By Jane M. De Vyver
The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is always celebrated with unaccompanied singing, because the human voice, the only instrument that God Himself created, is considered the sole instrument worthy to be used in His praises. Only the human voice can adequately convey the heart’s love for God. The voice does not just produce a musical sound, but combines beauty of sound with intelligible words so that we can praise and glorify God with both our hearts and our minds, and so “that we may welcome the King of all, Who comes invisibly escorted by angelic hosts.”
We sing everything in the Liturgy because speech is not as beautiful as song, and only the most beautiful we can offer is good enough for God. We sing everything, because what is celebrated is the Divine Liturgy, not the human liturgy, and in the divine vision, the angels constantly sing praises to God and behold his ineffable beauty. What we do on earth in the Divine Liturgy, where we participate in and taste the first fruits of the Kingdom of God, is a reflection of the Celestial Liturgy. We sing in the Cherubic Hymn, “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim, and sing the trice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now set aside all earthly cares.” When we do set aside all earthly cares, we can indeed rejoice in the peace, love, and harmony of God’s Kingdom, and express that joy in the beautiful song.
Since we (those who sing) represent the cherubim on earth, and the cherubim constantly sing God’s praises, naturally we, likewise, sing constantly throughout the whole Liturgy, and as beautiful as we can but without any insincere showiness.
Indeed, the task of standing in the place of the cherubim at the Divine Liturgy is a very high calling.
The choir and people of St. Innocent Orthodox Church (Olmsted Falls, Ohio) join in singing the Divine Liturgy
In addition to singing the praises of God, singing the liturgical text throughout the year also fulfills the important function of teaching the people through the words of the hymns. Thus to accomplish both purposes, the singing must be done with careful attention, awe, reverence, humility, and above all, with understanding. Because we praise God with our minds as well as our hearts, the Church’s services have always been in the language of the people so that all may participate with understanding.
All of the Church’s teaching of salvation, history, all of the Church’s spirituality and inner essence in life are contained in the fulness of the Church’s liturgical life, and therefore,
If you know what you are chanting, you acquire consciousness of what you know; from this consciousness you acquire understanding; and from understanding you bring into practice what you have become conscious of, (Theoleptos)
and this is the description of Christian life.