During the "Are you drifting?"lecture, you mentioned the remedies against drifting and you said to "expect to go against the tide," which included liberalism in the church. I wasn't sure if you meant in our own Coptic Orthodox Church, but I assumed so, and I was wondering if the "worship songs" that are becoming more prevalent now in our Coptic community would be under this category. I am very mixed on this topic of "Protestant" songs, and I have talked to quite a few people concerning it; I've heard arguments from across the spectrum of opinion, from those completely for it to those totally against it. I have much to say about it, but ultimately I know that these so called "Protestant" songs can never--in no way, shape, or form--allow us to delve spiritually deeper into a life of prayer and worship as our church's beautiful hymns can. I wanted to know Your Grace’s opinion on this issue; and I know that on the surface it might seem trivial, but I feel it has started to make our church divisive and it has been on my mind for more than one year now.
There should always be signs of caution whenever concerns arise which deal with veering from the central message and sound core teachings of the church. Certainly my message of expecting to go against the tide is in reference to our Coptic Orthodox community which may sometimes find itself in a tug-of-war between traditional and liberal ideology and practice. What is liberal in our perspective is probably ultra-conservative in the perspective of other churches in the overall North American societies. The threat of liberalism is not specific to music, but what is more at stake, are our values, which are usually expressed in our doctrine and traditions. The rituals, dogma, and teachings of our church will inevitably be affected if we do not learn and know when to take a stand and when to let go. For these, we ought to keep a close and vigilant eye in order to preserve the church untainted and uncompromised.
Songs of worship pose two different concerns.
1) Are these songs in any opposition to the theological teachings of the Coptic Orthodox Church? If so, it is important to know what those discrepancies are and to be able to explain to others, if and when they ask. Most likely, these excluded hymns will arouse the curiosity of youth. Therefore, it is critical to be able to explain the lack of appropriateness of certain hymns and to defend the reasons why they cannot be used in our spiritual gatherings. It is not enough to say they are Protestant-based. We should be able to calmly explain and lead those who question to a concrete and meaningful understanding. Actually, many Arabic hymns are also Protestant-based, or initially inspired Protestant-like music. Coptic Orthodox music is based on praises which are chanted. That is why there is a major difference in their sound than that of regular hymns or religious songs, whether in Arabic or in English. Coptic melodies and style of chanting originated with the ancient Egyptians. St. Mark based the rhythmic melody of the Divine Liturgy based on musical tones familiar to the Egyptians whom he was evangelizing, and incorporated complementary melodic elements of his own Hebrew and Greek background.
2) Do we have creative and talented musicians in our own Coptic communities who can translate or create Coptic melodies, lyrics, and hymns? Since we currently have limited resources, then it is alright to integrate appropriate English Christian music at various events, such as youth conventions and the like. It does not make sense to just write Arabic words in English letters. Their meanings will definitely be less effective than if the person really understands the actual language and its poetic linguistic message. We must also not use the unorthodox expression of clapping, standing up, waving of the hands, swaying back and forth, etc., which are often associated with singing songs of worship in Protestant churches. Furthermore, we cannot use these hymns during the Distribution of the Holy Eucharist or any other Liturgical ministries. In many countries today currently evangelized by the Coptic Orthodox Church, Communion songs following Psalm 150 are often culturally based Christian music and lyrics. Again, extreme diligence on the part of the clergy first researches the songs/hymns and then determines if they are eligible to be used in our churches in foreign lands. Although in the US, we are mainly serving a population of first, second, and third generation Coptic Egyptian families, we need to be mindful of the need to have some measure of flexibility, but never with any measure of compromise to the integrity of the Coptic Orthodox faith and doctrine.