewish. As a young teenager he began training to become a Cantor (the main singer in a congregation – second only in importance to the Rabbi himself). I was curious about Hebrew so he began to instruct me privately. Hebrew is a great language – particularly as published in Hebrew Scriptures. 

I mastered the alphabet and began to understand that most vowels were not letters at all, just dots and lines, strategically placed to indicate their sound. I felt somewhat proud the first time I read a line aloud without prompting. I recall that when I finished I pointed at yet another set of markings that my friend had yet to mention. 

“What are these?” I asked.

“They’re for the Cantor,” he explained. He also had to explain what a Cantor was and, fortunately, was able to demonstrate when I asked him how the musical markings worked. The sound would have compared easily to Byzantine chant – perhaps with lines of kinship. This past autumn I became acutely aware of another singing religion: Islam. My wife and I made pilgrimage to the Holy Land in September. The first morning (it was the Islamic holy month of Ramadan) a canon went off at sunrise (that will wake you up in Jerusalem!) and suddenly a plaintive chant blared across the city as the Muezzin chanted the morning call to prayer.

Indeed, if you made a study of world religions, you’d be hard pressed to find any people who prayed or worshipped without singing (almost exclusively) other than forms of Christianity that have been influenced by the Protestant Reformation. In light of that fact it might be more appropriate to ask, “If God sings, and the angels sing, the Jews sing, the Muslims sing: why don’t Protestants chant their services?” What is it about modern man that changed his religious tune?

I’ll come back to that question in just a few moments. However, I would first like to take a tour through some experiences I’ve had with music and pastoral care. Wherever in our brain that the ability to sing and understand music resides – it is not the same place as pure speech. I have been making pastoral visits with patients for nearly thirty years. During that time I have frequently noticed stroke patients, who had lost one particular brain function (governed by the area effected by the stroke) be perfectly normal in another area not affected by the stroke. It’s as simple as being paralyzed on one side of your body but not on the other (a common result of strokes).

In the same way, I have seen any number of patients who could not speak or respond to speech, who, nevertheless, could sing and respond to music. The most extreme case I ever saw was in a patient suffering from multiple infarct dementia (thousands of tiny strokes). He was a paraplegic and virtually unresponsive. However, his devout Christian wife had discovered that he responded to both music and to prayer. He would say, “Amen,” at the end of a prayer and tried to join in when you sang a familiar hymn.

God sings. The angels sing. Jews sing. Muslims sing. George, with multiple infarct dementia sings. And so the mystery grows.

A surprising musical experience for me came in visiting St. Thekla’s Summer Camp (in South Carolina). We have youth in our Church, including some who attend the summer camp. However, my experience in Church, is that, like most teens surrounded by adults, they remain quiet. However at the summer camp, surrounded by their peers, they sang with all the gusto of their youth. It was completely natural. Kids sing.

So what happened in the Protestant West that made them change their tune? To their credit they did not completely stop singing. Some of the finest hymns in Christian history were written during the Reformation. Hymns that sang doctrine and offered praise to God – all these were part of the hymnody of Protestant worship. And yet something different did take place. What was different was a shift in understanding how or if we know God and the place that worship plays in all that.

For many in the Reformation God could be known only as He made Himself known in Scripture. Knowing God as He had made Himself known in Christ was a description of knowing what Christ said and did in the New Testament. God was distanced from the sacraments in most cases. He was distanced from worship. We could offer worship to God in our assemblies, but not necessarily because He was present. 

The distance that arose between man and God at the time of the Reformation had many causes. Among the most important were the politics of severing God, the individual and the Church (particularly the Roman Catholic Church). Such a severing created the secular sphere as we know it today and at last established the state as superior to the Church with, for the most part, the happy cooperation of the newly minted Churches. For most centuries the Reformation has been studied on the basis of its religious issues – indeed “religion” has unfairly borne the blame for years of hatred and wars. The role of politics has  been downplayed – indeed even seen as the force which intervened and spared Europe from further religious madness. The state, as secular state, was seen as the hero of the Reformation. However it is quite possible to understand the history of that period as the history of the rise of the secular state and the state’s manipulation of religion for the interests of the state (Eamon Duffy’s work on this topic is quite revealing).

