Musical Mayhem??? Part 2

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.

Fr Ant

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6 Replies to “Musical Mayhem??? Part 2”

  1. Bless me Abouna.

    I have no problem with using different musical styles and rhythms, but what I think is the problem that will be faced, is that contemporary ‘worship’ and music that is sold today, is the product of consumer marketing, rather than soul-searching and God pleasing. The multi-million dollar industry is run by opportunists of the psyche of Simon the Musician, rather than of David the Shepherd. I know that I should qualify that statement, and I hope to do so later, if you think this point is worth exploring.

    If you espouse the music, you give greater exposure to young people like me, the stores such as Koorong and WORD. Great places, for sure. But driven by the unguided, heterodox consumers, they advertise foxes like Joyce Meyers and Benny Hill.

    It is not just that we often do not have contemporary Christian music being sold in our Church, it is that anything that has the word “Christ” (not used in a phrase of profanity) is considered Christian, and would be mixed in the same album. Further, their theological validity are not tested. And moreover, I find that young people are either “very tolerant” or “naively accepting”.

    The bottom line, I feel, of contemporary Christian worship is it is what can be sold to the public- not what is faithful to Christ and His Church. For many of these artists, this is their livelihood- not that is an evil thing! But, I think there is a huge compromise! It is not what glorifies God the most or what does the heart speak- but what would people like most that will be known and popular, and finally reach our parish.

    I think what has been lost with contemporary worship is that it is not a flavoured ice-cream. Hymns are for God. They are not meant to touch us (directly, I think)- aren’t we suppose to be touched by God Himself? I really do think that many Christians, including myself (if I can be called one) have sold themselves short, with the quick fix of contemporary rhyme. But then again, I don’t think that the psalms of David really cure the vexed spirit of King Soul.

    The relevance of the above, of course, is very little. It more or less warns of a danger, rather than gives any intelligible argument against the usage of Theologically correct and wholesome contemporary songs. As a Church, do we not pray “let us sing to Him a new hymn”.

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  2. Oh and just to add to my essay…

    I don’t know how the band selects their song. And I am not sure whether these songs are the same contemporary songs I hear on the “WOW Worship series”.

    So, again, my criticism of contemporary music and the relevance of that to what is happening (which has already happened in my church- and I have very very mixed feelings!) might be very little.

    I must confess Abouna, that I was into contemporary Christian worship songs. I liked Third Day, I was given some Hillsong CDs and other things. When the band started singing some of these songs, I sort of knew what they were choosing from. I am not in any way a Theologian, but I believe strongly that some of their choices were either poor or inappropriate. The head singers are involved in Hillsong, and to criticise their choice is to criticise the church they are most devoted to. I hope this does not happen in your church.

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  3. I’ve been wanting to reply to these posts and discuss this for a while.. so sorry for my late replies but I have a strong opinion on this and mixed feelings that I would like to express.

    “When the Hebrew St Mark the Apostle came to Alexandria, he did not impose Hebrew musical styles on the Egyptians”

    But we are not Australian Orthodox. We are Coptic Orthodox.. So we already have our own culture and tradition. We are definately not exactly like the Coptic community in Egypt eg. we eat vegemite instead of fool every morning. But I havn’t seen many people opposing vegemite as much as they oppose western music.

    “In fact, the kind of person who usually enjoys Coptic music the most is the musical personality type.”

    I personally think deacons are the ones that enjoy coptic music the most as they truly go deep in the spiritual meaning of it. Some can explain to you a spiritual meaning for every “hazza” of the hymn.

    I personally think the we in the Western world as Coptic Orthodox are in a recession of spiritual english hymns. There is very little english spiritual music out there so we are searching for more resources from other churches. And the evidence for this is that in Egypt there is no spiritual hymns on the music of the traditional arabic music. So why should we move to western music?

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  4. Hi Abouna,

    I really rejoiced to see your post on this subject. This has been much argued amoungst our servants and I found your words echoed my opinion on the matter. It always angered my to hear that music is evil of itself and it was even suggested to me once that those in africa who have been allowed to use drums and sway to the litergy were of lesser spiritual standing!

