Choir Director’s Report
It has been at least 6 or 7 years since I gave my first Choir Director's report, maybe more, and each year they are strikingly similar. I usually tell you that we are still expanding our repertoire to accommodate the gifts of the ever changing roster of singers, that we still need singers, and that music is very important in the Orthodox Church. I always say that singing in the choir is a ministry very similar to the ministry of the Deacon, who is a servant dedicated to leading the people in prayer. That's what the choir does, too. I always thank the choir, the readers and our pastor for their hard work and support throughout the year.
I'm taking a different road this year. This year, I want to talk about worship. We Orthodox are a worshipping people. That is what we do. That is who we are. Other flavors of Christianity focus on bible studies and exegesis, on being personally saved, on social justice and equality. As Orthodox, we worship. We worship privately, alone in our prayer closet, and we worship communally at church. One is not better than the other and both are necessary. That is not to say that we don 't also study the bible, encourage a personal relationship with our Lord, or bless others with the gifts we have received. Of course we do! But what sets us apart is the tradition of our worship, the private worship of the individual and the public worship of the community.
Would it surprise you to learn that the Jews in the time of Jesus had a cyclical structure to their worship which had been in place for 1500 years, and that Orthodox Church echoes that structure? Did you know that St. Basil the Great, in the fourth century, considered the hymn, Gladsome Light, which is sung at vespers, to be very old, and the first “true” hymn of the Christian church. The Apostolic Constitutions, which date from the third century, were, in part, a collection of hymns to be sung at different times of the day as a form of worship – to be SUNG.
Our worship is very old, yet it is ever new. There is a pattern to our worship, a rhythm to the feasts and fasts, the cycles of the eight tones, the reading of the hours of the day, the dedication of each day of the week. As each year passes, and the various cycles are repeated, I find that our worship more deeply reveals our Maker and his actions on earth and in heaven. There is real beauty in the cyclical nature of our worship.
There is an old Orthodox saying which is, to sing once, is to pray twice. We all know that one easy way to learn facts, is to set them to music. Somehow, music enlivens the synapses in our brain and connections are made which allow us to remember things. Important things. The same thing with Orthodox music. The marriage of beautiful words of praise and beautiful music is somehow greater than the sum of the parts. This is the work of the people – not just the work of the choir or the readers or the canonarch. The work of the people, the laos. This is how we worship.
When I was young and newly Orthodox, I read every book and was full of hubris. Some things never change, eh? A very old and saintly man named Aristidi Chacho befriended me, and every Monday we would talk about Fr. John's sermon. I would usually talk my head off and Steve would listen. Finally, one day he said to me, “Denise, you're a nice girl, but you don't know nothing.” I was a little taken aback as you can imagine. He went on, “Don't you know that on.. such and such a day, at matins, we sing...” and then he sang something that was precisely on point in our theological discussion. The elderly, unschooled man, was the greatest theologian, and I believe he was a saint. He could hold his own in theological discussions, and often taught others a thing or two, but with such humility. How did he come to this level of knowledge, of understanding, of living out of the gospel? How did he do that?
It's really quite simple. He spent his life in church. He lived the cycles of worship. His life was attuned to various seasons of our worship. He made the time to attend all the various services – he didn't sing, but he listened. He was a great theologian, a great teacher, and a great man, and he is heaven right now completely mortified. Sorry Steve! But I learned something so precious from him, that I want to share with you:
A life spent in church, worshipping God together with your church family, is the greatest gift.
I'm the choir director, and Fr. James has given me the responsibility for all things musical and all the readers. I can't do this awesome job alone, and I can't even attend every service or rehearsal, and neither can anyone else. However, I am guilty of being tired at the end of work day, and I have work and other obligations that sometimes keep me from fulfilliing my ministry. Just like everyone else. However, this coming year, I am going to take Steve Chacho as my model, and try to do better, try to attend more services. At every service throughout the year, the choir is there, maybe not every member, but the choir is there to assist in the celebration of that service.
Did you know that the liturgical day begins at sunset on Saturday, with Vespers? Did you know that Vespers is full of information and teaching about the saint commemorated on Sunday? Come to vespers and learn.
Orthodox, when trying to define dogma, like to say what it is not. This is called apophatic theology and it's uniquely Eastern in mindset. Orthodoxy is not a religion. It's not a list of things that we believe. It's not social system. It's a life. It's life itself. Spent in church. Singing praises to our Our God.
Thank you for listening to me. Thank you to the choir members, the readers, the Deacon and to Fr. James. Thank you to Xenia, my right hand woman, and to Reader Mark, Kat Broberg and Abby Eller for stepping into the void when I was not there.
Come to church. Come and sing praises to our God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King! Sing praises!