The Reformation itself brought something of an ideological revolution, a redefinition of man as a religious being. The new thought saw man as an understanding, rational, choosing individual. Thus religious services began to have a growing center of the spoken word. God was reasoning with man through the medium of the spoken word. In most places of the new reforms, efforts were made to establish a radical break with the sacramental past. However God might be present with His people – it was not to be in the drama of the Liturgy. Vestments were exchanged for academic gowns, or no vestment at all. The minister was an expounder of the word, not a priest. The altar that had once clearly been an altar, a place where the bloodless sacrifice took place – a holy place where Christ Body and Blood were present – became a simple table – usually with the minister standing in a position that was meant to indicate that he was performing no priestly action. 

The words surrounding the Liturgy were spoken and not sung. Singing at such moments were associated with acts of magic. Thus the “hoc est enim corpus meum” of the Roman Rite, was ridiculed as “hocus pocus,” ever to be associated with magic. Chanting was for witches, not for Christians.

Music did not disappear at the Reformation. As noted earlier, many great hymns were written as part of that movement – and have marked every major “revival” within Protestantism. People sing. But what do people sing?

There is no doubt that vast changes in much of Protestant Church music have taken place in the latter half of the 20th century. The same was true in parts of the 19th century. In efforts to remain “contemporary” much music has taken contemporary form. The influence of Pentecostal worship forms have also shaped contemporary “praise” music.

In many ways a revolution as profound as the Reformation itself has taken place within Protestant Christianity. Whereas the founders of the Reformation saw reason as the primary mode of communicating the gospel – contemporary Protestantism has become far more comfortable with emotion. An interesting player in this modern revolution has been the “science” of marketing which has made careful study of how it is that people actually make decisions and on what basis do they “choose” as consumers. From an Orthodox perspective, it is the science of the passions

In this light it is important to say that people sing for many different reasons and that not all music in worship is the same. Orthodoxy has long held the maxim that music should be “neptic,” that is, should be guided by sobriety and not by the passions. Thus, there have been criticisms from time to time within the Russian Church that the great works of some modern Church composers are too “operatic” or too emotional. That conversation continues.

But why do we sing?

Here we finally come to the question that has no easy answer – just a suggestion based on human experience. We sing because God sings. We sing because the angels sing. We sing because all of creation sings. We are not always able to hear the song – usually because we do not sing enough. I will put forward that singing is the natural mode of worship (particularly if we follow the model of the angels) and that there is much that can enter the heart as we sing that is stopped dead in its tracks by the spoken word.

It is not for nothing that the one book of Old Testament Scripture that finds more usage in the Church (at least among the Orthodox) than the New Testament, is the book of Psalms, all of which are meant to be sung (and are sung within Orthodox worship). Years ago when I was a young Anglican priest – I introduced the sung mass at a mission Church where I was assigned. A teenager confided to me after the service that the chanting had made her feel “spooky.” She was clearly stuck in a Reformation “only witches chant” mode. She also had not learned to worship. In time, it grew on her and she grew with it.

The heart of worship is an exchange. It is an exchange where we offer to God all we are and all we have and receive in return Who He is and what He has. The exchange takes place as we sing to Him and He sings to us. 

I have heard the singing of angels. I am not certain that I have heard God singing – though it is something of an open question to me. But without fail, I hear His voice singing in the person of the priest: “Take, eat. This is my Body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins.” And I have heard the choir sing, in the voice of the people: “I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.”

God sings and so should everything else. 

41 Responses to “Why Does God Sing?”

Author comments have a tan color background for you to easily identify the posts author in the comments

  1. ochlophobist says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I just read last night this passage from Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, which is the best work on Lewis ever written, hands down:

    “…Mars and all the other planets are also silent, as far as the inhabitants of Earth are concerned [in Out of the Silent Planet, following medieval cosmology], but for a different reason. It is not because these other planets are sullenly mute that they have not heard. On the contrary, they are not heard because their singing is perpetual. As Lewis explained in an address entitled ‘Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages’:

    ‘[The Music of the spheres] is the only sound which has never for one split second ceased in any part of the universe; with this positive we have no negative to contrast. Presumably if (per impossibile) it ever did stop, then with terror and dismay, with a dislocation of our whole auditory life, we should feel that the bottom had dropped out of our lives. But it never does. The music which is too familiar to be heard enfolds us day and night and in all ages.’

