November 24, 2017

The Ancient-Future Path

By Chaplain Mike

The second week of our conversations about “Three Streams of Post-Evangelicalism” will focus on what has been termed the “Ancient-Future” movement. Please remember that this is a DISCUSSION series…

We are doing this precisely because we are NOT experts with regard to these movements. We want to learn more. We want to hear your experiences. As pilgrims trying to negotiate the post-evangelical landscape, we are interested to hear of your involvement and interaction with these groups that have grown so much in recent years. Please join the conversation.

I think a good way to introduce this week’s emphasis is through the following video. This is the Tenebrae Choir singing a movement from Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil, Op. 37 (also known as “Vespers”). This piece of Russian liturgical music is one of the most sublime choral compositions known to humankind. It has been called, “the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church”.

For some time now, I have listened to this music while falling to sleep at night, so that my meditations and prayers at the end of the day may be formed by these glorious liturgical expressions. The music is wonderfully contemplative, with emotional depth and a sense of transcendence that is almost indescribable.

I chose this particular video because it represents both “ancient” and “future”. Rachmaninoff’s composition points us to that stream of the Great Tradition passed down to us through Eastern Orthodoxy. The ensemble choir and candlelit setting, while evoking a sense of the ancient, reflect contemporary expressions of this historic faith.

This movement is titled, “Blessed Is the Man”:

Blessed is the man that hath not walked
in the counsel of the ungodly. Alleluia!
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous,
but the way of the ungodly shall perish. Alleluia!
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice unto him with reverence. Alleluia!
Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. Alleluia!

Arise, O Lord; save me, O Lord my God. Alleluia!
Salvation belongeth unto the Lord,
and thy blessing is upon thy people. Alleluia!

Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and to ages and ages. Amen. Alleluia!
Glory be to thee, O God. Alleluia!

Comments

  1. Kenny Johnson says:

    I don’t know… it’s no:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex6_75e1ofQ

  2. Dana Ames says:

    If anyone would like to read an overview of the service, and the meaning of what takes place, here is a link:
    http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/vigil_v_potapov.htm

    Dana

  3. Beautiful. Thank you, Chaplain Mike. For people who like this, I’d also recommend Arvo Part and Heinrich (Henry) Gorecki. I wonder why we’re content to listen to some of the trash offered as Christian music when there is this.

    • My favorite version is the Estonian Philharmonic Choir directed by Paul Hillier. That’s the one I listen to regularly.

      On YouTube, there are also magnificent videos of the University of Utah Singers singing in a cathedral that leave me speechless. Here is my absolute favorite, his version of the “Ave Maria” (“Bogoroditse Devo”).

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tFQenkRM-o

      Although I chose the video in this post for a certain purpose, it is not the best representation of Russian choral music, which is best heard from larger choirs and those tremendous Russian bass voices that defy the imagination.

      • Chaplain Mike,

        It made my morning to read this post. Thank you for the video and for helping me realize I am not the only guy in the world who puts on Rachmaninoff’s Vespers to fall asleep to 🙂 I agree that the video is certainly not completely representative of the genre, but I think it translates very well for your point. I am partial to the Robert Shaw Festival Singers recording myself. It is a bit “smoother” and maybe a bit more “Western” in it’s sound, but it is executed absolutely flawlessly.

        I have often thought that an introduction to this type of music might give modern believers context for a richer, more contemplative time of worship. In a few halting attempts, I have tried that introduction with my peers, with mixed success. Most were made a little uncomfortable by the need for stillness, which is fairly foreign for the current generation of worshipers. In addition, the depth of the emotional range was difficult to relate to their experience (modern worship music has a much different amplitude and frequency when describing that ). Most of all the biggest challenge was, in all frankness, was attention span. I guess that is a whole other conversation in itself 🙂

  4. Thank you Chaplain Mike! I was deeply moved! I also wonder why we are offered what passes for ‘music’ nowadays when there is such beautiful music in our heritage! I was blessed!

  5. I’m sure everyone can enjoy this music without slamming other people’s tastes, right?

  6. Paul Davis says:

    I guess I’m missing something here, I don’t quite comprehend the Ancient-Future part. I’ve never attended an Orthodox service, this music is haunting and beautiful though.

    I do know that from my own wilderness, I’ve settled on the ancient churches as the only reliable place I can worship anymore. I even attended Mass last week for the first time, something I would have never even remotely considered while a fundamentalist. And I love the orthodox idea that everything plays a part in the worship experience, I just wish more churches would figure this out.

    Time to go do some reading 🙂

    -Paul-

  7. The music is wonderful. But is it a direction in which modern American or European Christians should move?

    I think this music (and the incense, candles, icons, architecture and other accompanying accouterments) are not merely ancient but also foreign. Foreign to us, that is. I don’t doubt that God is pleased to be worshiped this way by Russians — but I do doubt whether He wants Americans to copy a style that isn’t ours.

