A Call for a New Christian Culture

The hum of air conditioning and the drab tan walls of the hotel conference room faded into the background as soon as I entered the already buzzing atmosphere of the WMG Anthology Workshop in Las Vegas. Fifty people absorbed in conversations with old friends that they hadn’t seen in a year. A stage adorned with just as much pomp as a medieval king’s feasting table. And there I was, brand new to the whole thing. Introverted. Absolutely terrified.

It turned out my worries were for naught. Immediately a long-haired middle-aged woman with a Star Trek t-shirt greeted me, followed by a very large bearded man who looked like he should be carrying a horn of mead in his right hand. They made it clear that newbies were just as welcome as twelve-year veterans.

Then the main organizer started talking about rules of behavior. Right after “please limit your drinking and please, no drugs,” he came to the main prohibition for the week-long event.

“No politics or religion at any point during this workshop,” he said. “If you do, I’ll kick you out. No one cares what you believe.”

I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Fragmentation and Safe Spaces

culture creation
@ramireztoons

Within that comfortable non-religious bubble created by the organizers, the writers (an introverted lot) were able to create an atmosphere of unusual generosity. World Fantasy Award-winning authors gave craft and business advice to authors who had only been writing for a year or two. Authors with film deals had lunch with writers who had written their first short stories ever. And never was there a sense of anything other than an immense willingness to help, to give, even to love.

Dare I say it? These people acted like better Christians than many Christians I know.

But this was a generosity and love that was confined to a very “safe space.” The limits were clear. If you transgressed them, then you would be kicked out. Ostracized. A pariah. I myself saw the fear of this limit expressed during an otherwise pleasant conversation with a fellow writer. He casually asked me what I did for a living. Naturally, I can’t answer that question without mentioning living near a monastery. The shutters that closed in the eyes of my fellow author were astounding. I was flirting with the boundary, and I needed to be careful.

This phenomenon is not limited to writers’ groups. It’s a fairly universal phenomenon in our society. Increasingly, people seek the refuge of very limited safe spaces, within which they can say whatever they want, feel exactly as they’d like to feel, and everyone outside be (figuratively) damned. We see it in social media especially, and in the way politics and culture have become ideologically polarized into what Stephen Miller calls “anger communities.”

As for Christians, this sort of mentality is a definite temptation, ranging from the deliberate ethnocentrism of many parishes to the “culture war” mentality that brings issues of culture into arenas of politics and ideology, where they lose their nuance and turn into battering rams or unscalable walls. Christian writers limit themselves to “Christian fiction,” which consciously excludes the experience of the vast majority of non-Evangelicals. Everywhere we are told to “find our tribe,” for therein lies true validation.

A Light So Lovely

culture creation

 

Except, there’s a problem. Christianity is not one religious option among many. It is the body of Christ, the one true faith, the redemption and even deification of mankind. All mankind, not a specially elected group of them. And it should attract everyone like the sweet fragrance of nectar attracts bees.

As Madeleine L’Engle said:

“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

But how can we do that when perfectly decent, cultured people react to even religious talk by sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming “Lalalalala!” at the top of their lungs? (figuratively speaking)

I believe that the only way to do that is to let them experience transcendent beauty so compelling that they themselves seek out the source. A Light So Lovely. And this, my dear friends, is very, very difficult.

The Eye of the Beholder

culture creation
Askold and Dir, the semi-mythical first Christians of Kiev

It’s difficult because people have been trained to think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s assumed that beauty is relative. After all, what some people find beautiful is repellent to others. Some would even go so far as to say that there can be no universally compelling experience of beauty.

Except… our Church’s history proves the opposite. One need only consider the experience of the Russian Prince Vladimir’s emissaries to Constantinople. When they attended and experienced the beauty of the liturgy in Hagia Sophia, they “knew not whether they were in heaven or on earth.” That experience of beauty changed the history of the world, as Rus became Christian, and the world was never again the same.

But where can we find such experiences of beauty that bring people together today? Can we create a light so lovely that people run to us to ask about its source?

