On the Decision to Ban Protestant Songs

Adapted from an article by Dr George Habib Bebawi.

Disclaimer: Our decision to post (an edited version of) Dr Bebawi’s article was based solely on its relevance to our mission “to halt and reverse the spread of heterodox theology and forms of worship in the Oriental Orthodox Church” and should by no means be taken as an endorsement of Dr Bebawi himself.

Part 1

The decision brought inexpressible joy to my heart. The first to ban such songs was Hegoumen Mina the Recluse (Pope Kyrillos the Sixth). However, I must say to all the stewards of service, and my brother and sister servants, that there is a need for a practical lesson in one of the most important virtues of Orthodoxy, discernment.

The Principles of Discerning that Which is Authentic in Praise, and What is Foreign and Harmful

A practical example: Compare the song “A voice from on high has echoed / I wonder what this news could be” to any stanza of any Theotokia. You will notice the great difference.

  • Protestant songs stop at external description of the relationship between us the Lord of Glory. This is because according to the Reformation, salvation has been fulfilled on Good Friday, and is the past. All that we possess is what the mind can recall. So worship is just a remembrance, which takes place in, and is offered through reading and prayers.
  • There is a lack of personal union between us and the Lord, expressed in the external focus of many hymns, while the opposite is expressed in the refrain of the Theotokia, “He took what is ours, and gave us what is His.” For example, the song, “The Lamb has paid my whole debt,” places the Cross outside of the Christian Life. The Cross is concerned with the past, whereas our Cross is present with power in the making of the Sign of the Cross before prayer. This Sign takes its power from the 36 seals of the Myron.
  • Compare, for example, the song, “Why, O sinner, do you live in poverty and sorrow, etc.,” to what the Mother of the Martyrs chants in the praise, “For He was overcome by His compassion, and sent us His mighty arm.” Or, “Your mercies, O my God, are exceedingly plenteous.” Or whatever is in the Psalis.

The Evangelical (Protestant) perspective affirms that sin, even after Faith, is a return to separation from God. Whereas Orthodoxy upholds that the love of God is unchanging and does not allow separation any longer (c.f. Rom 8).

  • The programs of spiritual growth that are offered in Evangelical (Protestant) thought, wrongly, do not offer any teaching concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul and the body. You can compare any of these programs and the Letters of St. Antony, or the Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius.
  • There is no real application of the doctrine of the Trinity, for the Son paid the price to the Father, and the work of the Trinity was completed on Good Friday. There is no room in such teaching for the work the Holy Spirit. Whereas, you will notice that every prayer in the liturgies ends with, “By the grace, compassion, and love of mankind, of Thine Only Begotten Son… Through Whom the glory, the honour, the dominion, and the adoration are due unto Thee, with Him, and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, Who is of One Essence with Thee…” Even though we pray in the Name of the Son, or sing in the Name of the Son, we are in the presence of the Holy Trinity and participate in the divine life. I wish that a comprehensive review would be done of all the songs that have no mention of the Trinity, and that they be rewritten.

Finally, I congratulate the Bishop of Mokattam, and I hope that there may be more discernment, especially when considering how Holy Communion is the Eucharist confirms us in the Lord Jesus, and makes us one with Him by grace, and not only by the reading of the Holy Bible.

Part 2

A Practical Lesson in Discernment

If we examine the popular song, “Take my life / and let it be/ consecrated, Lord / to Thee,” we will find that it is wholly innocent in its verbal form. What is concealed underneath, however, is very different from the theology of sanctification according to the Orthodox Tradition. This is apparent in the following:

Firstly: Consecration is not solely the work of the will and the heart. Such is the fundamental leaning of Evangelical Protestantism. In Orthodoxy, however (note the harmony), the Sanctuary is sealed with the Myron, and so are the holy vessels and altar. The Christian believer is also sealed 36 times after Baptism. Consecration here is sanctification. The word “sanctification” has become absent from our vocabulary, and has been replaced by “dedication.” The notion that our partaking of the spirit of holiness, according to the expression of the Lord’s Apostle, “That we might be partakers of His holiness” (Heb 12:10) is our sanctification, has also become foreign to us.

Has the difference become apparent to you, dear reader?

Secondly: Perversion begins when words that have no relation to the Faith are used to transform the awareness and prayer of the heart from something truly genuine, into an external expression. Consider the song, “God is love… So, I sing that God is love… He loves me… so He sent Jesus…” On the surface, it also appears innocent. However, what is concealed is sickly separation from the Mystical Union with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The love of God the Father is not only in the sending of the Son, but is in the gift of the Body and Blood also. This song did away with the Eucharist, because the concealed theology of this song does not confess the great importance of the mystical union with Christ. Even the Cross and the Crucified One Himself have become intellectual fodder for preaching. We have said elsewhere previously that the current revivalist movement has turned many believers into catechumens. That is to say that this preaching is restricted to conveying the Faith, not the offering of Communion. We are crucified with Christ, and that is why we make the Sign of the Cross. This is because the Cross has been planted in us through the Mysteries.

