Views On Liturgy. How to See the World Through It

The liturgical arts are a manifestly key component of worship in Orthodox praxis. This is hardly a surprising statement or unique factor. Human beings nearly always bring creativity and skill to their expressions of faith, devotion, and thanksgiving . It is no wonder that many of the oldest survivors of time are buildings and artifacts of worship. These things represent to us what is permanent about the world. They also touch so intimately what is beautiful as well as what is awe-inspiring, or even terrifying. In them we seek to make manifest what is mystery, not to solve it but engage with it.

An Orthodox approach to the world around us is not one of negation. Discipline, yes. Rejection, no. Indeed, this service (and all vespers of the year) begin with the rendering of psalm 104 (or selected verses), that culminates in the cry, “How many are Your works, O Lord! In wisdom You have made them all!” Since it is the start of the liturgical day, following the Jewish worldview, we begin our evening worship affirming creation and our thanks for it. In singing about it, we add to its beauty.

In the Great Litany we affirm our need as creatures for the grace of God: “Lord, have mercy.” This is not the plaintive cry of dereliction but the affirming confession of faith and hope: faith in a God who relates to His world, and hope that we can actively participate in that communion.

Orthodox worship is animated by those twin responses: “Glory to You, O God” and “Lord, have mercy.”

Roman Hurko in this setting of the ordinary hymns of vespers has composed music that is restrained, manifesting the discipline of Orthodox “spirituality,” yet expressive of exultation (psalm 104, Tranquil Light, prokeimenon), need (“Lord, I have cried”), and tenderness (Song of St. Symeon; Hail, Mother of God). It centers on E-minor, a key of somberness and contemplation but without the dark of D- or even C-minor. As icons depict sobriety and focused intent while retaining brilliance of color and imagery in story-telling, Hurko provides music that fosters stillness, a stillness giving birth to intense prayer, thanksgiving and joy.

Since it is the paschal season, the choir opens with “Christ is risen!” in a joyful polyphonic setting of the traditional Russian melody by M.S. Konstantinov, and ends with that popularly used at St. Nicholas – a folksy arrangement of a traditional Galician (or Galitzian) melody by a former director at this parish. Christ is risen, indeed!