Coptic Orthodox Popes and Bishops Speak Out Against Heterodox and ‘Contemporary’ Worship

It is often claimed by those who support the introduction of heterodox songs or so-called “praise and worship” hymns in the Orthodox Church that ‘all that matters is that we are praising the Lord’. Others may concede that some hymns may indeed be unsuitable, but only if their lyrics explicitly include incorrect theology. Still others may contend that, while lyrics must be completely Orthodox and of good quality, the tune of the hymn does not matter. It is clear from the words of H.H. Pope Tawadros II, the thrice-blessed H.H. Pope Shenouda III, and H.G. Bishop Moussa, that all of these notions are unacceptable from an Orthodox point of view.

A video posted to Facebook by H.G. Bishop Raphael, Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church: https://www.facebook.com/bishop.anbaraphael/posts/361009020731841

First Part – H.H. Pope Tawadros on the Characteristics of an Orthodox Hymn (0:00 – 2:06)
In positively defining the characteristics of an Orthodox hymn, H.H. immediately dispels the notion that all “hymns” are suitable for use in the Church. Moreover, it is evident that the mere absence of theological error is not enough to qualify a hymn as “suitable to enter our Church”.

H.H. raises several important points:

  • “A hymn is considered Orthodox” when it originates from the Church and “from a person who is living inside the Church”, that is, “coming from the heart of an (Coptic) Orthodox” Christian.
  • H.H. stresses the importance of both the lyrics and the tune in the assessment of the suitability of a hymn.
  • “A hymn, in order for it to be suitable to enter our Church… must have three characteristics”: (1) the spirit of service, (2) the spirit of joy, and (3) the spirit of the Church.
  • In the immediate context of this third requirement for hymns (the spirit of the Church), H.H. contrasts the Orthodox model of spiritual life of God-Church-Individual with the Protestant model of God-Individual, which “excludes the Church from the equation”.

Second Part – H.H. Pope Shenouda on Praise and Worship and Contemporary Christian Music (2:06 – 3:20)
H.H. decries the use of the tunes and melodies of secular music as the basis for modern hymns, even if they contain “the exact same words” as traditional hymns. H.H. describes such as “not hymns, but songs masquerading as hymns” and laments that this “dangerous” phenomenon has “increased a lot” [within the Coptic Orthodox Church].

Third Part – A Comparison of Heterodox and Orthodox Worship by Juxtaposition (3:20 – 7:27)
Feel free to skip to 7:27.

Fourth Part – H.G. Bishop Moussa on the Hymns Sung at Egyptian Protestant Festival ‘E7sebha Sa7′* (7:27 – 10:50)
H.G., the General Bishop for Youth, characterises the “hymns” at ‘E7sebha Sa7′ as “very dangerous”.

*In this part of the video, H.G. is responding to a question directly relating to ‘E7sebha Sa7′.

Fifth Part – H.H. Pope Shenouda on the Significance of the Tune of a Hymn (10:50 – 14:04)
“In our hymns, we are not only concerned with the lyrics only, that the lyrics are suitable; the tune must be suitable [too]. Let no one compose a hymn based on a popular song and say ‘the lyrics are really good’. For maybe its tune takes the person in a different direction from the words of the hymn.”