Thirdly: Note the considerable difference between the song that says, “I will walk in the light all of my life… Jesus said, ‘I am your shelter,’ and His promise is truth that shall not pass away,” and the Prayer of Inclination before Communion in the Liturgy of St. Cyril: “O God, Who loved us so, and granted us the rank of sonship, that we may be called the children of God. And that we may be heirs of Thee, O God the Father, and sharers of the inheritance of Thy Christ.” Consider, dear reader, the aim of this petition: “[C]leanse our inner man in the likeness of the purity of Thine Only-begotten Son; This, Which we contemplate partaking of.” As for the spiritual struggle, the rest of the prayer says, “May fornication and every defiled thought flee from us, for the sake of God, Who is of the Virgin,” bringing us back to the virginal nativity of the Lord as a spiritual gift that is working interiorly in us for the purity of the will and thought. “Also pride and the first evil, which is arrogance, for the sake of Him, Who alone humbled Himself for our sake.” Note that He alone was humbled. Our humility is a long path, but the humility of the Lord took place at the Incarnation. “Fear, for the sake of Him, Who suffered in the flesh on our behalf, and upheld the victory of the Cross,” because the essence of fear is a lack of faith in eternal life. “Vainglory, for the sake of Him, Who was buffeted and scourged for our sake, and hid not His face from the shame of spitting,” because the acceptance of suffering removes all vainglory from the self. I will leave the rest of the prayer, which goes on to, “May every evil earthly thought be far from us, for the sake of Him, Who ascended into the heavens.” Thus the Lord enters the life of everyone of us, becoming one with us, not in thought or by will alone, but through all the revelations of the economy, which begin with the Nativity from the Virgin, to the Ascension. The prayer concludes with, “So that, this way, in purity, we may partake of these pure Mysteries, and be perfectly purified, all of us, in our souls, bodies and our spirits.” The divine work will lead us to be made “partakers of the flesh, partakes of the nature, and partakers in the succession of Thy Christ.” The conclusion is the doxology for the Trinity, “This is He, with Whom Thou art blessed, together with the Holy Spirit, the Giver-of-life, Who is of One Essence with Thee.”

What Do We Learn?

It is not sufficient to prohibit, but we should give reasons. To forbid without reason is to embarking on a dark path. The songs appear to be harmless, but they place the conscience in a mental vacuum. I remember when I was a student in the evening section, that a student was expelled from the seminary due to unbecoming conduct. It was said that the issue was that he neither prayed nor read the Bible. However, the source of the unbecoming conduct was a lack of sanctification for the body, and fellowship in the life of the Lord, that is to say communion of being.

I hope that we can observe the following in the songs that we allow:

Firstly: Our communion in God the Trinity.

Secondly: The great love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ, which is granted to us by the Holy Spirit.

Thirdly: Our participation in the life of the Lord, and the participation of the Lord in our life as true union.

Fourthly: Affirming the role of the Eternal Divine Grace in our lives.

What is external to these four points might perhaps be amusement, or that which appeals to the emotions and thoughts. We must not suffice with an emotional or intellectual relationship, but should rather encourage and promote the mystical fellowship and union with the Lord.

Glorifying the Lord with the lips, without grace or fellowship, is like one who ventures to betroth, but when the time for marriage comes, he reconsiders.

Where is the Deception?

Chanting is one of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to us. However, when the words repeat man’s obligations, and inadvertently do away with grace, leaving one to beg for strength without the work of the Holy Spirit, they do not effect any real change. We all know human weakness. But, the aim of praise is perfect union with the Lord. In the Midnight Office, we say “When we stand before You in the body, take away from our minds the sleep of negligence,” which, despite of our deficiencies, does not neglect grace: “Arise, O children of the Light, that we may praise the Lord of the powers,” for we will forever draw near to the Eternal Light of God the Father, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Compare between that, and a song that Samuel Doctorian used to sing:

My brethren, on the Day of Reckoning, the mountains and hills shall cry

For it is the Day of Retribution. Woe to the wicked sinner!

Whereas, we hymn Divinity Itself when we say after every petition, “Lord have mercy,” or, “According to Thy mercy, O Lord, and not according to our sins.”The deception, as we would say, is like throwing a ball into the field of the human heart, leaving it alone and destitute, without grace and the recollection of divine mercy. The greater deception is to think that prayer and praise is all that there is. Prayer is a means, not an end, for the End is He Who said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and it is He to Whom we say, “Thou art the Life of us all.”

I welcome all dialogue, criticism, and questioning, no matter what.

May the Lord support the Mother of the Martyrs in her internal battle.

