See Paradise

frjustinmathews.jpg

This June I will be joined by Fr. Justin Mathews and his family here in my ministry at St. Anne Orthodox Church. Among other things, he is a contemporary Christian musician with some excellent work. I have a feeling that I’m going to know much more about contemporary Christian Orthodox musicians in the near future. I offer one of his songs here for your edification and ask you to remember him and his family (which includes a newborn) as they prepare to move from New York to Tennessee. The song is “See Paradise.” see-paradise.mp3

More of his work may be heard and or purchased here.

33 Responses to “See Paradise”

  1. JS Bangs Says:

    What an interesting song. It’s not personally to my taste–a little too CCM–but I’ve never heard anything “contemporary” that is quite so unabashedly Orthodox. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Athanasia Says:

    Oh, I don’t think I like this. The music is not to my taste. But more so, I am so afraid of the possibility of Orthodox CM treading and imitating so closely to CCM.

    CCM started true…then went south quickly.

    But thanks for sharing it Fr. Stephen.

  3. Fatherstephen Says:

    I have only recently stumbled on Orthodox Christian music (in the contemporary sense). I think it has its place. There is a very healthy amount of Orthodox Christian music (of the contemporary sort) in Russia, far more than here. It’s a natural cultural expression.

    I think contemporary music went sort of south in the protestant world because it also began to replace worship. This is not even a question within Orthodoxy.

    But I think it is completely natural to Orthodoxy that it is productive of culture – Orthodoxy that does not produce culture would likely have been shrunken somewhat. When I think of the great Church composers – Chesnikov, etc., it is obvious that even in worship music culture expresses itself – though it would be wrong, probably, for such music to finally replace all congregational singing (this has happened on occasion in places).

    There are other contemporary composers who will not likely be heard in a parish church but are very worth hearing.

    By the same token, Orthodoxy will produce fiction (Dostoevsky), film, etc., and we’re only beginning to see this come to fruition with the freedom of the Church in places where it has more cultural impacat than in America.

    But our vision of the Church must include the whole of culture, or we will have done something less than Orthodoxy.

    On the other hand, some of the things produced will not be everybody’s cup of tea. I like Chesnikov better than Bortniansky, for instance, but there are very few choirs that can perform his stuff.

    I would also like to listen more to the contemporary productions in Russia, but, alas, my Russian is very poor.

    Have you ever heard any of the recordings of the Monk Roman? Very interesting. Perhaps I’ll post one while were having a music festival here at Glory to God for All Things 🙂

  4. maximus daniel greeson Says:

    I appreciate that response Fr. Stephen. I have had many Evangelical/Protestant friends who have asked questions about the place for music in Orthodoxy. Being close to St. Ignatius in Franklin,TN I have witnessed plenty of avenues (coffee house type sessions and other gatherings) where music is expressed that has varying shades of Orthodoxy or not.
    Wasn’t Fr. Justin from the Nashville area? Didn’t he stumble into Alektor Cafe?

  5. Fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, he studied there (Nashville) and lived and worked for awhile. He, I think, was received into the faith at St. Ignatius along with his wife. He entered St. Vladimir’s Seminary from a parish in Kansas, his home. So, he will soon be second priest at St. Anne, and serving here in the Appalachian Deanery of the OCA.

    I’m excited about a number of developments in Tennessee. We have a new young priest (Holy Cross grad) at the Greek mission in the Tri-Cities who is from this area. I look forward to working with him, too. It’s good to have young priests from the seminaries who can encourage geezers like me to keep up with them!

