THE MELODY OF THEOLOGY

by Fr. John Shimchick

 

"Without ceasing and without silence, they praise the goodness of God, in the venerable and thrice-illumined melody of theology."
— Nicephorus of Constantinople

 

We would like it to be black and white. We would prefer our knowledge of the Church to be simple and uncomplicated, something like it seemed, at least, when we were growing up. But as soon as we have put our understanding of God and the Church into words, even if they represent our best efforts to find words "adequate to God," we realize how limited our language remains. Orthodoxy presented in words, in prose, in a question and answer catechism-like form somehow seems stilted and ineffective.

How can just plain words help us to explain the kind of definition of Orthodoxy given to us by Fr. Alexander Elchaninov; that is, of Orthodoxy as "Christianity understood as supreme Beauty"? Perhaps a look at our worship will help.

The Psalms come to us as songs. What we believe is prayed in our hymnography. Our theology, iconographically speaking, appears in form and color. When trying to describe the beauty, joy, and simply the experience of being in God’s presence the Church invites us to utilize ways and language that encourage wonder, reflection, and a "growth in life, and faith, and spiritual understanding." In the expression of Christos Yannaras, "From the liturgical cycle of the Church’s services (vespers, matins, the Liturgy, the hours) theology became a poem and a song — experienced more than thought out by syllogistic inferences."

This is the invitation we make as well in this issue of Jacob’s Well: to see how our knowledge of God, the Church, and ourselves is experienced in a "melody of theology." Fr. Alexis Vinogradov helps us re-examine the significance of such musical terms as "rhythm, tone, and key" commonly found in the theological writings of Fr. Alexander Schmemann. The "melody" needs words and Archbishop Peter and Elizabeth Theokritoff reflect on the problems of translation and the vocation of the one who translates. How the "melody" is heard by those who have converted to Orthodoxy is the message of Fr. John Garvey’s article, while Fr. Michael Plekon examines this question and the related spiritual hunger found throughout our society on a broader level. Professor David Drillock presents the valuable introduction to Orthodox worship and liturgical music which he has shared with our Diocesan singers, choir directors, and clergy at the three workshops he has led over the past year. Robert Flanagan connects the "groaning" of creation (Romans 8:22) to mankind’s ability or inability to be thankful. Peter Mikuliak, in his "Letter from Sarajevo," gives us some insights into the problems and hopes of that troubled area.

Finally, in the spirit of Schleiermacher’s expression, "The virtuosity (or special calling) of a person ... is the melody of that person’s life," we offer this "melody" as heard throughout our Diocesan and parish life, highlighting the areas of education, mission, and youth while featuring the poetry of Dianna Vagianos Miller.

Fr. John Shimchick is the pastor of Church of the Holy Cross, Medford, NJ and editor of Jacob's Well, the Newspaper of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, Orthodox Church in America.

From Jacob's Well
Newspaper of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey
Orthodox Church in America
Fall 1996

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