Monday, January 13, 2014

"Singing is for worldlings, my son; that is why people congregate in churches."

"Abba Pambo sent his disciple into the city of Alexandria to sell his handiwork.  Spending sixteen days in the city, as he told us, he used to sleep at night in the narthex of the church of Saint Mark.  Having witnessed the rite of the Catholic Church, he returned to the elder.  He had learned the troparia too.  So the elder said to him:  'My son, I see you troubled; perhaps some temptation befell you in the city?'  The brother said to the elder:  'You know, abba, we are wasting our days in negligence in this desert and we are learning neither canons nor troparia.  When I went away to Alexandria I saw the ranks of the church and how they sing and I became very sorrowful because we do not sing canons and troparia.'  The elder said to him:  'Woe betide us, my son, for the days have arrived in which the monks will abandon the solid food spoken of by the Holy Spirit and go running after songs and tones.  What kind of sorrow for sin, what tears are born of the troparia?  What kind of sorrow for sin is there for a monk when, standing in church or cell, he raises his voice like the oxen?  If we are standing before God, we ought to stand in great sorrow for sin, not being elated.  For the monks did not come out into this desert to stand before God and be elated, to warble songs, shape tunes, wave their hands and prance around on their feet.  Rather ought we to offer our prayers to God in great fear and trembling, with tears and sighs, with reverence, in a thoroughly repentant, moderate and humble voice, well disposed to sorrow for sin.  See, I am telling you, my son, the days will come when Christians will destroy the books of the holy gospels and of the holy apostles and of the divine prophets, smoothing away the holy Scriptures and writing troparia and pagan poems; and their mind will be besotted with troparia and pagan poetry. . . ."

     Anonymous saying of the Desert Fathers no. 758 BHG 2329b, apophthegma de cantu monachorum.  The anonymous sayings of the Desert Fathers:  a select edition and complete English translation, ed. & trans. John Wortley (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2013), 616-619.  Cf. no. 726 (pp. 576-579):
. . . The brother said:  'Father, ever since I became a monk I have been singing the sequence of the canon and the hours and the [contents] of the Okto├¬chos', and the elder said:  'That is why sorrow for sin and lamenting flee from you.  Think of the great fathers, how simple they were, knowing only a few psalms.  They had no knowledge of tones or tropes and they shone like luminaries in the worldand witnesses to what I am saying are Abba Paul, Abba Anthony, Abba Paul the Simple, Abba Pambo, Abba Apollo and so forth, those who raised the dead and received power over demons, not by tunes and tropes and tones, but in prayer and fasting.  It is not the elegance of the tune that saves the man but the fear of God and keeping the commandments of Christ.  Singing has led many down into the lowest parts of earth and not only worldlings but priests too; it entrenched them in porneia and many passions.  Singing is for worldlings, my son; that is why people congregate in churches.  Just think how many ranks [of angels] there are in heaven, my boy, and it is not written of them that they sing with the eight tones but that one rank unceasingly sings:  'Alleluia', another rank:  'Holy, holy, holy Lord of Sabaoth', another rank:  'Blessed be the glory of the Lord from this place and from his house.'  So do you, my son, love the humility of Christ and watch over yourself, keeping watch over your mind at the time of prayer and, wherever you go, do not display yourself as one of ready wit and a teacher but be humble and God will grant you sorrow for sin.

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