    Rachmaninoff challenges us to develop or revive musical styles and other details of acceptable worship that are just as excellent but are more our own.

    • I don’t think there are simply one or two or a hundred acceptable styles for worship music. The music in this video (as well as the candles, the room, etc.) merely represents an example of the kind of beauty that has moved people to seek spiritual formation in traditional churches. Some may well find it boring. But I hope those who watch will take my point—the ancient Christian traditions offer many things that are wanting in contemporary evangelicalism, chief among them a sense of transcendence, wonder, and beauty.

  8. There are few things as beautiful as a eastern Orthodox worship service.

  9. I wasn’t sure what you meant, by “Ancient-Future” movement. But I am here to learn.
    So I Googled it. An article on the Christianity Today site referred to it…

    “This is why we are particularly encouraged to see evangelicals engaged in a search for the church’s past. When fully immersed in Word and Spirit, what is ancient may truly become the church’s lively future.”

    Hmmm, well, I didn’t know it was a movement. I guess I am rather isolated and unaware of what movements are out there.

    After a lot of searching, tis former Fundy has finally found some peace in the Episcopal service at an old, little tiny church here in small town North Florida.

    But my search wasn’t for something old, “the church’s past” he called it. I was just looking for a place to gather with saints and find Christ. I found it here. Nobody distracts me, nobody attracts attention to themselves, nobody caresses microphones, nobody sings silly songs.

    Everybody joins together literally on the same page in acknowledgment, worship, and affirmation of the Saviour. I love it.

    I don’t think I am really a true Episcopalian, but I am happy to be hunkerin’ down here for a while. Oh, and they have totally embraced me. Imagine that.

    • A “movement” is simply a way of saying that a lot of people are moving in the same direction. And many who have been part of evangelicalism are finding their way back to the historic churches.

      • Hmmm, this may sound snide but…

        0.6 percent of Americans are Orthodox of any type. Any “movement” to them is virutally impossible to quantify.
        For every 1 Evangelical that becomes a Catholic there are 4 – 5 Catholics becoming Evangelical.
        Mainline churches have been shrinking at an alarming rate. For every person they have gained from the Evangelical Churches they have given one back.

        So, while it is accurate to say that “many who have been part of evangelicalism are finding their way back to the historic churches”, we have to recognize that many more who have been part of historical churches are moving to Evangelicalism.

        • typo… virutally should read virtually

        • No doubt, Michael. That may provide material for another week.

          Statistics may be misleading, however. This is mere impression, so take it as you will. One thing I have seen is that the free church evangelical type churches are much better at attracting people. But after awhile the enthusiasm tends to wear off for many and they either shop for another evangelical church with more of whatever it is they are looking for, or they return to a tradition they grew up in. This game of “musical chairs” makes it rather difficult to analyze exactly what’s going on.

          The 2010 National Council of Churches yearbook says Roman Catholics grew last year faster than any church group (except for LDS congregations), with the Assembly of God close behind.. Mainline Protestant churches are down significantly. Southern Baptists continue to decline.

          Perhaps “movements” can be identified in other ways as well—such as the amount of attention particular “paths” are getting among Christian leaders, theologians, and students.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          I also think that American Christianity is a little weird when you look at the rest of the world. For example, Roman Catholicism is the #1 tradition within Christianity by the numbers. Yet it’s a minority here in the States. I think the only religions that beat Catholicism’s sheer numbers are Hinduism and Islam (though, neither beat Christianity as a whole globally). Another example is the strange trend of Anglicanism in Africa. It’s HUGE there. How did the Global South become the bastion of Anglican Faithful even as its clergy have relatively little influence on the global Anglican communion? Who knows?

          Here’s something I dug up a few months ago when I was in a discussion about the biblical canon:
          Per Wikipedia’s “Major Religious Groups” article, there are between 2.1 and 2.2 billion Christians (which probably includes groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness)
          Per a Vatican study in Feb of 2010, there are about 1.166 Billion Catholics
          Per Wiki’s article on Orthodoxy, they have about 300 million members. Thus
          634-734 million Christians use a 66-book canon
          1.166 billion Christians use a 73-book canon
          300 million Christians use a 77-book canon

  10. Beelzebub's Grandson says:

    Beautiful music, superficially–but produced at the cost of excluding the ugly and tone-deaf from participation. One might as well judge the Mormons by their Tabernacle Choir.

    Antiquity is over-rated as well. (If you like Orthodoxy, you’ll love astrology.)

    The Orthodox churches have consistently supported the most fascist elements of their societies, even to the point of genocide. Why are we treating them as deserving of respect? They are no better than mafia dens.