Part 3

Why Should We Avoid These Songs?

The Lord in Isaiah says, “[L]et us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). Let us, then, present our arguments. Listen to the song that H.H. Pope Kyrillos VI prohibited:

I shall remain near the Cross, where flows

The Beloved Redeemer’s blood that remedies my soul, my healing

The Rule of Perception and Discernment

Do the words of this song say that the Blood of Christ is offered in the Chalice of the Eucharist, or that it is no more than a concept in the mind of whoever is singing?

The answer of those who accuse me of advocating fanaticism and sectarianism—they do so, because they do not offer the Blood of Christ at the Lord’s Supper, but rather say that it is a fable of the sixteenth century, that is to say, a fable of the Reformation and Post-Reformation movements—that it is a symbol, a remembrance, etc. And so have the words of the Lord Himself, “Take, drink of it, all of you. For this is My Blood,” been done away with and placed under the hammer of philosophical rationalism that cannot comprehend that blood is life, and that the Lord is offering His life. Those who keep the believers from partaking of the Lord’s Body and Blood deny all that was said by the Lord Himself in John 6:35.

Every argument that is put forth in this issue, which is against the offering of the Lord’s Body and Blood, is an argument against the love of the Lover of Man. And if the Blood of Christ flows at Golgotha alone, without being found in the Eucharistic Chalice, then immediately this false teaching would have separated between the Crucified Christ and the believers. No longer is the offering of the Blood an offering of life, but has become—according to the teaching of the Middle Ages, beginning with Anslem, Archbishop of Canterbury, and those after him—the price which has been paid to the God the Father as an appeasement of the Divine Justice. It is not given except as a remembrance, that is, a remembrance of what had happened.

This is a disconcerting forgery.

After all of this loss that I have been warning of, am I to be called a fanatic? Or called a link between the Evangelical church and Orthodox Church? How can one who desires to be a true Christian accept the existence of two churches, when the Lord has one Body, not two, and that is the Church that bore the curse of the Cross and its wounds in the Valley of the Nile during the Dark Ages, or some of the cruelty that was witnessed in these last days? I do not know any save one Church only, that of the Mother of the Martyrs, the Coptic Orthodox Church, into which I was born and lived most of my days.

Is This Freedom, Or a Loss of Communion?

All talk about freedom is very good. The New Testament is the only text under the sun that speaks of freedom as a constituent of true Christian life. Despite my reservation about the word “worship” (ibada in Arabic), which has no existence in Greek or Coptic as I have previously mentioned, I have a question for our brothers who cry loudly: Does the freedom of worship (service is the original word, and it is the Trinity Who serves us, not us who serve the Trinity) mean that the abundance of the Divine mercies should be hymned without participation in them? I speak here of an existential participation, and not a mere mental remembrance. Is prayer communion and the Trinity’s service (liturgy) for us, because we pray in the Son and the Holy Spirit? Or is the matter nothing more than lectures and argumentations that are said before God, Whose Fatherhood we do not even confess, as I had noticed in prayer meetings?

We still speak of “God,” even though what is accurate is “God the Father.” Or rather, “the Father of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ.” You can refer to the opening of every prayer, and that is the difference. Every prayer begins thusly: “Let us ask God the Pantocrator, the Father of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ…” However, the Fatherhood of God has become absent.

A number of years ago, I heard the song:

We are children of the merciful Father,

And are all brothers

Gathered together by the Redeemer, etc.

Hegoumen Mina the Recluse asked me, “My son, where is the gift of sonship that was given to us by the Holy Spirit?” Until recently, we used to refer to ourselves as “Sons of Baptism,” wherein adoption takes place, since adoption is not a mental concept.

The Mysteries, or the Sacraments, are absent, and so too is the Sign of the Cross. Absent too is the presence of the Trinity, and His presence in our midst. With that, the absence of the saints, angels, and martyrs, even though they are with us in the fullness of the Church of Christ. What then remains after all these absences, except a frail likeness that resembles, to some extent, an anaemic patient who appears to be full of health, even though he is not a partaker of the Trinity? Nor is he a son, except to the extent that is known to him, which is without the Mystery that he received, or even so, although he does not understand it. He does not eat of the Bread of Life that comes down from above, because it is merely a remembrance. He does not commune of the Lord’s life, that is His Blood that is in the Chalice, because it was shed on the Cross, and is no longer within our reach. It has become a mere thought in our minds. After all of this, is this Christianity? Is this a Movement, or a Breakdown that requires reconsideration?

I do not know the circumstances of the service in Mokattam, and it was my hope that the prohibition would have been preceded with education. The news that has reached me concerning Fr. Samaan is disappointing and altogether upsetting. However, the issue is quite old, and precedes the service in Mokattam, and my own birth in the land of Egypt. It goes back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, and is need of remedy through education on account of all that has taken place through the revivalist movements that have not been considered theologically.

