If you think things are bad in your church…

I have a confession to make. Readers from southern states or devoted fans of the now ancient and defunct seminal rock band, R.E.M., will understand what I mean by declaring I’m losing my religion. No, not my faith or practice in our beloved HRCC, God forbid! “Losing my religion” is colloquial code for when you feel doubt about the worth of something that once was pretty an all-consuming passion. In my case, it’s about the value of internet discourse as a helpful tool for dialogue, enthusiasm and fraternal support among peers serving the Church as musicians. I found myself giving advice to a colleague at our sister forum that to offer sound advice via the “written word” on the web that produces responses other than what one anticipated was immaterial in this age when people DON’T READ ANYTHING. What, you say, no one READS ANYTHING anymore? Well, you show me someone who reads every word and mark on a contract for a mortgage or auto loan, and I’ll show you the odd duck. Realizing someone actually reads these little missives and responds consistent to your dialectic would be like finding Waldo, heck maybe even Amelia Earhart! No, I know for darn sure that I am not a completely thorough reader. Happily I have lots of friends who remind me of that in our respective and various Liturgy Encampments. But, at some point I’m sure that the best intentions bloggers have when hitting submit, knowing that saying something with fervor is going to be like being in the middle of a riotous bunch of bridezillas at the wedding gown blue light special sale, you’ll be relatively unscathed if someone just criticizes your spelling, punctuation or word count. But, in reality, it’s generally nasty business. Blogger Adam Wood (Music for Sunday) nailed it today at Pray Tell after a lovely little post of Alan Hommerding’s satire at NPM called “How do you solve a problem named ‘translation?’” (think “Sound of Music.”) Adam quipped “Cue comments lacking a sense of humor in 3… 2… 1…” So, I’m not tired or weary. I’m just doubtful about the time investment. I’m hoping to hand over my Café calligraphy pen to someone like Adam or my other young and brilliant colleagues I’ve met at colloquia and online. And I wondered, what the heck is there to write about anyway?
God’s a funny person, what with Him being our Creator and all. I had avoided this issue: to post or not to post by doing what I do- procrastination. So, in a thread another new contributor at MSF offered this little gem up in so many words (Hildegard of Bingen thread), “Why not Doctors of the Church who were musicians?” Besides my patron, Gregory the Great, I thought “Yeah, what about Tallis or Palestrina?” Now, if you’ve READ THIS FAR, here comes a little fable before getting to the point.

Chuck was an organist and choirmaster of a tiny parish in a small town in the eastern desert area of Oregon for over five decades. He’d displayed quite a talent at the piano when he started lessons with a lady who also taught second grade at St. Precocious School at the age of seven. He was playing school Masses on Fridays by the third grade on an old Wurlitzer in the gallery. He started with the two part St. Gregory, added the SATB by the fourth grade, and started messing with the pedals after a growth spurt in the fifth grade. Chuckie was close enough to commute to college where he earned a degree in English, then a teaching credential, and he, too, became a school teacher. But he he would always be found at the Wurlitzer console on Saturday and Holy Day Vigils, and on Sunday and HD Masses. Once in a while, whomever the current pastor was might give Chuck a bonus a couple of weeks after Easter or Christmas. And a couple of times, he was sent to some conventions where it became evident that there was much more music than the Catholic top twelve hymns recording by the great Proulx. But Chuck only seasoned his weekly ordos with an occasional song like “Let There be Peace on Earth” or “How Great Thou Art.” One summer his pastor sent Chuck to a diocesan workshop where everyone was given huge packets of music, and he returned and reported to the parish and the pastor to learn that they were going to use all these new songs because they were switching to a yearly paperback hymnal and that would surely help the people to participate more fully (and louder) when singing at Mass. So, Chuck looked through the hymnal. It was Ordinary Time, and he said to himself, “Okay, let’s just try some of these out. Some of the tunes are actually quite well known anyway.” So for the upcoming weekend he chose four new hymns: ALL ARE WELCOME (Entrance); SING A NEW CHURCH (Presentation); SONG OF THE BODY OF CHRIST (Communion); and “CANTICLE OF THE SUN” (Dismissal). He thought of the last one, “That’s really a bit too peppy for me, but maybe the people will enjoy that.” At the end of the Vigil Mass on Saturday, Chuck turned the power off the console and expected to look over the gallery rail expecting to see just a few stragglers, but it seemed like the whole church was still full. From the hodge podge of faces first came some murmurs. Then louder, Chuck could make out some words. Then the words became shouts: “What in God’s Name was that?” “Chuck, what’s wrong with you?” “Have you lost your mind, Chuck, what was that crap anyway?” “If you play anything like those again, I’ll never come to Mass here again!” “Chuck, now you’ve gone too far, I’m going to the pastor about all this change!” He sat backwards on the bench, stunned and bewildered. It was difficult to take in “what just happened?” All he could come up with was “I just played some different music. How could that make all those folks so angry? What did I do wrong?” Unease and confusion tussled in his head. Then Chuck woke up with a start. Oh, thank God, it was just a dream. His memory emerged from a fog, it was just like other end of Mass, just a few people praying silently, a few chatting, no one noticed Chuck’s changes at all, apparently.

