- A ‘Small Entrance’ into Orthodox Christian Sacred Music: Part One -The Song of the Angels
- A ‘Small Entrance’ into Orthodox Christian Sacred Music: Part Two – The Songs of Men
The Fathers of the Church teach that, before the Fall, Adam was like an angel. In his being, Adam was to be the bridge between the visible and the invisible creations — containing elements of both within himself — and was intended, through loving obedience to God, to raise up the visible and material creation to become a participant in the everlasting angelic hymn to the Creator. Thus, through Adam, there was to be one thunderous sound of praise in all creation, visible and invisible. But Satan, envious of what was to be Adam’s honored position — the one which he himself had formerly enjoyed — seduced Adam and his wife, Eve, into participating in his own rebellion against God. And how did he seduce them? By persuading them to seek beauty, pleasure, glory, and knowledge through the creation alone and not through their, and its, Maker.
Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You shall not die by death. For God knows in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw the tree was good for food, was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree beautiful to contemplate, she took the fruit and ate. She also gave it to her husband with her, and he ate. 
Contained in this brief passage are so many of the aspirations of mankind, both the highest — to be like a god, to have perfect knowledge, to contemplate beauty — and the lowest — to avoid death, to eat, to entertain the eyes. And yet, though God would surely have given them all these things and so much more in due time, Adam and Eve chose to steal them for themselves in disobedience to God’s commandment, seeking their life instead from the material creation. And what was the result? The answer in Genesis is surprising:
Then the eyes of the two were opened, and they knew they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. 
For the first time since their creation, and as the immediate result of the Fall, Adam and Eve are seen making something for themselves rather than receiving something that God has made. And why did they need to make something? Because they realized that they were naked — that is, they realized they were deprived of the grace of God which had hitherto covered them in warmth and beauty, both physically and spiritually  — and so they required artifice, however clumsy and inadequate, to cover their shame.
This event, I contend, is a watershed moment, for contained in it is the genesis of man’s ‘creativity,’ the birth of ‘man as maker,’ of the homo faber. And furthermore, I maintain that this moment, the moment of the Fall, also reveals the underlying meaning of why man first began to make: sensing his lack of divine grace — whether felt as an outward practical necessity or a more profound inward spiritual emptiness — man was driven to fashion for himself artificial ways to clothe his nakedness.
As we continue to follow the generations from Adam after the Fall we encounter a list of the descendants of Cain, who after having murdered his brother “went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod opposite Eden” . In a state of profound estrangement from God, Cain’s descendants show us a proliferation of men who are identified principally as makers of things: Cain “built a city” ; Jabal was ”the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” ; Jubal ”invented the psaltery and harp” ; Tubal-cain was a ”smith and a manufacturer of bronze and iron” . The Prophet Moses  seems here to particularly emphasize the fact that these early forefathers are to be known by what they made. Indeed, for many of them this is all we know about them.
The importance of this cannot be overstated, for it pertains directly to the work of liturgical musicians and to all liturgical artists generally. Contained in this list of forefathers and makers is the well-known figure of Jubal, who is held to have invented musical instruments. Jubal is listed here alongside other men who made things, useful things, and the reader is intended, I think, to take Jubal and his musical craft together with things like the building of cities and the manufacture of bronze and iron. In this context, the craft of Jubal is to be understood as something both purely functional and absolutely necessary for fallen human existence. Just as cities and tents are necessary for shelter, as livestock are necessary for food, as bronze and iron are necessary for agriculture and self-defense, so music is identified here as somehow necessary for the fallen state of man’s soul.
And is this not so? What immense power music possesses! From the beginning of history until now mankind has used music to ease his labors and to soothe — or inflame — his passions: work songs in the fields to pass the time and keep the work moving steadily; love songs and dances to kindle the flame of desire; laments to give an outlet for grief; ballads and epics to keep old stories alive and to create culture; songs and musical games to teach and entertain children; the list is endless. In the psycho-physical realm, music performs an irreplaceable role in helping mankind cover his fallen nakedness. It is a palliative, an aphrodisiac, an opiate, and it is useful in remediating the symptoms of man’s fallen condition.
But just as plowshares can be beaten once again into swords, so music can be converted from a tool into something more like a weapon. As homo faber ascends in his pride through technological achievement, subjugating more and more of mankind (and the rest of creation) to the whims and passions of a few, music has also tended to become in our modern age a technology by which man’s power over man might be extended. A list of such examples might begin more or less innocuously — television commercials and Muzak in stores, precisely calculated to befog our discursive reasoning so that we’re more inclined to buy things; radio in every office, factory, or car to smooth out the rough patches in a modern worker’s day and make him more content with his lot; earbuds in every ear, whether on the street, the subway, behind a lawnmower, or in the gym, which help shut out the clamor and drudgery of modern life; dramatic scores in every film, TV show, and online video, subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) crafted to tell the viewer exactly how to react emotionally to every scene — but it ends on a more sinister note, with ”classical music detentions” in British public schools in which children are ”subjected” (their words) to classical music as a form of behavior modification , and even music as a form of psychological torture, such as was reportedly done during some of the infamous Guantanamo interrogations of terrorism suspects .