  6. rdreusebios1 Says:

    I can empathize with some of the concerns expressed by others, and at the same time I understand that Orthodoxy can, will, and I dare say must express itself in the idioms of the culture.
    At first listen i didn’t care for the song. On second listen, I appreciated the lyrics, and found a very Cockburn-esque feel to the song. I like it. I have however tried very hard to enjoy the “Cross-Culture” projects, but alas they left me cold. Perhaps it is personal baggage. In any event Fr., thanks for the heads up, I will check out more of Fr. Justin’s work.
    I also wanted to chime in, albeit quite late, on your entry re: Cake (the band). They are quite unique, not in the least due to the fact that they are the only all American Indian rock band around, plus the fact that I am a sucker for their hooky tune, “Short Skirt and a Long Jacket” :). Thanks for some excellent perspective on their performance.
    Peace,
    Don

  7. Athanasia Says:

    “I think contemporary music went sort of south in the protestant world because it also began to replace worship. This is not even a question within Orthodoxy.”

    This is a very good point which I hadn’t thought of Fr. Stephen. As well as the culture issue. Thank you for continuing the dialogue.

  8. Discipulus Says:

    Forgive me if this is an ignorant question (I am not Orthodox), but, is this sort of music (contemporary orthodox music) ever used in an Orthodox liturgy? Is it possible? I dearly, fervently, pray that the answer is no.

    I mean no offense. The music is fine for certain purposes, but.. well…look at what it’s done to other liturgies in other contexts.

    One of the glories of an Orthodoxy liturgy is it’s chant. Don’t mess with it, please!

  9. Fatherstephen Says:

    Discipulus. The answer is certainly not. Our music in the Church is fairly stable and not that changeable.

    But, and this is important, if I am Orthodox, and play guitar and like to write music – wouldn’t it make sense to sing about what’s important to me? And wouldn’t other like to hear it? But this is not a question of liturgical change.

  10. Barnabas Powell Says:

    Fr. Justin is one of the featured singers on our 24 hour internet radio station, The Ark. You can listen to it here – http://www.nwrnetwork.com/radiostations/TheArk/player/index.php

    We really wrestled with the issues regarding contemporary music when we launched The Ark, but we came to the conclusion that it was important for our youth to hear how Orthodoxy can incarnate itself in this culture. And this culture is dominated by music of all sorts.

    I, for one, am excited to see how Orthodox musicians will use their gifts to share their Orthodox faith with those around them.

    On the other hand, I am also glad that this music will never be confused with liturgical prayer in worship. While they may be complimentary, they are not identical.

    B

  11. David Says:

    Yes it does make sense to sing about what is important to you. However, if true inner prayer, as taught in the Philokalia, is important to you, then it seems to me that singing about it will be about as fruitful as mixing water and oil.

    Furthermore, I think it is dangerous to associate sensualistic feelings with “seeing” the uncreated light.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    I’ll pass the thought along

  13. Dixie Says:

    There was a time in my journey when I had convinced myself I could still be Lutheran yet be Orthodox in my beliefs. I had abandoned Protestant Contemporary Christian Music and decided to read and listen to things only from those who came from sacramental churches. Roman Catholic CCM was easier to find so I loaded up on much of that…although still winced when listening to Matt Maher’s “Transubstantiation”. However I ultimately found Peter Jon Gillquist’s music (before he became a priest) as well as Justin Matthews’ (before he became a priest). It was listening to Fr. Justin’s See Paradise that brought about a dissatisfaction in learning the things of Orthodoxy without embracing the praxis.

    Orthodox CCM is like the folk music of the age for Orthodox Christians. I find a lot to value in it and nothing to fear. I know our parish OCFers would have a blast singing Orthodox CCM around the campfire or at parties. Well, that and some Greek dancing. And considering all the centuries of Greek dancing we have under our belt without having to endure corresponding Liturgical dance in our temples…well, doesn’t that help dispel the fears that Orthodox CCM will somehow damage the Church?

    Not everyone is going to like Orthodox CCM. And I know some will not believe this but not everyone likes jazz either–go figure. But for those who do like OCCM, Fr. Justin’s work is really very good.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Dixie,

    Precisely. Thanks for the note.

  15. Michael Bauman Says:

    My personal reaction is that the music is too simplistic and sentimental. It seems that Fr. Justin’s muscianship is not yet up to what he is trying to communicate. Since he is a priest I don’t know how he will find the time to devote to the music so that he can really master it.

