Archive for February, 2008

“There stands the modern Greek”

This is heartbreaking to read, but I hesitate to accept it uncritically. Assuming I have any readership made up of people who have been to Greece, can anybody comment?


When duty and virtue have become antiquated terms that one only finds in books no one reads, we have a declining society entangled in the most petty and ephemeral affairs. Unburdened by the past, unimpeded from posterity, there stands the modern Greek: a person free of any civic and moral duties. The coming of the welfare state brought the monetarization of civic responsibilities and gradually degraded them to special interest sloganeering.

Unlike any other foe the Greeks faced in the past, the one that they face now has no armies laying siege to any walls. There are no occupiers trying to impose their customs and language, no military junta to imprison, torture or banish anyone. It is a foe that does not challenge their strengths but rather assuages their weaknesses. Instead of attacking the culture, it merely trivializes it by draining it of any transcendent qualities. There is no need to assail honesty, merit and hard work; they have simply been rendered irrelevant.

Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. (Hat tip: Rod Dreher.)


A pair of Docs?

Does that mean these?



(And if they’re worn as a corrective, does that make them Ortho-Docs?)

Or is this a pair of docs?


Well, anyway, in honor of it being 29 February, here we go. Kudos to all involved.

Behavior which is rewarded will be repeated

Met. KALLISTOS + Dumbledore joke = Biiiiiiig Spike In Blog Hits.

Let’s try it again, shall we?


Places I wish I could have been


“Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”

“Seven years is like exam”

A Russian woman at church today told us that in Russia, the first seven years of a marriage constitute an initial stage of married life. “Seven years is like exam,” she said. The next one evidently, is at fifteen years. I will say that I’m lucky enough to be married to somebody who has made the first seven years seem pretty dang easy (but I doubt I’ve done very well in returning the favor.)

This photograph makes me think — in eight years, what will we think of pictures taken today?


An announcement

Still waiting on the Big Thing, but I can now announce that I will be presenting a paper at the 2008 Dorushe Annual Graduate Student Conference on Syriac Studies, held this year at Notre Dame University, 4-5 April.

Hopefully I have the Big News here before too long.

I wonder what the editors of the Orthodox Study Bible do?

With a tip of the hat to Rod Dreher, I would like to acknowledge the following homiletical wisdom from Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church of Tempe, Arizona:

This really speaks for itself, so I won’t provide any commentary. Nothing I could offer could possibly do any better than what Pastor Steven has already said. However, if anybody is questioning the translation — the Septuagint renders this phrase as “οὐροῦντα πρὸς τοῖχον” . The verb οὐρέω is rendered by the Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon, quite properly and with a firm pecker as “make water”; πρός plus an accusative here is an accusative “of goal, aiming at” (BDAG Greek-English Lexicon, entry 3.c for πρός), and a τοῖχος is a wall of a house or a courtyard. “Pisseth against a wall” indeed seems to be a legitimate rendering.

Missionaries, not professionals

Unlike many, I didn’t grow up singing in church; the music of the churches I went to growing up actually made me distinctly uncomfortable. I didn’t really start singing in church as a regular practice until I was eighteen and part of the choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bellingham, WA. (By the way, I have nothing but the fondest of fond memories of St. Paul’s.)

The St. Paul’s experience, it must be said, made a church musician out of me, or at least started the process. I have never been one for whom either prayer or singing is as natural as breathing, but I found that by putting them together it makes both significantly easier. Fourteen years, lots of singing, and a music degree later, I serve in the function of choir director and cantor at All Saints Orthodox Church, where I was received by chrismation a little over three years ago. So — I am Orthodox; I am a church musician; therefore, I am an Orthodox church musician.