Back to the post. In a world where image is everything and self image is at the top of each soul’s agenda, surely nothing like Chuck’s nightmare would ever happen in reality. Such scenes are imaginary or cloaked in the anonymity of the combox echo chambers. Think again. When I considered the notion of “composer” Doctors of the Church, I thought immediately of the address given by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev in 2010 to the faculty and students of the Benjamin Rome School of Music at Catholic University in D.C., in which he particularly emphasized the singularity of the union of soul and composer in the example of J.S. Bach. His stunningly eloquent and persuasive essay can be found here. In tracking the address down via Google, as I scrolled down the first page of hundreds of thousands of addresses, this caught my attention: Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) shouted down as heretic by members of the Patriarchate of Moscow I followed the link to a site “ORTHODOX ENGLAND,” an independent publication associated with St. John’s Orthodox Church, Colchester, UK. I thought, “This can’t be serious, can’t be real.
On the evening of Saturday 13 February, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk was greeted by shouts of ‘heretic’, as he came out at the polyeleios at matins. The disturbance took place in the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God of All those who Sorrow, which is on the Ordynka in Moscow. Metropolitan Hilarion serves regularly in this church. The situation has not been helped by the leaking of a discussion document which resulted from ecumenical talks about papal primacy. These talks were held last year in Crete among academics from the Orthodox Church and from the Vatican. The discussion document has been dubbed the ‘Cretan Unia’ by its opponents. The situation thus resembles that in Greece in the 60s and 70s, where Greek ecumenists of that generation were also regularly shouted down during services as heretics. All this serves to show just how broad a spectrum of opinion is represented within the Patriarchate of Moscow. These are far broader than within the Tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, where views are much more consistent. Presumably, this must result from the fact that there are so many recently baptised in the Patriarchate, who do not always know or understand the Tradition.
Are we talking about the same prelate here? Shouted at by, presumably, the laity of his own church, maybe even by clergy. What could this eminent pastor, scholar, composer and ecumenist have done to warrant such visceral vitriol among his own “flock?”In his Wikipedia bio there was this tidbit to ponder- On 5 October 2008 Bishop Hilarion took part in the “Bible marathon” organized by the Italian state TV channel RAI-Uno. He read Chapter Two from the Book of Genesis, immediately following Pope Benedict XVI, who read Chapter One. Bishop Hilarion was followed by 1246 readers from various countries.

Reading the Holy Word of God with 1246 other souls is added to a tote board by attacking sheep to a faithful and, it cannot be overstated, literally orthodox prelate of the other lung of sacramental Christendom, so much so that one could imagine a sort of “occupy” mob mentality must have been coordinated on that February day. From what else I’ve read about the metropolitan, he is not someone who cowers in the solicitude of academic hallways or libraries. He has known risk and championed the beauty of orthodoxy and discipline at every step. I would think he’s not much for staying in the confines of his material office. If he can “get” Bach, and be a clarion to call attention to Bach, man of God, he certainly wouldn’t have reservations reading a bible chapter after the Pope of Christian unity, Benedict XVI. Wouldn’t it be wonderful were one a fly on the wall when those two chatted privately about old Johann?
So, oops, I’ve done it again. Another long, obtuse post. Well, that’s, among a very few other things, what I do and have done during my time at the Café. I try to put things into a perspective that I can comprehend, that means no offense and hopefully ministers to someone else as these revelations edifies my continued enthusiasm. So, thank you yet again, Metropolitan Hilarion. Thank you, Lord God of heaven and earth. I may not in the unforeseen future continue sharing stuff that keeps me honest and going. But, rather than to curse the darkness for all that hasn’t come to pass in WHAT I THINK LITURGY SHOULD BE in my little corner of the ant farm, I’m not going to “lose my religion” over the stuff of Chuck’s nightmare, but to emulate and follow the fine example of leadership lived by some orthodox bishop over in Russia who is, if anything, not a “heretic,” but maybe a future Doctor of a united Church, either in this world or the next.