    A fellow parishoner of mind who was a rock sound man in the 60’s and invented the personal monitor HotSpot then formed a company to manufacture and sell it is adament about the need to have contemporary Orthodox music to penetrate our culture. It is obvious that we have it, now we need to work to improve it so it is a little less contemprary and more Orthodox. That will take people whose vocation it is to make music and not to be priests.

    I have heard that the eight tones that St. John of Damascus composed were based on music that was popular at the time.

    On a purely personal note: why is it that only high baritones and tenors get to sing and there is not even much of a bass line. Ever listen to Tchaikovsky? That is, IMO one of the reasons for the music’s sentimentality.

  16. Fatherstephen Says:

    Priests are musicians often – just as some priests write blogs. 🙂

    I think how music both within the Church and her services will grow in America will be a living thing – traditional and yet living.

    I think that Orthodox Christians will continue to explore cultural expressions of their faith in a possible form. I welcome it all, because it is the Church being the Church and by the Holy Spirit filling all things. Some will be better than others. But I take it as a good sign that the Church is slowly maturing. We are not just a diaspora church, we are not just a convert church, we are slowly just being the Orthodox Church – and as I noted above – when that happens in its fullest expression it spreads throughout the culture. This vine which God has planted with His right hand will and should grow.

  17. Xeno in Colorado Says:

    Dear all,
    I recently read an interview with Dr. Bradley Nassif in AGAIN. He said that the 21st century will be Orthodox, but not necessarily in mass conversions to the Orthodox church as much in other churches adopting elements from the early church worship and tradition. My thoughts on that: songs like “See Paradise” will be written soon by non-Orthodox musicians. But Justin (now Fr. Justin – Axios!) sounds very sincere, the lyrics are great!! Why not have the Orthodox Christian musicians, assembled together on projects like the “Cross Culture Project”, create such songs to evangelize this culture? We all know this is not liturgical music so I see no conflict. Thank God for people like Fr. Justin.
    X in Colorado

  18. Damaris Says:

    Oh, please, let’s not write “Orthodox music” by committee. Let true musicians bring forth their true faith, and let both the faith and the music be excellent by every standard. It is a shame to all believers how much shoddy art — painting, music, literature — is excused because it’s “Christian.” I’m afraid that art deliberately created just to evangelize the culture, excellent goal though that is, will never be good art.

  19. Michael Bauman Says:

    Orthodox Christian art has to be founded in the personal ontological experience of the Living God. It has to be an expression of the sacred coming down from above within the Church.

  20. fatherstephen Says:

    Michael,

    It’s hard to define it that manner, except upon reflection. There is also a place for art in the culture that is not necessarily in the Church. The Artist Nesterov, for instance, is one of my favorites. Would you exclude as Orthodox Christian art paintings that, though painted by an Orthodox painter, and perhaps even on Orthodox subjects, would not be iconographic? I think of Nesterov’s “Taking the Veil” a beautiful painting of young girls in procession to be received as nuns. Marvelous painting. And many others as well. None of which would be appropriate to hand in a Church, because all Church art is ultimately dogmatic (revealing dogma).

    We do not use musical instruments in Church and yet Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos are certainly art and to be admired and even loved. But not in Church.

    Could you clarify your statement for me?

  21. Michael Bauman Says:

    Yes, when I say within the Church I do not mean used in Church, but as part of the life of the Church, partaking of the truth and Spirit of the Church rather than of the world.

  22. Fatherstephen Says:

    Michael,

    I’m not sure how easy it is to draw that line. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of. If we drew the line generously it would encompass much, including music that it’s not necessarily churchly. If it were drawn to narrowly we would have a very sectarian view of culture which is not the heritage of the Orthodox Church.

    We’re such a minority in this country that I think it’s pretty easy for us to want to take a sectarian route, but this, in the end, would make us less than fully Orthodox. There will be Orthodox folk music, dance, etc. Whether any Orthodox contemporary Christian music is actually part of that large God-inspired work only time will tell.

