Spirituality Through Song
Fr. John Finley · August 2, 2012
Fr. John speaks to the Youth Music Ministry track at the Sacred Music Institute at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. After sharing stories of people dedicated to God at a young age, he reminds attendees that chanters are called by God to proclaim the truth of the Faith.
I would like to begin this morning recalling several stories from the Holy Scriptures and from Church history that deal with people dedicated to God at a young age. And as we move through this, I really only have one main point, and I think it will be obvious before I even state it.
“It came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son and called his name Samuel saying, Because I have asked for him from the Lord” (Samuel 1:20-28).
Samu-el: “el”—when a word in the Old Testament in Hebrew ends with ‘el’, that’s God. Isra-el, Gabri-el, the angel of God, Micha-el. Any time you see that, it’s of God or from God. So Hannah believed that she had asked of God that she would conceive because she had trouble conceiving. So Samuel was the one asked of God—Samu-el.
“Now, the man Elkanah and all of his house went up to offer the Lord the yearly sacrifice and his vow. But Hannah did not go up for she said to her husband, Not until the child is weaned then I will take him up that he may appear before the Lord and remain there for ever.”
So. most parents would take their child in the days of Israel at forty days, especially their first-born. They would take them up on the forty days to present them to the Lord. She says, Wait until he’s weaned. So how old would he be then? Maybe two years old, it depends. Let’s just say two or three years old he’s weaned from his mother’s breast and she says, I want to take him up and dedicate him to the Lord and he’ll be in the temple there, and leave him there forever.
“Now when she had weaned, she took him up with her with three bulls, one ephah of flour, skin of wine, brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh, and the child was young. They slaughtered the bull, and brought the child to Eli (Eli was the High Priest) and she said, Oh my Lord as your soul lives my Lord, I am the woman that stood by you here praying to the Lord, this is the child I prayed for, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I ask of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord. And so they worshiped the Lord there.”
So she had come to the temple and asked Eli, who was the High Priest, to pray for her that she might conceive. She did, and after the boy was weaned she took him to the temple and presented him back to Eli to serve the Lord in the temple all the days of his life.
And there’s another little clip in 1Samuel2:18, “But Samuel ministered before the Lord even as a child wearing a linen ephod.” The ephod is like the priest’s vestments, and when an acolyte comes and serves in the alter, he puts on vestments that look like the priest’s vestments. So this was happening in the Old Testament. So as a small child, the way we would read and compute this is that, as a little boy he was serving as an acolyte in the church, in the temple. Moreover his mother used to make him a little robe and bring it to him year by year. So as he gets a little bit bigger she keeps making bigger ones for him. She came up with her husband to offer the yearly offering, and Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife Hannah and say, The Lord give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to the Lord, and then they would go back to their home. And the Lord visited Hannah so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the child Samuel grew before the Lord.
So, she struggled and struggled, and in desperation went to the High Priest and asked to pray. She conceived and after that the Lord blessed her with more children. Then Samuel’s first prophesy, 1 Samuel 3:1-18. This is a long passage but a very interesting passage. “Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli, and the word of the Lord was rare in these days and there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time while Eli was lying down in his place, when his eyes had begun to grow dim and he couldn’t see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the Ark of the Covenant was. And (it was) while Samuel was lying down that the Lord called Samuel, and he answered. Samuel answered, Here am I. And so he ran to Eli and said, Here am I for you called me. And Eli said, I didn’t call you, lie down. And he went and laid down. And then the Lord called again. The Lord called, Samuel. And so Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, Here I am for you called me. And Eli answered, I didn’t call you, my son, go and lie down. Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him. Who is “the word of the Lord”? Jesus Christ. This is before He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, but yet He is God the Son for ever. And the Lord called Samuel a third time, and he arose and he went to Eli and said, Here I am for you called me. And he answered, I didn’t call you my son, lie down. And then Eli said to Samuel, Go and lie down and it shall be if He calls you then you must say, Speak Lord for your servant hears. So Samuel went and laid down in his place.