My Orthodox church musicianship does not exist in isolation, however; I am also trying to be a scholar of things liturgical, and I am also just a guy trying (unsuccessfully, more often than not) to live a Christian life. These matters, it may be said, all feed into one another — the scholar I am trying to be wants to understand the tradition, how it developed, how it was received, how it was expressed, how it was proclaimed, and how it was handed down; the church musician I am wants to figure out how I might best apply the tradition to the function I presently serve, not just in my own parish but in a way that will be more broadly beneficial; the “little Christ” I really wish I were and am not has his hands full just failing to order my own life around the same principles which the scholar and church musician are trying to place in a larger context.

And if it was confusing reading that, I can tell you it’s also confusing living it. I’ve never wanted to be a “church musician” in the sense that I go where the paycheck is (I never would have become Orthodox if I had); I eschewed “church jobs” so that I could sing in the choirs of the parishes I actually attended, and eventually became the choir director at All Saints. For me, it is service; it is a vocation in its own way; it is application of my research interests; I seriously doubt it will ever be a way for me to earn a living. Those kinds of jobs simply do not yet exist in Orthodox parishes in this country, with the number of exceptions perhaps in the low single digits.

It is also very much the case that being aware of what the ideal might be which informs the tradition that ultimately filters down to present-day parish practice is not necessarily an asset as a parish choir director. I expect that many choir directors are familiar with the cognitive dissonance which arises when an attempt to adhere more closely to traditional practice, rather than enriching parish experience, clearly diminishes parish practice for some people, if not outright disenfranchising them, for no other reason than it isn’t what they know or expect. I’m sure my colleagues know what it’s like to hear somebody say, “But nobody ever does it that way” — meaning, at times, the two parishes they’ve been to don’t do it — “and we’ve never done it that way here, and it doesn’t go with the music everybody already knows.” I would assume that other choir directors are aware that sometimes that response even comes, not from an in-depth theological or historical justification, but from merely pointing out what the service books actually say. This is not — let the reader understand — to speak ill of anybody; we choir directors are certainly not perfect, and if I’ve learned anything in my tenure as choir director, it is that it is impossible to please everybody no matter what you do, and that doesn’t need to be taken personally. (What I describe, by the way, isn’t specifically an Orthodox problem, either. Read The New Liturgical Movement sometime — although I would argue the historical reasons the Orthodox have some of these issues in America are different from why Roman Catholics might have them.)

If it sounds like I’m saying, more or less, that it’s a lot of unappreciated work for next to zero compensation, and the harder you work and the more you put into doing it right the less it will be appreciated — well, okay, sometimes that’s indeed how it seems. However, that’s looking at it from a strictly professional point of view. I would argue that Orthodox liturgical musicianship is quite far away from being able to consider itself a professional endeavor, that the necessary structures to support such a notion simply don’t yet exist, and that we need to consider ourselves first and foremost missionaries rather than professionals. In so doing, we will be in a much healthier spiritual place as choir directors and cantors.

Which brings me to “Historical Models of the Patronage of the Liturgical Arts,” by Rev. Deacon Nicholas Denysenko, in the Winter 2008 issue (Vol. IX, No. 2) of PSALM Notes.

Dn. Nicholas, a Ph.D. candidate at Catholic University’s Liturgical Studies program, puts forth the thesis that

[t]he Church…finds herself in an increasingly prophetic situation, with the need to define her distinct identity in the midst of religious pluralism and confusion. Within this context, Orthodoxy needs to develop a new model for supporting the liturgical arts for the proliferation of the Church’s tradition. (p. 4)

No question about that — as Dn. Nicholas also says, we don’t have a well-funded and well-heeled state church in this country to fund the kinds of artisans and craftsmen who built Hagia Sophia, and many parishes struggle to pay a fulltime salary for a priest, let alone a building sometimes. Pay musicians? What?

