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Hymns From The Morningland by John Brownlie


Critics are of three classes: -- the laudatory, who, if they see anything to complain of, make no complaint; the severe, who, if they see anything deserving commendation, say nothing about it; and the discriminating, who see both and say it, and at the same time throw out hints which as a rule are both acceptable and helpful. Particularly is this the case when the advice tendered confirms a growing conviction on the part of a writer.

One cannot work continuously at a subject, and all the while get the thoughtful criticism of his observers, without improving his methods. From a review of a recent volume by the writer, the following is taken: -- |It seems to us that it is in the adaptation, rather than strict translation, that the wealth of thought and emotion buried in the service books of the Eastern Church will be minted into coin of golden praise meet for sanctuary use, and comparable in worth and beauty to the splendid currency of these latter days.| This is strictly true, and it is the conviction which has for some time possessed the author, with the result that he has been giving less attention to translation, or transliteration, and more attention to suggestion, adaptation, and reminiscence. One cannot spend a day with the Greek service books (say with the Triodion, which contains the incomparable Lenten and Easter offices) without having his mind filled with thoughts the most beautiful, thoughts which can sometimes be expressed in almost identical phrase with the original, but which oftener, in order to do them justice by revealing them in all their richness, require to be dwelt upon, expanded, and clothed in appropriate western phrase. This is without doubt the best way in which to deal with the praise material of the Greek service books, and the present writer has set himself in this volume to act according to that conviction. Here, there are fewer translations than in any former volume, and the greater number of the hymns are reminiscences of the Greek.

The contents of this book may be ranged under three categories: -- A few translations or renderings, as literal as it is possible or desirable to make them; centos, or patchwork, i.e., pieces which are not versions of any particular hymn in the original, but which are made up of portions of various hymns; and suggestions, or reminiscences of the Greek. In the case of the last, the best that can be said of them is that they owe their existence in the present instance, to the Greek. While to the ordinary reader there may be nothing in these suggestions to indicate their source, no one who is acquainted with the praise of the Eastern Church will fail to detect here and there certain marks which inevitably announce their origin. In most cases initial Greek headlines have been dispensed with, for the reason that they can serve no useful purpose, nor indicate with any certainty the source of any particular hymn.

When one rises from a contemplation of Christian worship as it is presented to him in the ancient forms of the Apostolic Church, it is with pain that his ears are assailed with charges which he knows to be as lacking in truth as they would be if they were levelled against ourselves. God knows how far we have all drifted from our ideal, and those who have the best excuse, not the farthest. But this offensive and ungrateful spirit is surely unbecoming on the part of those who owe so much to the Church which they censure. If Christian love would abound on all sides, how soon would the wounds of Christ's Body heal! If those deep wounds are to be bound up, it will only be by pouring in oil and wine. Controversy and argument have been tried for centuries. They have failed. We must all begin where the beloved St. John so feelingly bids us, -- |Little children, love one another.| Love implies humility, and if we are humble, and stoop to love, we will find hearts all over the world only longing and praying for the balm of that Divine oil. Then dogmatic differences will be solved in a new manner, and much more.

It is not a pleasant task to revert to the censures which are hurled against the Eastern Church, by critics who are obviously ignorant of her past history, and who seem to have taken no trouble to acquaint themselves with her present position; but when one is continually met with the same offensive statements, offensive because untrue, there is only one thing to be done, and that is to meet them with the truth, and refute them on every possible occasion, in the hope that in the end the truth will be vindicated.

The charges have certainly not the charm of variety; they are painfully monotonous: -- The Greek Church is |dead,| and |non-missionary.| Certainly non-missionary, if dead! To say of any organization, church or other, that it is dead and non-progressive, is to say the worst that could be said.

