Every Sunday is the Lord’s day, the day of the resurrection; but today, Sunday, April 8, 2018, is, for millions of Orthodox Christians throughout the world, the day of the resurrection par excellence, the feast of feasts, holy day of holy days, the Lord’s Pascha. Yesterday evening and earlier this morning, I experienced this feast in a new way: for most of the past month I have been conducting our church choir in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, our official choir director being incapacitated due to a recent hip replacement. So, although I have sung in many Easter services, today was the first time in my life of some 59 years that I conducted one. Thanks be to God, our singers sang well, we acquitted ourselves of our task with jubilation, and, I think, helped the congregation to pray and to focus their minds and hearts on the glory of God, which is what a choir is supposed to do.

Whether it is this novel experience of directing a church choir during an Easter service that has awakened these reflections, I don’t know, but I think it is right, on this feast day, to speak of joy. What is the joy that characterizes the life of a Christian? A Christian is, like other human beings, subject to innumerable ups and downs, a Christian is not, any more than anyone else, continually floating on a cloud of earthly and material bliss, and, even in spiritual matters, a Christian is acquainted with the grief first of all of his or her own sinfulness and the estrangement from God and man that sin entails, and secondly, with the grief of living in a fallen world in which might frequently triumphs over right and falsehood over truth. Nevertheless, the life of a Christian is characterized by joy. How is this possible?

It is possible, I think, because of the resurrection. The resurrection contains the entire message of Christianity, and, if we are to understand what makes the life of a Christian what it is, it is there that we must look. On the cross, Christ broke the power of sin, the demonic forces that tyrannize human life, and provided, for all time, an infallible key for escaping spiritual imprisonment; by rising from the dead, Jesus showed us that death is not the final reality, he showed himself the victor over death and corruption, and gives us the possibility of sharing in his victory and in newness of life. That is what Christian joy is all about; it is the response of one who begins to live in the light of the risen Christ, who has overcome the world. And Easter, as it is the feast of Christ’s resurrection, is preeminently a feast of joy — a joy, not in ourselves or our accomplishments, but in Christ who gives us the victory. It is the communal joy of Christ’s redeemed people. If the singers at a liturgy, by their voices, are able to communicate this joy to the congregation, they have done their part in proclaiming the gospel.

May God grant the readers of this blog a joyous Easter. Christ is risen!

From Martin Gerbert, Scriptores ecclesiastici de musica sacra potissimum, Tomus I. (1784), pp. 2-4.

