I nearly skipped community chapel today, but I noticed that it was to be an Eastern Orthodox service of thanksgiving. It was led by a man studying for the EO deaconate and his wife (who I think teaches in the college). It was completely unfamiliar and fascinating. It was a “stripped down” version of a normal EO service. There were no bells or “smells”, and it was significantly shorter than a normal EO service. The point was simply to give us a glimpse into EO worship.
It is a very “liturgical” style of worship, done in a quasi-antiphonal unaccompanied chant. It was really quite beautiful and fitting to what I just read in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:
Because it is wholly bound to the Word, the singing of the congregation…is essentially singing in unison… The Purity of unison singing, unaffected by alien motives of musical techniques, the clarity, unspoiled by the attempt to give musical art an autonomy of its own apart from the words, the simplicity and frugality, the humanness and warmth of this way of this singing is the essence of all congregational singing (59-60).
I don’t entirely agree with Bonhoeffer’s suggestion (and Dixie certainly won’t like his disdain for harmony), I can certainly agree that all the other stuff of congregational singing–the instruments and, yes, the harmony–can sometimes become a distraction. There is a certain purity and focus to the chant style of singing which really became apparent during this afternoon’s EO service.
But what struck me most of all is that 90 per cent or more of the words in the service were passages from the Bible. It was quite a bit for an evangelical like myself to take in. This says something about evangelical churches, who often pride themselves in being “Bible-believing” Christians, doesn’t it? We may call ourselves such things, but there is often a severe lack of scripture heard in a given evangelical service, certainly in comparison to the EO service.
EO worship is certainly a different world from evangelical worship, but it is not entirely other, as I might have suspected before having any experience with the mysterious EO church.