    In the pre-Copernican model of the cosmos the planets were silent and sounding at the same time: their music was not heard on earth because it was always heard. And it is this sort of silence, a pregnant silence…”

    In reading this passage and then this morning reading your post, it strikes me that modern religious ideology in the West acts as the arm that brings nihilism to the auditory life. Prior to modernity, if I might be forgiven a broad stroke, even our experience of silence is pregnant with God’s singing – and we only experience it as silence because we have never for one moment existed outside of the hearing of God’s song, and thus there is no contrast to make known that Nothing that would be (per impossibile, as Lewis says) outside of the singing of God and His angels. Modern Western religious and secular forms seek a cosmological abortion. A universe without song, only calculation. Heavens no.

    An exquisite post. Thank you.

  2. Joseph Hromy says:

    Yes Father I have noticed when not in the mood to pray I put on my Iphone with different chants Byzantine,Valaam,Znamenny and gregorian and this gets me in the mood to pray more often.

  3. katia says:

    In my country we ve got a proverb that says”

    “Whoever is singing does not think anything bad” – Koito pee zlo ne misli

  4. sarahbereza says:

    this is so interesting! Even with all the music classes I’ve taken (I was a music major in college), I’ve never really given much thought to the “why” behind singing. Your post has given me a lot to think about.

    I know “singing does not necessarily make something more easily understood” as you put it, but singing does help sound project more easily in a room. For what it’s worth, I remember reading in a textbook about the development of chant and how it could be attributed to the fact that sung words are better heard/understood in a large room (as in a church) than spoken ones.

  5. elizabeth says:

    A couple of trivia items for you:

    The homilies of St. Ephrem and St. Isaac were, in fact, also sung (or chanted), and the tunes are preserved in the Syriac-speaking churches.

    This book:
    Orthodox and Wesleyan spirituality By S. T. Kimbrough, ed.
    examines (among other things) the relationship between the texts of the Syriac fathers and the hymns of the Methodist church.
    ( http://books.google.com/books?id=XsNROUXgrLMC )

  6. Stephen W says:

    Could it also be that words are more easily memorized in a song? I know that this is the case with children.

  7. PastorS says:

    Interesting post. I’m know you’re aware that in speaking of ‘protestants’ you’re covering quite a range of thought and practice. I don’t think, for example, that Luther can be said to have regarded reason as the primary mode of communicating the gospel! He talked about the Word, but the word is both spoken and visible (in the sacraments, for example). Are you describing calvinists? I have always found their services tedious, though I never tell them that. There’s far too much talking!

  8. Katrina says:

    Wonderful post Fr. Stephen.

    Truly, Glory to God for all things!

  9. Dave says:

    At the Church I’m a member of, we’re very fortunate to have Father Seraphim Dedes, his chanting can be purchased here: http://lent.goarch.org/holy_thursday/listen/
    He is a monk who is also ordained as a priest.
    Outside of our Church we have speakers on the Church grounds and as you are walking towards it you can hear him and the choir chanting the Orthos. Even as you approach the Church you are already filled with reverence and thinking about worship.
    The chanting opens up heaven for me and as I listen carefully, I am hearing the teachings of Scriptures and the Orthodox faith and it lifts my mind up towards heaven.
    But what I have found to be even a greater benefit is that my children learn of God and the Theotokos through the chanting of the liturgy. The more they hear it chanted the more they remember it and our liturgy is the Apostolic doctrine.
    Father, you’re final statement that we sing because God sings is our doctrine of Theosis. We are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect. We are to be like him, if we are his children.

  10. -C says:

    What a wonderful post!
    This musician thanks you.

  11. Meskerem says:

    Thank you Father, for your post.

    When you mentioned your experience in the Holy Land and suddenly hearing the Islamic chant blaring the Morning prayer: I remembered my own on my trip back home last Spring to Ethiopia.

    Early in the morning at 4:00 am I used to wake up with the Priests chanting doing the Matin Service, this was right after Pascha and they were doing it every day. It is so peaceful hearing it while in bed. Church Service normally starts at 6:00 am during non- fasting periods.
    The Ethiopian music notes were written by St. Yared in 600AD. His collection of hymns, Mazgaba Degwa (“Treasury of Hymns”) is the oldest literary work written in Ge’ez (the language where the services and liturgy is written). Before St. Yared, the liturgy and chants were being murmured in a low voice; he is therefore believed to be the first Ethiopian composer. He was inspired by GOD and when you see his icon, he is shown with the birds alongside with him and a prayer stick which you see mostly Bishops holding it here in the US.