The absence of the Trinitarian doctrine from education finds its precise reason in the payment of the price of men’s sins to the Father, which in itself rents the essential unity of the Trinity.

The absence of the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart is attested to by the books and sermons that contain no clear teaching concerning sanctification as being participation in the very holiness of the Holy Spirit, which is the authentic teaching.

When the word “holy” comes to mean “without sin,” is there a forgery worse than referring to the Spirit of the Lord negatively, that is to say, without sin? Whereas “holy” means the uniqueness that is without likeness, and that we, through sanctification, regain the distinction that has become absent, being the image of God in us.

When the issue of man being in God’s image and likeness is absent from teaching, then any talk about sin becomes distant from the truth.

I notice in the comments of some of the brethren that they do not read as they should, but rather choose the statements that appeal to the emotions, and not to the mind or consciousness. I did not say that everything except Orthodoxy is null and void. However, what is central and is the missing core is the existential communion, that is the communion of life in the Son by the Holy Spirit, of which we have previously published an entire study entitled, “Christ, the Christian, and the Fellowship of the One Body.”

What happened at the Church in Mokattam should have been preceded with a teaching on discernment. Not about music or hymns, but rather the content and the substance, which do not precisely convey the Faith. The Holy Trinity is not a thought or an expression that is said, nor is He a verbal confession. Rather, the movement of Divine Love in the condescension towards us, and our transformation in the service of the Trinity to a mystical union that makes the Church truly one body. Thus, “dividing” should be done based on the revelation of communion, and by means of one who knows theology.

We hymn and praise our doctrines, and we pray with all the Faith that is ours. It is a revelatory Faith that is granted to us, who praise not only that which is said verbally, but what is given also. A willing separation, that is not solely verbal, from the revelation of Trinitarian love is a separation of one who has been deprived from true life.

There must be a committee of theologians to purge the songs, and even those which have accrued in the Koiahk praises, because the spirit of brokenness and indignity does not agree with the gift and benefaction of adoption (Gal. 4:4-6). Even what is being relayed concerning the intercession of the saints is in need of review, because all that is being said about a complete loss of the relationship between the sinner and Christ is gravely erroneous, and should not be acquiesced. Simultaneously, our relationship with Christ should not be transformed into a nominal relation.

In Christianity, the person comes before the expression, and he is the one who gives every expression its meaning and purpose. Because the person comes before the expression, the existential relationship is what ought to be preserved in all of the songs. I repeat, every articulation of the Redeemer’s glory that is without participation in that very same glory is a “worship” devoid of its intended purpose, namely communion. We are partakers of the Holy Spirit in an existential sense, and not according to the principles of language (Heb. 6:4). We are heirs of God, and joint heirs of Christ (Rom. 8:17). A return of the spirit of adoption to the service of praise is a return to true freedom.

We are in dire need of a Christian dialogue, and not to the bellowing of slogans, which is appropriate for Tahrir Square and is not edifying.

We are in dire need of grasping that the essence of Christianity is our participation in the Divine Life, which the Apostle Paul described as being “in Christ.” This means that human existence is in the Lord, and is not merely an expression. It is a true union with the Lord.

Teaching should not stop at the revelation of what the Trinity offers to us, but should amount to the attainment of what is given. The example of this is in the perplexing case of “justification by faith,” which is an expression that has no existence in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. Faith does not justify, but the One Who justifies is God. The agent is God, and not faith. Faith is accepted, and is not the source of justification. Note the passive voice: “[B]eing justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). It is read incorrectly, just like, “[T]he wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), for it is sin that pays the wages, and not God, Who is not mentioned in these words, beginning from verse 21 to 23.

Had our Evangelical brothers said that justification is in Christ Jesus, then the teaching would have been scriptural, because it would have placed man at the level of Divine Providence. According to the text itself, when we separate justification from the new creation (2 Cor. 5:14-18), we lose the purpose of justification, for, according to the exact phrase, “we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21), that is in Christ. This perturbing omission is a real deprivation from being present in God Himself, according to words of the Lord’s Apostle, “[to] be found in Him” (Phil. 3:9), for “[our] life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). We no longer hear that “we are in God praying,” or that in God “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

I reiterate, it is possible for songs to become a true impediment for spiritual growth, if it aims the consciousness towards an absent or distant aim, or a mere expression that is said, or is not given to us.

We ask for what is, and the request is a preparation for reception.

We ask, because the Trinity is ever present, and the plea is the opening up of the conscience to the life that is being poured in us by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

“Abba, Father,” are the words of the Lord Himself, and are expressive of what we receive and the state we remain in, for it is given to us by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:4-6).

I wish for safety and peace to all.

Source: http://stcyril.ca/index.php/st-cyril-project/80-st-cyril-project/77-on-the-decision-to-ban-protestant-songs-dr-george-bebawi