Feb. 10, 2011

Exploring Music as a Path to Faith

Russian Archbishop Speaks at CUA

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev speaks at Catholic University.

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Christians encounter their faith in many ways. Oftentimes, asserted Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, "the way to Christian faith begins with a discovery of the living Christ, rather than recognition of the church's dogmatic truths."

There are many ways people might encounter this "living Christ": in the words and actions of other Christians; in icons of Christ, the holy family or other saints; and in music.

In a lecture at Catholic University on Feb. 9, the Russian archbishop discussed the intersection of music and faith. Nearly 200 people attended the talk, including professors and students of music and theology, priests, monks and nuns of many religious orders, and members of the Washington, D.C.-area Russian Orthodox community.

Grayson Wagstaff, dean of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, introduced the lecture saying, "These affairs of the mind, heart, and soul - of intellect and virtue - are intertwined in the offerings of the university and the school of music." (Read the text of the lecture.)

Archbishop of Volokolamsk and member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Hilarion is also an accomplished composer.

His path to creativity has not been a continuous journey. At the age of 20, when he became a priest, he decided that creativity could be a distraction. "Renunciation of the world was first of all the renunciation of music," he said. He stopped composing, playing musical instruments, and even listening to music.

After many years passed, he was at a festival of Orthodox music, where a composition written by him 20 years earlier was on the program. "Listening to my own music, something stirred inside me," he said, "and I began to compose again almost at once."

President John Garvey is presented with a Russian icon.

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Creativity can enhance faith, Metropolitan Hilarion says. "If creativity is directed to God, if the creative person puts his efforts into serving people, if he preaches lofty spiritual ideals, then his activity may aid his own salvation and that of thousands around him," he said.

An example of a composer who achieved this is Johann Sebastian Bach, whom the metropolitan called "a universal Christian phenomenon."

"For Bach, music was worship of God," he said. "He believed his music to be but a single voice in the cosmic choir that praises God's glory."

Today's popular music shows little to no resemblance to the compositions of Bach, but the metropolitan says that popular Christian music can be successful in bringing people to know Christ.

"The image of Christ can inspire not only church people, but also those who are still far from her," he said. "The language of music transcends many boundaries and speaks directly to people's hearts."

At the conclusion of his talk, Metropolitan Hilarion presented University President John Garvey with a Russian icon of the Madonna and Christ Child.

This talk was part of a series of events this spring that are tied to Garvey's inaugural year theme "Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University."

The lecture was preceded by an informal meeting that Garvey hosted on campus with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C. and University chancellor, and Metropolitan Hilarion.


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