  12. D Burns says:

    Talk about timely, just last week I was asking my priest why we chanted the New Testament and not the Old. His answer was one of practicality… it takes longer to chant, and the OT readings were usally longer.

    Chanting the service has definalty grown on me. When we first vistited an Orthodox church I was somewhat put off by all the chanting (Byzentine) as it sounded too middle eastern to my western ears. I also missed some of the familure hymns. But I have grown to love listening (and singing in the choir) the simple chant of the church. Somehow, church doesn’t seam like church anymore if I can’t hear the service sung.

    btw.. I still sing some of the old hymns, but at a monthly bluegrass jam instead of in church. They seam more appropiate there now.

  13. Ochlophobist,

    Lewis, though he hated organ music, had a deep appreciation of music itself and its place within the Christian life. Interesting the word for obedience in both Latin and Greek are rooted in the word to hear – Ob audiens in Latin and Hypakouein in Greek. The opposite of Ob audiens is Absurdus, which fits your point perfectly. May the music never cease.

  14. coffeezombie says:

    It seems that, perhaps, parishes use spoken prayers when they want to emphasize that everyone should be praying that prayer together (out loud). At my parish, we usually speak the prayer before Communion (“I believe, O Lord, and I confess…”). I think this may be done because it can be difficult for the congregation to sing along with the choir.

    Anyway, I certainly prefer the sung service, but do you have any thoughts on whether to speak/sing prayers at home? It seems like trying to chant prayers by yourself (or with your family) can be distracting if you’re not a trained cantor. At the same time, there does seem to be something to singing.

  15. John M. says:

    A facinating book on the neurology of music is Oliver Sack’s “Musicophilia”.

  16. Karen says:

    Dear Father, bless! Fascinating post! One of my favorite classes in college was Sense and Perception (I was a Psych. major) where we studied the physiology of the brain and sensory organs, how we perceive, and how the brain functions in relation to the rest of the body. Having always loved to sing and singing in the choir (and congregation) at church, I do think there is really a clue to singing’s spiritual significance in that singing is a whole brain activity (not half as is most spoken language). It is our whole being that must be brought to God in worship as you say, if we are to experience the exchange God intends for our salvation. Also, to sing well involves much more than an act of our will or choice–it requires the ability to hear and distinguish tones (the capacity for that is largely a gift that not all have in equal measure), lung capacity, diaphragm control (even control of one’s emotions) . . .

    I find singing prayers and worship to be much more satisfying than merely speaking because of the intrinsic beauty of melody and song (although anything, whether word or action, if it is done in love, is beautiful!). I find singing things also automatically lends them much more naturally for mindfulness and contemplation. I believe singing (or at least music) has actually been shown to facilitate healing physically, and we know it is healing emotionally and spiritually from the stories of King Saul and David with his harp. Chanting Psalms and prayers at home is only beginning to emerge for me. Mostly I speak them. I’m more inclined to chant in my own private worship if it is immediately following the Liturgy or a prayer service of the Church, since in both heart and voice I’m already all warmed up. :-)

  17. A beautiful post, Father. An inspiration to chanters and choirsters alike.

    I did a quick summary page on my site about Byzantine chant and its distinctions with Western staff notation – and interesting part of it is the possession of a backing note in addition to the melody, intended to symbolise worship without words…

  18. Josh says:

    Thank you for this really beautiful reflection Father. When you said ‘God sings’ – it made me think of Aslan singing the world into creation in Lewis’ book The Magician’s Nephew.

  19. elizabeth says:

    Thanks for such an encouraging post – nice to have this during Lent – I love singing too! As a child, as my Mother will attest, I sang all the time, except she called it chanting as I sang the same things over and over and… :)

    I currently go to a smallish Carpatho-Russian church and really appreciate that they love to sing! Did you know that there is a hymn book (my priest just told me about it) that they have full of lovely simple hymns? There are a few in my C-R prayer book that I love, though the music was not included… there is a really nice one to the Virgin Mary, and others…

    God gave us a great gift in song…

    Thanks again for this!

  20. Mary says:

    Josh,

    and it made me think of the Music of the Ainur (the singing into being of creation) from Tolkien’s Silmarillion.