    I wanted to make a couple of points. I found it very interesting how similar Egyptian Hymns are to modern Egyptian music! In our church they have taken to playing CDs over the loud speaker and many a time I find myself listening to a belly dancing tune! It seems strange then that they should object to modern ‘western’ music being used to praise God. It seems in the past culture has already had an influence on hymn tunes. Why is it different now?

    Secondly, in response to the above post by “Billious-MicMek”. He/she claims that we are not Australian Orthodox but i beg to differ. I was born here. I am australian. Coptic means Egyptian and whilst I have an Egyptian heritage, I’m more Australian than Egyptian. Yet I believe in all the orthodox precepts and love all our Coptic hymns. I speak arabic poorly and am constantly disappointed when a visiting Priest or the Bishop insists on speaking arabic and I really have little idea what they are saying. Furthermore, my husband, my brother-in-law, several of my cousins spouses and some of my orthodox friends are subjected to poor attempts at translation to achieve any spiritual benefit as they have no egyptian heritage and don’t understand a word of arabic except maybe “yala”… I really wish to see our church recognised as a multi-cultural church because in my experience that is exactly what it is and what it should hope to be.

    Anyhow, enough rattling on… God bless and please pray for me.

    p.s. for those who organise plays in arabic.. perhaps subtitles??

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  5. I find this defense of protestant songs being integrated into our church to be quite saddening and overwhelming. I left protestantism for a reason only to find well meaning but misguided Copts embracing it across the board. By accepting these songs into the church we are essentially telling our youth, if not the whole congregation, that protestantism is acceptable. I mean, if their hymns are acceptable, which regurgitate their worldly theology, then protestantism as a whole MUST be acceptable? Then, if that is true, why fast 210 days out of the year? Why put ourselves through hell if we can do next to nothing and get the same result.

    Allowing this into the church is downright foolish! This politically correct mentality also needs to go, there is a reason nearly every church father wrote at least ONE work entitled “against”. We are not to love the things of this world, let alone disgrace the church in this manner.

    But as long as the churches are just social clubs for Copts to get together to congratulate each other on being Orthodox, I suppose it doesn’t matter then. The people and clergy are too afraid to speak, unlike the great Copts of the past like St Cyril of Alexandria who spoke with a loud firm voice.

    Reading this discourages me entirely. Whats worse is the church is ethnocentric so converts have virtually no voice, unless its a voice of praise for the mighty Copts! But otherwise clericalism and stupidity is destroying the church.

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  6. Hi John.

    Thanks for those thoughts, and it is always interesting to hear the views of someone who CHOSE to be Coptic rather than being born into the Church. You will no doubt read my response in the first blog on this subject, but there are one or two things worth adding here in response to your comments.

    Firstly, I am by no means promoting PROTESTANT songs. I am promoting the introduction of western style music into our general purpose hymn books and youth meetings etc (not into our rites). There is a very important difference between “Protestant” songs and “Western” songs, as I am sure a moment’s consideration will convince you. Catholic hymns are Western, but most certainly NOT Protestant. Our own Coptic musical style – particularly the tune most priests use in chanting the liturgy – shares a lot with the Muslim Quran reading tunes (I reckon they copied them from us!), yet we do not denounce them as Muslim.

    Secondly, to suggest that our youth cannot tell the difference between Protestant theology and Western musical style is, frankly, to insult their intelligence. Do not take my word for this – go out and chat to any representative sample of Coptic teenagers and see what they say.

    Thirdly, I am troubled that you feel that being Coptic means “putting yourself through hell”. I am usually very tolerant of diversity in how people are comfortable approaching God, but that phrase really makes me worry. If that is what you think being an Orthodox Christian means then I have to say that is not the Church, not the Christ that I know. The Church does not entreat us to fast so that we suffer! Do you think God takes pleasure in our suffering??? Fasting is a voluntary and willing act of self-negation, an expression of love for God and of solidarity with our suffering poor brethren, and an exercise in self-control. To liken the Orthodox path to hell is very disturbing indeed. I genuinely hope I have misunderstood what you meant here.

    This is not about taking an “easy path” instead of the “narrow road” of Christ. This is about speaking the language that our congregation understands and using it to communicate to them as effectively as possible the beautiful Orthodox faith of our Fathers.

    Fr Ant

    Comments on Musical Mayhem 2 blog. October 2012.

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