Appalachian Orthodox Paschal Hymn

Father Justin Patterson of the OCA uploaded the video above. It is the Paschal troparion sung to Appalachian harmonies, but conforming to tonal rules of the Slavic Orthodox. It was sung at a music workshop at the All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, meeting in Atlanta in July of 2015. I am assuming that he filmed it.

I listened to it. I fell in love with it. I played it over and over and over, delighting in the melody and harmonies. I had tears in my eyes a couple of times. And, I found myself wishing and wanting an entire Divine Liturgy setting to be written using this type of harmonic/liturgical structure. We speak about how the Orthodox celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the language of the people who have been evangelized. We do not as often speak about how the Divine Liturgy has melodic settings that, over the centuries, have adjusted themselves to the culture in which the Church has grown. One only has to listen to the difference between the Mount Lebanon choir singing the Divine Liturgy in Arabic, a Greek monastic choir on Mount Athos singing the Divine Liturgy in Greek, and a Russian Orthodox choir singing the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic to hear the differences. Throw in the Romanians, the Serbs, the Africans, etc., and anyone can hear that the tonal principles of Orthodox music have found creatively different expressions in different cultures over the centuries. In all cases, the Divine Liturgy is carried out in a respectful fashion, but the melodic and harmonic structure varies.

In the long run, I hope that an American tonal / melodic / harmonic structure develops that reflects something of our heritage as a nation and a culture. While I know that there are various melodic traditions that have entered what became the USA, I think that the Appalachian religious harmonies lend themselves quite well to adjusting themselves to the tonal traditions that we have received from the various jurisdictions. The video above shows what can happen when efforts are made to compose using that type of harmonic structure.

I should mention that this is not merely an attempt to be American, as though it is not quite as good to be Arab, Greek, Slavic, etc. Rather, many cultural studies have shown that people in a culture respond best, and understand best, music that is written in their heart melodies and harmonies, that is in melodies and harmonies that reflect the music that they learned as children. When we compose musical settings of the Divine Liturgy that both respect and honor what we have received, yet express it in melodies and harmonies with which we grew up, we contextualize the Church in the same way that we do when we adjust the language of the Divine Liturgy to the language that is spoken by the people of a particular country. When the music we hear matches our heart music, it is easier to hear and understand the words that are being chanted.

Well, enough philosophizing. Enjoy the troparion above, and join me in prayer that a full setting may yet be published to the honor of God and the spiritual profit of the Church.


Fr. Ernesto Obregon

I am a Cuban. My sister and I arrived in the United States of America in 1961. I was nine years old at the time and my sister was five. Yes, alone. Our mother, a widow, put us on the plane in La Habana, and we were taken to an orphanage upon our arrival in Miami. No, I never lived in Miami for longer than about six months. Yes, we and our mother were re-united. She escaped from Cuba by boat about four or five months after we arrived in the USA. We were re-united and were sent by the Catholic Welfare folk to Ohio, where they had found my mother a job and us a foster home while she learned English and got situated. So, I grew up in Ohio, had a paper route, learned to build snowmen, and moved from place to place as out mother got better jobs. Eventually she met a good man and re-married and we settled into his house in Mansfield, Ohio. I was a 15-year-old teenager.

Needless to say, none of this was necessarily guaranteed to keep me strong in the faith, although my mother tried. I rebelled during my teenage years and left Roman Catholicism for some vague hippie philosophies and a lot of rebellion. By 1970 I had been expelled from college after my first year, a year in which I was very confused and quite directionless. When I returned to Mansfield in defeat, I was approached by a friend who had become a “Jesus Person.” He took me to this “farm” that was filled with about four middle-aged adults and lots of early 20′s Jesus People. One of those adults was a Southern Baptist pastor, a former Campus Crusade staffer, and uncomfortable supervisor of hippy Jesus People, and is now the Very Rev. Gordon Walker, an Archpriest of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. His story, along with others whom I know, is chronicled in the book, “Becoming Orthodox” by the Very Rev. Peter Gillquist.

My journey was different. I eventually ended up as an Anglican priest, and a missionary. My wife and I served in both Bolivia and Perú, and our three intelligent and very perspicacious daughters spent a decade of their formative years in South America. I ended up as The Archdeacon of Arequipa of the Anglican Church of Perú, which is part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, which is part of the Anglican Communion.

We returned to the USA when our children began to attend college, and I took a parish in one of the dioceses of The Episcopal Church. Within less than four years, we realized that this was not a Church in which I could doctrinally live.

It was at this point that Fr. Gordon Walker came actively back into my life and told me that it was time that I came into Orthodoxy. He was right, and I have been Orthodox ever since. I was ordained in the Antiochian Orthodox jurisdiction, but am currently serving as an attached priest at a Greek Orthodox Church. God has blessed us. We have wonderful grandchildren. And we are truly blessed.


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