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Power of singing

We read in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles how the apostles Paul and Silas got into difficulties after they had freed a slave girl of a spirit by which she could predict the future.

Her owners had made money out of her predictions, and they now saw that their source of income had disappeared, so they pursued Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place, before the authorities. As a result they were stripped and beaten, thrown into prison and placed in the stocks to make sure that they couldn't escape.

The writer of the account particularly emphasizes how severely they were punished and what an awful position they had found themselves in. And what did these holy men do? I quote:

"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and everybody's chains came loose." (Acts 16: 25-26).

In their terrible plight the apostles prayed and praised God by singing hymns, and they sang so fervently that the other prisoners stopped to listen to them. The prayer that they were offering up through their singing reached the ears of God and their chains were loosened, together with those of their fellow-prisoners.

One of the things the story of this serious situation for the apostles teaches us is the great importance of singing. It bears witness to their faith in the power of music, hymns and songs. When these are combined together with prayer, praise and thanksgiving they can have a great influence on people's minds.

The apostles' singing had all the other prisoners joining in silently in their act of prayer and praise. And so they were all able to benefit from God's mercy and the miracle worked by Him.

Prayers that are sung are able to touch the soul, to shape a person's inner being. The act of singing, and with it the act of listening to inspiring hymns and songs, is a pleasurable thing that nourishes us and makes us whole. Thus music and singing are of quite amazing importance as a medium for prayer.

It is to bear witness to this miracle that the Faculty of Theology at the University of Joensuu and the International Society for Orthodox Church Music (ISOCM), founded at the first church music conference in 2005, have invited leading scholars, exponents and composers of church music to gather together on this occasion. At the same time as I thank all the people responsible for arranging this conference for their active role in it, I would also like to express my joy at the large numbers of people who have responded to the invitation.

It is a matter of importance in so many ways that you have come together at this time to delve into the fathomless treasury of the Orthodox church music tradition. We hope that you will find new treasures there and bring them out for us all to hear. And we hope that you will be able to develop ways in which our church can offer up its praise and thanks to our Creator and Saviour with more refined skills than ever and in a more genuine spirit than ever.

I pray to Almighty God that in his boundless love he may pour out his abundant blessings on this conference and all who take part in it.

Opening speech in the Second International Conference on Orthodox Church Music in Joensuu

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