All that we have discussed so far — from the obvious benefits of musical artifice to the extremes of its destructive uses — all may be summed up under the heading of secular music: the music invented by mankind in response to his loss of divine grace and as a product of his fallen necessities and passions. Such music, however useful, beneficial (in a worldly sense), or inevitable it may be, stands in utter contrast to the heavenly archetype of music in the singing of the angels. There, love and devotion towards God are the sole aim, while here, man and his passions — whether exalted or base — are the main object of concern. In distinguishing secular music from sacred music in this way, I am not speaking of accidental qualities or mere differences of intent — i.e., that music becomes sacred or secular simply by being used in a religious or non-religious context, as some maintain — but I am making an ontological distinction. Sacred music is the singing of the angels, while secular music is all that mankind can produce as a result of his estrangement from God.
The question that now presents itself is, how to bridge the gap? If there is, as a result of the Fall, an ontological divide between the songs of angels and men, how can we men ever hope to offer fitting hymns to God? This dilemma has afflicted mankind since Adam and Eve first wept outside the gates of Paradise, lifting up their voices in the midst of a silent sea of spiritual darkness. However, in the last lines of Genesis 4 we see the beginning of a resolution. After the firstborn Cain, in imitation of the ancient serpent, had murdered his younger brother out of envy, Eve conceives and gives birth to Seth, saying:
‘God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.’ As for Seth, to him also a son was born. He named him Enosh, and he hoped in the Lord God and called upon His name. 
In the person of Seth, so the Church Fathers teach, mankind is given a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ, the new seed, and of His victory over death. From Seth, a new line is born in Enosh — Abel having no seed, and Cain’s sons being cursed — who is a type for all those who have been born of Christ through Baptism. And now, for the first time since the Fall, we see it written that someone ”hopes in the Lord God and calls upon His name.” This, I contend, is the beginning of the restoration of sacred music in mankind, and a foreshadowing of the Church’s liturgical worship.
For Orthodox believers, therefore, the answer to our dilemma is clear: the ontological divide between heavenly and earthly song is overcome by Christ’s Incarnation and the rest of His saving economy. By participation in Him through Baptism and the mysteries of the Church, mankind receives once again the grace necessary to lift up his spiritual voice in harmony with the angels. Without this purifying, illumining, and perfecting grace afforded us through Christ’s Body, the Church, the songs of men will ever be in discord with the pure hymnody of the angels, contaminated as they are by passions and by our fallen self-centeredness. Without grace true sacred music is impossible for mankind to achieve. As the Lord says, ”Which of you by worrying [i.e., by your own anxious exertion of effort] can add one cubit to his stature” .
However, simply receiving grace is not in itself sufficient for us. An ascetical struggle to retain and to multiply the grace that we receive is also required, and herein lies the real work of the church singer. I spoke about this some in the previous chapter, but there is another dimension to the struggle that must be identified: the work of acquiring discernment. For all of us human beings, a life lived in the passions and experienced wholly on the psycho-physical plane comes without any effort at all — it is our ”default mode” by virtue of the Fall. However, a spiritual life in communion with God comes about within us only by intense and bitter warfare against our fallen nature, the ”old man,” with the constant help of divine grace. The same holds true in music. A psycho-physical experience of music that thrives on the movements of the passions — whether high or low — is something very easy for all of us to attain. But a truly spiritual experience of sacred music, whether one is a conductor, a singer, or just a listener, takes arduous ascetical labor to achieve — prayer, fasting, study, practice, watchfulness over the thoughts and emotions, holy fear, love.
Hence the need for discernment. All of us who have any connection with music in the Orthodox Church must take it as an imperative to learn to distinguish between an earthly or passionate experience of church music, and a heavenly or spiritual one. They are not the same, but one who lacks discernment may spend a lifetime mistaking the one for the other.
 Genesis 3: 4–6 (Orthodox Study Bible)
 Genesis 3: 7
 As St. John Damascene explains, ‘[In Paradise, man] had the indwelling God as a dwelling place and wore Him as a glorious garment. He was wrapped about with His grace, and, like some one of the angels, he rejoiced in the enjoyment of that one sweet fruit which is the contemplation of God, and by this he was nourished.’ (On the Orthodox Faith, 2: 11). But after the Fall, as St. John Chrysostom teaches, Adam and Eve ‘being deprived of the grace from on high for the transgression of the commandment, saw also their physical nakedness, so that from the shame that took hold of them they might understand into what an abyss they had been cast by the transgression of the Master’s commandment.’ (Homilies on Genesis, 16: 5)
 Genesis 4: 16. According to the Orthodox Study Bible, the name ‘Nod’ means ‘one who wanders away from God.’
 Genesis 4: 17
 Genesis 4: 20
 Genesis 4: 21
 Genesis 4: 22
 The Orthodox tradition holds that Moses is the author of Genesis, as well as the other four books of the Law. It is believed that Moses received knowledge of the first things—the creation of the world, the generations from Adam and what they did, etc.—by direct revelation when he spoke with God on Mount Sinai.
 See Weaponizing Mozart, Feb. 24, 2010
 See The Pain of Listening, Jan. 15, 2010
 Genesis 4: 25–26
 Matthew 6: 27