Dead! And what are the signs of death in the Eastern Church? Truly they are marvellously unusual. Is it because she preserves the beauty, dignity, and quiet solemnity, which must ever be associated with true worship, and refuses to admit methods which are alien to it? Many of our Churches have become societies, or guilds (a familiar term in these days), in which are included every attraction which can appeal to the eyes of the world. A Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, is the guise in which the worship of God is presented to men who are not attracted by the calm and rest of God's house; and the methods employed are bringing with them their inevitable results. We fear the Church is in danger of forgetting that its prime function is to preserve the Holy Worship of God, and by its means to establish the saints in The Faith; and that its mission is to go down to the world, inspiring those who are there with the spirit of Christ; returning at the appointed time to observe the worship of God in His house, and bringing with it those who are weary with the toil of life, that they may be refreshed; and is allowing the world to invade its sanctuary, and scare away the spirit of true worship. It is not enough to say that present-day methods must be observed, that people will not come to church unless it conforms to the spirit of the times. The human soul will still desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, to behold His beauty and to enquire, when it feels impelled by the Blessed Spirit of God, -- when it longs for peace and spiritual refreshment which can only be found in communion with the Divine. Doubtless, to the pushful spirit of the age, the Church which preserves in calm dignity the form of worship which has been handed down to it through the ages, and tenaciously adhered to in the midst of persecution and martyrdom, and refuses to admit the methods of the concert hall, the debating society, and the lecture room, must appear to be a dead Church indeed. So be it!

But, it is asked, what evidences are there that the Greek Church is a living Church? What is she doing in the field of literature, theological in particular? And in aggressive Christian work at home and abroad?

From this enquiry we cannot exclude the Greek Church in Russia, for, while in the ancient sphere of that Church's operation (in Greece, and Turkey, and Asia Minor) much is being done in the domain of education in her schools and theological colleges, and in theological literature, it is in Russia, where none of the grievous hindrances to activity exists which for 600 years have frustrated many of her efforts at home, but where free scope and encouragement for its exercise are guaranteed, that most evidence of progress is seen.

Here is the testimony of one who cannot, prima facie, be deemed unprejudiced. A few years ago, Father Aurelio Palmieri was sent to Russia by the Vatican to procure books and manuscripts for the Russian section of the Papal library at Rome. He writes in the Tserkoviya Viedomosto (December 6, 1904): -- |It is time to render justice to the truth, and to put an end to those many calumnies, which are propagated against Russia by envious and interested persons -- persons who desire to deprive her of her influence, and to rob her of her prestige. In the Russian universities, the instruction given is far more serious than that given in our own Italy; and the magnificent Ecclesiastical Academies, all under religious influence, at St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kieff, and Kazan, make us feel a sense of sadness at the miserable and insufficient instruction that is given to our own Italian clergy. Let us say frankly, that in our Italy, and even at Rome, we possess no such establishments which for beauty of organization, capable professors, and wealth of libraries, can rival these Russian Ecclesiastical Academies. To convince people of the truth of my assertion, I need only refer them to the superb official organs of these Academies ... and set out what a vast quantity of scientific works [this Father Palmieri does] is brought together in these collections of Russian theological writers, and how far we in Italy are from giving to the study of theology the development which it receives in Russia.... I invite the scholars, not only of Italy, but of every nation, to make acquaintance with the innumerable collection of books now in the Vatican. They will there find convincing testimony to the intensity of the intellectual work in Russia, and to the scientific vitality of her Church....|

Again, in his book, La Chiesa Russa (Florence, 1908), he deplores, not the ignorance of the East, but the ignorance of the West. |It is deplorable,| he says, |that the intense scientific production of Russia is almost totally ignored by the West.... A great nation like Russia is not a negligible quantity affected by an intellectual quagmire (p.671). The Russian Ecclesiastical literature is rich in monographs on particular subjects, and above all in Patristic theology. In this sphere of research, Russian Orthodoxy can even outrival the German science.| Such is the testimony of one of the most cultured men in Italy.

The question is sometimes asked, What is the Greek Church doing at the present time in the department of hymnody, in which her ancient offices are so rich? Much; but as present day compositions are not used in the canonical services, the supply of such material is not encouraged as it would be in other circumstances, and as it is in the West, where the demand for material for congregational hymnaries is so persistent. But the Greek Church can boast of many hymn writers in her communion, whose compositions would do no discredit to our Western hymnaries. Any bookseller in Athens would supply a catalogue of Greek hymnological work to any interested enquirer.

