Singing the Divine Liturgy: Researching an Eastern Topic in a Western Context

There have been many interesting and exciting things about researching the traditions of the Orthodox Church; it is a tradition that has been absolutely foreign to me as a Protestant. As I continue to do research, however, I am beginning to realize how much I already know. Indeed, Orthodox and Lutheran theologies are by no means the same thing, but we do share our early history. Before the East-West Schism (and with all of the extra fights and inconsistencies that existed before the schism), we were the same church existing in different parts of the world. Prior to beginning the study of singing in the Divine Liturgy, I would have said that the two are vastly different. In many ways, they are, but it is quite divisive to highlight only the differences. Finding the similarities may have been the most exciting thing about research so far.

In my paper, I cite an article by Vassa Larin, a sister of the Orthodox Church who writes on “active participation” in the liturgy. Such participation could involve being a part of the choir, aiding in liturgical set-up and tear down, cleaning the worship space, or simply immersing yourself in the whole liturgy so that it might boost your faith. This article was particularly intriguing to me because, as an outsider to the Orthodox Church, I do not see that the Church is looking to increase the participation of the laity. Such a movement is being pushed among the Protestant denominations as well, and to understand that reaching out to the lay people for help is not a phenomenon reserved for one specific sect of Christianity is to understand that everyone is involved in the struggle to keep the faith community alive.

On the topic of keeping faith and theology relevant, I have found a sect in modern Orthodoxy that turned out to be a nice addition in discussing the marriage of music and the church. The Free Monks (as they are referred to in Lina Molokotos-Liederman’s article “Sacred Words, Profane Music?”) are a group of Greek Orthodox monks who write, perform, and sell contemporary Orthodox rock music. When I discovered this group, I was made even more aware of the strange similarities that exist between the Orthodox Church and everyone else; there is still a fascination with taking contemporary music and setting religious text to it.

Such similarities are exciting! It’s important for humanity to see that, even in our differences, there are common threads. This becomes difficult, however, when you are looking to study one part of the Christian tradition, especially one as obscure as Orthodoxy. I find that most scholarly articles will write about the Catholic and Protestant liturgies until the cows come home, and Orthodoxy is left by the wayside. It would be easy to blame this misfortune on the West’s historically monumental disinterest in the East, but for now, I will keep digging until I find all the materials I need to help contribute to the understanding of singing the Divine Liturgy.

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