Ὁ Ἀββᾶς Παμβῶ ἀπέστειλε τὸν μαθητὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ, πρὸς τὸ πωλῆσαι τὸ ἐργόχειρον αὐτῶν. Ποιήσας δὲ ἡμέρας δεκαὲξ ἐν τῇ πόλει, ὡς ἔλεγεν ἡμῖν, τὰς νύκτας ἐκάθευδεν ἐν τῷ νάρθηκι τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἐν τῷ ναῷ τοῦ ἁγίου Μάρκου. Καὶ ἰδὼν τὴν ἀκολουθίαν τῆς ἁγίας ἐκκλησίας, ἀνέκαμψε πρὸς τὸν γέροντα. Ἔμαθε δὲ καὶ τροπάρια. Abba Pambo sent his disciple to Alexandria to sell their handcrafts. During the sixteen days he spent in the city, he slept at night (as he himself told us) in the narthex of the church, in the shrine of St. Mark. After seeing the order in which services were done in the holy church, he returned to his elder. (Now, he also learned troparia.)
Λέγει οὖν αὐτῷ ὁ γέρων· Ὁρῶ σε τέκνον τεταραγμένον, μή τις πειρασμός σοι συνέβη ἐν τῇ πόλει; λέγει ὁ ἀδελφὸς γέροντι, Φύσει Ἀββᾶ ἐν ἀμελείᾳ δαπανῶμεν τὰς ἡμέρας ἡμῶν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ταύτῃ, καὶ οὔτε κανόνας οὔτε τροπάρια ψάλλομεν. Ἀπελθόντος γάρ μου ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ εἶδον τὰ τάγματα τῆς ἐκκλησίας, πῶς ψάλλουσι, καὶ ἐν λύπῃ γέγονα πολλῇ, διατὶ καὶ ἡμεῖς οὐ ψάλλομεν κανόνας καὶ τροπάρια. The elder therefore says to him: Child, I perceive that you are troubled. Did you encounter any temptation in the city? The brother says to the elder, Indeed, Abba, we spend our days in this desert negligently, singing neither canons nor troparia. For, when I was in Alexandria I saw the order of the church, how they sing, and it made me very sad that we do not also sing canons and troparia.
Λέγει οὖν αὐτῷ ὁ γέρων· οὐαὶ ἡμῖν τέκνον, ὅτι ἔφθασαν αἱ ἡμέραι, ἐν αἷς ὑπολείψουσιν οἱ μοναχοὶ τὴν στερεὰν τροφὴν τὴν διὰ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ῥηθεῖσαν, καὶ ἐξακολουθήσουσιν ᾄσματα καὶ ἤχους. Ποία γὰρ κατάνυξις, ποῖα δάκρυα τίκτονται ἐκ τῶν τροπαρίων; ποία γὰρ κατάνυξις τῷ μοναχῷ, ὅταν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ ἢ ἐν κελλίῳ ἴσταται, καὶ ὑψοῖ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ὡς οἱ βόες; Εἰ γὰρ ἐνώπιον τοῦ Θεοῦ παριστάμεθα, ἐν πολλῇ κατανύξει ὀφείλομεν ἵστασθαι, καὶ οὐχὶ ἐν μετεωρισμῷ. Καὶ γὰρ οὐκ ἐξῆλθον οἱ μοναχοὶ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ταύτῃ, ἵνα παρίστανται τῷ Θεῷ, καὶ μετεωρίζονται καὶ μελῳδοῦσιν ᾄσματα, καὶ ῥυθμίζουσιν ἤχους· καὶ σείουσι χείρας, καὶ μεταβαίνουσι πόδας. Ἀλλ᾽ ὀφείλομεν ἐν φόβῳ πολλῷ καὶ τρόμῳ δακρυσί τε καὶ στεναγμοῖς μετὰ εὐλαβείας καὶ εὐκατανύκτου καὶ μετρίας ταπεινῆς φωνῆς τὰς προσευχὰς τῷ Θεῷ προσφέρειν. The elder therefore says to him: Woe to us, child! for the days have arrived, in which monks will forsake the strong nourishment spoken by the Holy Spirit, and will follow after songs and “tones.” For what sort of contrition, what sort of tears are produced by troparia? What kind of contrition is there in a monk, when he stands in church or in his cell and raises his voice like cattle? For if we are standing in God’s presence, we ought to be standing there with great contrition, and not with our heads in the clouds. For, indeed, we monks did not go out into this desert in order to stand before God and be raised up on high and make melodious tunes and measure out tones (modes), and wave our hands, and move our feet. But it is with great fear and trembling, with tears and groans, in reverence and repentance and with a moderate, humble voice, that we ought to present our prayers to God.
Ἰδοὺ γὰρ λέγω σοι τέκνον, ὅτι ἐλεύσονται ἡμέραι, ὅτε φθείρουσιν οἱ χριστιανοὶ τὰς βίβλους τῶν ἁγίων Εὐαγγελίων, καὶ τῶν ἁγίων Ἀποστόλων, καὶ τῶν θεσπεσίων Προφητῶν λεαίνοντες τὰς γραφὰς τῶν ἁγίων· καὶ χυθήσεται ὁ νοῦς εἰς τρόπους καὶ εἰς τοὺς λόγους τῶν ἑλλήνων· διὰ τοῦτο καὶ οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν εἰρήκασιν, ἵνα μὴ γράφωσιν οἱ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ταύτῃ ὄντες καλόγραφοι τοὺς βίους καὶ λόγους τῶν γερόντων ἐν μεμβράναις, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν χαρτίοις· μέλλει γὰρ ἡ ἐρχομένη γεννεὰ λεαίνειν τοὺς βίους καὶ λόγους τῶν πατέρων, καὶ γράφειν κατὰ τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῖς. For I tell you, child, that the days will come when Christians shall corrupt the books of the holy Gospels, and of the holy Apostles, and of the divine Prophets, erasing the writings of the saints; and their mind will be dissipated on rhetorical figures and on the discourses of the Greeks. That is why our fathers also have said that those who are calligraphers here in this desert should not write the lives and words of the elders on parchment, but on papyrus. For the coming generation is going to erase the lives and words of the fathers, and write as it pleases them.
Καὶ εἶπεν ὁ ἀδελφὸς, τί οὖν ἀλλαχθήσονται τὰ ἔθη καὶ αἱ παραδόσεις τῶν χριστιανῶν· καὶ οὐκ ἔσονται ἱερεῖς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ, ἵνα ταῦτα γένηται; καὶ εἶπεν ὁ γέρων· ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις καιροῖς ψυγήσεται ἡ ἀγάπη τῶν πολλῶν, καὶ ἔσται θλίψις οὐκ ὀλίγη ἐθνῶν. And the brother said: What then? Are the customs and traditions of Christians going to be changed? And the elder said: At such times the love of many shall grow cold, and the nations shall be afflicted in no small way.

The Lyceum School Choir — or, to give it its more proper title, the “Lyceum Schola Cantorum” — will be singing this Thursday, April 25th, at a televised mass on EWTN. I will be among them, in the bass section. The mass will be televised at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time, and will be rebroadcast at 12 noon and 7 p.m. We will be singing parts of Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, among other things. A live stream of the mass can be watched, at the aforementioned times, at the link below.


The Great Republic

July 4, 2010

In celebration of American Independence Day, I am posting to the blog a song, The Great Republic. It is performed by yours truly (vocals, piano) and Mr. Johny Blood (tuba); the recording was made in March 2005 in a studio in Oakland, California. I wrote it many years ago — in 1986 or 1987 — during the presidency of Ronald Reagan when, as a graduate student at Catholic University, I lived near the nation’s capital; this may account for the language about flags fluttering along the boulevard, coloring the mind, and tourists coming to see the place where Abraham Lincoln used to say grace (I’m not sure that Mr. Lincoln in fact did say grace, but tourists do go to the White House, and I would claim poetic licence in justification of the wording).

The recording takes up about 4 megabytes; it will download to your computer if you click HERE. Be forewarned.

Also, I do mean to post something soon about the excellent conference on Orthodox Constructions of the West that I attended this past week at Fordham University. But it has taken me some days to collect my thoughts and recuperate from driving back and forth to the Bronx, so, for the time being, I would ask my readers’ patience, and hope they will enjoy hearing The Great Republic.

By the Still Waters

January 21, 2010

The Spirit of Orthodoxy Choir, in which I have been singing, as a bass/barytone, for the past year and a half, has come out with a double CD, titled By the Still Waters. CDs can be ordered at the Spirit of Orthodoxy website, for $21 till the end of March 2010, and for $24.95 thereafter.