How to Become an Amateur

Saint Basil, one of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Christian Church, is known for his influential theological writings. Writing about the hymns and psalms of the Church, he said, “The delight of melody He mingled with the doctrines so that by the pleasantness and softness of the sound heard we might receive without perceiving it the benefit of the words, just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey.” In other words, the sweet hymns and melodies of the liturgical services help the faithful remember key teachings of the church, as the music becomes ingrained in our hearts together with the words that make up the hymns. Just as adding oil and salt to food gives it flavor, thereby making it easier to consume, music helps us take in important lessons from the church, often pertaining to the way we live our lives.

Recently, the Georgetown Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) chapter hosted a special presentation by George Theodoridis, the Master Chanter, Choir Director, and Director of Music Arts at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Washington DC. The topic of his lecture was “Byzantine Chant: The Imperial Music of Byzantium.” Mr. Theodoridis explained the history of liturgical music since the onset of Christianity and how it is the continuation of Ancient Greek music. As Greek ideas spread following the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Jews were influenced by the Hellenistic Culture, providing the connection between Ancient Greek music and early Christian hymns. Byzantine music culminated during the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, when it took on its current form and theory, before being simplified into Neo-Byzantine music in the mid-1800s. Byzantine choirs are not harmonized, but homophonic, in order to emphasize the clarity and importance of the words being chanted.

When chanting, it is important to live out the words of the hymns, in order to avoid being hypocritical. Since chanting facilitates worship for an entire church, the chanter has a huge burden to follow. Chanting is a form of praising God, and it presupposes an understanding of God and the works of God. Therefore, chanting involves not only a mastery of the liturgical music, but also understanding the words of the hymns and living in accordance with their teachings, as the hymns’ meanings follow you even after you leave the chanter’s stand.

As he concluded, Mr. Theodoridis noted the importance of broadening our knowledge and learning more about other cultures and traditions. He mentioned the Greek word “ερασιτέχνης”, which, translated, means “amateur.” The Greek roots of the world literally mean “lover of art.” As Byzantine music is a form of art, we should appreciate it and be open to learning more about it. Therefore, let us all be amateurs, in the sense that we too could become “lovers of art” and expose ourselves to a variety of diverse traditions.

Written by John Banas, B’17

Orthodox Christian