The writer has before him at this moment a volume of hymns, TRIADIKON (Athens, 1909), the work of Bishop Nektarios, who for many years was head of the great Rhizareion Theological College in Athens. The volume contains about two hundred pieces suitable for use during the Church seasons, and for general use. They were, however, composed, so the author writes, to be read reverently, or sung privately, in the household. The language of the hymns composed by present day hymn-writers has the modern flavour, and so presents difficulties which, however, the student who has a knowledge of the language of the service books can readily overcome, with the help of a grammar and dictionary of modern Greek; for, while modern Greek is nine-tenths similar to ancient Greek (i.e., modern Greek of the first class, for there are several classes, according to the grade of society) it has yet one-tenth which differs, and it is that tenth which causes trouble. Such hymns are used at services extra ecclesiam, -- at meetings, church schools, colleges, and monasteries, or at any other non-canonical service. They are, as a rule, set to attractive music, often by eminent musicians. The translation of two hymns from the fore-mentioned collection by Bishop Nektarios, are included in this volume at pp.183-6.

So, even in the department of hymnody, the Greek Church is showing no signs of falling away, and, although she refuses to admit modern productions into her Church services, and adheres to the hymns of her early hymn-writers (an attitude, by the way, very similar to what we in Scotland maintained until very recent times, when psalms alone were permitted in our canonical services, to the exclusion of all hymns), she has yet a band of hymn-writers who uphold a noble succession, and keep adding to her treasury of praise, encouraged in their gracious work by the countenance which the Church gives to its use on all possible occasions.

But the commonest charge levelled against the Greek Church is that of being non-missionary; and the charge which is so utterly untrue, is deemed sufficient to relegate her to the limbo of the effete and worthless. The truth is, that the missionary zeal, and activity of that Church, are among the most outstanding features of her history; and when we consider the terrible odds against which she has had to contend, both in Europe and Asia, we wonder at the success that has been achieved.

Let us bear in mind that the population of Russia alone is about 170,000,000, that the natural increase goes on at the rate of four millions annually, and that in twenty years the population will amount to about 250,000,000. Think of the mighty task laid upon the Church to keep abreast of such a growth, and at the same time to keep the Faith alive in the mass, -- for the great majority of this vast population are attached to the Orthodox Church. And this is the task to which the Greek Church addresses herself, to carry the blessings of Christianity to the farthest Russian outpost, and to keep the flame alive where it has already been kindled. Yet this is the Church which English-speaking Christians call non-missionary. |If we take the English Church, for example, which prides itself on its missions, and if we exclude all its missions from the category of mission work which lie within the vast Empire of England's dominions beyond the seas (that is to say, from India, Africa, Canada, Australia, to English sailors, etc.), we would find how very few and weak English missions really are. What a poor role, then, do English missions play outside English lands! Why, then, do English folk gird at the great Russian Church for a lack of missionary zeal when she is labouring hard in her immense county in Europe and Asia for Christ? In Siberia and Asia generally she is ever spreading the Faith, and that among many tribes and tongues and peoples; and she has missions in Japan, China, Persia, Palestine, Alaska, the Aleoutine Islands, and elsewhere.|

What the Greek Church is doing in Russian dominions, she is doing also in her ancient lands, although under quite different auspices. In Turkey and Asia Minor she keeps the flame aglow amid adverse conditions, and provides spiritual food for her vast household. Besides, she is the most active missionary agency in the Levant.

But enough has been said. If we could only overtop the mountains of prejudice, and we fear we must add, for it is the parent of prejudice, ignorance, which divide the West from the East, we should be able to look down not upon a barren wilderness, but a fruitful vineyard, in which the servants of Christ are working under the eye of their Master, even as we are working in our separate sphere. Let us think about these things.

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