  21. Cheryl says:

    Father,

    Is there a place though for emotions in worship through song? Is there any good or truth in modern Protestant worship–the songs that contain some semblance of good lyrics, I think of “In Christ Alone” or the many songs that seem to come from the Psalms?

    I honestly still struggle with this. Liturgy is beautiful to me, and no longer “foreign” One of the things I like about it is that it is timeless and not just a modern mode. I know I’m participating in a liturgy that was practiced by Christians before me, and I’m reminded that I’m worshipping WITH them. In fact, I far PREFER Liturgy, as modern worship to me just seems like a lot of noise, and seems like more of a distraction and a performance.

    But I’m still too familiar with the Protestant mindset of being “relevant” and “speaking the language of the people.” I think more, even if you take away being relevant for relevant’s sake, I wonder if it’s OK, if it’s good to praise God with the music of our time period too. Though maybe that’s not appropriate in a church setting? I have a good friend who has written some beautiful songs, prayers to God from deep places in her heart. I feel like I would somehow have to condemn that as wrong because it’s modern and has too much emotion, but maybe I’m misunderstanding something.

    Forgive my question, it’s just one of the things I’m still struggling through as I explore Orthodoxy.

    Thank you for the post. Any comments you can have to help my understanding are, as always, appreciated.

    Blessings,
    Cheryl

  22. Cheryl,
    I think emotions certainly enter in. Though we have to remember that our emotions are frequently disordered so that we probably should take a certain care about them. The relevancy road is a road to ruin. God is always relevant and the truth is always relevant. If the disorder in contemporary worship obscures God – as it frequently does rather than revealing Him, then it’s not very relevant. The question for us should be “relevant to what?” I would answer something like, “To the deepest hunger of man.” That someone might see or hear that answer and not like it doesn’t mean it’s not the answer. It may simply mean that they are in a culture that doesn’t like God.

  23. Katia says:

    “… Have you ever chanced to read the life of the Athonite monk St. John Kukuzelis? There are mentioned the following two events from the life of this great singer. Once he was pasturing the monasterys herds of sheep and goats. (Having entered one of the Athonite desert monasteries, John hid his position in the imperial court, calling himself a simple shepherd, and thus was sent to pasture the monasterys herds in the desert.) While sitting near his flocks at pasture, John began to sing the divine songs he had formerly sung in the imperial choir. His melodious voice flowed in the open desert, and John surrendered his whole soul to the singing, resting in the thought that he was alone in the desert and no one was hearing him. Meanwhile, his sheep and goats left off grazing and surrounded their singing shepherd: as if holding their breath, they stood motionless before him, directing their eyes to him as though fascinated by his angelic singing [1]. Behold deeply spiritual singing, coming forth from the depths of the soul and conscious mind! It is able not only to inspire the rational soul and lift it towards its Creator, but to touch even speechless and irrational animals.

    Once, according to custom, John sang the Akathist to the Mother of God together with other singers on the right cliros. After the vigil he sat down in a stall (a monks seat) in front of the icon before which they sang the Akathist, and being weary he slumbered lightly. Suddenly a gentle, sweet voice woke him with the words: Rejoice, O John! John jumped up; before him stood the Mother of God in the radiance of heavenly light. Sing and do not cease singing, she continued, and for this I will not forsake you! At these words the Mother of God placed in Johns hand a gold coin and became invisible. Do you see of what great honors those zealous singers are thought worthy while still here on earth, who not only with their lips, but also with heart and mind sing of the Lord and His Most Pure Mother!…”

    Orthodox Christian Information Center – Duties of a choir singer

  24. Vasiliki Didaskalou says:

    What is interesting about your post is that this is not the first time someone has identified the importance of the style of music the church adopts for its liturgical worship. However, that is not what I wanted to post about.

    Scientificaly, there are neural pathways that enable a connection between what they know to be the back of our brains and the ability to express and process information that is in the front of our brains. The front portion of the brain (especially the frontal lobe) is involved in comprehension, motor control and rational behaviours necessary for participation in social situations. Chanting/singing (using your vocals) involves a “brainstem reflex” relaxation of the muscles and tendons that tighten and shorten this connection when we are in unfamiliar learning situations.

    That science in itself is major if you think about the phsychology of what is going on during a liturgical service. The entire point of liturgical service is that it is a “mystery” – we are engaged in an unfamiliar (to human reasoning) situation that requires “learning/experiencing” the divine … the Church in its wisdom promotes chanting so while we are in this unfamiliar divine world … our body is relaxing by the music and stimulating the right neurological activity to connect all parts of the brain to work together.