Culture Creation

culture creation
Russian Philosopher Ivan Ilyin

Not only is it possible, but I believe we must do this, not only to attract people to our faith, but to keep our children in it. And we must do it through non-liturgical culture as much as through liturgical culture. Where are the authors who help people experience the transcendent without preaching to them? When is the last time you’ve attended concerts of music that made your heart sing? Why do we not paint and dance and speak to the hearts of people, making them wistful for a beauty that cannot be found on earth except in intimations?

Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin is even more blunt:

“The good news of the Gospel does not consist in the fact that heaven and the earth are opposed to each other or severed from each other because of sin.  Rather, it is that the heavens have already come down to earth in the person of the God-Man… that the possibility and reality of a meaningful “taking on” and transfiguration of the world exists.  The Gospel brings to the world not a curse, but a promise, and to humanity not death, but salvation and joy.”

This fact of God’s sanctification of matter itself through the incarnation of Christ suggests a great calling for all Christians, to the best of their abilities:

“[The Gospel] teaches not flight from the world, but the Christianization of the world.  Thus, the sciences, the arts, politics, and the social order can all be those spiritual hands with which the Christian takes the world.  And the calling of a Christian is not to chop off those hands, but to imbue their work and toil with the living spirit of Christ.  Christianity has a great calling, which many do not ever realize.  This purpose can be defined as the creation of a Christian culture.”

A Call for Christian Cultural Renewal

Culture creation
A performance by Conquering Time, an ensemble dedicated to Christian culture creation

There was a time when society itself was inspired by Christian principles. Art, government, society itself  emulated, as much as possible, the search for perfection dictated by the call to virtue. Christendom’s grand experiment had both peaks and troughs, of course, something beautifully explored in Fr. John Strickland’s forthcoming book Age of Paradise. Ultimately, however, the twentieth century’s many disasters and Christendom’s failure to stop revolution and world war, have discredited Christianity itself in the eyes of many.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that only Christianity can revitalize a culture that has lost most of its connection with beauty and that glorifies banality, variety, and diversity as ends in themselves. In my opinion, this would not be a retread of historical Christendom, but a new vision, predicated on the new realities of an increasingly neo-pagan and transhumanist West. Only a revitalized and renewed Christian cultural vision of the world can attract people once again to the Light So Lovely.

After all, things are perhaps not as gloomy as they seem. As Orthodox artist Andrew Gould said in his wonderful review of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, 

As an artist, I have often observed that there exists a natural law in art. When one tries to willfully distort its message, it often has the effect of proving a higher and more immutable truth. Because, in the end, beauty can reveal only one thing – the Truth of Christ.

Next Steps

culture creation
“Inklings Gathered” by James A. Owen

It is the purpose of this blog to explore how we Christian writers, readers, artists, musicians, and audiences can create Christian culture anew. Not a culture that puts up walls against those outside, nor a culture that fears outside influence and thus becomes a museum of unchanging “traditions.” Instead, I urge you to help me find the right “spiritual hands” with which to “take the world.”

I will seek out living artists as well as those from the past, to help articulate a vision for Christian culture that is at once innovative and traditional, steeped in the wisdom of the past while directed at the issues of the present. I hope you will help me find the ones that aren’t as well known.

Here are some of my early efforts:

Finally, I will report on my successes (or failures) at this year’s Ancient Faith Writers and Podcasters Conference. From there, I hope to come away with not only ideas, but a group of like-minded people willing to create culture and reflect the Light So Lovely.

Perhaps, if we have done what we can, I will visit the same Anthology Workshop one day, but will hear a different message from the organizers. Maybe one day, when I speak about my religion, the response will be guarded interest, not outright fear. I hope that day will come soon.

In the meantime, if you’ve enjoyed this post, here is a downloadable pdf version of the post that you can share with your friends and colleagues.

Download the PDF version of The Call for a New Christian Culture and share with your friends!

38 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. Much of what you talked about resonated with my own thoughts and feelings as of late. I’m looking forward to following along on your journey. Blessings to you!

