By Fr. Andrew Chizhenko
I remember the words of Alexander Griboyedov from his play “Woe from Wit”:
“Read it not like an altar server, but with passion”.
For centuries, that aphorism was the reason of sarcastic mockeries about church readings in intellectual circles. In fact, they do not correlate with the truth and ancient thousand year rules of reading in church. Thus, people who demand for the reader to read with passion do not know about the church life and the laws of church readings.
Genres mean a lot in art, and it is important not to confuse them. To put it simply, genre is a particular style in which the work is written. It has its own goal and the means which help to reach this goal. Basically, the goals in art are the following: to scare, to make someone laugh and to make someone cry. Consequently, the artistic means of expression are chosen according to the purpose of the specific work. Together with the talent and the work of an author all of these create a particular piece written in this or that style. The same concerns the oratorical art.
Everything is different if we speak about church reading. Its goal is not to scare or make someone cry or laugh, but to ease a person’s path to God:
“As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4-6).
This is why when it comes to the pure sound of the word of God, there must be a definitive sound clarity, properly articulated pronunciation, where the words are pronounced lucidly. Therefore, a reader must not impose his emotions unto people, who are praying in church. He must be just a timbrel and Psalter, which play Divine melodies. Theatrical manner of reading or singing in church always makes it hard to listen to. What is more, it serves as a distraction from from what is most important, which is sincere listening of God’s word. It is the word which will be necessary to perform the sacrament in one’s soul and will purify one’s heart.
At the time, in the Old Testament Church a certain form of reading was developed in the Jewish tradition. It was called cantillation (lat. “sing quietly”). Michael Skabalanovich, a professor from the Spiritual Academy of Kiev, wrote about this form in his book “The Explanatory Typicon”:
“…The introduction in synagogues of so-called cantillation, which is something between reading and singing; it is a load reading in which certain syllables are lengthened more or less.”
It is a practical experience of the Church, which achieved harmony in combination with lucidity, clarity of sound and emotional detachment. This form is used in church services up to the present.
However, it does not change the fact that a reader must develop himself in his art.
First of all, he should live a pious Christian life and be meticulous about sacral texts.
Secondly, he should constantly educate himself because he need to know the Holy Scripture and church history, the Psalter and other prayers.
Thirdly, a reader must thoroughly study the Church Slavonic language, so that he understand what he is reading. Finally, it is advisable that he does some exercise for his tongue, face and mouth muscles and vocal cords so that his voice has a pure sound, and his words are pronounced clearly for everyone in church.
Of course, during the service one should keep the rule of the golden middle concerning the tempo. On the one hand, a reader should not sing or read too slowly (because in this case the service becomes onerous for the people who are praying). On the other hand, he should not hurry, because the words or singing should not merge into one unclear and monotonous noise.
Readers, singers, chanters, deacons and priests should live with the words of prayer and spirit, so that the arrow of prayer released from their hearts reached our hearts. It is important that we should not pass our personal emotions to other people. At the same time, we need to learn with God’s help the essence of these sacred words, which perform the mystery of the union of a man with God.