So now, Eli is getting the hint that somebody else is calling Samuel. If you hear this voice again say, Speak Lord, for your servant hears. So he went and lied down, and the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel, and Samuel answered, Speak, for your servant hears. Then the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle, their ears will tingle. And in that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house from the beginning to the end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he didn’t restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for my sacrifice or offering forever. And so Eli’s sons had become wicked and the Lord had told him to deal with it, and he didn’t deal with it. So the Lord said to Eli, Your sons will not inherit this High Priesthood. So now can you see what the Lord is doing? He’s raising up young Samuel.
So Samuel laid down until the morning and he opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision. Can you imagine? I wouldn’t want to tell him either! Then Eli called Samuel and said, Samuel, my son. And he answered, Here am I. And he said, What is the word that the Lord spoke to you? Please don’t hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things He said to you. So now he’s threatening, what did the Lord say to you? He knew the Lord had come to Samuel, What did the Lord say? I’ll punish you if you don’t tell me what He said. And then Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from me, and Eli said this, It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him. Eli knew that he deserved what was going to happen.
All this happened when Samuel was a very young man — a young man. And God came to him, God spoke to him, God chose him to serve Him from a very young age. And then he grew up to become the great High Priest, and the High Priest in those days anointed the King of Israel. And at that time of Samuel, King Saul was the King of Israel. King Saul had a lot of problems — a lot of problems! And the Lord intended, just like he intended to not give the inheritance of the high priesthood to Eli’s sons, he intended not to give the kingship of Israel to Saul’s son Jonathan but to somebody else.
So, I want to read you this story (1 Samuel 16) about King David. Was King David a musician? Bigtime, big time! Now the Lord said to Samuel, How long will you mourn for Saul saying, I have rejected him from reigning Israel. So Samuel was close to King Saul and he was sad because he knew what God was going to do. God asked him, How long are you going to mourn. Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, (Jesse was the father of King David, and they were from Bethlehem) for I have provided myself a king among his sons. And Samuel said, How can I go. If Saul hears this he’ll kill me! But the Lord said, Take a heifer with you and say, I’ve come to sacrifice to the Lord, and then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do, and you shall anoint for me the one I name to you.
And so Samuel did what the Lord said, and he went to Bethlehem, and the elders of the town trembled at his coming. What’s the High Priest doing coming to my little town? Have you come peaceably, they ask. He said, Peaceably, and I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice. And then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice. And so it was, when they came he looked at Eliab and said, Surely the anointed is before him. But Eliab was Jesse’s oldest son. This has got to be the one — tall, dark, handsome, strong. But the Lord said to Samuel, Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature because I refused him, for the Lord does not see as man sees. For a man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. Have you ever heard this statement before? Man looks on the outward appearance, but God the Lord looks on the heart. The Lord said that to Samuel.
And so Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel, he was the next son. He’ll pass before. And he said, Neither has the Lord chosen this one. Then Jesse made Shammah pass by, the third son. And he said, Neither has the Lord chosen this one. And thus, Jesse made seven sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, The Lord has not chosen these. And Samuel said to Jesse, Are all the young men here? Did you bring all your boys? Then he said, There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep. And Samuel said to Jesse, Send and bring him for we will not sit down until he comes. And so he sat, and he brought him in. Now, he was a redhead, with bright eyes, good looking. The Lord said, Arise, and anoint him for this is the one. The Lord said this to Samuel, Arise, and anoint him for he is the one. Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.
So here’s some of my thoughts in just reflecting on this. David was a shepherd boy in Bethlehem. How many caves do you think there were in and around the hill country of Bethlehem. There were probably a lot, but a young boy like him, I would rather suspect, do you think he knew them all. Do you think he had been in all of them. I’m just speculating here. I’m not saying anything that’s the teaching of the church, I’m just reflecting my own thoughts here. Do you think he knew all of them? Do you think the cave where Jesus was born existed in the time of King David? I mean, caves don’t just kind of….I mean, they’re there, right? Do you think King David ever went into that cave? It’s right in the middle of Bethlehem. Do you think King David ever talked to God, or God talked to King David in that cave? We can’t know any of these things for sure, but I rather suspect that that particular cave was special in the eyes of God long before Jesus was born of a virgin in that cave. How many psalms did King David write? How many psalms did he write as a young man? Even while Saul was still the king, and didn’t know that Samuel had anointed him to be the future king, King David, when Saul was tormented by evil spirits, would come and play the harp to him. And the evil spirits would leave him because of his playing the harp.