  2. Our vision will always.💓 be in the truth of him who created all things. And He or the Holy Spirit will also create a new culture in whom all of His have their being. I am convinced it will happen and become a reality from the smallest nucleus of the family to community and groups to cities etc. A sound understanding in the seed of Christ and no overreach of any will bring it to pass. Cultural vision is good when it also has boundries and accetancr for fruition. MHO. Thank you.💓 I’m with you and coming along on your journey.

  3. Amen! “we must do it through non-liturgical culture as much as through liturgical culture.” I wholeheartedly agree. We have virtually no modern art or music that directly supports Orthodox life. As an amateur musician, I am trying to dig deep and find musical idioms that can express the Orthodox spiritual life in a way that is resonant with modern aesthetics. Music that I want to listen to day to day, that also supports the spiritual life. I know that it begins with my own spiritual life, and then having the artistic tools to express that life.

    I just finished up the first three books of the Raven Son series. What an exciting series! Excellent writing that expresses so much Orthodox thought and spirituality without being preachy or heavy handed about it. When I was reading these books, I was thinking “This is exactly what I want to do with music.”

    I am excited about this blog series and look forward to reading and drawing more inspiration. Thank you Fr. Dcn. Nicholas!

  4. Sounds ideal-lets get all the Orthodox “brains’ on this issue and with one clear goal move forward-goal being-A New Orthodox Culture moving forward!-

    1. let’s do it! for those who are interested, I am speaking at the Ancient Faith Writers and Podcasters Conference, where I believe some practical things will happen to move this vision forward. God willing.

  5. Very interesting.
    For the last three years we have had a monthly gathering to talk about Christianity and literature, where we have touched on such issues — you can see a sample of one of our discussions here Neoinkings: Time to talk | Khanya. I might share your blog post with them before our next meeting, and see what happens. My wife and I are the only Orthodox members of the group.

    1. Good to hear from you, Fr. Stephen! I look forward to reading your latest book soon! Just been overwhelmed with life. Wonderful to hear about this Neo-Inklings group. Much of my thinking and dreaming comes from a similar group we had in San Francisco about ten years ago. Hopefully many more such groups will form.

  6. Deacon Nicholas,

    Thank you for so directly and honestly addressing culture and its relationship to Christianity! I have been Orthodox for 23 years now and since the beginning have been struck by the naivete (I can think of no better word) of Orthodoxy *in* western, secular culture. Despite a few prophets like Florovsky, Schmemann, and even (if I may be so bold) Ancient Faith’s own Fr. Steven Freeman, too few (everyone: laity and clergy alike) have even seen and framed the problem/circumstance of secularism and “the negation of worship” (as Fr. Schmemann put it) of Christianity in the west, let alone begun to properly address the problem with a solution. Fr. Schmemann talked about the two “failure paths”, the either/or of a ghettoized sub-culture Orthodoxy and a compromised, secularized Orthodoxy. I see that like myself you also are looking for the transcendent third option, so to speak – and now that I have two young daughters there is a real and present urgency. I have been looking for this Christian culture since my conversion to Christianity (which was several years before discovering Orthodoxy)!

    I am going to go for the jugular here in addressing your thesis in a way that I hope will not be dismissed as merely provocative:

    Beauty will not save the world, or by itself lead to a new Christian culture.

    How can I say that? As Orthodox Christians (rather we or not we are literate with Dostoevsky, Elliot, Tolkien, Lewis, etc.) we – to the extent that we have been properly *formed* by the liturgical and prayerful life – just “get” the importance of Beauty. God Himself is indeed Beautiful, as is His Creation. We would even go so far as to say that we are saved by His Beauty.

    As you are no doubt aware, Lewis wrote a book titled “The Abolition of Man”, or in modern English “The Destruction of Humanity”, that directly address the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” Cartesian epistemology (my apologies for using such heavy philosophical language). However, Lewis thesis is not that this is just a “mere” epistemology and that by fixing/changing or even evangelizing (I use that word purposefully and with its full weight) the circumstantial culture one can get back to the Garden of Christian epistemology so to speak.