    The singing has physical benefits such as improved posture and respiratory strength, increased energy levels and stimulation to the mind … the social and personal benefits of working with the voice include boosted confidence and improved communications and listening skills. raised self-awareness and awareness of others and improves the team working skills – ALL are necessary criteria for optimum worship criteria!

    How can this science not prove that singing transforms our body to worship and praise God in a more perfect way than what we would be … if we were not singing!

    We are at our physical optimal best!

  25. Katia says:

    “…The function of the Psalms in the Orthodox Christian spiritual life has been well set forth by St. Basil the Great: “When the Holy Spirit saw that the human race was guided only with difficulty toward virtue, and that, because of our inclination toward pleasure, we were neglectful of an upright life, what did He do? The delight of melody He mingled with the doctrines so that by the pleasantness and softness of the sound heard we might receive without perceiving it the benefit of the words, just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey. Therefore, He devised for us these harmonious melodies of the Psalms, that they who are children in age, or even those who are youthful in disposition, might to all appearances chant but, in reality, become trained in soul. For never has any one of the many indifferent persons gone away easily holding in mind either an apostolic or prophetic message but they do chant the words of the Psalms, even in the home, and they spread them about in the market place, and if, perchance, someone becomes exceedingly wrathful, when he begins to be soothed by a Psalm, he departs with the wrath of his soul immediately lulled to sleep by means of the melody.” (Homily X, 1; On Psalm I.)…”

    The psalms of David- Orthodox Christian Information Center

  26. Cheryl says:

    Thank you, Father,

    Point well taken about relevancy. I find myself more and more of that mind, though it’s hard to be immersed in a culture that defines most things by the swaying of the moment. I’m still trying to root out my false preconceptions. :)

  27. Nathan says:

    I have heard it said, though I have never counted myself, that the command to sing is the most oft given command in the Bible. Thank you Father for this post. I was a music education major in college and also was a worship leader at a Vineyard church for many years before I was welcomed into the Orthodox church. Though I enjoy and appreciate the worshipful music of many traditions, I have found in the Church, a true worship like I had never known before.

  28. Vasiliki Didaskalou says:

    Katia … I have to admit of all the posts I really wanted to extend a big thank you for that excerpt from Homily X on Psalm I ..

  29. JD says:

    We have eyes to perceive one kind of beauty – the kind that our eyes were designed to perceive when light hits an object, then our eyes. One day we may see heavenly sights. We have skin to perceive things we can touch. One day we may touch our Lord.

    Singing is different. It is not passive, as seeing is. Maybe we sing now to reach to touch a certain kind of beauty that we will only know in heaven. Maybe this is why the old spiritual says, “Over my head, I hear music in the air,” and when you sing, you can sometimes feel that you are joining your voice with that river of music, for a time. Maybe when we sing it pleases God to draw near and listen, and the enchantment and delight that shimmer in the air for a few moments after a great performance of great music come from His rejoicing, or maybe just from the collected astonishment of whatever innocent parts are left in the souls of the listeners as they encounter beauty. Who knows.

    We can’t know what music actually is, but it must be an echo of something dreadfully beautiful that one day, please God, we will know. Maybe this why music can utterly shatter us in a way that nothing else can…

  30. Christine says:

    “I will SING of the mercies of the Lord forever. With my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations.”

  31. JD,

    I suspect that the mystery of music extends to our other senses as well. There are many miracles that indicate that we sometimes can see what we normally do not for instance.

    And of course, the Great Miracle, I hold in my hands the Body of Christ, touching what cannot be touched, eating what can never be consumed.

  32. Lord Peter says:

    We know from Isaiah, Revelations, and other portions of Scripture that the worship of heaven is sung. So, for Christians that take the dominical prayer seriously — “. . . thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. . . ” — sung services should be the norm.

