"Beauty will save the world": Church Musician Sunday

Canadian Orthodox Messenger

"Beauty will save the world": Church Musician Sunday

by Fr Gregory Scratch

This year, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America designated that  the Sunday following the commemoration of Saint Romanus the Melodist (October 1) would be highlighted as a  “Church Musician Sunday.” This new yearly designation starts this Sunday (Oct.2nd) as a way to recognize the essential role of liturgical music in Orthodox Christian worship, and the important role that those who sing, chant, and direct the music offer in facilitating our beautiful services. Indeed, what is offered is a witness of  what Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in his novel, the Idiot, that "beauty will save the world". 

Of course this beauty is something that seems to mark just about every aspect of our liturgical life, from the Churches we serve in, the Icons, vestments, and candles and all. But there is something about the music that puts it all together as a whole. This might have to do more with the content of what is sung, than anything else, after all much of what is sung is a theological amplification of the scriptures and life of the Church. It is in the music that the whole saving work of the Lord is offered to us, in order that we not only understand our faith, but also participate in, as it is the context for that beauty.  This beauty isn't necessarily something that we think is pretty or fashionable, rather it is something much more profound and even Divine. It is ultimately the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit" offered to all humanity. 

Regardless of whether one is directing a small community where there is congregational singing, or one is directing a large choir of professionals, we sing in harmony with Cherubim and Seraphim as they sing, shout and  proclaim "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are full of your Glory...". Truly the reflection of that Heavenly Liturgy; that "beauty that will save the world". This is no small task, as this is not done for the enjoyment of the listeners (let alone their own glory), but rather for the Glory of God! As such leading and directing and singing of our services, demands a large amount of work and dedication needed to facilitate this.

Yet often the work of directors, chantors and choirs are so often neglected or even worse criticized; without knowing how much goes into preparing what is sung at any given service, let alone who is singing for them (after all, we don't have professionals singing in our Churches). For the work that is offered in this, is done by volunteers; people who have full time jobs, or families that demand their precious time. This commitment to serve the Lord is a kind of target for the evil one who would seek to divorse them from this work of beauty, as such we should always remember them in our prayers for as much as they have done, and still do. 

The setting aside of this Sunday to offer thanksgiving for their work, highlights this necessity of prayer for their work, but it also offers us an opportunity to recognize their commitment to this divine beauty. Regardless of whether they direct all the time, or just occasionally, sing all the time, or occasionally, it is a joy to highlight their sacrifices of praise with thanksgiving. For their commitment to that "beauty that will save the world" however it is sung, or chanted.

The beauty of our Churches, Icons, vestments, candles ect. might be remembered by the faithful as they go their days at work or school; but it will only be the beautiful music of our services that will be in their hearts, and lips, even if it is hummed. Truly the imprint of the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit''. Truly a "beauty that will save the world"! in every sense.

By the prayers of  St. Romanus the Melodist, may the Lord strengthen and bless our chanters, choir directors, readers, composers, choirs and bell ringers, for all that they offer the Lord in thanksgiving and joy!