    Lewis’s thesis is rather different: it is the assertion that what is really going with and in modern/secular man, culture, and religion is not epistemological, but rather anthropological (i.e. theological anthropology as they say in seminary). It’s not man’s *mind*, his “ideas” and understanding of Beauty or any other category that is wrong, off, unevangelized, etc. Rather, he/they (i.e. the modern Cartesian person) is not a man/human at all!! Let that sink in for a moment. Lewis is asserting that before you can be a Christian (and thus be form and be part of a Christian culture) you first have to be human. This means that Mankind is created by God in such a way that as a creature we can somehow “be”, ontologically, something other than human. Think of a hobbit losing his hobbitness to such an extent that he “becomes” a Gollum. The problem of Christian culture, as all Christian problems in a secular culture are, is not one of epistemology (and thus knowing beauty) but rather anthropological.

    As evidence that Lewis (and Schmemann, and for that matter Rod Dreher) are right about this, which is to say the “frame” and contextualize the issue/question of Christian culture within secular, Cartesian modernism correctly I submit the anecdote you started out with. Nobody at the WMG Anthology Workshop needs or cares about Christianity because the Cartesian Self already “knows” Beauty, granted on its own terms or “construal” as Charles Taylor puts it. What does Christianity – to say nothing of a real Christian culture – really add to the Self’s apprehension and even possession of Beauty besides a bunch of nonessentials, even oppressive, forms? Here we begin to see the import of “Becoming Human”, and the direction of the dominate secular culture. This direction is not just one of knowledge, “belief” and being part of His Cult (i.e. the etymological root of “culture”), and the like – it is rather ontological and anthropological. Modern mankind is becoming, or already is, non-human. How do Christian humans even talk to non-humans – a particular type of non-human who have this neat trick of re-interpreting even Beauty itself into a “construal” of their non-human Cartesian Selves?

    I have gone on too long for a comment box. Forgive me for disagreeing so thoroughly with your thesis, but you’re asking the right question(s) I believe – not just the right one, but the pressing one for Christians in our secular age.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. After reading Anthony Coniaris’ book Do Something Beautiful For God, I stopped believing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is an objective reality because it is of God. It is when everything is in balance, all the parts working perfectly together, making something bigger than each part. Harmony, balance, union, communicating truth and Love. That’s why we can all agree that certain works of art are beautiful, because they transcend style and speak to all times and peoples in all places. I do believe beauty saves, because it is when we encounter beauty. We have an orthodox school in our parish and one of our goals is to enable frequent encounters with beauty for the children, in art, music, dance, nature, service to others, anything.
      Regarding being human, I think we need to just save ourselves and become fully human and then God’s lovely light will shine through us and others will want to be human too. I think you are right on track! I love this idea!

  7. I am heartened by the prospect of following your blog in the future. You articulate a perspective and hope that I have shared for some time. Though not of the Orthodox Church (I am a life-long Baptist) I would encourage you to look into the work of my pastor of 20 years who left our congregation to move to California with the intent of working to influence our culture as an author, screenplay writer, blogger and, as it turns out, actor (he has a brief walk-on in the recent “Captain America”). His name is Barry “Bear” Clifton … I’ll give you his contact info shortly. Keep up the good work … I’ll be following closely.

  8. edit: I write fast and when I hit submit and realized I mispelled Fr. Stephen’s name and made other errors which are now corrected below

    Deacon Nicholas,

    Thank you for so directly and honestly addressing culture and its relationship to Christianity! I have been Orthodox for 23 years now and since the beginning have been struck by the naivete (I can think of no better word) of Orthodoxy *in* western, secular culture. Despite a few prophets like Florovsky, Schmemann, and even (if I may be so bold) Ancient Faith’s own Fr. Stephen Freeman, too few (everyone: laity and clergy alike), have even seen and framed the problem/circumstance of secularism and “the negation of worship” (as Fr. Schmemann put it) of Christianity in the west, let alone begun to properly address the problem with a ‘solution’. Fr. Schmemann talked about the two “failure paths”, the either/or of a ghettoized sub-culture Orthodoxy and a compromised, secularized Orthodoxy. I see that like myself you also are looking for the transcendent third option, so to speak – and now that I have two young daughters there is a real and present urgency. I have been looking for this Christian culture since my conversion to Christianity (which was several years before discovering Orthodoxy)!

