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RE: Mixed Choirs

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  • Rev. John R. Shaw
    Yesterday Bro. Isaac replied to my comments on women singing in church, with the reference that in 1880, Arkhangelsky introduced women singers in place of
    Message 1 of 43 , Jul 1, 2000
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      Yesterday Bro. Isaac replied to my comments on women singing in
      church, with the reference that in 1880, Arkhangelsky introduced women
      singers in place of boys, and that therefore, the practice of having
      mixed choirs only dates from 1880 rather than "going back several
      centuries" as I had said.
      However, after some reflection, I do not think the matter can be
      that simple. When the "White emigration" began after the Russian
      revolution, 1880 was within living memory. Indeed the Russian church in
      Paris had been built in the 1860's, the one on Green Street in San
      Francisco in 1870, Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky] had been born in
      1863, and Fr. Daniel Dumsky, whom I had known when I was a seminarian in
      Jordanville, had been born in 1862 (he lived to be 108). If it was so
      recent a novelty to have women choir members, it seems rather odd that so
      drastic a change could have passed unnoticed, that no one rejected it,
      and that no one spoke of "the good old days when only males sang in
      church".
      When I visited Moscow twice in the 1960's, I attended the Old
      Believers' [Popovtsy] cathedral at the Rogozh Gate cemetery, and
      although I had no reason to pay attention to such a detail, seem to
      recall that there was a mixed choir even there. I have certainly heard
      women singing in emigre Old Believer churches.
      What is not denied is that in many village churches, up to modern
      times, "congregational singing" had survived: that is, simple responses
      such as "Lord have mercy", "To Thee O Lord", "Amen", and a number of
      other texts that are well known such as the Creed and Lord's Prayer, were
      sung in unison by everyone (not only by men and boys). This is the reason
      why at bishop's Liturgies there is still a custom of the deacon leading
      the whole congregation in singing the Creed and Lord's Prayer.
      In certain areas, especially the Southwestern corner of the
      Russian Empire, in Galicia and Carpatho-Russia, this tradition of
      "congregational singing" was and is even stronger.
      Against such a background, it seems easier to understand how
      mixed choirs could have come to be tolerated.
      However, not only at present, but by the beginning of this
      century, mixed choirs were everywhere, in virtually every Russian parish
      except for men's monasteries. For this to have happened so generally, in
      the largest country in the world *and* throughout the diaspora, seems
      like a remarkable change in such a short space of time--and in a very
      conservative milieu at that!
      For boys to have sung the part known as the "diskant", which
      carries the melody, would have involved a great deal of constant work by
      the choir--since boys only have a few years in which their voices are
      high. Consequently there would have been no singers for this part with
      any great experience, if women had been excluded *everywhere* until 1880.
      My suspicion --without doing any learned research or delving into
      libraries at this point-- is that in reality, 1880 was *not* the
      beginning, and that what Arkhangelsky did at that time was only one step
      in a long process of development in Russian Church singing.

      In Christ
      Fr. John R. Shaw
      > > It seems to
      me that you confuse _reading_ in the church, what women
      > certainly can _do_, and _being a reader_ ("reader" like a member of the
      > clergy), whom women certainly can't _be_.
      >
      > ----
      > Gleb Arkhandelsky, Saint-Petersburg, Russia
      >
      >
      > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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    • Polychroni
      ... Women have always performed as Readers in the Church? It should be very easy then for you to produce a reference prior to the 20th century then. I ll
      Message 43 of 43 , Jul 6, 2000
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        On 30 Jun 00, at 15:07, Expanding Edge LLC wrote:

        > Blessed be God!
        >
        > Polychroni wrote:
        > >
        > > > Without expressing any view on practices in individual parishes, I
        > > > should like to point out that, as far as I am aware, there is no
        > > > tradition of women readers in the Russian of Greek church. Is it not
        > > > true that readers are in some respect part of the clergy?
        > >
        > > You understate it. It is not "in some respect", but in EVERY respect, a
        > > Reader is a part of the clergy. Not until the modernistic 20th century
        > > did Orthodox Churches believe it fashionable for women to function in
        > > that role-breaking with 20 centuries of Tradition.
        >
        > Nonsense. Women have always performed such roles in church. Moreover,
        > there was the office of deaconess (who communicated at the altar) more or
        > less up to about the time of the fall of Constantinople.
        >
        > Regards,
        >
        > John Burnett

        Women have always performed as Readers in the Church? It should be very
        easy then for you to produce a reference prior to the 20th century then.
        I'll wait.

        Polychroni Moniodis

        PS. It was only in 1969 that the Episcopalians took that plunge and
        appointed women as Readers. And we know what followed.
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