Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Organs in Greek Orthodox churches

The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (aka SOCHA aka has a new article on the who, what, where, when, and how of organs in Orthodox churches in the US. Go take a gander here.

...Holy Trinity Greek Church in San Francisco had added an organ by at least 1925. When Abp Athengoras arrived in 1931, the majority of Greek churches still didn’t have organs, but the instruments were not totally unheard of. After 1931, and throughout Athenagoras’ tenure as archbishop, many more Greek churches introduced organs. This was certainly with the encouragement of Athenagoras, but he was not the originator of the practice...


  1. ?? i guess i was misinformed. i thought Orthodox Churches generally opposed the use of instrumental music in worship. Is that not true? Is there any controversy about the matter within the Orthodox Church?

  2. Thank you for posting a piece from SOCHA. I am no expert on the use of Organs in America, but I have known them to be used to keep people on tune. I have never heard them used in the way Roman Catholics or Lutherans would use them, though that doesn't mean an organ hasn't been used that way in an Orthodox Church somewhere in America. Reborn, I wouldn't get too worked up over this one. The phrase "generally opposed" seems close enough to correct to me.

  3. Really? So is opposition to instruments the general position/practice of Greek Orthodox Churches, or Orthodox Churches in general?

  4. General opposition to instruments. You will find resources that claim it's an unholy, unforgivable evil, others a sad oddity, and some that don't care at all. I'm personally opposed, but of the Greek practices found in America I am not fond of, the occasional blow of an organ is somewhere near the middle of the list.

  5. Could you suggest some reading from Orthodox sources on the reason for opposition to instruments? i think i've told you before that i'm not personally Orthodox. However, i am affiliated with a religious body that also opposes the instrument. It'd be interesting to me to compare rationales. Thanks!


  6. Certainly, here's a very recent discussion on the matter from a blog I read daily.

  7. There are some who support the usage of an organ because it makes the praying and divine service less boring. If for these people praying is boring, than they might consider not praying at all. One may recommend them to go see a musical play, a movie, or just go fishing. A prayer is a dialogue with God, asking him for forgiveness and salvation… A person might just imagine this situation: “You come to your mother or father to ask them for forgiveness for something”. Does one need a guitar or an accordion in hand to do that? Why? If in one’s request for forgiveness (a prayer) there is not enough sincerity, will the musical accompaniment will be able to compensate that? No, it will probably mask that insincerity, but not form the one to whom one is praying. What about us why should we cheat ourselves?
    In the Orthodoxy a human being is looked at as the most perfect instrument ,that must be tempered. For that, just like a guitar or any other instrument there needs to be a long and strenuous practice. That practice does not require one’s personal will but a will of God. This practice requires humility, forgiveness, not being hypocoristic but to honestly look at oneself as the first of the sinners. Just like our faithful grandmothers taught us: Praying, fasting, and suffering. Then there will be no desire “to better” the divine service that was commanded to us by the holy fathers, the best of the representative of the church, which was founded by our God Lord Jesus Christ himself.
    To determine why Catholics and Protestants use musical instruments in the churches, that should be discussed separately. In the end, if they have established such tradition for centuries, let them keep it, since the purity of the church they chose not to keep. Looking back at the history of our Orthodox church it is difficult to imagine that during the divine service there will be playing of an organ, a guitar, or a violin orchestra. That the Holy Communion will be accommodated by Rock music, like it is done in certain Protestant sects. Orthodox chants reflect the Orthodox life, a godlike life, a life with God. Orthodox chants help us to undergo that or the other event of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. Those are the gloomy chants of the holy week and those of full joy like the Paschal chants. Orthodoxy is not just emotional, it is first of all spirituality, that unity with the holy spirit. The real Orthodox chants like the Byzantine or Old Slavonic famous chants and others ideally represent the essence of Orthodoxy; mainly unity, secondly freedom in all and love. Early fathers saw instrumental music to lead to dancing and other passions that destroy the humility of the Christian life.

  8. St. Basil the Great says: “Of the necessary to life which furnish a concrete result there is carpentry, which produces the chair; architecture, the house; shipbuilding; the ship, tailoring, the garment, forging, the blades. Of useless arts there is harp playing, dancing, flute playing of which, when the operation cease, the result disappears with it. And indeed, according to the word of the apostle, the result of these is destruction.”
    John Chrysostom says: “Marriage is accounted and honorable thing both by us and by those without ; and it is honorable. But when marriages are solemnized such a number of ridiculous circumstances take place as ye shall hear of immediately; because the most part, possessed and beguiled by custom, are not even aware of their absurdity, but need others to teach them. For dancing, and cymbals, and flutes, and shameful words and songs, and drunkenness, and revellings, and all the Devil’s great help of garbage is then introduced.”
    “David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh is no longer lust against the spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable paths, than will you create a spiritual melody.” John Chrysostom exposition of psalms 41, (381-398A.D.)
    Clement of Alexandria says: “Leave the pipe to the shepherd the flute to the men who are in fear of goods and are intent on their idol-worshiping. Such musical instrument must be excluded form our wineless feasts, for they are more suited for beast and for the class of men that is least capable of reason than for men…In general, we must completely eliminate every such base sight or sound-in a word, everything immodest that strikes, the senses (for this is an abuse of the senses)-if we would avoid pleasures that merely fascinate the eye or ear, and emasculate.”
    Both Origen and Eusebius explain he Psalm 33:2, “Give thanks to the Lord on the harp; with the ten stringed psaltery chant His praises” as the harp meaning the soul, and the ten-stringed psaltery being a body with 5 senses and 5 faculties.
    Eusebius (as historical witness): “Of old at eh time those of the circumcision were worshiping with symbols and types it was not inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the psalterion and cithara and to do this on Sabbath days… We render our hymn with a living psalterion and a living cithara with spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms.” (Commentary on Psalms 91)

  9. All of the beauty of our church services is concluded in texts of the holy chants. The text, is only capable of becoming possession of the praying when it is clearly pronounced by the human voice. Sounds of an organ undoubtedly darken and hide from the praying all the beauty and loftiness incorporated by the song-creating thoughts. From this point of view, besides harm an organ is incapable of bringing anything else into an Orthodox church services. Instead of introducing an organ into an Orthodox church to falsely improve the singing, we should put all of our efforts in to raising singing in the church that is common to the whole people. Only this path will bring our people to conscious participation in the church service, development of our choir. For two thousand years the Orthodox church has functioned without an organ and to bring in such an instrument into the church divides people. Psychology of the Orthodox people is unable to deal with such a shock. The motives of these heretic renovations are unclear. Have we not learned our history, that any apostasy does not lead to anything good and positive. Human singing involves a soul, which brings depth and mobility to the Orthodox chants thus making choir a higher form of art.