I’ve been looking through a borrowed copy of Fr. Michael Gelsinger’s Orthodox Hymns in English, published by the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1939. This is a significant work, and Gelsinger’s hymns are still used to this day. I’ll write more about this book in the future, but I found the following paragraph, from the Introduction, to be especially interesting:
Other religions in America have hymnbooks containing six hundred or more melodies; Orthodoxy in English, though rightfully heir to the grandest and richest score of music in existence, would only with difficulty command as many as fifty melodies. Our lack of Orthodox hymns that can be sung in English has already encouraged the use of substitutes: rumor tells of Parishes that use Protestant hymnbooks, — in one case, at least, the Billy Sunday collection; and in another a book of “Pentecostal Hymns.” Can we calmly face a future which might add “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” and “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere” to the treasures of Orthodox devotion?
No, Gelsinger answers: “It is, of course, as unthinkable as it is unnecessary that we should permit any such development.” His answer? Translate Orthodox music from all the traditions — Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Romanian, etc. — into the English language.
Every tradition of our Orthodox music should find a home in every Parish in America; for American Orthodoxy inherits the music of every national Orthodox Church abroad. It is usual to say that our children will all be Americans together; but that is only one face of the truth. It is equally true that each of our children as an Orthodox Christian is as much Russian as he is Greek, as much Greek as he is Syrian, as much Syrian as he is Bulgarian or Rumanian: for he is the rightful heir of everything Orthodox that has ever entered this country.
Here, Gelsinger sounds a lot like Fr. Ingram Nathaniel Irvine and Fr. Leonid Turkevich before him, and like countless people today. But back in 1939, Gelsinger’s views were pretty cutting-edge. They had a substantial influence on the development of American Orthodoxy in the decades that followed.