Continuing on from the last blog, I will ponder some more of the possible objections to our Church having a band that plays contemporary Christian music.
B. “This is not our tradition.”
It is true that we are blessed with a long and rich tradition of worship in the Coptic Church. Not only does our Liturgy trace its roots back directly to Apostolic times, but our hymns go back even further. It is truly awesome to walk into Church in procession on a major feast day singing the very words and tunes that the ancient Egyptians would sing as the Pharoah entered the Temple in procession! It astounds me and humbles me to think of the hymn Epouro cascading down the generations of the past three or four millenia to land on our threshold here in Mt Druitt, Sydney in the 21st century! This is a precious pearl to be carefully guarded and preserved, and we have a tremendous responsibility to pass on to our children the good sense to enjoy it and appreciate it, and the immense importance of preserving it. This we do in many ways already, and we are planning more ways to implement in the future, such as DVDs explaining the liturgy and a Children’s Liturgy.
But having one precious and ancient pearl does not prevent you from also acquiring some less unique treasures, does it? Why should we not preserve the beautiful and pristine traditions of our Church while at the same time also using the culture of modern Australia?
This is nothing new. When the Apostles met at Jerusalem to discuss the rules to be imposed upon the Gentile converts to Christianity, they came down very firmly on the side of allowing them to keep their own culture and ways of doing things, so long as they did not transgress the Law of Christ. They would not even impose upon them the practices of the synagogue, although until then, all Christians had been Jews and had simultaneously attneded both synagogue and Christian liturgy. When the Hebrew St Mark the Apostle came to Alexandria, he did not impose Hebrew musical styles on the Egyptians, but allowed them to tailor the style of the liturgy to their own tastes, so long as they built faithfully on the skeleton of dogma he gave them. And three hundred years later, when the unparalleled Champion of Orthodoxy, St Athanasius, sent St Frumentius to establish a Church in Ethiopia, he did not insist at all on the Ethiopians adhering to Egyptian culture. Rather he allowed them to adapt their own familiar culture, once again, and use it to build a tradition on the foundation of the correct faith.
Yes, our tradition must be preserved, because we are the only ones who can preserve it as a living tradition, rather than in the reference books and libraries of the world. I would personally hate to see the raw and honest contact we make with God in the Liturgy where we use only our voices to worship Him replaced by some loud amplified musical instruments drowning out our voices. There is no place for modern music in an ancient rite like this.
But many of our youth understand that loving and preserving Coptic music doesn’t stop you from enjoying modern music. In fact, the kind of person who usually enjoys Coptic music the most is the musical personality type. This gift allows them to see deeper into its structure and logic. But that is also exactly the same person who is most likely to appreciate any style of music!
For decades, we in the Coptic Church have had a sort of split personality when it comes to western music. We sing it in our Youth Meetings and camps, and yet we warn our youth against it on the radio and in video clips. To a great extent, this is a very valid attitude, for the motivation and intention of the musical artist and the nature of the lyrics and their message are critical to deciding whether that music is going to help or hinder my walk with Christ. But I think we must guard against throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Music that is being used with the intention of bringing one closer to Christ, and that has enough in it to lend it effectiveness to achieve that goal should not be dismissed, particularly if it may be the best point of contact with some of our youth who are feeling alien in Church. We must cater for the needs of those who should be in Church, not only for those who already are in Church, or else those outside will never want to come in.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.