During Holy Week the tremendous lack of able and good-voiced church cantors becomes more obvious. The rest of year the problem isn't less serious, but during Holy Week, which is the per excellence hymnological period of the Church, the problem in many cases becomes unbearable.
Holy Week is full of great and sacred events during which the Church, I mean the Body of the Laity, expresses and manifests itself through hymnology, music, melody, and the art of singing. Through all these elements the congregants become doxological beings – offering praise to the Lord.
The hymns of Holy Week are unique masterpieces of poetry, lyricism, philosophy, theology, music, piety, and exactness of meanings and messages. I will say one more time that these hymns can only be expressed correctly and accurately in Greek and by persons who know how to chant and understand the semantics of what being chanted, in other words by educated, good-voiced, pious, and able cantors.
Unfortunately, this serious issue has been stagnating, like many other important issues of our ecclesial life. Those with responsibility regarding this state of affairs are hypocritically dealing mostly with secondary disputes and surface matters. Their first priority is the to continue begging for more and more money from the faithful and the parishes in the name of the myth of so called national ministries, while the ruins of our ecclesial life are cry out for attention.
The lack of good cantors is not a problem that emerged recently, or that was created under the twenty-year tenure of Archbishop Demetrios. It is an old problem that goes back to the time of Archbishop Iakovos. The question is, what has this Archbishop, with his fellow hierarchs, done to correct it?
With a few bright exceptions the Office of the Cantor has been widely neglected in the Archdiocese. It is one thing for the hymn of Kassiane to be sung by a knowledgeable cantor with a good voice, and quite another to listen to some old man with no education at all, without any musical training, kill the hymn.
It is even worse is to hear some of those parish choirs comprised mainly of women of advanced age chant the hymn accompanied by an organ. How can the faithful participate under these circumstances, when they hear unarticulated screaming instead of melody, as is the case in many parishes in New England that I know firsthand?
Lately, we also have the phenomenon of some presbyteres (priest’s wives) and also some philoptochos members standing at the psalters and ‘chanting’. One can’t help but want to run to the hills for shelter.
There are parishes where instead of chanting they simply read the hymns.
The role of a good cantor is equally important to the role of a good priest for the worship of the Church. Many things can be done starting from the School of Theology and extending to the local metropolises. But someone could ask, “what School of Theology School are we talking about?”
Years have passed, and continue to pass, and unfortunately nothing is being done about a liturgical regeneration of the Church. The parishes are withering every day. The naves are continuously empty. People can no longer tolerate the hypocrisy and the constant begging for more and more money for those so called ministries.
Our own generation is walking towards its final destiny. The question is, what kind of a Church are we leaving behind? What kind of a Holy Week will we have in a few years? Does anybody care? Let us hope that the next Archbishop will want to deal with this issue as well. He should, however, be prepared to find himself in a situation of complete collapse – chaos if you prefer. This is the bitter truth.