Growing up in Athens Greece, a primarily Orthodox country, the sound of Byzantine chants mingled with the smell of incense in the city air was not uncommon. But, despite my country’s religious affinity, my church was far from liturgical. Now, years later, I find myself ignorant of these traditions, but I don’t feel that I have to fully understand them to see their beauty. So, if you grew up in a denomination where these musical traditions meant something to you on a much deeper level than what I can grasp, know that I am well aware of my ignorance and mean no offense in what will certainly be an oversimplified understanding of this Christian tradition.
Simone Weil writes that “A Gregorian melody is as powerful a witness as the death of a martyr.” Whenever I take the time to listen to Gregorian or Byzantine chants I can’t help but feel more attentive toward God’s grace. This isn’t because I feel that God is more present in my reality when these melodies are playing in my headphones, but because I feel more attentive to the reality of God. I am a person who is easily distracted. When I pray, my mind tends to wander to all the things that I am worried about, and all the work I feel I should be doing. But, in those moments when I’m listening to these musical pieces, I cannot help but contemplate the divine.
The unity of the voices, and the uniqueness of the melody, imply a certain reverence or holiness. There is something set apart about this style of music, and I feel when I listen, that I am participating in something both outside and inside myself. Whether or not you know what a chant is, I believe that there is beauty to be seen in it, and that like all beauty in this world, points towards the harmony of a perfect God–-a beautiful creator.