Some of Dn. Nicholas’ examples of alternate models ultimately undermine his point, however. He speaks of the “liturgical movement” of the early twentieth century which, as he notes, culminated in the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy at Vatican II. The Liturgical Arts Society was a

small group of art professionals… [who encouraged] new styles… that would facilitate full ecclesial participation in worship… [and engaged] many clergy in the discourse on good liturgy and by carving a niche for the important role of the arts in the [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy]. (p. 5)

“This legacy,” he writes, “provides a positive example of the good influence the gathering, cooperation, and educational endeavors of liturgical arts professionals can have on the life of the Church” (p. 5).

Dn. Nicholas is very careful to not speak of how the recommendations of Vatican II were implemented in the Mass, but it is nonetheless troubling to me that he would point up as a positive example efforts which culminated in such a radical discontinuity from what came before. This example is ultimately unhelpful because the post-Vatican II reforms have made life harder, not easier, for many who would consider themselves traditional Roman Catholic church musicians.

What is also troubling is an uncritical use of the phrase “full ecclesial participation” — what does that mean? In practice, it seems like more often than not what people want it to mean is “if everybody isn’t singing everything, then they aren’t being allowed full participation.” “Full participation” is also the language used by many who want to see a revision in the understanding of clerical eligibility. We need to clarify what “full participation” means from an Orthodox perspective — better yet, let’s avoid reflexively adopting language that isn’t ours in the first place.

Then there is this hypothetical example:

Let’s say the choir director at St. Mary’s parish in Anywhere, USA, has run across a new setting for the Eucharistic Canon that provides a perfect fit for both her parish and her choir. The price for a single copy is $1.75… Before making the purchase, however, she needs to receive approval from the choir council for the expenditure. The choir treasurer tells her that the choir’s budget is entirely devoted to an upcoming event, and asks her if she can buy one copy and then photocopy as many as the choir needs… Feeling frustrated, the director decides to wait on ordering the music until the choir budget has sufficient funds. (pp. 1-2)

To be perfectly frank, this example is so divorced from the reality I face as a choir director as to be close to absurd. The idiosyncrasy of Dn. Nicholas referring to the Anaphora as the Canon aside (unless St. Mary’s happens to be a Western Rite parish), if I were to simply decide on a new setting of it, I would have people calling for my head. Beyond that, the idea of a “choir council” or “choir treasurer” is completely removed from the little heartland parish I serve. Dn. Nicholas prefaces this example by saying that “[i]n an ideal situation, the conductor will have the opportunity to review new and fresh compositions for the weekly services and liturgical seasons at least semi-annually,” but I’m trying to imagine my choir, let alone my congregation, being receptive to that kind of constant flow of “new and fresh compositions.” Perhaps it makes sense to me as a musician to have different settings of the Liturgy available for different liturgical seasons, but I guarantee Dn. Nicholas that my own parish would not view such a rhythm favorably. At least not yet.

Now, I understand that the thrust of Dn. Nicholas’ point has more to do with the hypothetical choir director’s choice to not buy the music, and to some extent he acknowledges my situation as a possibility when in the next paragraph he speaks of these problems being rooted in “a lack of appreciation for the integral role liturgical music plays in church life, and a lack of knowledge of the arduous work that is put into creating and expressing this art,” but I suppose my point is that at least some of us are very much in, as Dn. Nicholas put it, “prophetic roles” in our own parishes, perhaps more than others might realize.

The part of his example that does actually resonate with my experience is the issue of photocopying. When I first took on the choir directorship, the choir books were filled with umpteenth-generation photocopies, often of handwritten stuff of uncertain origin. I have no idea what the copyright status of any of it was; some of it I’m sure was authorized to be copied for liturgical use, but it’s hard to say. I will say that in general, the Antiochian Archdiocese is very good about making its musical resources readily available and affordable, but it is very true that copyright status and the financial implications higher up in the food chain generally aren’t the first consideration of the folks whom I would ask to write a check for additional Vespers books, etc.

There is certainly a conversation worth having about copyright, photocopying, and how to make money off of liturgical music. I’d point the interested reader to this piece on The New Liturgical Movement for a point of view to which I’d be interested in hearing Dn. Nicholas’ response.