You know, there’s a difference between just learning how to play a harp technically, and playing it as something coming from your heart. Playing it from your heart is not the same thing, and people can tell. And you know who else can tell? The demons can tell. The demons know. The demons flee when it comes from a pure heart.
He was a young man, and even when they came to the battle against the Philistines, the Philistines had this luger and he was a giant, a giant of a man. Does anybody remember his name? Goliath. And they tried to put the armor on David. It doesn’t say this in the scripture but I just rather suspect he was so young that the armor probably didn’t even fit him. He said, I don’t want the armor, I’ve got a sling-shot, and God with me, God helping me, I’ll take him down. And he was so accurate with his sling-shot probably from hitting the lions and other attackers against his sheep. There was a hole in Goliath’s armor, right in his forehead, and he swung that sling-shot and slammed him right in the forehead and killed him. A young man, and he said, God is with me. He didn’t take the credit himself.
In Genesis 37 Joseph was seventeen years old when his brothers sold him into slavery. But God had chosen him to save the whole house of his father from famine and death, and to save them through his suffering, through Joseph’s suffering. Do you remember the story? How Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Jacob went into this land of Midian and met Laban, and Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. And Jacob loved Rachel. And he couldn’t have children by Rachel — struggle, struggle, struggle, just like Hannah couldn’t have any children, Rachel couldn’t have any children. And so, in those days, men often took more than one wife. So most of the sons of Jacob from which the twelve tribes of Israel came from were from Leah. But he loved Rachel, and finally Rachel, number eleven out of twelve, Rachel finally bears a son to Jacob and named him Joseph.
And Joseph was his favorite. Now fathers are not supposed to have a favorite but he couldn’t help himself because it was Rachel’s son. And so he gave him this coat of many colors, and all the older brothers knew that Jacob loved him the most. And they were jealous, and they sold him into slavery, and then killed a lion and dipped his tunic in blood and said he was killed. But he was sold into Egypt ultimately for their salvation. Seventeen years old, and God called him. God called Joseph through suffering to save his father and his brothers who hated him, and the whole house of Israel, and they were saved because he rose to power in Egypt. Seventeen years old!
John the Baptist. Six months before his appearance in Nazareth to the All Holy Virgin Mary, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias. Zacharias was the High Priest in the temple, like Samuel was. And before he announced the miraculous conception to the unwed Virgin Mary, the angel announced the miraculous conception to the childless woman Elizabeth. Hannah struggled to bear a child, Rachel struggled to bear a child, Elizabeth, the wife of the High Priest Zacharias struggled to have a child and couldn’t have a child. And the angel came and said, You will bear a child. And Zacharias didn’t immediately believe the words of Gabriel, and this is why his tongue was tied and he couldn’t speak, and remained such until eight days after the birth of John the Baptist. And on that day the relatives of Zacharias and Elizabeth gathered for the young child’s circumcision for the sake of giving him a name. And they asked the father what the name would be, and still he couldn’t speak so he wrote on a tablet, John. And at that moment his tongue was loosed and he begun to speak.
And the home of Zacharias was in the heights of Bethlehem, between Bethlehem and Hebron, and the news of the appearance of the angel to Zacharias spread through all Israel, as well as the dumbness and loosing of his tongue at the moment he wrote the name John. And all this news reached Herod. This is the same Herod that, when Jesus was born, sent the soldiers in to kill every male child two years and under — Herod was an evil man. But before that, Herod sent soldiers to slay children throughout Bethlehem and directed men into the hill country of the family of Zacharias to kill John. So before he went after Jesus he sent soldiers to go in after John the Baptist. However, Elizabeth promptly hid the child, enraged that King Herod and his executioners (went) to Zacharias in the temple to slay him. And it happened that Zacharias turned again in the temple, and Zacharias was slain between the court and the temple by Herod’s soldiers. And Elizabeth hid John the Baptist in a cave where she soon died afterwards, and the young child John remained in the wilderness alone under the care of God and God’s angels. Young John the Baptist lost both of his parents at a very early age, and he was taken care of by God and the angels in the wilderness. And he was prepared as a very young man to become the forerunner of Jesus Christ, and to announce the coming of the Messiah to Israel — a young man.