    Some of the people who are involved in it I like very much (some of them are fellow priests whom I admire). This is also a phenomenon in Russia and Greece, etc.

  23. Coroebus Says:

    Please forgive this observation, Micheal & Father:

    While it is surely true that what you call the sectarian route, Father, is a real enough temptation, it is also the case that we Orthodox are not called to make culture per se. We Orthodox Christians, qua Orthodox Christians, are called to perfection in Christ. That’s it. If ‘culture’ happens around us, in spite of us, perhaps even through some of us, then this is fine, but it should hardly be our first (or even second or third) preoccupation. I was rereading the first chapter or so of I Corinthians last night, and what struck me in this passage which hits its high point in 2:2 (‘I was determined not to know anything when I was among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.’) was that St Paul’s ‘determination to know nothing but Christ’ begins, so-to-speak, in the first ten verses of the letter, in which he relentlessly repeats, mantra-like, the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ (I count 10 times in 10 verses.). This would certainly feel redundant were it not so clearly St Paul’s point to demonstrate that this, his determination to know nothing but Christ, should also be ours. It does not make us sectarian for this to be so.

    On the other hand, if we are coming to know Christ Himself and nothing else, we are certainly also forbidden to nitpick the boundaries of properly Orthodox Christian culture. As you say, Father, these things will be, whatever our critical faculties might make of them. So let us let them be — and to the extent we are able focus ourselves on ‘the one thing needful.’

  24. Michael Bauman Says:

    Fr. I’m not arguing with anything you are saying–nothing. Forgive me if I have given that impression. I don’t think we are really saying anything different.

  25. Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist Says:

    Beloved of God,
    Christ is risen!
    If you will forgive me, I am not a frequenter of blogs (although this seems to be a quite stimulating forum), however when I heard Fr. Justin’s work was being discussed, I had to offer my two cents.
    See Paradise is a fine song, but admittedly there are quite a number of his more recent songs on the same disc (Confessing between the Lines) that are even better. If I am not mistaken, See Paradise marked Fr. Justin’s return to songwriting after a few year haitus following his conversion to Orthodoxy — a break he decided to take for many of the same concerns you’ve enumerated in the present discussion. He thoughfully and prayerfully entered the arena of “Orthodox Folk Music” and has become, in my opinon, the epitome of where the movement should go.
    Having worked with him extensively, I have been continually impressed with his ability to express his innermost struggles and contemplations through words in a musical format relevant enough to catch the ear of a college student.
    For one of my favorite songs by Fr. Justin, listen to this:

    http://www.saintromanosrecords.com/product_info.php?products_id=244&osCsid=43ff8f93c77edcb761e1af3515c94347

    God bless you all, and thank you for taking time to read my novel (post).
    – Fr. Peter Jon

  26. Jonathan Says:

    –On cultural expression: Fr. Justin said to me that every era and place within the Orthodox Church has had its cultural expressions of faith, including music. This is has been said in fewer words already, but I believe it’s a very important thing to remember in this discussion.

    –On vocation: Father makes a good point. Someone isn’t necessarily called to be priest or a writer. Or musician. Or painter. Or speaker. God gives us all talents, and many of us are given multiple talents. Were we to automatically compartmentalize our gifts, we would create unneeded schism within our very lives. If God gives someone great talent in more than one area, maybe that person’s task is to prayerfully follow one path using both gifts. Or perhaps just use one gift and pursue one as a hobby, allowing it to inform other areas of his life. Either way, it’s up to God.
    I can’t help but wonder how many of us would have the understanding of the faith we have (or would even be Orthodox, for that matter) if, for instance, Fr. Thomas Hopko had decided that he could only be a priest who gave sermons within the walls of a parish, and not a writer or public speaker?
    Here’s my personal dilemma if I were to write off one thing in favor of another: I’m a musician, primarily a guitarist. Yet, as many people can tell you, I have a huge passion for student ministry and love being involved in the lives of young people. Do I put 15 years of musical study on the shelf (occupationally speaking) in favor of lay ministry or the priesthood? Or vice versa?
    My wordy point is that vocation isn’t choosing one occupation over another. Rather, it’s giving yourself wholly to God, with all the gifts and talents you possess (large or small), and allowing Him to use your entire life (from your gifts and triumphs down to your weaknesses and failures) as He wills.
    Isaiah didn’t say, “Here I am God. I can do this, this, that, and a little bit of this…which of those do you need right now?” All he said was, “Here I am God. Send me.”