My overall reaction to Dn. Nicholas’ article is this — I’d argue along with him that the fullness of our music practice can itself be just as expensive as the fullness of any other part of our liturgical life. A well-trained cantor and choir director with a professional degree who is at every service and also rehearsing the choir regularly could very well be spending 20-30 hours a week doing what they do, particularly during Great Lent. If they’re trying build towards anything that looks remotely like a traditional two-choir setup (go here and click on the photo labeled “Please click on the photo for an excerpt of Sunday services” to see what I’m talking about), that’s going to be even more work. Copies of music for everybody will cost; traditional-looking kliroi and/or choir stalls will most certainly cost, and so on and so forth. It won’t just be a dollar cost, either; because most people haven’t seen anything like this in their parishes, something of a public relations effort will be required as well. If you pay what all of this would actually be worth, you’re looking at capital investments, at least one full-time salary for the protopsaltis, and maybe a few part-time salaries as well. I don’t know that there is a single parish in this country which is exactly falling all over itself to provide this, and to that extent, Dn. Nicholas is absolutely right — the liturgical practice which we have inherited is, in many regards, predicated on the availability of resources which we just don’t have, and we have to find new ways of making provision for them.

However, my sense from my own parish experience is that we’re just not there yet, and some parishes are, shall we say, less “there” than others. Saying “we’re not there yet” isn’t just applicable at the parish level, either; the means by which we systematically cultivate and train choir directors and cantors and composers for service in the Orthodox Church are still nascent at best. It’s going to take work, and a lot of it, to get this into place, and to cultivate a love for the best what we can do as liturgical musicians among the faithful. (I have weighed in elsewhere about what I think a step in the right direction could be — “get ’em while they’re young” being a guiding principle.) As I said earlier — missionaries, not professionals. Missionaries, in particular, who aren’t afraid to stick their neck out and be prophetic. Pastoral, certainly, but still prophetic. Dn. Nicholas gets there, sort of, in saying that “professional liturgists and musicians must take the initiative in educating the Church” (p. 6), but there’s that word “professional” again for which I’m not at all convinced we’re ready.

I must also confess that I don’t know what a “liturgist” is in an Orthodox context. The services already exist. We don’t need to mess with them, and moreover, we shouldn’t mess with them. Pull the book off the shelf and follow it. Liturgy, and liturgical music, adapts organically. Let it, and don’t force it. Let’s not make changes we don’t need to make just for the sake of doing things differently.

Which brings me to my final thought (for now). Dn. Nicholas asserts that “the liturgical arts of the Church are steeped in repetition and aridity, with no new expressive elements… Tradition cannot… be understood as mere repetition of past models” (p. 2). Agreed that we cannot define Tradition as “we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way and don’t have a better answer,” but liturgy expresses the faith of a community first and foremost, and individuals secondarily. Liturgical musicians and artisans should not be in the business of trying to “express themselves” — that’s not the point, anymore than an iconographer should be trying to “express himself.” What they are tasked to express is the faith of the community as it was received and as it always has been. While there is certainly room for creativity within that, it is creativity within definite boundaries — particularly given the fact that a culture of Orthodox liturgical singing in this country is far, far, far from mature. To put it another way, if we find ourselves dialoguing (I really hate that word) with Tradition, let’s remember it’s not a conversation between equals.

If I had a concrete, positive suggestion to make, I’d say let’s figure out how to adapt genuine American folk singing (for example, Sacred Harp/shapenote) to Orthodox liturgical use. That would be creativity within the Tradition, and I argue it will be a lot more productive in the long run for Orthodox Christianity in America than continuing to try to cram the English language into a Slavic paradigm of setting texts.

(I lied — I’ve got one more thing to say, and that’s the observation that Dn. Nicholas’ bibliography is not exactly crammed to the gills with the work of Orthodox scholars. Is that because it’s not out there for it to be cited, or is it for another reason? Either way, it seems to me that’s another issue we need to address.)