    I am going to go for the jugular here in addressing your thesis in a way that I hope will not be dismissed as merely provocative:

    Beauty will not save the world, or by itself lead to a new Christian culture.

    How can I say that? As Orthodox Christians (whether or not we are literate with Dostoevsky, Elliot, Tolkien, Lewis, etc.), we – to the extent that we have been properly *formed* by the liturgical and prayerful life – just “get” the importance of Beauty. God Himself is indeed Beautiful, as is His Creation. We would even go so far as to say that we are saved by His Beauty.

    As you are no doubt aware, Lewis wrote a book titled “The Abolition of Man”, or in modern English “The Destruction of Humanity”, that directly address the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” Cartesian epistemology (my apologies for using such heavy philosophical language). However, Lewis’ thesis is not that this is just a “mere” epistemology and that by fixing/changing or even evangelizing (I use that word purposefully and with its full weight) the circumstantial culture one can get back to the Garden of Christian epistemology, so to speak.

    Lewis’ thesis is rather different: it is the assertion that what is really going in and with modern/secular man, culture, and religion is not epistemological, but rather anthropological (i.e. theological anthropology as they say in seminary). It’s not man’s *mind*, his “ideas” and understanding of Beauty or any other category that is wrong, off, unevangelized, etc. Rather, he/they (i.e. the modern Cartesian person) is not a man/human at all!! Let that sink in for a moment. Lewis is asserting that before you can be a Christian (and thus be form and be part of a Christian culture) you first have to be human. This means that Mankind is created by God in such a way that as a creature we can somehow “be”, ontologically, something other than human. Think of a hobbit losing his hobbitness to such an extent that he “becomes” a Gollum. The problem of Christian culture, as all Christian problems in a secular culture are, is not one of epistemology (and thus knowing beauty) but rather anthropological.

    As evidence that Lewis (and Schmemann, and for that matter Rod Dreher) are right about this, which is to say they “frame” and contextualize the issue/question of Christian culture within secular, Cartesian modernism correctly I submit the anecdote you started out with. Nobody at the WMG Anthology Workshop needs or cares about Christianity because the Cartesian Self already “knows” Beauty, granted on its own terms or “construal” as Charles Taylor puts it. What does Christianity – to say nothing of a real Christian culture – really add to the Self’s apprehension and even possession of Beauty besides a bunch of nonessentials, even oppressive, forms? Here we begin to see the import of “Becoming Human”, and the direction of the dominate secular culture. This direction is not just one of knowledge, “belief” and being part of His Cult (i.e. the etymological root of “culture”), and the like – it is rather ontological and anthropological. Modern mankind is becoming, or already is, non-human. How do Christian humans even talk to non-humans – a particular type of non-human who have this neat trick of re-interpreting even Beauty itself into a “construal” of their non-human Cartesian Selves?

    I have gone on too long for a comment box. Forgive me for disagreeing so thoroughly with your thesis, but you’re asking the right question(s) I believe – not just the right one, but the pressing one for Christians in our secular age.

    1. thank you for your comment! The Charles Taylor quote is apt, I think. I’m about to tackle his great masterwork on the Secular Age, so I may have a better response to you then. My gut, however, is that we haven’t yet come to the reality of people becoming non-human. If we did, then I’m afraid it might be putting the efficacy of Christ’s own incarnation and ability to save all people in doubt. Beauty, more than most things, has a capacity to awaken a longing, even in these “abolished humans” that can begin a transformation. God takes care of the rest. But I hope you continue to read and comment, and we’ll see if we can continue this conversation over the next few months!