  33. Katia says:

    “On the other hand, St Augustine says that “To sing once is to pray twice” (Qui cantat, bis orat) literally “he who sings, prays twice”[3], suggesting there can be thoughts expressed by the music in which a prayer is offered, separate from those expressed by the words of the prayer itself.
    Music, unlike art or architecture, does not represent physical objects, and unlike poetry is independent of propositional thought. Hence it can take human emotions into areas that other artistic works cannot, and offer the prospect of an escape from worldly existence[4]. Music is also appropriate to the sacrificial character of worship, particularly in the Christian tradition, being an offering to God. Music is a way of allowing a large number of worshippers to form an effective communion, by expressing their faith and their offering in public, together. Finally, music has the evangelical purpose of attracting those whose enthusiasm for religious matters is not sufficient on its own[5].”

    Church music – Wikipedia

    I try to find an explanation as beautiful as is written in a book i ve got, about singing, i dare not translate it, so as close as i can get is this. Making the search i found out how damaging the music can be also (rock music or heavy metal is so scary)

  34. Mary says:

    I visit often at an Orthodox senior home. Many of the residents are in varying stages of dementia. During services there we sing. Everyone knows the hymns even if they have forgotten many mundane things like what year it is, or how to button up a sweater. I have not heard with my ears the singing of angels, but am quite certain the angels sing with us and cover our mistakes.

  35. Joseph Schmitt says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    One thing I have come to experience in liturgy is that, with the “enlargement of the heart” comes also the loosening of the tongue. Given my background in 2 Restoration Movement churches, one with stuffy, vacuous hymns, and the other which had all but sold it’s birthright to the free-for-all church-growth leviathan, I had pretty much consigned myself to standing around with my hands in my pocket, silently praying for the Lord to come quickly. Even my first exposure to liturgy in my time in the Roman Catholic Church, which was a wholly positive experience in every way, still left me saying “If I’m going to just stand here, at least it’s a good thing that something intelligent is going on around me.”

    Now, after having put countless hours in at the chanter’s stand over the last few years, I truly understand the spirit of this poignant post of yours. My tongue has been set free from the darkness of my own heart.

    In related news, for all you out there who still love rock-n-roll (and unfortunately I’m one of them) and just can’t seem to kick it, nothing does the job like Vespers and Matins. The Contemporary Christian scene can’t do it, because the music just isn’t good. I don’t believe that listening to various chanting performances can do it either. The only thing that can break it is singing. You can’t simply substitute vicious entertainment with pious entertainment. You must force entertainment out of the heart with thanksgiving.

    Joseph

  36. Tiffani says:

    Father,

    What a beautiful post for Lent! Thank you for this. You inspire my own blog’s post now…

  37. jmgregory says:

    My wife just mentioned an interesting interpretation of Acts to me. She had heard it said that when Paul and Silas were singing in prison, the earthquake that came was really the voice of God joining them in song.

    (That one probably doesn’t come from the Fathers, but I thought it was worth sharing and fit nicely with this post.)

  38. Jim,

    I’ll keep my eyes open for that in the Fathers. But I really like it as an explanation. When God spoke to the children of Israel and they were frightened, telling Moses to go listen to Him instead, His voice was compared to the sound of trumpets. A musical tone.

  39. Sean says:

    Father, bless

    I have found this on YouTube and thought I’d share it with all of you:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Bo1Uei0h18&fmt=18

    It’s from the Stichera of Holy and Great Monday and it is pure Byzantine chant but with the verses chanted in clear English! (I never thought it possible but, well, it is human to err). So, as we approach the Holy and Great Week, I hope we shall all find our way to do exactly what the chant tells us to do. Oh, and by the way, my, does God sing!

  40. Sorry for a late comment on an old post, but it brought a few things to mind:

    My wife was a vocal music education major, and in her studies learned that when infants and young’uns talk, they are using their “singing voice” instead of a speaking voice. In other words, they first learn to sing, then later to speak.

    Second, when at (a protestant) Seminary, the Hebrew prof said that that language does not really distinguish between “speaking” and “singing”–that the same word was used for both. Likewise classical Greek did not easily distinguish the two as we do–and some have surmised that the accents in classical Greek were in some part also used to denote rising, falling or stationary tone.

    Of course there are modern languages that are heavily influenced by tone. I’m thinking some of the Asian languages use a “singing voice” far more than most Western languages.

    It seems to me that singing is the default way of communicating. Only as man has grown weak and old have we degraded to speech. Next will come shouting, then swearing. Last will come moaning.

    Lord have mercy!

Leave a Reply

© 2006-2014 Glory to God for All Things. All Rights Reserved.
Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith
Powered by WordPress & Made by Guerrilla