Protestant hymns in Orthodox churches

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.

3 thoughts on “Protestant hymns in Orthodox churches

  1. Glad to see you’ve posted on Fr. Michael Gelsinger. Theologically, from a dogmatic perspective, and even pastoral, he is probably rather forgetful, as most of us Orthodox in America will be, but he is important in the development of music used by the Antiochians. He and his wife, Mary, were also important with regard to educational materials. They both tried hard to get Orthodoxy in America up to the speed of the American context in an appropriate way, despite their other flaws.

  2. Fr. Michael’s memory lives on mostly through the liturgical translations published in English by Holy Transfiguration Monastery (HTM) in Boston where Fr. Michael was tonsured Fr. Theodore in monasticism and where he lived out his final years and reposed. Fr. Michael’s liturgical translations were voluminous, but he published very few as he was constantly polishing them. His works were willed to HTM and they continue to express their gratitude to Fr. Michael in translations such as their well-known Psalter, Great Horologion, Pentecostarion, etc. I’m not sure how much Fr. Michael was depended upon for the Menaion that HTM has published, but I would certainly be interested to know, as this was a monumental accomplishment.

  3. I am new to this site, and was chrismated almost 4 years ago into the Orthodox Church, coming from a Protestant background. Such hymns as were mentioned by name in the article probably shouldn’t have been part of a true worship service in any church, but I think it’s a mistake to dismiss all hymns of the protestant churches. In the light of liturgical hymns, it is easy to separate the chaff from the wheat, so to speak; some hymns are really not worthy of inclusion, but there are quite a few hymns that I remember that are very solid, theologically and Scripturally. I am not the only person I know of who misses some of those hymns.

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