    As demonstrated here, figuring out the place of artistic expression within Orthodoxy is a very complex question. It’s also one that many people don’t fully understand, myself included. Yet, many of us also want to find out how to use our talents in ways that are truly Orthodox and pleasing to God. Fr. Justin and others have set up an organization called cocreate.org with the aim of furthering the discussion and, with God’s grace, hopefully finding some answers to that question. If you’re an artist who has wr

  27. Jonathan Says:

    (silly touchpad)

    —wrestled with this, check it out. I really don’t like pitching things here, but I feel it’s relevant to the conversation.

    This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and one that I’ve struggled to understand ever since first becoming acquainted with Orthodoxy. So, I tend to be opinionated. Forgive me if I’ve said anything unreasonable.

    –Jonathan

  28. Fatherstephen Says:

    Fr. Peter Jon, I am really glad the conversation is taking place because it is among the issues that Orthodox must become comfortable with thinking about as we grow into the fullness of what God has for us. I know your work has been important as well and I’m grateful for the thought and time you and Fr. Justin, and others are putting into this. And I’m very much looking forward to having him as my second priest. Perhaps we can host an event at St. Anne, or somewhere in Tennessee to share with the larger Church thoughts and offerings on Orthodoxy and culture.

  29. Seraphim Says:

    I’m joining this conversation very late. Way late…for all I know newer blog posts have carried this conversation forward…but here I am so here I’ll comment and see what happens.

    In my not so valuable opinion the last CCM musician of any note was the late Kieth Green. He marked the end of an era that gave us Barry McGuire, 2 Chapter of Acts, Honeytree, Chuck Girard, Mustard Seed Faith, Lamb, Larry Norman and Malcom and Alwyn, to name a few among not too many others. Something changed in CCM by the early 80’s and it has never recaptured whatever it was that those pioneer groups succeeded in expressing. There is nothing like “the Easter Song” or Turkish Delight, Love Song, or Little Pilgrim out there that I know of…nothing even close to Cosmic Cowboy for that matter. And it is a shame because…lots of very skilled singers and musicians followed that, but none captured or continued that same innocent heart.

    The offerings of Orthodox CCM musicians that I’ve heard don’t sound significantly different on the whole than the rest of the current crop of CCM, and that’s disappointing…of course with a little push Great Glass Elevator might deliver…they flirt with theological depth in the midst of great music. Some paradigms need busting if Orthodox CCM is going to amount to anything that has aspirations of culture. What it needs is somethign like the prayerful heart of the the Valaam Choir with a little infusion from wall of sound Sacred Harp singing…or something like that.

    Anyway…that’s my near worthless and very late take on things musical. Personally I just find it hard to beat Xristos Anesti, Lament Not Mother, or O Gladsome Light anymore….

  30. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Seraphim,

    Have you forgotten Rich Mullins? His “The Color Green” reminds me of the Akathist of Thanksgiving:

    And the moon is a sliver of silver
    Like a shaving that fell on the floor of a Carpenter’s shop
    And every house must have it’s builder
    And I awoke in the house of God
    Where the windows are mornings and evenings
    Stretched from the sun
    Across the sky north to south
    And on my way to early meeting
    I heard the rocks crying out
    I heard the rocks crying out

    Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
    Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
    Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
    Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise

    And the wrens have returned and they’re nesting
    In the hollow of that oak where his heart once had been
    And he lifts up his arms in a blessing for being born again
    And the streams are all swollen with winter
    Winter unfrozen and free to run away now
    And I’m amazed when I remember
    Who it was that built this house
    And with the rocks I cry out

    Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
    Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
    Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
    Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise

    And the last verse of “Land of my Sojourn” is sheer poetry, and quite sacramental:

    And down the brown brick spine of some dirty blind alley
    All those drain pipes are drippin’ out the last Sons Of Thunder
    While off in the distance the smoke stacks
    Were belching back this city’s best answer

    And the countryside was pocked
    With all of those mail pouch posters
    Thrown up on the rotting sideboards of
    These rundown stables like the one that Christ was born in
    When the old world started dying
    And the new world started coming on
    And I’ll sing His song
    In the land of my sojourn

  31. Shevaberakhot Says:

    Seraphim,

    Michael Card and John Michael Talbot have both remained true to their calling and gifts — musicians who haven’t lost their salt.

    Blessings.

  32. Seraphim Says:

    No I haven’t forgotten Rich Mullins…though I don’t think I’ve heard him in a very long time. But that said I don’t recall his music having the same impact as that of 2nd Chapter or Kieth Green. I don’t doubt that musically, even lyrically he is very competent, but that quality I’m referencing was something beyond these things. You can take most CCM singers that I know of and switch them out for any given “secular” singers of similar genre and not really tell the difference. Consider 6 pence None the Richer…started out as a CCM group, started singing regular pop music…very well I might add, but there was not an iota of difference from any other top 40 group. One band that made something of a switch the other way and did touch upon that old fire at times was Abba/Silverwind.

    If you took Blink 182, Matchbox 20, or the GooGoo Dolls and gave them Christian lyrics to sing, they might come out with some great sounding songs for CCM but it would never be what you heard in one of those early groups like Acts or McGuire or Green singing those same songs.

    The best Orthodox comparison I an come up with is the Valaam Brotherhood Choir. When I was first contemplating Orthodoxy I wondered what I was going to do for spiritual music…many of my old favorite hymns no longer cut the theologial mustard so to speak…and CCM was just Christian themed secular music by then (at least to me). Then I heard the first Valaam CD…and it was very interesting…in Slavonic but still interesting, beautiful…then came track 10 (Xristos Anesthi with bells) and before I knew it I was just caught away. The monks were not just singing they were praying what they sang and it just swept me up with it in a moment of silent awe and adoration in the midst of a hymn. It was like a golden nail in my heart. I replayed it at least ten times before was willing or able to step out of that place…but it sealed the deal for me….there was nothing like that I had ever encountered before….except to a much lesser extent in those very early innocent days when the Jesus movement was still new. It was something in the heart that poured forth in the music, a love, a joy, a prayerfulness that somehow got lost over time and was little by little replaced by sacherine sentiment and professional musical polish.

    Maybe its just me.

    There is one Orthodox artist who has recent done what I think is an interesting album, an attempt to bring in an Orthodox spiritual and musical ethos into the context of CCM, namely David Teems, but even there only one cut from the album (Lord Have Mercy) laid hold of that richer prayer wrought dynamic, at least for me.

    As for the Talbots, they hail from the early days though I never connected with their music as deeply as some of the others.

    As for CCM and Orthodoxy, I think Teems has some of the right ideas about liturgical cross pollenation, but I don’t think are there yet musically…now if David Braun and some of his Orthodox friends turned to more deliberately spiritual music and followed through in their own lives at a deeper level, then I think the Orthodox contribution to CCM might at least cause as much of a stir as Petra did back in its day…who knows they might be up for a double header tour with Paparokades (the Orthodox rocking priest monk group in Greece). And there is that Bulgarian Epic Rock band Epizod who did an album of Orthodox rock hymns about the Tsar Maryr Shiman and Patriarch Martyr St. Piman with lyrics taken from some classical Bulgarian spirtual poetry. If you haven’t heard of them here is a link to a you tube video of theirs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Flgyj_m4qBM. It is no Christos Anesthi..but very interesting nonetheless. It is part of a rock opera they did about the Bulgarian Orthodox resistance to the Ottomans and two of its great martyrs. If you look up Epizod’s own website you can find English versions to their lyrics.

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