By the Waters of Babylon

Newsweek chronicles the ancient and timeless liturgical music of Christians fleeing ISIS.

The ancient cities of Nimrud and Nineveh that they visited proudly to show their children the glories of the Assyrian empire from which they claim descent – soon these will be bulldozed by ISIS. They leave behind the treasures of Assyria in the Mosul museum – ISIS will loot the smaller antiquities for the black market and smash the statues too big to sell. And on the way to Mar Mattai, they pass the monastery of Mar Behnam: its gates are already barred by ISIS. From the steeple flies the black flag. In a few months, it will be destroyed.
What they carry with them is their liturgical music. It preserves strains of the earliest religious chants of Mesopotamia and of court songs sung for Assyrian emperors 2,000 years before Christ. Its antiquity is matched by its simplicity: clergy and congregation sing together, dividing between boys with high voices and older, bigger men who sing more deeply. Beyond this there is no distinction of note or pitch, and no melody. The call and response format is thought to enact a conversation between man and God.

Tonight, they will again sing the old songs. They make for the inner rooms: the hermits’ cells burrowed into the cliff–face; the Saints’ Room, with its reliquaries set in niches in the rock; the chapels dug deep into the holy mountain. (more here)

6 Replies to “By the Waters of Babylon”

  1. Heartbreaking…
    Couldn't get the audio link up and running.
    But it occurs to me, again, that our song in Babylon now, as then, was in dialogue with our God.
    Does that not contrast with the imperial nature of the song of the muezzin, no matter how beautiful?

  2. You may be forgetting about the shofar, and about Revelations 8.

    I don't think the contrast is clearcut along those lines.

    The link in my first line above works for me.

  3. Just to clarify for me, Kathy, were you associating the annuciatory function of the shofar and trumpets with the "call to worship" aspect of the muezzin?
    I did get that first link to work, just spell-binding, intense worship that gave me chills.
    "No, they can't take that away from me."
    Blessings, C

  4. I am just stating that true religion has room for imperial music. Look at the introit for the Epiphany, for example. It's not gentle, but a trumpet blast, a call to worship in a strong sense.

    And so will it be at the end of time.

    But let's leave this here, because there are bigger questions that we should get to.

  5. "No, they can't take that away from me." Exactly my reaction. I'll pray for them to illumine the conscience of the world from what must be for many now the caves of despair.

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