    • The music is simply an example of why many are attracted to ancient forms of faith. There are many aspects of ancient tradition besides music that can be appreciated.

      As to your second point, a very real part of accepting our traditions is confessing our sins.

    • What kind of worship music do you suggest which “includes” the ugly and tone-deaf?

      Also, please expound on the link between orthodoxy and fascism.

  11. The music was heart-breakingly beautiful. I may have to download some of that.
    As far as the ancient-future movement, I think it would be cool to revive and revisit some of the better aspects and offerings of ancient and medieval church traditions and expressions. And far too many modern Christians are completely illiterate when it comes to church history — or, at least, church history outside their particular branching of it.
    Still, I think we need to be careful and, to a certain extent, critical of many aspects of church tradition from various periods in history. Old and traditional (or even beautiful or awe-inspiring) do not always equal good or Godly or Christlike. And we should certainly avoid reviving those repressive and oppressive elements that so many Christians struggled and even died to break free from.

  12. just returned from the weekly compline service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. the ancient future is for real! what a beautiful, peaceful proclamation.

  13. This movement is pretty strong in the UMC (of which I am a pastor in). Of course, we are of Anglican heritage, so this is more of a movement going back to our roots than anything.

    But I think something needs to be made clear. This is not a movement back to ancient practices just for the sake of antiquity. We can do all of that we want and still miss the mark of what Christ is calling us to. I’ve done missionary work in Romania and my experience with the Orthodox church there was not good – superstition, corruption, persecution against evangelicals, and other things.

    The point of an ancient-future paradigm for worship and pastoral care is to connect us to the things that have sustained and nourished the church throughout the centuries. In my church, I have switched to a more visual and liturgical practice of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). I use special liturgies and interactive prayers for different events in the church (baptism, Easter – even non-Lectionary days like Mother’s Day – our UMC Book of Worship contains all kinds of good stuff).

    But we don’t use Gregorian chants or other things that are too foreign to worship. Just as missionaries do, I want my congregation to worship in their own language and express it in their own terms. We also use the dreaded alter call – but it’s more of a time when people can come and pray or receive prayer. I see it as a Response to the Word.

    And that’s what ancient-future worship is all about: taking the core practices of Christian worship as practiced througout time and space and clothing them with the clothing of your particular context. The goal must not be forgotten either: forming the character of Christ in a local body of believers – not just be ancient or anit-evangelical.

    • “This movement is pretty strong in the UMC (of which I am a pastor in). Of course, we are of Anglican heritage, so this is more of a movement going back to our roots than anything. ”

      And as scholars such at Outler and Maddox have shown, John Wesley was largely influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy and the early church fathers. Much of his theology is a mix of Orthodox and Anglican (not to say those two don’t already have similarities).

      • Yes, you’re right

        One of the things that really intrigues me about Wesley and Wesleyan theology is that it draws from the well springs of both Eastern and Western theology.

        What I like about Wesley is that he didn’t put all of his theological eggs in one basket. That is, he read widely and listened to voices from all the different streams and traditions of orthodox Christianity. This vibrant theological life was then played out in a vibrant practical life of ministry and evangelism.

        Methodism may not be for everyone but I think the overall paradigm of Wesley’s life and actions provides an excellent way of living and thinking out the faith.

        • What is also interesting is that he actually may have been ordained by an Orthodox bishop (Erasmus) so that he could begin sending out the Methodist bishops and still hold to apostolic succession. The history of the event is not certain (he wanted it quiet as to not upset Anglican authorities), but is interesting, especially in the context of this discussion.

  14. While may be profitable to look at other traditions (past and present) and glean from them that which will help us both glorify our Lord and enter into a deeper worship do we not need to be watchful that we avoid simpy swapping out traditions that have issues for other traditions that have or in this case had issues as well. Is the “ancient-future path” simply the attempt to capture the essence of the church we see in the Book of Acts, which had its issues as well. We can lose sight of Jesus in today’s reptitive chorus or loud, boisterous styles just as easily as many of the “ancients” did in their styles all in the name of Mere Churchianity.

  15. CM, you should definitely check out Divna Ljubojevic, a Serbian Orthodox singer. It’s hard to find her music in the US, but there’s tons of videos on youtube. Hauntingly beautiful stuff…

  16. This kind of music has informed my personal worship for over 15 years. I never before heard of the “ancient future” movement however.

  17. Jonathanblake says:

    Definitely just completed my Rachmaninov’s Vesper collection. It is simply sublime

  18. I like the song “Blessed Is The Man,” especially the lines of ‘serving the Lord with fear and
    Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.’ The choir has the great voice that could reflect perfect harmony and spiritual aspect of the song.