One of the most important parts of any movie is the music. Music makes a big difference in how we view movies. It sets the mood, and really adds so much to the experience. Many people are moved by the music they have heard in films and if they hear that music on the radio, it immediately reminds them of the film it came from.
Music is a very important part of the Divine Liturgy as well. If we are not moved by the music we hear in Church every Sunday, then we have to stop and think about it a little bit more. There is very little that is spoken in our services. Everything is either sung, or at the very least, chanted. Unlike the movies, where large orchestras perform the score for the film, we don’t use instruments in the Orthodox Church. Our voices are the perfect instrument for us to use, because they are created by God.
One of the most beautiful and distinctive parts of Liturgy in our Carpatho-Russian Diocese is our plain chant. Many of us become so familiar with the melodies just from hearing them sung over and over from the time we are very small. Singing our plain chant connects us to our ancestors from hundreds of years ago.
When we sing the hymns of the Church, we are also connected to the heavenly. Did you know that a very large percentage of the words in our hymnography come from Scripture? It’s true. The antiphons that we sing after the Great Litany come from the psalms. The prokimen that comes right before the Epistle and the verses that go with it are also taken from the psalms. The hymn, “Holy, holy holy” sung during the anaphora, is partially taken from the prophecy of Isaiah (6:3). It is a hymn of praise to God. Another form of this hymn is the familiar “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.” When we sing these hymns, we are worshipping God the same way the angels do! When we sing the “Our Father” we are singing words given to us from Christ Himself!
One of my favorite hymns to sing is the hymn to the Virgin Mary: “You are truly deserving of glory…” Did you ever wonder where some of the words to that hymn came from? The middle part, beginning with “More honorable than the Cherubim” had already been written. One night, a monk on Mt. Athos was praying the Saturday evening Vigil service alone in his room when there was a knock at the door. An unknown monk named Gabriel entered and began praying with him. They prayed before an icon of the Mother of God. At one point, the monk Gabriel began singing something the other monk had never heard: “You are truly deserving of glory, O Birthgiver of God, the ever blessed and most pure Mother of our God.” As he sang, the icon of the Mother of God shone with a heavenly light. The monk asked Gabriel if he could write down what he had sung. The monk took down a roof tile and wrote the words using only his finger! The monk realized he was in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel! The angel told him to sing in this manner and all the Orthodox as well. Then, he disappeared as the icon continued to radiate the light. This icon is in the high place, behind the altar of the Karyes monestary on Mt. Athos to this day.
So, whenever you attend Liturgy, know that the music you hear and sing is to be sung in a very respectful way, but also with great joy. When you sing, it is like you are praying twice, so make sure you lift up your voice to the Lord!
You can listen to the plain chant from our services at this link: http://acrod.org/multimedia/audio/liturgicalmusic