Ways you don’t expect to spend your Sunday afternoon

Um. Well.


Evangelism the old-fashioned way

As long as we’re talking about Western saints, here’s this item from Aaron D. Wolf (what a great name) by way of Ben at the Wittenberg Trail (to whom I’d love to link, but I can’t, because the Wittenberg Trail is evidently a private forum) by way of Alden Swan:

Here’s what I can’t figure out: How in the world did Saint Patrick evangelize all of those Druid priests and clan chieftains without a mission statement? After all, history and tradition tell us that he walked around preaching and performed an occasional miracle. But how did he know what his mission was? Aaron D. Wolf, The Mission of Souls: When Experts Attack

[…] Mr. Wolf raises some interesting questions and challenges to modern Evangelical concepts of evangelization and mission, contrasting the wisdom of being “pupose driven” to the pre-marketing (pre-modern) habit of simply proclaiming the Gospel.

Wow. What a concept.

This gets me thinking about something which has occurred to me before — I have to believe that liturgy is one of our better and more underappreciated evangelism tools. I guarantee you that St. Patrick wasn’t just walking around preaching and “performing occasional miracles” — he would also have been celebrating the Mass, with the Eucharist as his “mission statement.”

small country churchThe model of evangelism that would be wonderful, if cost-prohibitive, would be to go places where there aren’t churches and start by building simple, but identifiable, churches (such as Trinity Church in Antarctica of all places, pictured at right) where they would be visible and accessible, start publicly holding services so that people can tell that’s what you’re doing, and equip them so that they can host a soup kitchen or something similar. The problem with so many missions is that they can ill-afford being in a place where they would actually be visible and it would be clear what they are doing, so they wind up evangelizing only the people who are already there. Right now, at least in the Antiochian Archdiocese, you have to have some number of pledging families (25?) before you can have a priest assigned to you; that’s good business and fiscally responsible, no question about it, but who’s doing the evangelism in that case but people who aren’t necessarily equipped to do it? I’m not saying that any Orthodox jurisdiction in this country has the money to spend, say, a half million to a million dollars planting missions so that they have buildings, priests, and services for the poor at the outset, but I sometimes wonder if that wouldn’t be a better witness all around.

I’m still waiting. Actually, I’m waiting on a couple of things — one fairly big thing, and one thing that is big-ish, but not on the same level as the other thing. (Confused yet?) In the meantime, however, I can reveal that I’m presenting a paper at Indiana University’s Medieval Graduate Symposium on 29 March. I can also give a heads-up that my church choir will be publicly presenting music from Holy Week as part of  IU’s Middle Eastern Arts Festival on 29 March. (Yes, the same 29 March. It’s gonna be a busy day.) Details for the whole ongoing program are here, but here’s the blurb for this particular event (I’m not going to use the word “concert,” for several reasons):

Concert: Choral Music of the Middle East
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: chants from Holy Week in the Lebanese and Syrian tradition

March 29, 2008, 8 pm
St. Paul’s Catholic Center

The All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Christian Choir under the direction of Richard Barrett will present an evening concert of liturgical music from the Middle East. The program will highlight music from the Syrian and Lebanese traditions. Meditative and celebratory selections drawn from Holy Week and Easter services exemplify how this music became an integral and functionally practical part of Orthodox ritual. While the traditional liturgical languages for the Orthodox in the Middle East are Greek and Arabic, selections will also be performed English.

I didn’t write that, by the way. I will be writing a set of program notes, however, which I will post here. I can say that this is exactly the kind of thing I hoped we’d eventually be able to do, and I’m really encouraged by how the rehearsals have gone — it’s stretching them beyond what their comfort level has been, but in a very doable fashion, and it will be a good thing for us to participate in this kind of outreach. Hopefully I can post a snippet or two from the evening itself afterwards.

Richard’s Twitter

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