      1. Without going down the rabbit hole of will, freedom, “the fall” (or worse, “universalism”) and such I do not believe that acknowledging our ability to become something other than human, and this humanity being a necessary pre-condition to be a Christian and thus am member of the cult, the culture of God, implies any denial of Grace and Christ. I do not deny Beauty and it’s power, any more than I deny God. Is Beauty in itself sufficient? If it is a kind of necessary precursor to Christian culture, what else is needed? Culture is a kind of mundane thing, and includes things like moral prescriptions and expectations, some sort of descriptive/normative doctrinal/theological/anthropological assertions (i.e. creed) and boundaries, cultic practices and tradition, etc. etc. Culture is formative – built into it is a way of its self sustainment through the generations. I truly believe Godly Culture is itself Beautiful. Certainly the high Christian cultures of Rome/Byzantium, pre-revolutionary Russia have their own diverse Beauty. However that is not our situation as you acknowledge. Things are “bad”, but why? What is it about Secularism that is itself so successful at assimilation (like the Borg on Star Trek! 😉 ) such that it appears to reflect some aspects of traditional Christianity on the one hand, and on the other hand secularizing the rest of it so that most Christians (Orthodox are no exception to this) are really just secularists “at prayer” – living the liturgical and ascetical life to some degree or other, but also truly living and “being” secular in other very central aspects of their life?

        To answer all of this with “Beauty will save the world” can be just a kind of tautology because of course it is God who saves – no one else can. As a kind of beginning to a real and honest grappling with a new kind of Christian culture, well obviously I would like to see this flushed out and with meat on the bones. I second Fr. Aidan – what does a real Christian culture look like in the larger dominant culture of secularism and pluralism? How would a Christian culture “at the parish level” be any different from a ghettoized Christianity that Fr. Schmemann warns us against? All very difficult questions.

        I look forward to this conversation! I see that you have already written a few other blogs about it so I have some reading to do!!

  9. Yes, Nicholas, yes! At our Wednesday night Lenten meal at church this week, two very devout intelligent men said they are very afraid Christianity is losing the battle in America, that the pagans and secularists are winning. I responded: “Little wonder!” As I wrote in my Blog a while back, if I were seeking something to believe in these days, I think I would be turned off by Christianity – between heavy-handed, politicized, often anti-intellectual Christians on one hand, and clergy who abuse children on the other, and liberal barely-believing Christians on (sorry, I’ve run out of hands…). I’m not intending to dump all over other Christians, and I know there are many good people in all denominations. I’m just saying how I think Christianity looks to non-believers these days. So if it were me: If I could find Jesus, yes. And if I could find the Orthodox Church (and figure it out!), yes. But otherwise, would I become a Christian today? Not likely. What’s the solution? As you say, by presenting the Orthodox Faith without compromise, but not defensively and negatively – rather in a beautiful, winsome, positive, gentle loving way. But how in practice do we reach out to this good world which God created and “so loved…”? How do we get people to see and experience this? In the old days Kings and Emperors ordered people to be baptized. Not any more.

  10. I have been telling a friend from my parish to read the Raven Son series for months, and today she sent me a link to this post. I have names. People to connect you with. I’ll send them your way.

  11. Two short comments:

    The problem with most Christian evangelism is that it answers a question that its target audience is not asking. We need to begin with pre-evangelism – planting the question in their minds so that they will start looking for the answer that the Church can provide.

    True culture is something that evolves organically over a long period of time. I fear that any attempt to construct a culture consciously and intentionally will produce just another postmodern, synthetic simulation. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for in this postmodern age, but is it enough?

  12. May have to be satisfied with a very small part of culture…so small as to be labeled a clique…like the Inklings.

  13. This conversation really resonates with me, though I don’t have much to offer at this point. Just five strong -willed, musically inclined, literature loving, stream-redirecting kids and two introverted parents to be fans of any Neo-Inklings. I’m most interested in culture creation for the direct benefit of my children, and as a convert to Orthodoxy, frustrated by the very Disney-fied American-ness of our fellow parishioners who’s immigrant heritage urges them to fit in.