The Virgin Mary was born in Nazareth, and at the age of three years old she was taken to the temple in Jerusalem. And in her woman-hood she returned again to Nazareth, and shortly afterwards heard the annunciation of the Holy Archangel Gabriel concerning the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the World from her most pure virgin body. What does it mean, In her young woman-hood? When we read these sacred writings in the lives of the saints, we like to be polite. We don’t like to speak directly of things, but it doesn’t take long to think about it, you know. In her young woman-hood — because when you become a teenager and your body begins to change and mature into woman-hood, then you couldn’t serve in the temple any more. So, when she received the announcement from the Archangel Gabriel, most of the accounts tell us she was about maybe fourteen years old, somewhere along there. A teenager, and when she received this announcement from the Archangel Gabriel she wrote a hymn. And we sing it all the time. What’s the hymn? “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior For he hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” and so on. (Luke1:47-48) You know this, and we sing it all the time with the refrain more honorable. Fourteen, fifteen years old.
St John the Evangelist was the youngest of the apostles, and he lived until probably AD 95, some say AD100. So how old would he have been when he was called? His father was a fisherman and he was in the company of all these fisherman, Peter, James, John, Andrew. How old was he? You know, most young men, when they turn twelve years old they became a man. They started working with their fathers in their fathers’ trades. Likely, St John was a teenager when he was called by the Lord Jesus Christ to become an apostle, and a disciple of the Lord. And because he was a relative, and also because of his youth, the Lord said, You take care of my mother, because he knew that he would be able to do that.
St Ignatius of Antioch. Our Archdiocese is the Antiochian Archdiocese, the Diocese of Antioch. Do you know where modern-day Antioch is? It’s in Turkey. You know, our headquarters were moved to Damascus in Syria but that’s not always where it’s been. Originally, it was in Antioch, and Antioch is in what is modern-day Turkey. The reason it moved to Damascus, I believe, in the thirteenth century, was because of the Muslim invasions. And that the area around Damascus was a much better area for the Christians, and now look at it! Now look what’s happening. So we need to pray for them.
Ignatius of Antioch was the first Bishop of Antioch. He’s called the God-bearer because he constantly bore the name of the living God in his heart and on his lips. According to Tradition, he was thus named because he was held in the arms of God incarnate. Held in the arms of Jesus, according to the Tradition. On a day when the Lord was teaching his disciples humility, he took a child and placed him among them saying, Whoever therefore shall humble himself as a little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew 18:4. And this is the gospel lesson that we read on St Ignatius Day December 20th. This child was Ignatius. Later, Ignatius was a disciple of St John the Theologian and Evangelist, together with Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. And as the Bishop of Antioch Ignatius governed the Church of God as a Good Shepherd, and was the first to introduce antiphonal singing in the church, with two choirs alternating and chanting. And this manner of chanting was revealed to St Ignatius by the angels in Heaven. A young man, a child carried in the arms of Jesus, called at a young age.
Do you already know my point? Do you already know what I’m going to say? (laughs) Maybe I don’t have to say it because God is already saying it to you.
Spirituality through song. I know how songs can affect us, and you know how songs can affect you, but this is not my message to you today. My message to you today is how you can affect the song. What are you bringing to the song? What kind of life are you bringing to the chanter’s stand? What kind of life are you bringing to the choir? What is your heart? God sees you heart, God knows your heart, and I believe you’re here today because you’ve been chosen. And I want you to receive that, to believe it, to live up to it, to embrace it. For how long? For the rest of your life. Somebody’s got to do it.
I feel like I can talk to you this way because, from the time I was twelve years old I knew God wanted me to serve Him in the church. And you don’t need to hear my story because you have your story, and you know why you’re here. My dad was a minister and my dad was a pastor, and so I know what it’s like to grow up in a home where there’s high expectations, and there’s a lot of pressure. My dad was a Southern Baptist minister, and in South East Oklahoma it was hard to find somebody to lead the music, to be the song director and the choir leader, etc, and most of them were untrained volunteers. We lived in a small town of about twenty-thousand people, so my dad went through a list of people who could lead the singing pretty quick! And when I was fifteen years old he came to me and he said, “Son, there isn’t anybody, nobody. The only ones I know who could do it have done it and they don’t want to do it anymore, and I don’t have anybody.” He didn’t make me, he asked me. He said, “Son, will you do it because I know you can do it.” And I said I would, and I did. I led the music in our church until I graduated from high school.
Let me tell you another story. Most of you have probably, maybe all of you, have grown up in the Orthodox Church, and you may not understand this illustration too well, but I’ll try to explain it to you. In most Evangelical and Protestant churches the pulpit, the gospel lectern, is the center of the church, it’s in the middle of the church. And the altar, if they even have one, is down below. If you can imagine, there’s no iconastasis, so the altar is not back there. And the Royal Doors, just imagine, ok, no iconastasis and no Royal Doors, just this big fat pulpit. Instead of the altar being here in the high place, it’s down below at the bottom of the steps down here. So, architecture gives you some kind of a clue to what’s important and what the priorities are. And in most Evangelical and Protestant churches the receiving of Holy Communion is not as important as what is said from the preacher. So this is the context in which I grew up.
A few years ago, it wasn’t that long ago, maybe ten years ago, I was invited to do a one-day Lenten retreat for the ladies in the Greater Phoenix Arizona area, and we went to a church out in one of the suburbs — I think it was Sun Valley. It was a Greek church, St Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church. [I think the first time I saw that name I thought it looks like harry lamp post, you know, and I had to have somebody tell me, “How do you pronounce it?” Hara…four, five, six times and I’m still probably not pronouncing it right, but…] As we drove up to the church I saw that it was one of these old A-frame Methodist or Lutheran churches from the ‘70s, there was a popular style back in the ‘70s. And so we went in, and I can see there is even still a kind of sloping… you know how in most auditoriums you go into, the floor kind of slopes down towards the stage, well this church had been constructed this way, kind of sloped down. All the pews were still there, but they had a beautiful iconastasis, the altar and the Royal Doors and everything.
Then I looked over to the side and there was a pulpit. I mean I recognized the pulpit, in other words, whoever they bought this church from and that pulpit used to be upfront and center where the preacher preached the sermon, but instead of just getting rid of the pulpit they put it over on the side, and now it was the chanter’s stand. And immediately I thought, Wow! You know, the chanters are the preachers. And what are we preaching? We’re preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God, not of this world. And all of the hymns that we sing, whether it be from the chanter’s stand or in the choir, they’re teaching us our faith. We pray what we believe and we believe what we pray. And so if we’re going to serve at the chanter’s stand, and we’re going to serve at the choir, then we need to have some sense that we, even though we may not be ordained as a deacon or a priest or a bishop, we have to have some sense that we are called by God to proclaim the truth of the faith, that we are proclaimers, we are preachers, we are teachers. And so there is a synergism that goes on. There’s something that the song brings to me in terms of the truth of the faith, and there’s something that I bring to the song in terms of my heart for God that communicates this message to the listener, and so it goes both ways. And I hope and pray that you will dedicate yourself to this ministry, looking at it as a ministry in the church and as a sacrifice of praise.
We sometimes think that the ordained are the bishops and the priests and the deacons, but I was taught that there are four Holy Orders in the church, not three — the Bishop, the Priest, the Deacon and the People — The Order of the People. Do you know what the Order of the People is? The Royal Priesthood, the Holy Nation. St Peter says, For you are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. And when we are baptized, and when we are anointed with the Holy Chrism, the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are anointed the horn of oil. The horn of oil. Samuel anointed David with the horn of oil, the anointment, and the Lord was with him all the days of his life. And when we are anointed with the oil of the Holy Chrism, the Lord is with us, and we become members of the Body of Christ, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, and we participate in the Great High-Priesthood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. And we need to believe in that anointment, and believe that that power is with us, and that there is a power to communicate the faith in the gospel of Christ beyond the words and beyond our heart because the power of the Lord is with it and hits the ear of the listener for their salvation. Are you up to this calling? I feel like I’m talking to myself. I think I need to do a little repenting myself after I’ve given my sermon to you.