    1. Our children are the place to start for sure. I have five, now grown. I have worked hard to create beautiful cultural events within our parish community. Besides making the liturgical music as beautiful and engaging as possible, directing the parish school students in musicals, incorporating lots of good folk music into the children’s music programs, hosting family parties such as Oktoberfest featuring a folk music orientation instead of drinking songs. My sister hosts poetry teas for the Academy. They serve a formal tea, the students dress up and read their favorite poems aloud. They also help do flower decorations for church feasts and things like that. Our goal is to provide encounters with beauty so they have a hunger and a taste for what is good, beautiful and true. If we form a generation of people who are raised on Christian culture, perhaps it can spread. This is at least what I can do in my community. I think it is great to share ideas.

      1. Anne,
        These sound like beautiful gatherings and worthy efforts. Thanks for the inspiration. I struggle to bridge the gap between our family’s culture (folky, simple, screen light) and our friends’ at church (pop, plastic, screen heavy). I want to be able offer beauty in an accessible way.

  14. Thank you, Deacon Nicholas, for stimulating this very important discussion.

    Two thoughts. The importance of working with children and exposing them to Christian culture and Beauty has been rightly mentioned by several people. Many Orthodox Christian parents I know, including a number in our parish, home school their children. Yet I have yet to come across a home schooling curriculum, even among those based on “Classical” models, that include the study of music — and I don’t mean gathering the kids together and teaching them to sing church hymns or carols, maybe with a little solfege or Byzantine chant thrown in. I mean the subject of Music as it was understood in the ancient Classical trivium and quadrivium — the history, development, and philosophical importance of singing (music) as an art and it’s place in both Orthodox worship and anthropology, In essence, it could be a course akin to “music appreciation” but one specifically oriented to the Orthodox experience, informed by sayings from the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and more recent music historians and scholars, illustrated by a wealth of available recordings and visuals, if not live performances. Where else, but in such a context, will future church members, including some who might go on to become decision makers — hierarchs, priests, deacons, parish council members, church school teachers, — even learn about the importance of church singing (and sponsoring extra-liturgical musical events) if they have no exposure to any of it? What support, moral, practical, or financial, will they offer to the musical ministry, to the choir director? (One parish I know elected to spend several million $$ on building a gym for the teens, which would double as a banquet and party facility, but did not see fit to establish any remuneration for the choir director, claiming that there was not money available).

    In response to this situation, I would call on those who have the skill to do such things to seek the means and support to create a multimedia program for a range of ages (and perhaps even adults, who might be interested in a “remedial course”) in Orthodox music history and appreciation. It would be a beautiful and transforming thing!

    My second point is really just a practical suggestion: the creation and sharing (packaging, if you will) of things various parishes have done so that similar programs or events could be replicated elsewhere. A few years ago, our parish had a film series. A few of our members who were film buffs (one an American another a Russian expatriate) did the research and put on the events–4 or 5 films over a time period of a few months–which was edifying not only for our parishioners, but also for outside guests from the surrounding community. Now our film buffs are gone, and we’re looking for some ideas to continue similar cultural events. But it’s a lot easier to replicate something that’s already proven successful in another parish than to come up with and execute vrand new ideas from start to finish. Perhaps over time, some kind of “How to handbook” or, dare I suggest it, a “traveling production company” might arise for parish cultural events. And the wheel would not have to be reinvented each time from scratch.
    As God wills, and as we cooperate with Him…

  15. Vlad, Excellent ideas. Did you put anything like this together when teaching at St. Katherine’s? What was, or currently is being taught there with respect to liturgical music?

    1. To Anne’s question, at St Katherine College, then in Encinitas, now in San Marcos, California, I was asked to teach a course in the history of Russian Church Singing. That was a onetime occurrence. The course was taken by two students, one of whom withdrew before the conclusion of the semester.
      I don’t believe that there are currently any courses being taught in the area of Orthodox liturgical music. The college seems to have adopted a philosophy that seeks to be responsive to the curricular needs and interests of students, so if there are no students wanting to study liturgical music, it is not likely that courses will be offered in those subjects. All of which goes to my earlier point — people’s awareness of the importance of music and singing in their lives and in the Church needs to be addressed at an earlier, formative stage. People don’t know what they don’t know. We seem to have, as a society, fully accepted British music historian Charles Burney’s dictum, “Music is an innocent luxury, unnecessary, indeed, to our existence….”

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